With great power comes great responsibility. Gazillion Entertainment and Secret Identity Studios were handed the power of the entire Marvel Universe and tasked with the responsibility of creating not only a Diablo-esque game featuring Marvel characters but also a free-to-play MMO. Both genres have a graveyard of ambitious attempts at success but can Marvel Heroes be any different even with the title looking like a slam dunk on paper with iconic heroes, Diablo-like gameplay designed by the minds behind the Diablo series, and being free? In some ways it already is but not everything is rosy in the land of mutants and super powers. The issues that Marvel Heroes suffers from are likely to drag it down unless Gazillion acknowledges and addresses them quickly.
The plot to Marvel Heroes comes from the mind of Brian Michael Bendis who is best known for being the creative genius behind Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. Dr. Doom has gotten his hands on the all powerful Cosmic Cube featured in Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers. The prologue has him hiring Hydra to break out all of the super villains in a prison called The Raft and steal other high powered artifacts. Heroes gather to figure out and stop Doom’s plan. Despite the pedigree of the writer, the actual writing ends up feeling like a rejected comic book crossover feeding off elements made relevant in the recent Marvel movies. In other words, Bendis phoned this one in.
Luckily the draw of these types of crossover games isn’t the plot but getting to play and interact with all of your favorite characters. On the surface Marvel Heroes performs great fan service with including a wide variety of characters in the Marvel Universe as both playable and non-playable. The characters range from fan favorites like Spider-Man to more obscure heroes such as Rocket Raccoon. Each character feels unique with their own set of 3 skill trees featuring both active and passive moves/powers that the hero is best known for. There is enough variety in the skill trees that when mixed with the bonuses from equipment that rarely will two heroes be built the same.
As I mentioned, on the surface everything is hunky dory but then the free-to-play aspect of the game rears it’s ugly head. At the start of the game, players get a choice between what can only be considered the B-List containing 5 Marvel super heroes — Hawkeye, Daredevil, Scarlet Witch, Storm, and The Thing. At the end of the prologue players receive another random hero from the starting five and after completing the main plotline players receive another random hero from the whole pool of heroes. Any other hero that a player wants to play must either be dropped as an item in the game or bought from the online store. Because of the fact that most of the players you will be running into will be out of the starting 5, be prepared to get irritated by the quips coming from your character as you pass them by. I got to the point of turning down the sound after the hundredth time of hearing Hulk say “Hey Hawkeye, does anybody actually think you’re useful?”. It doesn’t matter how true it is.
That wouldn’t be so bad except over the course of playing the game for 9 hours I never saw a hero drop and the prices in the store range from $10-20. The advertising for the game of course focuses on fan favorite heroes like The Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, and Wolverine to draw players in to download the title for free but then they are stuck playing a character they don’t want to play. Of course if they drop that 20 bones in the Marvel Heroes Store, they can run around rampaging as The Hulk right out of the gate.
Item drops in Heroes come off as Diablo-lite. You can see the inspiration in them as most of the other game mechanics but they just don’t reach that level of complexity. There are armor and item slots that are hero specific while more generic items like medals from killing bosses are universal. Modifiers are randomized on the items and they have different levels of rarity. The great thing about the equipment is that the stats actually make a difference. Too many games get away with doing +1 strength and you just don’t notice but Marvel Heroes loves putting boosts to skills and moves on the gear that really amps up the character and their fun factor.
Unfortunately there is no trade outside of dropping things on the ground. You do have a couple of choices of what to do with unwanted items. Save them for your other heroes, sell them to a merchant, or donate them to the merchants/crafters. If you donate them you will raise the level of the type of merchant/crafter and they will provide higher end items. Of course once you max out your donations then there really isn’t too much to do other than sell or toss the items and that is disappointing. The upside is that chat isn’t spammed nearly as much with people trying to trade or sell items for real life money.
The interesting thing is that this way of handling items will leave you needing a lot of bank space but guess what? You only get a single tab of bank slots. If you want more you must *dun dun dun* get ready to pony up cash. For around 3 bucks a piece you can be another couple regular bank tabs, a couple crafting item only tabs, and hero specific tabs. I looked around and I have found no indication that you can expand your bank through item drops. If that is the case, free to play has reared it’s ugly head once again taking just a little bit more enjoyment out of Marvel Heroes.
The core game is split up into chapters, 8 (9 if you count the prologue) to be precise, and each chapter features 2 types of areas; public and private instanced. Instead of choosing a set server, the whole game is instanced with public areas allowing you to partition off a certain number of random people and your group while private instances are limited to you and your group. Private areas are where large chunks of the game will end up happening. A majority of the plot along with all of the end game happen in private areas.
Public areas feature endless spawning enemies and are the maps that players will run into a multitude of other random people playing Marvel Heroes. These areas are essentially the MMO part of the title. Outside of the enemies only 2 things usually happen on these massive maps, smaller quests outside of the main storyline and public bosses. The public bosses have all been pumped up in the health category to take damage from 30 or more heroes taking 3-5 minutes to take down. It really makes no sense outside of the context of gameplay because I am pretty sure Venom or Rhino just aren’t that much stronger than Doom or Doc Ock.
Locations from all over the Marvel Universe play host to the hack and slash action moving from New York City areas to the Savage Land to Latveria. Avenger’s Tower, X-Mansion, Savage Land, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier play the role of town center depending on the chapter. Between the characters, locations, and references, there is a little bit of everything in Marvel Heroes for Marvel fans. The downside yet again is that you complete the core game by level 25 having seen all of the locations.
So what does the end game entail for your character’s other 35 levels till the level 60 cap? Either a pvp arena or running private instances, some of which are on a daily timer. This pretty much leaves players without that public instance interaction except in town hubs. The endgame of Marvel Heroes takes the MMO out of the game. The instances might be bearable if they provided new content but as they stand right now they are just remixes of content found through the main story and it becomes pretty clear that their main purpose is to be filler content for leveling up to cap. Outside of leveling, these endgame instances are there to farm for item drops. The highest level instances are just about players only chances of getting hero drops.
Marvel Heroes has the potential to be a great title, but thanks to the free to play limitations placed on the title, I have a strong feeling most players will run through the game one time with a character they probably didn’t want to play as until the story is done. They will then look at the lackluster endgame and not play again. Gazillion is already taking steps to improve Marvel Heroes though. Price drops on heroes can be expected along with sale events. Once characters get down to $3 to $5 a piece and something is done about the endgame content, Marvel Heroes might be a great title to come back to every couple of months for some super hero hack and slash action.