Marvel Heroes: The Power of Exploration
Marvel Heroes officially released this past Tuesday and true believers everywhere have been flocking to check it out. (Be sure to keep your eyes open for our review in the next couple of weeks.) While it's entirely possible to go through the game concentrating only on the main storyline and following the quest indicators, you'll be doing yourself a disservice if that's how you play. Marvel Heroes is full of hidden surprises and its apparent the team at Gazillion has kept this mind throughout the game's creation.
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of exploration. In fact, there's little in a game that will turn me off quicker than making me hop on a set of rails with no way off. At first glance, I will freely admit this was a concern with Marvel Heroes first few maps. Fortunately, the game quickly opens up. The storyline has a steady progression, and you'll need to follow it to see all maps the game has to offer, but the development team made sure to satisfy the explorer in all of us using one of the strongest incentive systems out there -- solid rewards.
While you're out looking for an underground hideout, be sure to stop and enter every available, door, building, hole or secret entrance you find. They lead to mini-maps of varying sizes and often contain offshoot story pieces. One thing they all have in common is the awesome loot and experience they bring. Very quickly on, you'll notice you gain extra experience points everywhere in the game for interrupting muggings, interrogations, and other dastardly deeds. Each of these maps has a similar scenario that needs your intervention (while some even have mind-blowing introductions to some old nemesis favorites from the 80s). Doing so rewards you with an entertaining battle against some pretty strong enemies that drop tons of experience bubbles, loot, and, on very rare occasions, heroes themselves.
I don't know if it's possible to gather every hero the game has to offer in this manner, but during a random robot-lab-gone-bad investigation, one enemy dropped Cyclops for me. I was shocked, amazed, and thrilled. I've been playing quite a bit since this happened and have yet to see another superhero drop. I imagine the drop rate on them is extremely low, but just the fact that you can get heroes from random drops is exciting enough. The fact that it happened in some random mini-map I decided to explore on a whim makes it all the sweeter.
Marvel Heroes certainly isn't the first game to reward exploration, but over the last few years, I've seen a steady decline in rewarding players that take the time to go outside the box and just wander. Since that's exactly the type of player I am, it's very satisfying to see someone implement a legitimate reward system for those who enjoy exploring their surroundings (I'm sorry other games, giving me a tiny dose of experience points for finding a new map location doesn't count). It's been a long time coming and, fortunately for us, more and more game companies are starting to realize the importance of this style of gameplay.
Loot isn't the only thing that can incentivize players to go off the beaten path. Extra story hooks (and dear gods, are there some incredibly unexpected story-hooks that are killing me not to tell you about!), in-game infomercials (Task Master Institute, I'm looking at you!), and more can be used to varying degrees of effectiveness to convince players that slowing down to smell the roses is a good idea. It's this idea that I think really emphasizes the importance of player exploration: the need for players to slow down and not rush through content as fast as humanly possible. Sure, there are still going to be those players that do, and to each their own. For those of us who like to just take a game at face value and enjoy our time in it though, it's good to see our efforts being recognized.
I've mentioned loot, story hooks, and a few more ideas to help developers get players to slow down a bit in their quest for endgame satisfaction. What ideas have you got that you'd like to see companies implement? Are you an explorer? Let us know why! Does the need to explore drive you crazy? Let us know why too! Be sure to check in the next couple of weeks for our upcoming Marvel Heroes review as well!