Superheroes have become really big business lately!
They were always big but they are even bigger more recently, reaching downright massive levels. DC comics have hit it pretty big with Batman and Superman in Films, Green Arrow in TV and Batman again in video games. Not to mention the MMO that is DC Universe Online where you get to be a hero or a villain.
Marvel, on the other hand, have been downright monolithic. Tony Stark, Thor, Captain America and the rest of The Avengers with their own series of films and games. The X-Men, especially Wolverine, with a large number of films and games. Spiderman joins the ranks in films and games and there is also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a new TV series. Marvel is massive. With this Marvel Heroes Review we will take a deeper look.
Marvel Heroes aims to bring these heroes together, as well as the myriad of lesser heroes featured in Marvel media, in one big draw to bring everybody to the party. It combines the host of fan favorite heroes and villains with the action RPG style found in games like Diablo, which makes sense considering Gazillion Entertainment are headed by a co-creator of Diablo.
The way Heroes tried to really grab your attention is by letting you play as a hero. There are nine available in the starting pool. From Captain America, Storm from the X-Men, Human Torch from the Fantastic Four and even to my personal selection, The Punisher. More are able to be unlocked in game through either the normal free to play option, popping down some cold hard cash, or through being lucky or playing long enough to get the required amount of Eternity Splinters, which are randomly dropped by enemies.
These eternity splinters can also be used other things that would otherwise require you to spend real money on G’s, the ingame currency. These items include a random cosmic (very rare) piece of equipment, an item that lets you reset your skills and reuse your skill points, an item that transports you to a high level area, two high level crafting items and also an item that lets you unlock your heroes ultimate power.
What these don’t buy, and the pay wall enters, is for mostly cosmetic things. Costumes, minipets, buffs for rare or special item drops as well as fortune cards that can unlock, randomly, any of these things. A nice little game of chance.
But all of this is quite irrelevant unless the game is something you would want to play. This is where Marvel Heroes is both a pleasant surprise, but also a bit of a letdown. A superhero by nature is something fantastical, a large number of Marvel heroes fit this spectacularly and to a lot of flying, web-slinging and other movement that requires a lot of verticality.
This is where Heroes falters quite largely. Like the ARPGs it apes, it takes an isometric view with the camera at a fixed top-down position. Everything takes place on one single plane with the only vertical ascpet being through theory and text only, by moving through the portal from the bottom floor of a building to the next one. Considering one of the major fun aspects of such as Iron Man, Spider Man and the Human Torch is that they have great freedom of movement, the lack of this is very noticable and quite disheartening.
The same lack of freedom is also found through the maps being both large but enclosed. It’s not quite as linear as the usual single-player shooters which may as well be movies on rails, nor is it as linear as Diablo III is. However, even while not being as bad as these examples, it still tends to be quite closed off. While there are a wide number of different areas and maps, certainly giving you a lot to see and do, these are still all maps of corridors that nearly all lead to a certain point with little to see or do in between.
Linked in with the lack of freedom is the overwhelming feel of being just a normal guy in a costume, which is constant for the first few chapters. The powers are all basic, even non-existant, and all you end up doing is punching, or range-weaponing, people to death until they fall down and drop you their money, weapons, armor and orbs. The orbs having the ability to either replenish health or energy or they give you experience.
Strangely, even though this lack of being a hero turned me off of being Storm, Human Torch and such as those early on, it made being The Punisher an absolute delight. I’ve always been quite partial to him. Frank Castle takes no prisoners, he’s no hero – just a general guy with nothing left to lose. As Punisher I was able to simply roam around shooting everybody and filling them with more holes than Swiss cheese, effectively being the ranged DPS found in other ARPGs.
This is where Marvel Heroes does make a stance of being primarily an online game. If you are a certain hero, you have their role all of the time. The Thing is always going to be one of the more durable ones, giving him the best role as a tank. The Punisher in the same way is one to deal damage from a range, but not too afraid to get up close and personal if completely required. To get a good balance you want to find a group of heroes that complement each other, make up for one-another’s weaknesses that helps for any difficult opponent early on, or end-game content later.
This endgame content, or even group content, comes primarily in the form of out-of-story challenges. These take on the form of survival challenges, facing waves of enemies, open area movement where a large number of villains can appear to level related singular challenges that can be more difficult but with higher rewards or simply a normal difficulty with normal rewards. These are all selectable to jump in and out of whenever you want to.
The main story on the other hand is a simple affair that can be done alone, primarily because you end up bumping into other people along the way and regardless of being in a team or not, if you’re in the vicinity their kills will benefit you and yours them. This is a great feature that should be in all multiplayer games now, and it’s an especially good feature here as it’s quite easy to find yourself fending off the minions of a boss while the others grind him down. You were no less useful, but you simply didn’t do the damage to him. Never fear though, you are rewarded.
It’s how the story develops that is also slightly interesting. At the very start it’s all about Von Doom, who has managed to get a hold of the cosmic cube, which you will also know as the tesseract. He plans to rule the world and, using this, manages to help all of the super villains escape their incarceration and they help him along the way. The story starts off with you facing small fry, leading up to taking down The Kingpin, to eventually going all the way to defeating Dr. Doom himself. This is all shown in animated cut-scenes showing just a few characters though, and sadly The Punisher is not included in that list.
Where Marvel Heroes also shines is in the aesthetic appeal. The visuals are bright and colorful, highly detailed and especially so when looking at the variety of other costumes. The attention to detail and the great visuals are really highlighted when the combat starts, with the bullets flying, explosions going off all around from either weapons or the surrounding scenery, even storms weather storms covering the battlefield. It all looks chaotic and exciting, showing at least a level of destruction that is expected from large battles between heroes and villains.
The audio design also matches this attention to detail. While not having any famous names, the characters for the most part are well wrote and voice acted. Spiderman is my largest gripe, sounding a little too much like a kid, but other than that I had little to complain about. Where the audio shines moreso comes again in battles. The ambiant music as well as the sounds that fill the battlefield, from the powers and fighting as it happens, to the explosions of surrounding vehicles and machinery or the death-cries of fallen foes. It all works very well together.
In all, Marvel Heroes turns out to be a strong and entertaining game, lacking in the first few chapters but certainly improving later on for most characters as more powers are unlocked and improved. Unlike a lot of Free to Play games, it doesn’t necessitate your enjoyment on spending money, making it quite possible to play and unlock everything, aside from alternate costumes, for free. What will end up being the largest downfall is if the other characters end up feeling the same, which I can’t confirm or deny either way as I’m trying the F2P perspective. From the four characters I’ve used, there does seem to be a strong variety, but only time will tell. But without a doubt, it is popular and it is active.Related: F2P, Marvel, Review