Marvel Heroes Review
I‘ll admit, I’ve been wary of Free-to-Play (F2P) games from the beginning. All of the free game apps on my iPhone (many which are the ‘lite’ version because I’m cheap) are all riddled with ads and constant offers to buy useless pieces of upgrades. I’m still a freemium virgin, having never charged my credit card for such superficial content, and I intend to keep it that way.
But Marvel Heroes is no appstore shovelware game. I had trouble believing I was downloading over 11 GB of game content for no cost other than creating an account. Who could imagine, even five years ago, that such a behemoth of a game could be played for free? The times they are a changin’ indeed.
Marvel Heroes (MH) is an action RPG in an MMO world, a creation overseen by David Brevik, the mastermind behind Diablo and Diablo II. The influence of these classic ARPGs is well stated and there are no delusions that MH is anything but a graphically updated Diablo game set in the Marvel universe.
Even with the free generic characters that look like everyone else, you can get on an exciting roll of explosions and destruction.
Most ARPG elements like loot, skill trees and boss battles have been detuned to a point where the whole experience starts to meld together into a series of explosions. There are quests everywhere that ask you to roam around and clean up the city of gangsters, mutants, robots, ninjas etc. all donning the familiar clubs, guns, mechsuits or a shimmering glow signifying that they are harder to kill. There are some comic-style cut scenes that have some funny banter between the heroes, but little of that charm is layered into the gameplay. Same goes for the plot. Doctor Doom has some all powerful cube that you have to retrieve and all his cronies are standing in the way.
Sure, it’s fun for a while. Even with the free generic characters that look like everyone else, you can get on an exciting roll of explosions and destruction. Fighting on your own can be challenging, but with a free game on a crowded server, you are rarely alone. This seems like a good thing at first, playing with other people usually makes the grind more tolerable. But the game fails to balance the difficulty, making a team of three or more players virtually indestructible, especially against bosses. The automatic match up for instance (which can be turned off to do solo runs) had me playing with a level 18 character when I was still level 10. After about six hours I found myself getting bored of the simple combat, the lame loot and the randomly generated maps that all look and felt the same. The soundtrack is pretty cool with lots of hard rock riffs and electro beats, but even that became predictable after a while.
But there will be players – probably many of them Marvel fans – that will get into this. There may have been some glitches in the days following launch (which is par for the course for any big online game these days) but otherwise the game performed and did what it was supposed to do. Admittedly that’s not a lot, but players looking to click their way through verbose quest dialogues that no one reads, grind through a million easy target mobs and team up for boss battles that are always a wash will find MH satisfies their every desire.
While micro transactions are as old as gaming itself (remember the arcades folks?) they all but disappeared during the early console years to be later resurrected in the cashless mobile world. The model has found a comfortable home in the app stores but in the last couple of years has begun to see bigger games with bigger budgets embracing it as well. Moving the old MMOs like Age of Conan and Everquest away from paid subscription was a no brainer given the saturated MMO market and dominance of World of Warcraft.
So what does “free” mean for Marvel Heroes? First, it means that you can’t start with your favourite characters. You know, the cool ones like Ironman, Spiderman and Wolverine. Having only watched the Avengers for the first time the other day I was looking forward to Tony Stark’s adorable arrogance, but alas, that transaction would set me back twenty dollars! For free I could settle for Storm, Hawkeye, Daredevil and a few other forgettable characters dredged up from the last 50 years of Marvel comics. Despite his awful ’60s purple regalia I chose Hawkeye, mostly since I disliked him the least. To get him out of that crusty suit and and into something more comfortable so he doesn’t look like the other hundreds of Hawkeyes on the server, would cost $15. No special abilities come with that, those cost extra. The in-game currency is also in Gs (a la Microsoft points) making transactions – if I were silly enough to make one – all the more frustrating. When the console industry is finally waking up to getting rid of currency points, why put it into a new release PC game? I guess Disney Dollars are more fun to spend than real money.
You can of course grind your way to it all and wait for the rare drops that unlock that character you’ve been waiting to play, but something tells me the Ironman unlock is pretty rare. The thought of playing the campaign through several times for a chance at that is probably why Gazillion Entertainment expect so many people to purchase such content.
Gazillion need to remember they are in the PC world where you can pick up several good games on a Steam sale for the same price as a new skin in MH. I know where I would rather spend my hard earned money.
A review code of Marvel Heroes was provided courtesy of Microsoft Studios.
Wallet Gonna Be?
Marvel Heroes celebrates being a Diablo derivative but forcing it into a full time multiplayer world detracts from the experience. You can play it without spending a cent but you will soon tire of being one of a thousand identical superheroes all dressed in the same dated costume. Marvel fans will get a kick out of it for a while, but they will probably end up regretting the money they spent.