Comic Book Heroes
I can’t remember the last time a comic book character wasn’t part of one of the big summer blockbuster movies. Superheroes are huge business, and will continue to be so thanks to their variety and excitement. Marvel Heroes isn’t simply cashing in on hero success: it has a major pedigree. David Brevik, co-founder of Blizzard North and the mind behind Diablo and Diablo II is at the helm, and the influences from those two games are plain to see. After meeting with Brevik a few months ago and playing a couple of early missions, I was excited to see more from this free to play, multiplayer action RPG.
The term “free to play” is used loosely here though. At the start of the game you have a choice between playing as Thing, Storm, Scarlet Witch, Daredevil and Hawkeye. If you are content to play through the game as one of these characters, then you will have a very good time indeed at no cost. However, if you want to pick a more interesting character from the ever growing roster (no offence to any fans of those five), then you will have to get out your wallet. First you will have to buy ‘G’, the in-game currency, and then enter the store. The prices of the heroes vary, with the more popular characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man costing more. What’s more, each character you unlock has its own level. If you have been playing through the game as Deadpool, but want to try your hand at Wolverine, you will have to restart your story progress, which is an odd way of handling it. The store also contains a number of costumes for each character, along with pets and gameplay boosts.
Standard Action RPG Formula
Once you have decided on a character, you can get into the game proper. Anyone who has played a recent action RPG will be right at home. You click to move, fight swarms of enemies and collect the endless loot they drop. At its core, it is Diablo, right down to the red and blue orbs signifying your health and energy. One key twist is the massively multiplayer element. The town areas and open zones will have recognisable characters running around all over the place. The first few times you are fighting a group of enemies and Thor and Hulk come crashing through to help you is a cool experience. But when it happens every few seconds it loses some of the magic, especially when it makes fights trivially easy.
The story revolves around the Cosmic Cube, which will be recognisable as the Tesseract from the recent Avengers film. Dr. Doom has control of this object of power and it is up to the Marvel heroes to stop him. Main quests are completed in instanced dungeons, while side quests are completed in the open areas, along with certain impromptu public quests that crop up from time to time. When you enter a dungeon, you are automatically paired with a group of people who entered it at the same time as you did. It’s a pretty good system if you want to blast through quests quickly. It does take any skill out of the game though, as a group of enemies is no match for five superheroes who are all unloading their full arsenal of abilities. You can tell the game to allow you to do dungeons solo, which will be more of a skill based challenge for you.
Each time you level up you gain two new skill points. There are three trees unique to each character to dump points into. Reaching certain levels grants access to new abilities, but you only have one action bar, so you will have to pick and choose the abilities you want to be using for the situation. Most characters, beyond the health and energy bars, have an extra bar related to a special power. For example, playing as Jean Grey, I gained meter every time I killed an enemy or took damage. Beyond a certain point I could active Phoenix Form, allowing me to use an all new set of skills. Being in that form and using skills drained the meter however, so it became a case of managing that meter for the tougher encounters.
The hook of an action RPG like this is the loot. As expected, you have your standard array of greens, blues and purples, which will often grant you extra ranks of abilities you have already unlocked. Many may feel disappointed that the gear you acquire has no cosmetic affect on your character. The only way your character will look any different is if you purchase a costume from the store.
Entering Phoenix Form was a great showcase for the graphics on display. The environments themselves are fairly standard, but the spell effects are top notch. Fire, poison and ice effects are prevalent, and look really nice. When in a group with others, the high number of spells being fired off did make the action a bit confusing at times, along with a slightly stuttering frame rate, but randomly firing off abilities into a group of enemies did seem to be a valid tactic throughout the game. The sound effects were perfectly fine as well, and each character has a set of lines with some decent voice acting. When your character passes another player in the world, you will occasionally hear a quick quip based on who they are. Cut-scenes take the form of motion comics throughout the game, and are well voiced for the subject material, although it was clear that many of the actors were attempting their best impressions of the movie characters.
Marvel Heroes has an interesting crafting and vendor system. Rather than simply selling off all your unwanted goods, you can donate them to a crafter or vendor. Doing this enough times will level them up, granting the crafter new recipes, and the vendor better items. I never found a need to level up the vendors, but the crafters did allow me to upgrade the items I found out in the world fairly well. You collect essences from some fallen enemies, which can be combined together for use in higher level crafting recipes. You will also be making potions and other remedies to increase your combat effectiveness from these essences.
The endgame begins once you have completed the main story, and is completely locked until that point. The player versus player arenas are currently only in beta stage, and will certainly need some balancing before it becomes properly competitive. The rest of the endgame comes in the form of daily missions. You will be returning to areas from the main story, often with tougher enemies and bosses, but you will be granted better rewards for completing them. The PVP and daily quests will be a hook for some, but I found it to be a bit repetitive, and the rewards to be decidedly unrewarding. Sadly, you unlock your ultimate ability at level 30, which I was nowhere near reaching when I finished the main story. This will result in many people never seeing the extent of their character’s abilities before putting the game away and never coming back.
You can play Marvel Heroes through without spending any money on it, and it will be a decent experience for you. However, the inelegant handling of multiple characters, along with the lack of any real difficulty means that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of other games in the genre. But it is the only game of its type where you can play as your favourite Marvel characters and that is certainly something that will draw many people in.
A decent roster of heroes to choose from. Gameplay is quite strong, following the standard action RPG formula.
Some of the prices in the store are a little high. Combat becomes fairly repetitive, especially towards the end.