GAME NAME: Marvel Heroes
DEVELOPER(S): Gazillion Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Gazillion Entertainment
RELEASE DATE(S): June 4th 2013
I’ve been big on Marvel Heroes for a while, I mean what’s not to like? A Marvel: Ultimate Alliance-esque MMORPG combining the best of MMO’s and Diablo, boasting a cast of iconic comic book heroes, and brought to us by Gazillion Entertainment (who are headed by Diablo co-creator David Brevik). Oh, and it’s free to play! So far, so good.
However, upon starting a new game we begin to notice some of the compromises that the F2P model has forced upon us. Despite boasting a very impressive roster of twenty one characters, players are restricted to just five free characters for their initial choice. Daredevil (melee damage), Hawkeye (ranged damage), Scarlet Witch (ranged caster), Storm (ranged controller) and Thing (tank) do a good job of representing the archetypes available in the game, while also ensuring those A-class heroes everyone loves (Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman) are held back for those willing to put their hands in their pockets. They’ll have to dig deep too because characters can be bloody expensive, between £15 – £20 for the top tier choices! Packs of multiple heroes and costumes are available to lower the cost a bit but at £60 – £65 each, even those can make your wallet shed a tear.
That said, Gazillion have gone to great lengths to stress that the game is 100% playable even if you don’t put any money in at all, every character is perfectly able to finish the game and as a heavily loot driven game (did you really think a Diablo inspired game by David Brevik was going to be anything else?) the opportunities to spec your chosen hero towards your play style are plentiful. So, with that in mind, that’s exactly what I tried to do for my review playthrough. I committed to spending no real world money, so let’s see just how much juice we can wring from this fruit.
The story starts out with Doctor Doom up to his usual tricks. He’s got his hands on a Cosmic Cube and plans to take over the world! After engineering a prison break to free some of the world’s most dangerous super villains, Doom partners with Hydra to pull off his dastardly scheme. Determined to foil Doom, the various superheroes of the Marvel world combine forces. First they must tackle the mass of escaped villains, before turning their attention to Doom and his plan.
Marvel Heroes plays like Diablo, Torchlight, Titan Quest and a host of other pretenders. Players use clicks to both navigate areas and attack enemies, while special attacks are mapped to the keyboard. However, the MMO leanings of Marvel Heroes rear their head between action sequences with a dynamic hub world filled with other players. I’ll be honest, it can be disconcerting to see twenty Hawkeye’s running around, as you might expect the free characters are much more plentiful than any of the paid characters, but it’s something you quickly adjust to. Personally I enjoyed the approach DC Universe Online had with players crafting their own unique hero, but even there most just tried to emulate existing heroes and we ended up with a run of cheap looking knock-offs so perhaps this was the better approach? In the hub overworld you can team up with other heroes between dungeons in order to work together, a requirement in some of the later dungeons. However, don’t have any friends to play with? Don’t worry, you’ll find yourself auto-partied in the dungeons that require teams.
Combat is fast paced, and yes, it’s a click-a-thon. However, I don’t see that as a negative and Marvel Heroes wears that badge proudly. You know exactly what you are getting here, and it’ll be instantly familiar to millions. The special powers mapped to the keyboard work a little differently, requiring MP to power them, a resource that’s finite but recharges over time. Equipment perks and boosts can both increase your pool of MP and it’s recharge rate, but you’ll also have to contend with ability cooldowns so for the most part you’ll have to temper your use of the higher end powers to ensure your survival, no spamming of those big AOE attacks I’m afraid.
As you rain down pain and death upon your opponents, they’ll drop all sorts of loot, glorious glorious loot. Unfortunately, much like the approach to heroes, the better loot is rare to find and hidden behind the paywall for the most part. While you might stumble across one of Iron Man’s many rare costumes (he has a ridiculous amount of costumes), the chances are you’re much more likely to find a minor item that’s almost worthless. That’s not to say that the game isn’t perfectly playable without finding this high level loot though, costumes are cosmetic changes and the loot that actually affects your character unfortunately doesn’t change their appearance so it’s all about the stats.
Unfortunately, even the stats are rendered somewhat meaningless by a ridiculously generous difficulty curve, and by curve I mean an almost straight line. Even when played almost completely solo, I never found myself struggling at any point. When forced to team up during specific events, the game became even easier with enemies offering no challenge at all outside of the end of stage bosses, didn’t really require any great thought, it just took longer to wear down their large health bar. That’s my problem with Marvel Heroes, it’s fun to play, but it just offers nothing in the way of a challenge. I’d guess that in an effort to ensure their F2P model appeals to the widest audience, ensuring the best possible financial returns, Gazillion have taken too many steps to make the game “accessible”, destroying the difficulty in the process.
Additionally, if you fancy taking a different character for a run, there’s nothing in place to accommodate. You’ll have to put your hand in your pocket, spend some real cash and just hope that your purchase works in your favour. With the Marvel Universe open to them, I cannot help but feel that perhaps Gazillion could have made use of the Danger Room from The X-Men, allowing players to trial potential purchases, get a feel for how they handle. You’ll also likely want to start over, as each hero levels individually, so the chances of being able to play the later stages with a grossly underpowered hero are slim. Sure the story that plays out is good, especially if you are a Marvel Comics fan, but I’m not sure it holds up to multiple playthroughs. It’s much more likely that you’ll pick a character early doors and stick with them, leveling them for the end game content.
Talking of that, the PvP is currently still in BETA, and to be honest they’ve got a ways to go to ensure it’s balanced. For PvE content however, there is no such problems. Terminals offer daily challenges, with players required to complete green mission to earn tokens to enable them to then face tougher red challenges. Unfortunately, the drop rate for the “Cosmic Key” tokens is, much like the others, unbalanced at the moment, with the game happy to encourage you to instead put your hand in your pocket. Players unwilling to do so will instead perhaps tackle either of the purple terminal mission, titled group and survival. While group will send you and a group of four others into a dungeon to face off with improved enemies and a boss, it’s survival that will appeal to seasoned MMO players more, sending up to sixteen players into an arena to stand against wave after wave of bad guys. This is the mode that encourages true MMO co-operative play, with players required to play their roles of tank, healer, etc…. to ensure that the group as a whole prevails. Survival is where the end game shines and luckily is also where the greatest rewards can be earned, ensuring those who wish to push their characters towards that level cap can do so without having to just mindlessly grind.
Presentation-wise, Gazillion have done a great job. While admittedly most of the costumes are hidden away behind the paywall, or the low rate drops, the actual model design is top notch. Characters will be instantly recognisable to fans, while the more iconic heroes will be recognisable to all. The real shining point though must be the gorgeous comic book art style cut-scenes, used to tell the excellent story crafted by legendary scribe Brian Michael Bendis, although the story does lean heavily on popular characters from the X-Men and Avengers.
For a F2P game, Marvel Heroes offers more than most. I finished the main story, admittedly too easily for my liking, without the need to spend a penny and not once did I feel the game was pushing the option to buy extras on me, something many F2P games are very guilty of. For an entry price of zero there’s certainly plenty of meat to chew through, and the end game content offers enough options that maxing out your chosen character isn’t a grindfest. However, in pursuit of that F2P model, it feels like Gazillion have made one too many concessions, sacrificing any real difficulty curve in order to draw in as many players as possible. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was never overly challenging, it still carried a need for a certain level of skill, a need to master the playstyle of specific characters. Now in Marvel Heroes you can simply plant your feet and hit an enemy until they die, regardless of whether you are playing as a tank. A pity, because it takes away significantly from my desire to return for another playthrough with a different character, which in reality is essential to realising profits on the F2P model.