It’s been a while in the making, but Gazillion have released Marvel Heroes into the wild. I’ve spent about a dozen hours playing this game at time of writing this review, and I can tell you I’ll be playing more, but I’m not sure for how long.
A disclaimer before you read on: I’ve been a Marvel Comics fan for over 35 years, so I expect a lot from a Marvel MMO and as a show of faith I forked out $200 for the Ultimate Pack months before launch.
How Does Marvel Heroes Work?
MH is a Free-To-Play MMO, and the very obvious (and valid) comparison that can be made is in relation to Diablo, particularly in its style of gameplay. It’s an isometric game navigated by clicking the mouse in the direction you want your character to move. None of this is surprising given Gazillion Entertainment’s President is David Brevik, former Blizzard North co-founder who worked heavily on Diablo and Diablo 2. The similarities with Diablo move much beyond that though – as a D3 player, the whole interface is essentially the same, power-ups are similar, as is gear and inventory. None of this is a bad thing in any way – it’s all tried and tested stuff that works well and ensures you get into the action without spending too long orientating yourself to the interface. It just takes some of the excitement out of that initial hour or so although some will say it’s usually more frustration than excitement learning a new interface.
Once you’ve downloaded the client from MarvelHeroes.com, you choose the hero you’d like to start with. There are a decent number to choose from, with a good mix between the genders and types of powers. If you’ve bought one of the more expensive packs then you have even more to choose from. For each character you can also buy alternate costumes from the in-game store. There is no cost to play unless you’re unhappy with the base set of heroes or you want to change costumes or buy some cosmetic items or experience boosts on the store. I was amused to find that although I’d purchased an Ultimate pack giving me access to all heroes, my absolute preference was Daredevil, who is one of the basic roster ones anyway.
Playing The Game
Once you’ve got your character it’s time for the first cut-scene explaining the story-line. The cut-scenes are lo-fi, comic styled ones and I actually like them a lot. As you progress through the story there’s some great scenes – I love the Taskmaster Institute video – that’s definitely been a highlight for me so far. Like a lot of isometric games you use your mouse to move and the same goes for fighting, with your left and right mouse buttons getting plenty of love. You live and die by your health and spirit levels. Your spirit is used when deploying any non-basic fight moves and your health bar declines with every hit you take and doesn’t replenish in any way unless you use a Med Kit, you pick up some gear with health regeneration or one of your foes drops a health blob to pick up . Sound familiar?
The mini-map does well to ensure you know which direction you’re going whilst still giving you plenty of scope to explore. Fights are fairly fluid and there’s enough different animations to keep it pretty interesting. There’s some good spontaneous comments by NPCs to add to the atmosphere, and graphically I like a lot of the areas I’ve seen so far though like any isometric game there’s always a little bit of same-same feel in areas.
Boss fights are fun but generally challenging as the dozen or so I’ve done all have some unique fight mechanics that take some working out. That said, I’ve only died once in total fighting bosses (with a healthy reliance on med kits), so it’s not too arduous either. Any MMO also depends to a large extent on social features and Marvel Heroes has the bases covered. The event bosses (like Venom as pictured above) are good fun though once you get more than half a dozen heroes fighting it all becomes a clicking blur with your enemy very difficult to pick out.
Beyond the main storyline there’s a few other play options, once you’ve completed eight chapters of the story. There’s repeatable missions and end-game PvP is in development to name two. Crafting is also a key component, allowing you create a range of items from materials you pick up when fighting. None of it is particularly innovative but they’re all key components of an MMO hoping to have some longevity. Which leads me to…
Is It A Keeper?
I’m not so convinced that Marvel Heroes has the ‘replayability’ to keep me engaged over a long period of time, unless Gazillion are going to release some fairly regular content updates. For me, and I can’t emphasise strongly enough that this is probably very specific to me, I really struggle with how similar everything is to Diablo 3. I played the whole D3 storyline through (on normal mode only though) and really, really enjoyed it. And since then I’ve never been back – and so the similarities being so strong with Marvel Heroes I’ve fallen into the mindset that I may do the same here. That said, I’m very much hoping to be proven wrong.
Other Bouquets and Brickbats
– The game seems to run fine of relatively low-spec machines i.e. I’m running the game on a 3+ year old iMac with Boot Camp and aside from the odd stutter in the cut scenes and entry into new zones, it’s been fine.
– On launch you will get driver error messages if your drivers are up to date – this can be a good thing in some ways but some will find it frustrating.
– I do like the option to donate loot to a vendor to gain vendor experience that leads to them offering more gear for sale.
– I know it couldn’t easily be avoided but I dislike the immersion-breaking aspect of picking up gear and it not changing your appearance. It’s a unique challenge for a game involving costumed superheroes, but it still grated on me nonetheless.
– It’s early days but there’s been some serious issues with frequency of server maintenance periods and the patch updates are still large so those on broadband plans with lower data allowances may get annoyed.
– You can’t log out anywhere and expect that’s where you’ll be when you join the game next. Like Diablo 3, you’ll become obsessed about waypoints so you don’t have to replay huge tracts of the game to continue your progression.
– I’d like better enemy targeting options – flame away in comments if I’ve missed something but I’d like to be able to hit a key to target the enemy rather than having to click – particularly event bosses.
– The Marvel Heroes forums seem one of the better MMO communities out there. So far.
If you’re a comics fan or an isometric gaming fan looking for something new to play, then Marvel Heroes is well worth checking out given it’s free to play. If you’re an MMO player looking for something innovative to devote the majority of your gaming time to, I’m not sure Marvel Heroes will fit the bill but again it won’t cost you anything to give it a go. For casual players looking for some Marvel-tinged gameplay that sticks well to the comics universe, then you’ll definitely want to spend some time with this game. The cutscenes alone are fun enough in parts to make it worthwhile.
Plus, I always wanted to kick Venom’s butt.
Now it’s your turn: have you played Marvel Heroes yet and if so what do you think? As alwaysI’m also more than happy for people to rip me a new one if I’ve got something factually wrong.
Finally – we do discuss Marvel Heroes on our fortnightly MMO podcast, called Flash Point – we’d love to have you on board.