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A Closer Look at the Omega Item Redesign

Michael Bitton Posted:
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I’ve been playing Marvel Heroes since beta, so I’ve played through all the myriad forms the game has been reshaped into over the years. However, despite all of Gazillion’s attempts, Marvel Heroes could never find a stable framework to build off of until the controversial “Biggest Update Ever” implemented early this year. The various reworks over the years included sweeping changes made to characters and the way powers work to items and attributes. It’s almost dizzying to try and keep track of all the different iterations of Marvel Heroes. Still, depending on the character you were playing, the game has largely been fun throughout most of its existence, but there’s been one flaw that’s persisted through all the reworks (including the BUE) and that flaw was with an ARPG’s most important aspect: the item hunt.

The item hunt in Marvel Heroes has just never been that great. It was a wild west of crappy items in the beginning. Over time, even as the amount of items increased, the viable options became more and more limited. Many of the most powerful unique items are character agnostic and the same is true for most of the other item slots. This means it’s easy as heck to switch items around between many characters, leading to situations where you can gear a brand new character with best-in-slot items as soon as they hit the level cap. To remedy the situation hopefully once and for all, Gaz announced that it would be implementing a new tier of items above Cosmic called Omega. These items would offer both a new level of power and aim to increase build options.

Omega items were designed to work with a new difficulty slider, which would allow Gaz to create a potentially infinite item hunt by giving players new items to chase as they worked towards tackling higher and higher difficulty levels over time. I can’t speak for the entire community, but I can say that I was personally excited that Gaz may have finally figured out how to deal with the game’s item hunt issues, so I was looking forward to the implementation of these new items and difficulties more than anything else. Unfortunately, the new difficulties and items still haven’t made it into the game, pushed out on the production schedule due to the launch of Marvel Heroes on console earlier this year.

Marvel Heroes is considerably different, particularly on the item side of things, on console, but the builds are going to more or less be unified with the Omega patch currently slated for around November of this year, and yes, this patch will also include the implementation of Omega items and difficulty. This patch is not coming without controversy, however, as it was recently revealed that the item system as it exists on console will replace the current item system on PC. This means things like damage types are going away, being replaced with sets of keywords (or tags). For example, Storm’s powers won’t be Energy based as they are now on PC; instead you’ll see her Wind based powers tagged as Wind and her Lightning powers tagged with Lightning. From what I can tell, the console item design’s reception was mixed with the PC community, so players were naturally a bit apprehensive when they learned of the massive change coming to items with the Omega patch.

Fortunately, Gaz’s MichaelMayhem took the forums today with a dev blog addressing the merits of the keyword based system, but also to clarify some changes to the Omega item design, as well.  As far as the keyword item system goes, the short of it is that Gaz feels keywords are a more scalable design.  Instead of having to create items for every build and slot, Gaz can now make items that fit certain types of powers and players can flesh out their desired builds using items that fit those powers. If you want to focus on a guns and explosives build for Punisher, you simply chase items with those tags. I’m not particularly attached to the items in the game right now. I want to be hunting new stuff as much as possible and after reading the dev blog, I think I’ll be pretty OK with this setup. The really interesting changes are the changes MichaelMayhem outlined for the Omega item design.

Omega items were redesigned for similar scalability reasons. The initial goal was to start with five Omega items per hero to chase, but it turned out this wasn’t an adequate amount to address build diversity per hero since Omega items typically focused on a specific power. What if you didn’t use that power? Well, you wouldn’t have a whole lot of options available to you. This made the design call for more like 10-15 Omega items per character at minimum, with more needed to be added over time. The design was scrapped and instead we’ve now come full circle to the use of set items.

Set items have been a divisive issue in the Marvel Heroes community for many years. Most ARPGs have them, but they tend to come with tradeoffs. Gaz has struggled with figuring out the best way (if at all) to implement item sets in Marvel Heroes, but it appears the studio has finally found a place for them with Omega items. The main considerations when utilizing sets for the Omega item design were concerns over stash/inventory management due to having too many sets and ensuring that set items were useful without having to collect an entire set first.

To address the first issue, Gaz is locking Omega Item loot tables to the character being played. You’re not going to find Dormammu’s Embrace, which focuses on fire powers, while playing Wolverine, since Wolverine doesn’t use fire powers. The second issue is being addressed by budgeting the power of each affix tier to be equal. Tier 1 bonuses in a set will be roughly as powerful as a Tier 5 bonus, for example.

These sound like sensible solutions to the issues laid out, but I still worry about being pigeonholed into specific builds due to the history of set items in ARPGs. Frankly, this wouldn’t be too much different from the way things are now with uniques, but I’ve been waiting a while for this stuff, so hopefully mixing set items is similarly viable to simply putting together a full set and being done. I want to see some interesting ways to play come out of Omega items. I don’t ever expect Marvel Heroes to have the build diversity of Path of Exile, but I’d like to see Gaz push the limits as much as possible.

Even more than that, I’m really hoping this is the last major iteration to the item system. It shouldn’t take years to figure out the foundation for items in a game about hunting items. Given how disruptive these changes will be for players who have spent hundreds of hours hunting all sorts of items, this is likely to burn whatever’s left of the goodwill remaining in the PC community. This needs to be worth it. The BUE was controversial, but I do think it was the right direction for the game to take in terms of achieving long term stability and scalability for powers across a huge roster of characters. The same needs to be true for the item changes.

What’s your take on all of this? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB