Any comic book fan can tell you that crossover events can be a bit of a mess. Countdown to Final Crisis showed DC fans that a series containing all of your favourite heroes was no guarantee of quality. Marvel fans though get the unique pleasure of seeing a terrible crossover event and get to be shafted for the privilege. Welcome to Marvel Heroes.
The streets are foreboding. Gangs of armed thugs wander the streets, idly discussing their next crime. Spiderman sits watching these villains, biding his time for his assault. He checks his web-slingers. Everything seems fine. He breathes in to calm himself before the fray. He looks back down the street. The thugs are indistinct figures in a clusterfuck of Spidermen, Things and Scarlet Witches, all whooping and looting as they stampede down the streets. Spiderman sighs and waits thirty seconds. Thugs pop into existence in mid-air and settle on the road, waiting to be reharvested for experience points and loot. Spiderman quietly swears and logs out of the game.
I have to be completely honest with you there. I’ve misled you a little. I didn’t play as Spiderman during my time with the game. Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play game and will, admirably, let you play the entirety of its story with one of five starting heroes: the Thing, Scarlet Witch, Daredevil, Hawkeye and Storm. To play as any of the other heroes, you must open your wallet and empty it onto your screen, watching aghast as the game slowly swallows your bank card into its gaping maw. Marvel Heroes doesn’t understand microtransactions. To take Deadpool as my example (one of my personal favourites from Marvel canon), you’ll have to pay $20, the price of many full games, to unlock him. Should you decide that you’d like Deadpool to be dressed as a pirate, you’ll pay $40 for the costume/hero combo.
That amount, spent anywhere else on Steam, could buy you a AAA game and a handful of indie games. Pets range between $10 and $20, while less popular heroes will set you back $10. It’s somewhat telling that the special offers tab in the in-game store remains blank. It’s one of the worst and most exploitative real-money stores I’ve seen yet in a free-to-play game. You can find heroes and costumes as rare drops while playing through the game, but they are exceptionally rare. I’ve played 8 hours thus far and not seen hide nor hair of either and many players are reporting that they’ve spent upwards of 60 hours with no rare drops; after all, why make your real-money store redundant when you can just make it ridiculous?
You could almost excuse the price gouging on heroes if each played with a unique style and felt demonstrably different from others on offer, but that simply isn’t the case. Deadpool firing guns feels like Hawkeye firing a bow feels like Iron Man firing repulsors. The Thing punching enemies feels no different from Hulk or, which worries me more, any other hero with a melee attack. Each character has a very similar moveset to others in their genre: melee characters will have a basic melee attack, an AOE attack (usually involving punching the ground because physics), a stun and so on and so typical. Of course, no matter the character you pick, you’ll spend your time holding down the attack button, hovering over each enemy until it passes away. There’s no sense of progress here either, thanks to the overbearing respawn rate the MMO dynamic demands; enemies respawn in a matter of seconds and will often pop into existence around you. Clearing your way to the next quest merely involves spamming your main attacks at the constant flood of health bars appearing. There’s no skill and no allowance for tactics, a problem most noticeable in group events.
Group battles are perhaps the example beyond examples of the failings of Marvel Heroes. World bosses, such as Spidey-foe Venom, spawn into the world every so often (or every five minutes), allowing group battles to ravage the land. Except not. The only real impact these group battles will have is on your frame rate as a dozen Hulks and Cyclops and Ms Marvel unleash the many particle effects they have to offer. Although there is a slider to turn down the visual effects of other players, there is sadly no slider available to make the group combat any more than a group effort in holding down the left-mouse button. The huge groups of players that coalesce on the way to these group battles reminds me a little of the deadly conga lines formed in Realm of the Mad God, where players become a train of lethality, steamrolling all in their way. Except in Realm, that was a genuine survival strategy. Here, it’s an unfortunate inevitability.
I do think that Gazillion Entertainment do deserve a little praise for what they’ve tried. They set out to let the player play as any of the heroes they grew up reading about and for that, they deserve praise. Having played DC Universe Online, it is a little frustrating to have to play some two-bit hero reporting to Batman when you just want to don that cape and cowl. So it’s a noble failure, in that respect, one that I’m glad someone tried. I just wish they had succeeded. Imagine a heavily instanced game where only one of each hero could exist, lending real worth and meaning to those moments when Iron Man swoops down to save your ass. It’d certainly be more impressive than having 3 come by at once, like the proverbial bus.
The combat, then, is samey and lacks real impact. What of the loot? Loot, after all, being the very blood and soul of any game aspiring to Diablo‘s heights. Well, it’s a bit crap too. Items come with small stat bonuses and occasional skill boosts, but being able to punch harder isn’t represented in the game at all. Naturally, there’s no aesthetic difference either when you wear loot, to prevent the store-bought costumes being a waste of time and money. There has been limited success in that regard.
Marvel Heroes is a distinctly average game. Combat has no impact or meaning, loot is often useless and group events are more likely to kill your computer than your character. This would almost be forgivable were it not for the insane pricing system for new heroes, especially given the lack of a trial function and the fact that every purchased hero begins at level one, forcing you to play through the whole game again to make them worthwhile. If you really need to play as a Marvel hero, go find a copy of one of the Ultimate Alliance games; it’ll be more fun and definitely cheaper.