‘HeroClix Online’ Beta Is A Solid Reproduction Of The Tabletop Game [Review]
HeroClix Online, the digital version of the collectible miniature toy strategy game featuring characters from the Marvel, DC Comics and other franchises, is currently in the process of hosting its paid beta version, giving early adopters a chance to take part in testing an early version of the game on the cheap. Parent company WizKids gave ComicsAlliance access to the beta version, which reproduces the game well, albeit with room for a few desired improvements moving forward.
The game does an excellent job at replicating HeroClix in a digital edition. Over the course of the game's almost ten year existence it's grown more complex in an effort to make each superhero figure play more like the specific character it represents. And HeroClix Online does a great job of keeping all of that while maintaining as simple an interface as possible. The game keeps track of any complex interactions between powers canceling out other powers or modifying ability scores so you're never at risk of forgetting something important in a large game. It reminds you when you've got an ability you could use to modify an attack roll. It automatically judges line of sight so there's no arguing with your opponent over whether your Doctor Doom can clearly shoot his Mister Fantastic. It doesn't go very far in adding to the experience of the original. While maps are rendered in three dimensions, with walls and upper levels no longer limited to a flat surface, characters remain a static three-dimensional duplicate of the original figure with no sort of added animation to represent combat. In short, it's a faithful recreation of the tabletop game.
My biggest concern with the current version of the game is its pricing. As of the beta, digital booster packs of 5 characters cost about $12, about equivalent to the price of a real, physical booster pack of HeroClix. And that's a deal-breaker. According to a recent statement by the HeroClix Online team, the justification for that pricing is-
HeroClix Online is designed to provide an alternative method for eager players unable to make it to their local hobby shop to enjoy the game. As such, it is not intended to compete with the physical tabletop game-neither in gameplay nor pricing. The local game and comic shops are the lifeblood of the product line. Willingly competing with our stores on front list product is NOT the intention of WizKids or HeroClix Online.
And while I can understand an explanation like that being given for the digital edition of a trading card game, this is different. HeroClix figurines cost more than other collectible games because the small, painted plastic figures have higher production costs. The savings on not producing those figures needs to be passed onto consumers. But more than that, a HeroClix figure is also a small collectible item, something that's visually appealing to have on, say, a desk or a shelf with a few other toys. Expecting players to pay the same amount for the right to access numbers and pictures on a server seems impractical, and potentially discouraging for new players on HeroClix Online's part.
Future digital sets may include boosters that cost $1 and contain one random figure. But the game's store uses a special non-refundable in-game currency, ClixBux, that's only sold in increments of $5 and can't be bought in amounts less than $10 at a time. The game's in-game auction house, which also uses ClixBux only, may provide an alternative for players only looking to grab specific figures, but as of yet it's unclear how easily available or expensive they'll be once the game goes public. The possibility of including codes in physical products that unlock related content online is another alternative HeroClix is exploring that might help matters.
Another less significant issue is that, in general, the game's target audience consists of players looking for one-on-one games against random opponents in a competitive tournament setting. As someone who'd like to reconnect with friends I used to play the tabletop with, who have since relocated across the country, I'd like to see a little more support for players interested in larger multiplayer games. While HeroClix Online can handle tournaments of up to 64 players at a time, those consist of only one-versus-one matches. The most fun games of HeroClix I've played have been two players versus two players or four standalone players. I didn't have a chance to try HeroClix Online with more than two players, but the fact that dropped connections result in automatic player forfeit could make multiplayer tricky. Considering how long multiplayer games of HeroClix can go, it'd be nice to have the option in non-competitive games to save and resume later, which is currently not possible in the beta. Otherwise I'm not sure I want to risk losing a 45-minute game at the end because one of my friends had a network or wifi hiccup.
The casual game side of HeroClix Online is also a much bigger draw for me because tournaments don't allow cross-brand teams, and if I can't have a team that includes both Batman and Wolverine I'm not sure why I'm playing HeroClix in the first place. On that note, I'm hoping HeroClix Online is quick to include more of the various brands and universes the tabletop game has included over the years. While both Marvel and DC sets are on the horizon for HeroClix Online's wide release, being able to form team Batman-Spider-man-Hellboy-Guile would certainly tempt me to come back for more.
One last note. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, HeroClix Online is PC only. Sorry Mac users. I happen to know a lot of people who work in comics, love comics, are fans of HeroClix, but own Macs. These are people who not only might play the game, but might also publicly advocate the game to other fans and potential online players. Giving them a chance to play without having to jump through the hoops to play PC games on a Mac might be beneficial to HeroClix Online in the long run.
What I'd ideally like to see in the wide release:
As a literal translation of the HeroClix tabletop game, HeroClix Online mostly delivers. Though aspects of the game may see minor mods or major overhauls by the time the game sees wide release, the beta could benefit from a more multiplayer-friendly approach, the inclusion of more character sets and brands from the tabletop version and Mac support.