Its been four years in the making. Four years in a lab being pumped full of chemicals. Four years being scrutinised my technicians and engineers. Four years drinking strange potions and getting super powers. Four years, and now its here. Marvel Heroes burst onto the precious internet universe in a free to play format. Combining this Free to Play format the isometric camera of Diablo and Torchlight with the free to play monetization allows everyone to get into the Marvel universe and get out what they put in. However, its not all super heroes and beating up thugs, there are problems. Can the heroes save the day, or will the villainous problems destroy everything.
Straight out of the gates lets look at the story and world presented to the player, and I’m pleased to say as a Marvel Fan that they have done a fantastic job in writing the game and giving you reasons to beat endless streams of enemies to a pulp. Or indeed shock them to death or laser or whatever you have. The overarching storyline is presented to you through a detailed and voiced motion comic each of which generally lasting for a few minute. Not too long as to make the game feel like an interactive DVD but just enough let you rest back and enjoy the ride. For this reason if you are a Marvel fan right now you’ve got to at least consider downloading it too, at least its not going to cost you a penny or dime but will tell you a good story. You don’t really get to develop your own personal story or make any choices which would demonstrate a sense of player agency but its still enjoyable comic flavoured fun.
The areas of the game jump between the high tech Avengers Tower, the beaten broken streets of Hells Kitchen and the beaches of Madripoor to name but a few. Through these overarching zones as we could call them you will enter damaged boats and sunken tombs in the search for the evil which rises over the world. The areas are nice enough but nothing really stands out in them as being a spectacle. More like storyboard locations which are built but not given the attention they deserve. Bland browns and copy and paste features litter the areas sometimes with no reason for them to be there. The instances sadly follow the same line being just a collection of corridors and rooms with nothing inspiring in them. It doesn’t detract from the game in all truth but without the ooo and aaaah moments they don’t become memorable in any way.
Beating up thugs and blasting special effects across the game world, this is where it counts and Marvel Heroes gets this important gameplay aspect so so right. Leaping around feels smooth and silky while the ranged damage hits with a satisfying thump as enemies are flung to the way side with super human feats of strength. They are all fairly pretty and the option to turn the effects of your fellow players up or down allows the player to get the sense of immersion in this mass conflict that they desire. Leveling comes quickly enough with yellow orbs giving you little boosts of experience combined with smaller random events like freeing a S.H.I.E.L.D agent from a Hydra oppressor give you satisfying bursts towards the next level. On the other side though, when you level up you don’t normally feel more powerful. In games like Diablo, Darksiders II or even Chivalry when you level up and unlock something else you feel a difference in your style and ply while the game tries to force you to use your new found abilities to defend against more powerful and numerous foes. Marvel Heroes just…. just doesn’t.
My personal playthrough has been with Daredevil with a second play on Scarlet Witch (because, like so many others I was getting duplicate hero drops or they simply weren’t dropping) and while my abilities were becoming more bombastic and impressive, they didn’t feel necessary. One could quite happy play through as Daredevil for example like I did, learning many abilities but only using 3 with an extra one if surrounded. Ok most games of this style do that no denial there but they make the other abilities you don’t use still viable and make you still want to try and use them. Not once after slotting a different ability did the thought “that’s amazingly more powerful” even remotely jump through the screen.
This is a free to play MMO. And what do you expect from an MMO. Other people. Other people Marvel Heroes has in droves everywhere. For example there are events where a large well known super villain like Venom will spawn in an area and players have to work together to defeat them. And, as you can see from the attached screen shot, it gets manic as balls. Abilities and heroes zipping around flying everywhere it actually makes the target harder to see. Yet there is no cohesion. There are no visible groups or gatherings of players tackling content themselves in an organised manner. Although in fairness it never feels necessary even after completing the story mode on a character. You just go do it on another or on the same one. Instances, where players are put into an individual copy of an area to fight a boss, are frequent and just sling you in with whoever else clicked on the door at the same time. It doesn’t necessarily feel like an MMO. The social aspect is almost at zero, no-one speaks no-one adds friends and no-one really seems to want to. The social tab itself is uninviting to find and doesn’t make itself easily visible not to mention the game never actually points you to it once.
I have been a little neutral throughout the review but there are some features that have really stood out. The little off the beaten path single person rooms with some slightly more difficult enemies oft yield a large dollop of experience and high chances at nicer gear. The random public events are derived from as far back as Warhammer Online’s public quest system as well as Rift’s.. rifts and the Arkfalls of Defiance and bring many heroes together. The drop rates are normally very forgiving too.Within 3 hours my Daredevil was kitted out in almost all blues and purples. Not that this made any difference to how he looked. Welcome to my main gripe with this game.
If you’ve ever played another loot whoring game like Borderlands, Diablo or Torchlight you feel two senses of achievement when something drops. You get a change in your looks and you get a change in your ability. Marvel Heroes doesn’t do that. You get a minor change in capability if you really look hard for it and then your character doesn’t change at all! A somewhat deep; and by somewhat I mean its got stuff in it and you can donate gear to make it give you more stuff, crafting system brings you the option to make some aesthetic changes to your character but its not as substantial as seeing a huge new flashing weapon or an amazingly pretty set of shoes on your footsies. The only way to look radically different and at the same time get a different hero without needing your luck to come save the day is to pay. And by god will you be paying.
I’m a huge fan of Iron Man and me and Deadpool have always shared a few laughs. However for the price of buying both of these characters to play with I could buy a full other game in the same style that didn’t have others running around but had many hours more deep content and 4 different classes at least for me to choose from. The novelty of this might be worth the price to some players however free to play games don’t always bring these kinds of players. Free to play games are designed you’d think for people with lower incomes or more casual gaming schedules to come play spend a couple of dollars and then leave happy. Marvel Heroes seems to be designed with the ideal in mind of oh you like Marvel? Well if you want to play as a character you like you’re probably going to have to pay. Oh and do you want to look different to the others with your favourite character. You’re going to have to pay too. Its a game which you know when looking at it will lead to a vast amount of in game purchases made on the credit cards of parents the world over in the promise of homework or chores being completed.
This is its greatest shame, this is why it only scores 65/100. Now before anyone flies in with a wild accusation let me tell you now. I’ve spend time working with free to play games and I’ve been a games retailer for a number of years. I know that I shouldn’t expect a fully fledged deep game from free to play. I also know that in game transactions support the games existence and developers. Free to play is a good thing, it works and it helps the industry diversify into other kinds of games. But Marvel Heroes does have a problem of not only ramming down your throat every time you want to play as a different character or look better but even when you mis click on your keyboard. You can actually press x to enter the ingame DLC store. Not have to click on a number of options or menu buttons but press X. Surely its not that urgent that we have to have a dedicated button on our keyboards just for this. Gazillion seems to think so. With such writing and development talent behind the game I would have expected a more rounded experience. Spending £20 to play as a character I like with not even the most expensive armour set however. I’d rather buy a full game that didn’t keep ramming monetization down my throat and making me spit bile whenever I thought about it.
It’s good for fun and its good for free. If you want to pay you can, but be careful when you do as well. I may be writing further about this but from three other people I know personally playing this game two of them have had run ints with the games customer service team already. One because they didn’t get what they selected and told “sorry we can’t do anything about that” and one because they accidentally clicked on a costume they didn’t want and have never used it but still got the same “sorry we can’t do anything about that response”.
If you’re looking for a new free to play game to keep you busy you can’t do a lot worse than Marvel Heroes. Just be careful, the predatory monetization of the game will come find you then bite you in the ass unless you are careful.