"Diablo co-creator David Brevik to head a development team working on a free-to-play action RPG with MMO elements, based on the Marvel license."
If you’re a fan of any one of Diablo, Marvel, or MMORPGs, you could could be forgiven for wetting yourself with excitement at a headline like that. If you’re a fan of all three, I’d be surprised if you weren’t at the front of the virtual queue on launch day, ready to download this new masterpiece as soon as the client server went live.
The combination sounds like a recipe for greatness, which is why it’s such a shame that the final product falls so, so far short of its potential. That’s not to say that Marvel Heroes is a terrible game, but repetitive combat, MMO elements that feel tacked on, and a plethora of launch bugs prevent what could have been the RPG of the year from being more than a mediocre experience.
Marvel Heroes lets you step into the tights of any of a number of Marvel’s roster of superheroes in order to stop Dr Doom’s latest attempt to take over the world. The plot is what you’d expect from the license - fun and action-packed, without ever getting too serious - and is mostly told through a series of rather impressive animated comics. It doesn’t try to explain why there are 20 identically dressed Storms all running around, and the cutscenes play out with a set of predetermined heroes regardless of whom you choose to play as, but it’s enjoyable enough and still one of the better parts of the game.
When you first log in, you’ll be prompted to choose one of five starting heroes - Daredevil, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Hawkeye, or Thing - after which, you know the drill: kill goons, grab some loot, rinse, and repeat. Marvel Heroes doesn’t really mess with the Diablo-clone formula, and for the first hour or two, it’s a lot of fun. However, after that, the repetition sets in, and it’s mostly downhill from there.
Combat lacks the variety needed to make a game like this engaging in the long term. Sure, you get to cross swords with a wide range of Marvel crime syndicates like A.I.M, Maggia, and Hydra, but despite different costumes, 99% of the enemies you face are minions that either stand in one place shooting projectiles at you, or chase you around with melee attacks. For all intents and purposes, this game has two enemies, aside from bosses. These enemies also don’t really demand much strategy from you, beyond “spam hardest hitting move until enemy is dead”.
Should you get bored of one hero (won’t take long), you can always purchase another one from the cash shop and start fresh from level one, but there isn’t really that much diversity between heroes aside from appearances, and having to re-level through the same zones and same quests you’ve already done gets beyond tedious.
Simplistic enemies would be a bit more tolerable if character progression was well fleshed out, but that doesn’t really live up to expectations either. Each character appears to have a good arsenal of skills to bring to the fray, but many of them are just stronger versions of other skills, so the number of distinct abilities available are fewer than a first look at the skill window would suggest. Gear progression is somewhat hamstrung by the fact that equipment doesn’t alter your appearance - Gazillion understandably opted for heroes to remain in their iconic costumes, but this means that you get no visual sense of character growth.
Marvel Heroes bills itself as an MMORPG, and while it technically fits that description, it plays much more like a singleplayer RPG with MMO elements tacked on as an afterthought. Most significantly, the game lacks any sort of synergy between different types of heroes, and without that, group content is basically just five people simultaneously playing a singleplayer game - you’re all attacking the same enemy, whose health bar has been sufficiently pumped up to account for the group size, but the game doesn’t demand or even facilitate any interplay between players. I’m not necessarily saying that the tank / healer / damage setup should be present in every game ever, but some kind of group dynamic between different character archetypes would have been nice.
The other key element of MMORPGs is the player economy, but that is non-existent in Heroes, which doesn’t even have a trade system - let alone an auction house or something similar (although Gazillion has suggested that there are plans for something like this down the line). Without these, the only thing the MMO elements really bring to the game are unnecessary lag, and I feel a drop-in, drop-out co-op system would have been a much better fit.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, with Heroes occasionally showing flashes of serious potential despite its many flaws. Maps are massive, maze-like (in a good way, mostly), and offer a lot to those who like to explore every nook and cranny. They’re also very visually diverse, covering a broad range of locales from Marvel’s many series and story arcs - for one chapter, you’re running around the mafia infested streets of Manhattan, for the next, it’s off to a Singaporean jungle to deliver justice to an army of snakes and ninja. The game also puts the 90’s isometric CRPG aesthetic typical of Diablo clones to good use, bringing these assorted environments to life despite the graphics engine being far from pushing any technological boundaries.
Marvel Heroes also introduces an innovative new take on an RPG mainstay that basically hasn’t changed since the genre was born - vendors. Rather than simply visiting vendors that sell increasingly powerful goods as you progress through the game, Heroes presents vendors with very basic wares, which can then be leveled up by donating items to them rather than selling them. Vendors of the same type all share experience and stock lists (i.e. leveling up one weapon vendor levels them all) so you don’t have to worry about trying to manage hundreds of different shops, and it brings some welcome depth to the whole buying and selling experience - should you sell your excess gear for credits, or donate it to access better gear down the line? If you donate, which type of vendor should you sell to? These are the kind of decisions you’ll have to make.
At the end of the day, though, these few good points don’t make up for the flaws with what should be the most important elements of a game like this - the combat and the loot grind - and an overall lack of polish. Being free to play, you don’t lose out on anything but 15 odd gigabytes of your data cap if you want to give Marvel Heroes a go, but with that said, it’s hard to recommend this game over the other free to play lootfests that are around.