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Black Widow Rework First Impressions

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Gazillion has been hard at work at a massive push of content for Marvel Heroes themed around the Avengers: Age of Ultron film release set for next week. The update will add a new Age of Ultron game mode, quality-of-life reworks for both Black Widow and Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch’s long awaited level 52 review, and The Vision as an entirely new playable character. There’s also a suite of new Age of Ultron themed costumes coming for all of the characters above, as well as The Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man.

Scarlet Witch’s level 52 review, as well as Black Widow and Hawkeye's quality-of-life reworks, hit Test Center yesterday. I wanted to take this week’s column to discuss my first impressions of Black Widow as she somewhat recently became my new main on live. While I do understand that this is her first iteration on Test Center and as such nothing is final, I have to say that I’m overall disappointed with the changes, even though I get why a lot of them were made.  Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Black Widow’s rework.

The Good

Natasha’s updated uniques aren’t in this build yet, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to Gazillion on this one as just about every unique worked on for a while now has ended up in a much better spot. I’m confident at this point that Widow’s uniques will be no different. Kit wise, Gaz has really cleaned things up overall and they’ve given Widow’s signature ability, Twilight Initiative, some solid buffs in the form of a DoT and stun component as well as a reset for all other powers on cooldown. Additionally, I’m glad the designers maintained the remote explosive build paths for those who were interested in that. I’m also particularly intrigued by the potential for a build centered on her reworked Covert Sniper ability. Her sniper attack has a four-second cooldown that resets whenever you enter stealth. This change makes it possible to snipe, roll (enter stealth), and snipe over and over as long as you have the spirit to keep it going. I don’t know if this is something that will catch on, but I’ve had fun playing around with it on Test Center so far.

Oh, and I definitely love the new ride.


The Bad

I play Natasha as a primarily melee character on live, and I feel like this build has been completely ruined for me now for a number of reasons. Major changes to her kit aside (more on that in the next section), my biggest beef is with Gaz’s positioning of Widow’s new Electric Batons power as her melee spirit dump. Yes, the batons are cool, I get it. But I don’t want to spam them. They’re just not iconic to Black Widow. If I wanted to hit people with batons all day, I’d play Daredevil. Unfortunately, Deadly Blade seems to have been relegated to being nothing more than a melee damage layering power that you hit every four seconds to keep its bleed going instead of a major source of melee damage as it is on live. I’m as excited as the next guy for the new film and to see Widow lay down some pain with her new weapons, but I don’t think the primary visual for the character in melee should be themed after a gimmick pulled out from one film of the many in which she has appeared.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always seen Black Widow as an often lethal character, and taser batons just don’t scream that to me. I’m hoping Gaz will re-position the power as something to layer into your rotation (perhaps add a debuff that is exploited by Deadly Blade?) instead of serving as your main spirit dump. Even if Gaz does want to retain Electric Batons as a spirit dump, I feel Deadly Blade should at least be a viable alternative a la Punisher’s Burst Fire vs. Buckshot Blast. The designers did a great job with Punisher in that regard.


The Ugly

I’ve always wanted to play Black Widow in Marvel Heroes, but up until the last few months, I couldn’t really bring myself to level her and gear her up. Eventually, I pushed myself to slog through it, and after gearing her up I came to realize she was one of the most fun characters available in the game. Sure, her items and aspects of her kit were showing their age, but the overall flow of playing the character hit all the right marks for me.

If you play Black Widow as a primarily melee character on live, your goal is to debilitate your enemies with your Sweep kick and gadgets such as Widow’s Kiss and Anti-Personnel Grenades in order to set them up for a massive burst of damage from Coup de Grace.  All of that setup is tied to Natasha’s Widowmaker secondary resource, as Coup de Grace deals additional damage to knocked down (Sweep kick) and stunned (Anti-Personnel Grenades) enemies. Once you’ve unleashed your full combo, you can pop Twilight Initiative to enter stealth, blast them again, and then dispatch them with your knife before they even know you’re there.

On live, the entire kit flows together well both in terms of mechanics and visuals. Black Widow isn’t a one-dimensional character that only fights in melee or ranged, and the above rotation mixes it all in together in a way that’s satisfying to play. You’re using your gun, your martial arts, your knives, and your gadgets, all in one build.

Now? Now Natasha is either fully melee or fully-ranged. The secondary resource, Widowmaker, has been completely removed in favor of adding cooldowns to Deadly Kick and Coup de Grace.  Deadly Kick now grants players a 20% buff to melee damage for a duration while Coup de Grace grants the same buff for ranged damage. Both powers also share a cooldown, so they’re mutually exclusive. If you’re going melee, you’re going to be using Deadly Kick instead of Coup, period.


I’ve never been a fan of Gazillion’s implementation of secondary resources, most of the time they’ve been clunky, but Widowmaker was one of the few exceptions that I felt really added to the character.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind losing the resource itself; it is hard to take advantage of vs. certain enemies since not all enemies can be stunned or knocked down. My gripe is that the new buffs on the powers pigeon hole you into choosing one or the other based on your build. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. Lots of characters have a set up like this, and it does make perfect sense design wise.

The problem is that, at least in my opinion, this removes the unique flavor of Coup de Grace as an explosive burst of damage available to all Widow builds. Even as a melee Widow, Coup de Grace is just far more flavorful than Deadly Kick. It’s incredibly satisfying to weave in a massive close range gunshot into your melee rotation.  Instead of trying to make Deadly Kick and Coup de Grace fill the same niche in the kit depending on whether you’re melee or ranged, I’d like to see Coup de Grace remain the build agnostic burst of damage it is now (retain the baked in damage buff and cooldown and make the damage buff build agnostic). Then something else should be done with Deadly Kick to make it attractive for melee builds. Maybe move the new stealth bonus damage from Sweep Kick to Deadly Kick to make it an analog to Covert Sniper as an optional power for melee builds that emphasize stealth?


Have you played around with Black Widow on Test Center? What’s your take so far? 


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