Marvel Heroes could have ridden the tidal wave of success created by the blockbusters film "The Avengers" and made itself into a truly great, successful, and highly profitable online game on brand recognition alone. All they would have to do is make the game not terrible, and capable of holding the attention and devotion of Marvel fans. I don't consider myself a Marvel fan, but I like many of the characters in that universe, and I especially like smash-tastic smash-fests inspired by the Diablo franchise (namely, the Diablo franchise itself).
So, did Marvel Heroes succeed? No. Not even close. A metascore of 58, as of this review, is not something anyone wants to see associated with their game. Even Penny Arcade slammed the game hard with a hilarious comic that pointed out the very serious problem of being able to see someone else running around as your selected hero. The entire point of the game is to take on the mantle of a superhero from your favorite franchise and smash evil. That fun is diminished by seeing your twins jogging along next to you.
But apparently the recent release of a major content patch will fix all of these issues and more. Will it prove to lift this game back up into success? Or will it just be another futile effort in turd-polishing?
You Are Grounded.
In the first ten minutes of playing the game, something just felt wrong. While I was initially pleased that one of the free hero options was my favorite Marvel character, Storm, once I got on the ground with her I just felt... strange. I jogged around for a while, clicking on enemies and roasting them with lightning. Soon a Deadpool crossed my path and sliced up some things, only to jog off in his own direction. A Thor and an Iron Man jogged by me and punched some thugs in the face, then jogged away in an opposite direction. As I continued to jog, I realized something.
Why are all of these powerful, iconic heroes jogging?! Half of these people can fly. In fact, in the case of Storm, you almost NEVER see her touching the ground in a fight. This might sound like nitpicking, but half the fun of a video game is immersion, and the only people who are going to be buying this game are Marvel fans. Ergo, it's going to break a Marvel fan's immersion when they see that their hero has been reduced to mundanely sweating out the miles as they fight crime. This game could have been so cool if it had been given a AAA budget and development team, but instead of being Classic Coke, it's some off-brand swill.
A game with this kind of brand recognition deserves the star treatment. This is not, as one reviewer is quoted saying on the game's steam page, "... the best of the MMO genre and the best of the action-RPG genre." I wonder if that person has played either genre, at all. Because boring combat, a misused franchise, and unacceptably shoddy animations and graphics do not a 2013 MMO blockbuster make. It's just bad. Terribly, terribly bad. And I had to continue playing it. For YOU, reader. I hope you're happy.
JUST LET IT END, PLEASE.
The first thing this game wants you to do is go stop a bank robbery. Uninspiring, but classic. I don't know why legions of Earth's finest meta-humans are all simultaneously bothering with this kind of ground-level mayhem, but I'll play ball. On my way to the bank, I fry a few thugs, and some random HYDRA agents. I realized those agents were being lead by a boss enemy, a la Diablo, and relished in the chance to smite him.
Of course, as a boss, he was mostly immune to my knockback attack. So after killing his minions, I just sort of sat there holding down my left mouse button, watching his health shave off in little bits over the course of about forty seconds. That may not sound like very long, but when you're supposed to be playing a game and enjoying yourself, forty seconds of just staring at a green-spandex-clad, limber, floating weirdo being zapped by the exact same bolt of lightning over and over again gets dull. He didn't exactly challenge me. He just made me want to give up and move on.
Anyways, he exploded like any other obedient loot pinata, and I continued on my quest. Once inside the bank, I zapped mercenaries, and was confronted by Black Cat. The fight with her was standard fare; don't stand in the green poison cloud she makes, kite, hit with attacks, kill additional mercenaries that appear periodically. Not exactly complicated stuff for an experienced MMO gamer (which I assume pretty much everyone is at this point).
But here's the thing. That fight took me four minutes to complete. Four minutes. No phases, no explosions, no changes, no exciting clashes. Just four minutes of exactly what I described earlier. Over. And over. And over. Forever. The game lacks Diablo 3's graphical panache and crunchy combat. Some of the environment is destructible, but surely not enough of it. It's amusing to be able to lift cars and throw them at enemies, but the result is surprisingly lackluster without ragdoll physics. How can you make a game like this and not have ragdoll physics? Half the fun is watching your foes and their charred bits pinwheel through the air and skid across pavement.
Who plays you?!
That's the question I feel like I've been asking in a lot of my reviews lately, and it's especially relevant here. I feel like this is a game that was made (poorly) with the intention of appealing to Marvel fans who also like Diablo and light WoW-esque MMORPG elements. But it fails to appeal to Marvel fans by stupidly, stupidly making the game an open-world affair wherein you'll meet your character's twin multiple times within the first ten minutes of gameplay (would have been easily remedied by making the game lobby-based, instead). It especially fails to appeal to Diablo fans by lacking any sort of graphical intensity, meaningful combat, or satisfying violence. Ragdoll physics on death and force application for attacks is sort of action game 101, and has been an industry standard for years now.
Of course, we can't forget that it fails to appeal to MMORPG fans by being a stiff, isometric-camera affair with no real open world or sense of exploration and immersion. The developers of this game seemed to think that just allowing players to randomly run into each other, shoe-horning in a barebones crafting system, and adding useless cosmetic pets was going to somehow drive up business and interest. It's not. You guys. It's not, and I almost feel bad about pointing all of this out, because clearly the people who made this game are just very new to the whole process.
The Cash Trap
We can't truly ever know the exact mantra that the developers of Marvel Heroes were chanting when they designed the game's free-to-play model, but given the way the game is designed now, it was probably something along the lines of "GIMMIE URRRRR MOOOONEEEEEY!!!1!!!1" Because that's what it wants. I'm sorry, $49.99 for a hero pack that only has four actual heroes in it and a bunch of stupid skins? Ten bucks for an individual hero?
We'd all be happier if the game would just admit to the fact that it exists solely to cash in on the fanaticism of comic book/gamer enthusiasts. The game's design is deceptively free-to-play, given the only saving grace of the entire title is the ability to play as your favorite Marvel character, and people are going to be more than willing to pay money to get their favorites. It's like charging for action figures, except the action figures don't actually exist, and they're not going to accrue value over time. Also, no new toy smell. Remember new toy smell? Digital characters that cost ten bucks each don't even have new toy smell. You can't even pick them up and make them fly. You just have to watch them jog around like weight-loss reality show contestants, stiffly waving their arms in a boring, cardboard diorama of a world.
Final Verdict: Ugh.
I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone, anywhere, for any reason. The latest patch did nothing to address this game's lackluster core gameplay, which is its biggest fault. If you like Diablo, then go play Diablo 3. I hear they're removing that stupid auction house system soon and going back to a more old-school approach. If you like MMORPGs, then just play Guild Wars 2 or WoW or something. Yes, you will have to pay money for those titles. And yes, Marvel Heroes is "Free to play."
But if your attraction to the game is based on a love for the setting and a specific hero or heroine, then expect to pay a pound of flesh; either in time-investment to unlock the character by grinding as one you don't give a crap about, or by just shelling out the cash to unlock your favorites. If you do either of those things, the sense of accomplishment and reward will be immediately diminished by running into your favorite character with the username "sloppyseconds" over their head.
Tagspeech is the alias of author W.B. Wemyss, who was responsible for the bizarre cyberpunk fever dream called Children of Athena