By John Shadle (Sephorus), OnRPG Journalist
Gazillion Entertainment’s Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play action RPG that, aptly enough, is set in the Marvel universe and allows you to assume the role of one of many iconic heroes. It’s a pretty awesome premise – one I managed to briefly check out during its head start and launch week. What I came away with is the sense that Gazillion’s latest offering isn’t a bad game, but it’s one that probably could have stayed in the proverbial oven for just a touch longer.
The over-arching story, told by a mixture of CGI and comic-style cutscenes, is that the ever-nefarious Dr. Doom has gotten his hands on a powerful device known only as The Cube, and while it’s not immediately clear what his plans for the device are, it’s made pretty clear during these opening moments that they can be listed as ‘Not Good’. It’s therefore up to The Avengers to put a stop to his machinations – once they can get a handle on all of the other trouble that’s been stirred up in the process. You’ll select one of five heroes – Daredevil, The Thing, Storm, Hawkeye, or Scarlet Witch – before launching right into the action by thwarting an attempted prison break at the maximum security facility known as The Raft. It sets the stage of something grand in the works right off the bat while doubling as the tutorial for anyone new to the game and unfamiliar with the action RPG genre. It’s not long after that you’ll be smacking around mooks who never got the memo that the only reason they’re being paid is to slow down the good guys by being one more body they have to trample over.
Gameplay’s pretty straight-forward to anyone who’s given Diablo, Torchlight, Titan Quest, or just about any other ARPG a whirl – left-click on ground to move or on enemies to attack, right-click for a second power. There’s also a five-slot hotbar for extra powers you unlock on the way and a medpack slot for instant healing. All heroes have Health (self-explanatory, I hope!) and Spirit – Marvel Hero’s equivalent of mana – and some have a specialty third resource that ties into their powers; for example, Captain America’s attacks can generate Shield Points, which give extra defense for each one and can be used with some powers to add extra effects or reduce Spirit costs. Leveling up gives you Power Points, which can be spent in skill trees to unlock new abilities or boost existing ones, and each hero can equip a variety of gear, like newer clubs for Daredevil or better gloves for Scarlet Witch. Additionally, at any time, you can switch which hero you’re playing by selecting a new one from your roster, giving you an entirely new playstyle at the expense of having to level each hero up separately.
Graphically, Marvel Heroes isn’t bad, but I feel as though things could have been better here. By themselves, things like character models and textures are pretty good, but I feel like the style is in this uncanny valley between ‘realistic’ and ‘comicbook’ where it feels like it’s both and neither all at once – your mileage may vary, of course. Animations are in a similar boat – while I wouldn’t call them bad by any stretch of the imagination, it’s almost like realism went out the window, but not quite enough comic physics, for lack of a better term, took over. I think the biggest complaint I could possibly leverage against the looks is the fact that, for a game running on the Unreal Engine, it doesn’t look nearly as impressive as it could.
Marvel Heroes’ sound is, for the most part, pretty good. Impacts, weaponry, and crumbling scenery have a fair amount of ‘oomph’ behind them – it’s not overly cranked up to the point of ridiculousness, but there’s enough of a larger-than-reality vibe to feel superhuman. The soundtrack’s upbeat, lively, and action-packed, if a bit heavy on rock at times (not that I’m complaining!). There are also enough one-liners from each of the heroes, as well as some vendors, to give you a sense of who they are, even if – like me, actually – you’re not as up to speed with the Marvel roster as other comic fans. The delivery of said one-liners can be a tad on the flat side at times, but it’s not all that detracting from the overall quality.
Most of your downtime takes place at The Avengers Tower, where you’ll have access to weapon and armor vendors, crafting, personal stashes, and daily missions. While the daily missions are something meant as endgame content (and thus not something I had the ability to check out), I tinkered around with everything else when I decided to take five minutes from punching some thugs in the face. Vendors can either have items sold to them for credits or donated to them to increase their XP, which will improve their inventories as they level up. Crafting follows a similar model, with better crafting recipes taking the place of better items for sale. The stash is just what it sounds like, although you also have some extra tabs for gear specific to heroes you’ve unlocked, which is nice.
As a F2P title, Marvel Heroes has a cash shop with a variety of new heroes, costumes, and boosts to generate its revenue, and while there’s nothing here that would turn this into a pay-to-win title, the execution has a very real potential to grate on people. As mentioned earlier, you start off with one of five Marvel heroes and can switch at any time. The problem is that most people – I’m assuming, anyways – are probably here from either a lengthy interest in comic books or the wave of recent superhero movies, and a lot of the more popular characters are going to cost a fair bit of cash to individually unlock. At this time, you’d be looking at around $6 for characters like Black Widow all the way up to $20 (yes, $20) for Spiderman or Deadpool, and that’s not even counting the cost for any costumes past the default for each hero. Equally as frustrating is that, while the game gives you a basic overview of how each of the starter heroes plays, the same can’t be said for any of the purchasable heroes, making it a very real possibility that someone could pick up a hero they really like, only to find that they really hate the playstyle that said hero is geared towards.
However, the biggest complaint I could lodge against Marvel Heroes is the style of game that it is. I have no problems whatsoever with action RPGs, nor do I have an issue with superhero games, and while I generally like to be able to create my own characters, I can get behind the notion of playing as a heroic icon. The thing is, I generally can accept playing as say, Hulk, because of the notion that, for a brief time, I would be Hulk, with all of the benefits and consequences that would come with that. Here, however, that excitement gets washed away almost immediately as soon as you set foot into The Avengers Tower or Hell’s Kitchen, as inevitably there’ll be at least half a dozen other Hulks stomping about, making what should be HULK SMASH more into HULK AND HULK AND HULK AND HULK AND HULK SMASH! There’s not even a very good explanation – or an explanation at all, honestly – for why there’s dozens of the same superhero milling about, and while I can silently try and chalk it up to ‘tons of alternate universes barfed into ours’, there’s limits to my suspension of disbelief that end up somewhere way behind me here.
Having said all of that, I actually don’t find Marvel Heroes to be a bad game overall. The graphics are decent enough, the cutscenes, while a tad on the cheesy side, are entertaining, and the gameplay is just plain fun. I can’t help but wonder, though, if making this as a non-MMO action RPG would have been the way to go here, as all of the issues I do have with the game seem to stem from attempting to follow the MMO way of things. Still, if you can look past the fact that the more iconic and popular characters are locked in the cash shop and that your supposedly-unique self won’t be unique, Marvel Heroes isn’t a terribly bad way to spend some time.