Tobold's Blog
Friday, December 06, 2013
 
Marvel Puzzle Quest thoughts

I've been playing Marvel Puzzle Quest on the iPad frequently over the last few weeks. And yesterday I saw that there is now a PC version of the game on Steam, and as the game is free I downloaded it for comparison. Now I also already tested the game on my Android phone, and by connecting both the iPad game and the Android game to my Facebook account, the two platforms both save the game in the cloud. As I consider Facebook very much a PC application (due to the heavy use of Flash), I very much expected the PC version of Marvel Puzzle Quest to also link to that Facebook cloud save. But no such luck. On the forums it says you can send them the userIDs from your mobile version and your PC version, and they will link them manually. But there is not automatic link available yet.

So as I was eager to see how the PC version differs from the mobile version, I just started from scratch without my saved game. There are some UI improvements on the PC version making your available resources more visible. But I still prefer the mobile version, because touch-and-swipe is so much more elegant than click-and-drag with a mouse.

Starting over the game from level 1 on the PC was an interesting experience. In the mobile version I had played only the PvE part until level 25, where you get stuck due to lack of PvE missions. It was only then that I discovered that Marvel Puzzle Quest has the weirdest form of PvP ever, one that doesn't actually involve other players all that much, and thereby avoids all the possible unpleasantness that can arise from playing against human opponents. In Marvel Puzzle Quest you only ever play against the AI, and the AI is always prompt to move, never rage-quits, and never sends you insults via the chat system. And the PvP rewards are often better than the PvE ones, so after the tutorial I dived right into the PvP part this time.

That rewarded me with an insight on the illusion of level power progress: I am doing pretty much exactly as well at level 1 in PvP in the PC version as I am doing at level 25 to 30 in PvP in the mobile version. Yeah, in the mobile version I have more super-heroes, which I can use to keep playing if my first team is wounded and I've run out of health packs. But by doing a good job of matchmaking, all that power gained by leveling turns out to be completely illusionary, as it is totally compensated by your opponents getting more powerful as well.

And then there is the aspect of Marvel Puzzle Quest, like so many other games, being a game of two parts: A core game of match-3, and a shell game around it with a story, rewards, tournament rules, and the like. Now many people tend to "play" the core game, and consider the shell game to be something to not be manipulated. Which is understandable if you consider real PvP games, where any manipulation of the ladder and matchmaking mechanics could well be seen as cheating. But as I said, Marvel Puzzle Quest PvP doesn't really involve real opponents, you only ever play against the AI controlling another player's super-heroes. And that PvP is rather asymmetric: You get three tries to beat the opponent, you can heal between fights while you opponent doesn't, and you can use boosts while your opponent can't. Basically it is rather difficult to not win in PvP. And the active player gets lots of rewards: Direct xp (called Iso-8) for winning, plus ranking points for the current tournament, plus various rewards for having passed certain levels of ranking points, plus a reward at the end for how high you came in the ranking. The defending player, who is completely passive, only loses ranking points, and apparently less of those than the attacker wins. And the only possible loss of a reward is that related to the final rank. You even sometimes play against opponents with 0 ranking points, thus people who don't actually participate in the tournament. So overall it is a strong positive-sum game, with the weird situation that even in aggregate there are more winners than losers.

Given that reward structure, I don't object to some meta-gaming, "playing" the shell game and manipulating the matchmaking. It might actually even be necessary in the long run. When I started PvP, I did so well in my very first tournament that I got paired after that against people of twice my level. But if you start a tournament, cash in on the immediate rewards for winning, and then field your weakest possible team, you will then get a string of offline "losses" for being such a weak defender and easy victim. So you don't get a good final tournament reward, but your overall hidden win-loss counter makes you get weaker opponents in the next tournament. Overall you get more rewards for deliberately losing offline than what you'd get if you tried to keep up a perfect win record with a strong defense.

One final remark on Marvel Puzzle Quest is that it is free only for limited values of "free". I had to spend 5 bucks to increase my rooster from 4 characters to 10 characters, which is what I would consider the minimum to make the game playable. The PC version Marvel Puzzle Quest has both in-game purchases, and the possibility to buy bundles via Steam. And to my great surprise the Steam bundles are extremely weird: They cost MORE than if you buy their parts all together in the in-game shop. I guess the price of the bundle is the normal cost of the parts, plus the cut Steam gets. But that makes the bundles rather unattractive, as you don't want to spend more and be forced to buy both Iso-8 and hero points bundled together with no rebate.

Comments:
Been meaning to try PQ: Marvel for awhile now. Should probably get to that, but my commutes have mostly been filled with Harvest Moon for the 3DS lately.

I'm curious Tobold, have you played the Neverwinter MMO? Since you post about D&D I wondered if you had tried it.
 
Nevermind, found your post here http://tobolds.blogspot.jp/2013/05/neverwinter-first-impressions.html

Sorry!
 
I would *expect* it to be harder to make progress at later levels in any game involving skill. You are supposed to have learned something and be facing greater challenges.
 
In Marvel PQ, I find that PvP progress is not actually an illusion. If your characters are level 1, you can win a few fights, maybe not that different from the number of wins you can get with level-20 toons. But you will *not* place in the top-100 of any tournament. Those places will go to the long-term hardcore gamer with level 80+ 3-star toons, just like any MMO.

In WoW terms, the game is equally easy at level 1-20. But max-level arena is far tougher.
 
In Marvel PQ, I find that PvP progress is not actually an illusion. If your characters are level 1, you can win a few fights, maybe not that different from the number of wins you can get with level-20 toons. But you will *not* place in the top-100 of any tournament. Those places will go to the long-term hardcore gamer with level 80+ 3-star toons, just like any MMO.

In WoW terms, the game is equally easy at level 1-20. But max-level arena is far tougher.
 
In Marvel PQ, I find that PvP progress is not actually an illusion. If your characters are level 1, you can win a few fights, maybe not that different from the number of wins you can get with level-20 toons. But you will *not* place in the top-100 of any tournament. Those places will go to the long-term hardcore gamer with level 80+ 3-star toons, just like any MMO.

In WoW terms, the game is equally easy at level 1-20. But max-level arena is far tougher.
 
I installed Marvel PQ after reading your review and I've been enjoying it, but the one frustrating aspect I found is in the PvP side where the people who defeat you take Rank points off you. I spent my day off playing and made it into the top 10, and when I woke up this morning I found I'd been attacked about 8 times and lost so many Rank points that I'd dropped into the 50s. Fortunately the tournament ends 9am my time, so I can spend a few hours tomorrow morning hopefully securing my spot among the higher ranked "winners".
 
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