It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Action-RPG games. I recently took a look at The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, and I’ve also taken a look at both games in the Torchlight series and Diablo III. So when David Brevik, one of the guys in charge of both Diablo and Diablo II, announced that he was set to work on another Action-RPG, I was instantly intrigued. Then I found out that it was based on the Marvel universe and I was sold a thousand times over. The long wait is finally over and Marvel Heroes is here among us, but does it hold up against Brevik’s previous works in the genre?
There are plenty of characters to choose from in Marvel Heroes, but if you intend to play the game without spending a penny then you only get to choose from a selection five at the start of the game: Hawkeye, Storm, Daredevil, Scarlet Witch and Thing. After selecting one of these characters you’re dropped into the game and it’s time to start grabbing as much loot as you can, levelling up your character and equipping better and better gear. That doesn’t mean that the game is open-ended though, allowing you to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it; quite the opposite, in fact. Marvel Heroes is broken up into different chapters that you play through in a very linear fashion, moving from one chapter to the next until you take on and destroy Victor Von Doom. Once that happens you’re on to the end-game and that’s where things open up a little bit more, but still not as much as a lot of people might have hoped.
The end-game in Marvel Heroes consists of a selection of repeatable missions that contain waves of enemies and conclude with a boss. This end-game content has a greater chance of dropping rare items – which can include characters that you’d otherwise have to pay for – so it’s a good job to get in on them, but don’t expect them to stay fresh and new for long, it won’t take long until things start to get a little stale and old. A constant supply of fresh content would come in handy and with half a century of stories, as well as a plethora of characters to choose from, Gazillion aren’t exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel with what they can bring to the table. I’d personally love to see a load of people work together to take on a celestial like Galactus.
The RPG elements of the genre are here too, although they’re lessened a little when compared to something like The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. Each time a character levels up, you’ll be given two points which you can spend on a select number of abilities you may have obtained. Spending points on these abilities will do a number of different things based on which ability you’re upgrading; for instance, if it’s a defensive ability then it might heal (or absorb) more damage, whereas if it’s an offensive ability, it will probably deal more damage. Which abilities you have available in the power tree is dependant on your current level, and the higher level you are, the more abilities you have – pretty obvious stuff really.
Another staple of the Action-RPG genre is the loot, and there’s a lot of it in Marvel Heroes. The biggest downside about the loot, for me, is the fact that whether you equip the first item you come across, or the best version of that gear in the entire world, it’s always going to look exactly the same based on which costume you’ve selected (and often paid) to wear. It makes sense given the business model that they’re using for the game, but there’s no denying that being able to walk around and see how good someone is at a game simply by what gear they’re wearing at a glance is one of the best elements of an MMO, and that aspect is simply missing from Marvel Heroes. It left a feeling of emptiness for me, as if nothing I really did made any impact because I would always be the same Hawkeye. It’s not the end of the world, and perhaps I’ll feel different when I equip that first new costume, even if it doesn’t do anything at all to my stats.
The one thing that people always want to know when they hear that a game is going to be free-to-play is whether it’s truly free-to-play, or whether it would fit better in the pay-to-win camp and the publisher would just rather not say that. Marvel Heroes is absolutely a free-to-play game. The only aspects of the game that I came across where I would have wanted to buy something would have been to increase my bank space (as you do collect a lot of stuff that you may want to keep, such as trophies from boss characters) and small buffs that do various things such as increase your chance to drop rare items, or increase the rate at which you level up. Players who pay aren’t going to be getting any particularly special items, and all the characters – whether paid, dropped or free – tend to output a very similar amount of damage, albeit at different rates.
In terms of the sound design, you’re probably going to get a little bored at some of the one-liners the characters come out with. As Hawkeye I was getting a little fed up of the jokes about shooting arrows and whatnot. I understand that that’s his character, but when you’re playing a game for hours at a time, it gets a little bit repetitive to hear the same thing over and over again. The quest text has to be read too – if you want to know the story, at least – as none of it is voice-acted. There’s usually a small line of dialogue just as you click on a new person, but then anything they have to say is purely in a written format. It feels a little precious to complain about having to read things again, but gamers will have gotten so used to the immersion of voiced characters that having to read all the dialogue again feels like nothing but a slight step backwards.
Marvel Heroes can only really be called mediocre in the graphical department too. All of the characters look fine, and the different costumes are excellent, but it won’t be long before you start to notice the same enemies coming at you time and time again. In terms of the visuals and design, the worst culprit are the levels themselves where, in some instances, you can actually see the reused sections of the world where designers have seemingly copied and pasted entire areas to make dungeons seem a little bit bigger. Not only does this feel like lazy design, but it’s also frustrating for the player when they invariably get lost in the exact same section of a warehouse for the tenth time.
VERDICT: Marvel Heroes is one of those games that everyone will be able to see the potential in, but the fact of the matter is that it simply isn’t there yet. A couple of months down the line, when all of the bugs are out of the game and there’re more characters to choose from and more to do with the end-game, things might be a lot different. I hope it gets there too. The gameplay is interesting, the story is good and even genuinely funny at certain moments (Taskmaster recruitment video anyone?), it just has a little bit longer to go before it realises its potential.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.