By Seth Robison, Newsarama Contributor
Since debuting in 2002, HeroClix has stood out among all the superhero action RPG games thanks to its ever expanding gallery of miniature figures that do double duty as game pieces and as tiny works of art. In the past nine years over three thousand of them have been individually molded, decorated and bound by a common set of rules. Now the game is being brought online and Newsarama had the chance to take a few turns.
HeroClix Online is currently undergoing its “Paid Beta,” meaning that for a small fee players can take part in the game’s online shakedown, offer suggestions and report bugs. With the Beta label firmly attached, not much can be honestly said about the in-progress visuals and user interface, but with the groundwork laid it’s easy to see the direction the final game will take.
Foremost is the simulated economy that seeks to simulate the scarcity and randomness of the real-world process of buying sealed booster packs or trading/auctioning individual figures. To that end, HeroClix Online supports a micro-transaction system, where a common currency (Clixbucks) is used to buy sealed booster packs or crates of sealed booster packs. This currency is also used to enter tournaments, of which more Clixbucks are prize. Paid Beta members are supplied with a starter set of pieces from the Fantastic Four starter set, enough to play the basic game, but just as in the real-world, purchases of boosters becomes necessary to grow your competitive advantage, along with the attendant risks of ending up with lower-quality game pieces.
As it is presently constructed, HeroClix Online is supporting only Marvel Universe characters. The only boosters available are from the Hammer of Thor set which includes primarily Thor and his supporting cast, but also includes pieces like Captain America, Daredevil, Iron Man in his Thorbuster armor and all of the volume 2 iteration of the Runaways.
The lobby interface offers multiple tools for organizing your collection and contacting your friends. Apart from an announcements tab, there is the store tab where you can buy boosters and an auction tab that tracks all the ongoing sales. Another tab is set up for the deliberate opening of sealed virtual boxes, sifting through your collections and assembling teams in advance of competition. The lobby tab allows user to launch a pick-up game at any character point limit and for up to four players, or to join one of the scheduled tournaments.
The final tab is for a tutorial, though it is just for the online game’s user interface. While it ably takes players step-by-step though the game’s displays and the process of moving pieces across the game board, it does not go into detail as to the game’s actual rules. Those new to HeroClix entirely are vehemently encouraged to take the time to carefully read over the game’s rules, available on their website before attempting to play. While the game provides pop-up windows to explain individual player abilities, a lot of the game’s structural rules, like the ‘pushing’ system, are not entered into in a great amount of detail.
Once a match is launched, the game provides its most useful and welcome service, that of a completely impartial judge. From the initial dice roll that determines who picks what the map will be (three available at this point: The Baxter Building, Asgard and a S.H.I.E.L.D. base), who chooses their starting location first and who moves first and all though the match, the game will prohibit illegal actions, prompt players to use situational abilities and determine sight lines for ranged attacks. Anyone used to playing a ‘friendly’ board game of any type will quickly see how welcome this is. Having the game ‘computerized’ also helps during play in unexpected ways, by listing all available moves at any time, preventing players from missing opportunities.
In-match, the pieces are represented in their molded poses, without any additional animation, but with a fair level of detail that can be adjusted to an individual’s liking/PC power. The maps on the other hand, while floating free in space while attached to a HeroClix Online ‘base,’ feature small touches of animation: rippling water in a fountain or robots showing sparks while working away on armored suits. To view the action, there is a complicated system of camera adjustment and zooming. With a few clicks and some finagling, you can look from eight angles or from directly above all while being able to zoom in tightly to see any individual piece on the board, though not from their perspective, which limits its utility.
In play, HeroClix Online works similar to any turn-based strategy game. Its unique rules limit player movements and actions, and its ‘click’ system of hit points and developing/changing powers provide a special challenge to new players. At the same time it rewards those who take their time to do their homework about their individual characters. If a player knows personally how their character will change as they take damage they can plan ahead better for situations. For instance, a Doctor Doom piece available in the starter set will only be able to force re-rolls of any player’s attacks during a small window in the middle of his ‘click dial’ and not at the beginning of a match or near the end of his life.
A game of HeroClix Online moves at a very deliberate pace, while move timers are displayed, there are currently no consequences for reaching your time limit. Each turn, a player gets at least three moves to make, though each character, with some specific power-related exceptions, are limited individually by a fatigue system that will damage a character if he/she/it moves or attacks too many times in a row. Even with the game quickly resolving combat, expect a well-played game to take between thirty and forty-five minutes, with time spent early jockeying for position and missed die rolls complicating combat resolutions.
The largest barrier to HeroClix Online’s success is the acceptance by players of paying real money for virtual objects, something all but unheard of when the original game was launched, but not unusual in the age of Farmville and Team Fortress 2 hats. Another key will be to balance the desire to buy instead the real-world game pieces, which do double duty as tiny statues of favorite characters, with easier access to play the game without having to lug the figures around.