Marvel Heroes PC review
Free-to-play MMO, Marvel Heroes, takes the Avengers and Co. online for some role playing fan service...
It would seem as though a new free-to-play title is released every other day at the moment, and even long-standing paid titles are embracing this relatively new gameplay model. Marvel Heroes is one of the latest titles to arrive on the free-to-play scene, and with the Marvel license behind it, has a big advantage in attracting the post-Avengers movie crowd, along with the Marvel faithful.
Set to the backdrop of an evil plot involving the Cosmic Cube (Tesseract in the movies) hatched by Victor Von Doom, Marvel Heroes isn't a full-fledged MMO like WoW or The Old Republic, instead it takes the streamlined action RPG route and throws in some MMO staples like looting, item creation and and open quest system.
Rather than a fully open world for you to explore, the game is split into regional areas, some of which are public, while other mission-centric maps are instance-based, for single players or those that choose to team up into groups. It's all held together by the Avengers Tower hub, where you can buy and sell gear, craft items, pick up quests and access your item storage.
You begin the game after choosing one of the free, starter heroes, including Daredevil, Storm, Hawkeye, Thing and Scarlet Witch, and you're thrown into a situation at The Raft, a super villain prison. This prologue is a solo affair designed to get you acclimated to the game and earn your first couple of levels.
Everything is played out via a point-and-click isometric view, with structures and obstacles fading out of view when needed. You control your hero in a typical MMO fashion, by pointing and clicking where you wish to go and clicking on targets you want to attack. Alternatively, you can also hold down a run key and move the mouse around, which sees your hero follow the cursor. Pressing shift whilst clicking allows you to attack and remain stationary, an essential feature for ranged combatants.
Special skills can be assigned to short cut keys, or used by clicking their icons in the quick bar, and the UI features a host of pop-up menus for inventory, skills, chat and more. There's nothing particularly revolutionary here, but it's all very functional and works well enough.
Sadly, the same can't be said for the character controls themselves at times, at least if you prefer to get up close and personal with your foes. Ranged characters are perfectly acceptable, and play very well. Attacking enemies and navigating the world is easy enough, and using skills assigned to quick-buttons is fine.
Close combat characters aren't so lucky. Although it's still very playable and easily picked up, CQC combat is more clunky and cumbersome than it should be, especially when fighting multiple enemies. This is, in-part, due to the lack of a single-click, sustained attack.
Instead of your hero attacking a foe until you tell them to stop, or the enemy is killed, you have to keep clicking, or hold down the attack button whilst targeting an enemy. If you simply hold down the button and move the cursor onto another, distant enemy, you'll not attack until you release and attack again.
This may not sound so bad, and is by no means a major issue, but in practise it's a little awkward and unwieldy. The ability to simply move the cursor and keep attacking another foe would help melee combatants greatly. Ranged characters have no such problems, and you can sweep the cursor around the battlefield with ease.
In fact, the game heavily favours heroes with long distance attacks, and from my time online it's apparent that players do too. They're arguably more fun to play as, and their skillets seem to benefit groups of players a little more. That's not to say that fan favourites like Wolverine and Hulk aren't fun, they just require a little more precise control, which I guess reflects their martial nature.
There's no I in team
An MMO like Marvel Heroes is heavily about team play, and in the game you can join up with ad-hoc teams of players, or form your own super groups. This teaming up is where your experience will be far more rewarding, but it's also a cause for concern at times.
A common issue I ran into was the lack of any form of real co-operation. Even in groups, players tend to wander off on their own, with more powerful, higher-level players often leaving lower levels behind. Before you know it, your team mates have stormed ahead and taken out the boss, and you've missed out on the battle and experience.
This is obviously not a fault of the game, per se, and is easily fixed by teaming up with friends, but changes could be made to lessen the problem. A team rally point that forces players to group up before fighting a boss, for example, would make things a little more fair on lower-level users, and those that get left behind by other impatient players rushing to the goal.
It's also common for large numbers of players using special moves to cover the area with so many pyrotechnics and effects that you simply can't see a bloody thing. This is bad enough for ranged combatants, but close combat players are often left running around in circles. It's a bit of a mess, and makes large-scale less impressive than they should be.
Loot handling in groups is done well enough, though, with specific drops for each player not being available to others, so there's no risk of people stealing your items, and you don't need to rush into danger in order to pick up items before others get to them first.
Slogging in out
Thanks to its relativity simplistic design, Marvel Heroes is a perfect MMO launchpad for newcomers not experienced in the genre, and it's definitely fun to play. The big problem, however, is that it soon becomes very repetitive, and even with a decent selection of locations and myriad of enemy types and bosses, the core gameplay, which lacks many MMO intricacies, is just too monotonous.
Even the roster of playable heroes and their various abilities doesn't offset the repetition after a while, and when compared to other MMOs, there's very little challenge here. Powerful bosses can be toppled relatively easily by careful players, and if you do die and return, the boss' health remains as it was, reducing any real penalty for failure. With a group at your back, you have to go out of your way to get killed, and supposedly powerful foes have little to no chance.
This makes playing with friends a double-edged sword. On one hand the game is more interesting in a group, and is more enjoyable, but it also becomes light on challenge. If you're a solo gamer, you'll be tasked more, but don't expect it to hold your attention for long, especially if you're not willing to spend money on it...
Although Marvel Heroes is free-to-play, and you can play it perfectly well without spending a penny, all of the decent heroes have to be purchased, along with premium items like pets and costumes. Yes, you can unlock heroes and costumes for free by finding tokens in-game, but they're very rare, and so most choose to splash out on their favourites immediately, and if you don't do so you could be left behind. That said, resisting the urge to simply buy content does make the game more rewarding, and keeps you playing in order to find that elusive hero or costume you're looking for.
Replay value is extended further as each newly acquired hero begins at level one, so there's a need to go back to earlier zones to grind for experience. How long this area and mission repetition will grip your attention greatly depends on your love for the Marvel universe, and how badly you want to have a high-level stock of heroes.
Marvel Heroes has some shortcomings, but you have to remember that this is a free-to-play title, and one that actually rewards those that play for free with the chance to find premium content without spending cash, provided enough time and effort is invested.
Sure, it could use some touch ups in the controls, a little more variety, and the servers are down a little too often, but Marvel fans will appreciate the attention to detail and fan service crammed in here. There are few Marvel characters not featured in some form, and the selection of playable heroes is great, and growing, with new additions planned.
Marvel aficionados and those looking to dip their toe into the MMO genre should definitely check out Marvel Heroes, but experienced MMO players will find little substance here, and should stick to more complex alternatives.