Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play MMORPG based around the Marvel comic-book franchise and developed by Gazillion Entertainment and Secret Identity Studios. The game runs atop the Unreal Engine 3 and the graphics certainly do show that sort of fidelity–include the Havok physics engine and there’s bodies and shrapnel flying around with all the special effects of an RPG brawler.
Upon starting, Marvel Heroes treats players to a cutscene where Doctor Doom gets in a fight with The Watcher over some odd piece of tech that he’s found–apparently the good doctor doesn’t see fit to just run his own country that he runs so well already. Needless to say, the fight apparently is at the crux of the plot of the game which seems to involve a breakout of supervillains.
It only fits that thrust into the world for a first time, players would be asked to clean up a mess involving a super jailbreak.
Graphics and sound: If ever this looked like Diablo it certainly makes that grade
Marvel Heroes uses an isometric perspective much like any other Diablo-like and in fact, this game is best described as exactly a Diablo-clone with Marvel superhero dressing. Players who have seen Diablo will quickly get used to the perspective and the fact that clones of them are running all over the place (there were no less than three Lokis hanging around the main area.)
The graphics are pretty good, well built avatars and 3D designed to give a good idea of the environment and how to interact with it. And it’s possible to zoom in or zoom out to watch the battles from afar–which is good for ranged characters or those who move around the battlefield a great deal. And there’s a look to look at as well.
Aside from well developed and nice looking avatars, with multiple costumes, there’s a great deal of special effects to enjoy. All the powers come with the proper sounds in fittingly comic-book splendor: as Storm I watched electrical arcs flash around the screen, jumping between foes with loud zaps, as they screamed while falling to the ground. Sometimes objects would get caught in the chains and explode violently, sending debris soaring.
If anything, the designers and graphic direction makes the game feel like a comic-book fight.
Each of the heroes have a number of sayings that they spit out like a proper Blizzard-like game and most of them are extremely amusing. For example, I chose Storm as my hero and she speaks up with her usual high-and-mighty voice as she goes about her duties (mostly electrifying the streets.) When she saw another hero, she would sometimes quip at them, especially if I got within proximity of Thor–the Marvel revision of the Norse god controlling thunder and lightning–and Storm would say something to the extent of, “Someday we shall see who is the master of lightning, thunder god.” She would say something extremely similar when fighting Electro–an electricity-based supervillain.
These little elements did help enhance gameplay somewhat.
Gameplay: It’s like Diablo but with Marvel comic book heroes
Once the isometric view kicks in the rest of the game begins to feel a great deal like a reskin of Diablo. So much of the game operates in the same way that anyone who has played a Diablo-like will instantly take to the gameplay like riding a bike. Isometric view, click-to-move (or alternatively hold down the left-mouse button or just hold the W-key) and primary attack is triggered with the right-mouse button. Hold shift not to move while attacking.
Things differ slightly with power use where instead of numbers, powers are activated and slotted with default keys of A, S, D, F, G. Powers can be dragged from from the power listing (P) into the power tray, and the’re also built upon in a sort of power-tree that depends on the hero chosen.
As for heroes available, there’s a wide variety to choose from in the beginning and a number that can be unlocked. These starting heroes include Luke Cage, Punisher, Captain America, Black Panther, Black Widow, Human Torch, Colossus, Storm, and Hawkeye. Other unlockable heroes include such recognised Marvel superheroes as Gambit, Loki, Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man, etc. Each of them come with their own unique set of powers and gear that give them each distinct feel from being ranged support, ranged DPS, melee DPS, etc.
After picking Storm, I found myself getting used to her power set really quickly from using mouse-clicks to triggering powers with the ASDF key set. Electricity arcing across the battlefield as she bolted around with wind and ice following in her wake.
Combat made the game also feel a lot like a Diablo-like with gauntlet-style groups of enemies jumping up to attack and getting mowed down. A multitude of objects in the environment are destructible and shatter on impact with particular powers–giving battles a sense of collateral damage. Not to mention that some objects can be picked up and thrown (such as cars) permitting a welcome interruption to combat where sometimes fridges or cars get tossed for significant AoE effect.
The game also can throw bosses at you in the form of supervillains, and they sometimes appear in the open world, with an accompanying mission to kill them. Villains are mostly damage sponges with powers fitting their Marvel characters. Other players do come to take them out as well, meaning a fun menagerie of different heroes throwing their superpowers around the street.
Aside from getting powers from levelling up, characters can gain powers from equipment. Sound familiar? Everything that can be equipped comes with not just attribute bonuses but skills and powers as well. This gives new players a huge boost when the proper equipment drops to see what higher level powers can do or increase total points in lower level powers. It’s a nice way to allow a broad variety of play early on.
Freemium: Everything is for sale
The game has been out for more than six months and plus the beta there’s been quite some time for the cash shop to build itself out. It’s been hard for me to get good data on the freemium cash shop except for looking at it directly in game. It seems fairly standard faire for the genre.
The first parts of the cash shop involve quality-of-life such as inventory space increases (and in a Diablo-like game inventory runs out really quickly.)
It’s possible to purchase new heroes directly from the cash shop with eternity shards at the cost of 400 to 800 depending on how interesting the hero. The lesser known, or perhaps less popular, come out around 400, whereas the much more popular run around 800. It’s possible to earn this currency during gameplay; but it’s much easier just to buy them as the freemium currency in order to purchase heroes.
These numbers kept changing through the development and release cycle so they could change again soon or may even be out of date. As it appears, the prices have been going down instead of up, which suggests that some thought has gone into what the players want and what they’re willing to pay.
Conclusion: A solid MMORPG but it feels incomplete
Marvel Heroes is obviously a well-built game in a AAA context and it does a great job of supplying the fun and a lot of things to do, but the game itself feels like it just goes through a set of episodes like any other single player and then the content ends. Right now there’s a great deal of game to play through (more than I could cover in a first impressions) but in the end it’s just as shallow as a Diablo game.
As players progress they can open up into different game modes (including PvP) as well as experience some fun writing in through the increasing-difficulty episodes, but as an MMORPG the city and the storyline feel a little bit limiting.
Also as an MMO this game proves to be much more fun when played alongside friends than just going solo. Although there’s some nice community functions that put together teams when people run through the same areas; the chat window feels a little bit compact for the game type and it’s a little hard to communicate with the type of battle that people get thrust into.
As soon as a player has gotten through most of the content, they’ll probably find themselves seeking to replay much of it after unlocking new heroes (or costumes.) This is obviously part of the free-to-play model pushing players to either play to unlock or buy into costumes/heroes in order to keep the game running.
While it’s nice to see new games coming out that go to comics and superheroes, it feels like using a Diablo-approach takes away a little of the fun of being a superhero. However, it also simplifies gameplay to the extent that it makes it accessible by a much larger audience. As a result, there’s a nice solid community, forums, people to talk to, and help when needed. As a result, Marvel Heroes makes for a nice attraction for players who want something to do and not much time on their hands during the day.
Of course, updates keep coming and episodes keep piling on, so content-hungry casuals will likely not run out by coming back to the game. This will likely make the game good enough reason for fans to keep coming back.