Release Date: June 4, 2013
Developer: Gazillion Entertainment and Secret Identity Studios
Publisher: Gazillion Entertainment
Every year is a great year for superhero-related things, but for some reason, it just feels like 2013 is going above and beyond to bring us every last one of our possible superhero needs: at least as far as the world of gaming is concerned. First we had the fantastic 2D fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us in March, and now another big one is finally upon us. That’s right, the highly anticipated superhero MMORPG Marvel Heroes has arrived in all of its spandex and tights-wearing glory. Developed by Gazillion Entertainment and Secret Identity Studios, which is headed by David Brevik who co-founded Blizzard North of Diablo fame, Marvel Heroes plays out pretty much as you might expect: like a Diablo game with superheroes. The story of Marvel Heroes revolves around Dr. Doom stealing the all-powerful Cosmic Cube, and the many super villains of the Marvel Universe trying to ensure that none of those pesky superheroes get in the way of his evil plans.
The game has an amazing presentation, with impeccable voiceover work, and a fantastic blend of fully animated cutscenes that harken back to the actual comics to develop a backstory, and fully 3D-rendered graphics that ultimately move the story along. And the level of cinematic quality doesn’t stop just at the story either: at any moment during regular gameplay, players are able to zoom in or out with a simple scroll of the mouse wheel, and create their own rich and immersive camera angle as they knock heads with the lowliest goons, or the evilest of super villains. Players will start the game off as one of five classic Marvel superheroes, each with their own unique playing style and combat perks: Storm, Scarlet Witch, Thing, Daredevil, and Hawkeye. For this review playthrough, I wound up going with the mid-range Daredevil, because I wanted to engage in some up close and personal fisticuffs against my favorite super villains.
While Marvel Heroes strives to bring every Marvel superhero you can possibly think of into a richly-populated world full of thugs and other bad guys, there is inevitably a bit of imbalance that begins to emerge with regards to the fluctuating numbers of baddies you’re going to bring to justice. Most of these inconsistencies have to do with the game compensating for the peer-to-peer cooperative battling, which is also one of the biggest draws of this massive superhero romp. Like most MMORPGs (or I guess ALL of them, considering the whole “multiplayer” and “online” part), Marvel Heroes lets you battle alongside any number of other online players, where you can all gang up and take out the more difficult bosses with ease. However, this often makes the amount of enemies that pop up on screen completely disproportionate to the number of heroes. This ultimately weighs down the experience in one of two ways: either you’ll be completely overpowered by 30 or more goons with no other heroes in sight to help you out, or you’ll barely be able to land a punch with dozens of heroes all clustered around the same enemy at once.
To see this in action, you’ll only have to look at how stripped-down and simplified the game’s opening tutorial level is (which functions as a strictly single-player affair), compared to the game’s first sprawling multiplayer level of the actual story. Given that all beginner players can only choose from one of five heroes at the start of the game, it can also get a little confusing or even mundane when you see ten different iterations of Daredevil all banding side-by-side in battle. The game will also weirdly cycle through areas where other player interaction is allowed and where it is not, and both of these become immediately discernible based on how balanced the enemy numbers will feel.
As far as MMORPGs are concerned, I was actually pleasantly surprised with how the overall structure of Marvel Heroes is set up. I’m normally the type of gamer who, after completing the tutorial level of an MMORPG and getting thrown into that first enormous starting village with other online players, gets a little overwhelmed at first. But Marvel Heroes does an amazing job of easing players into these bigger online components, by interlacing the first glimpse of this “starting village” into the beginning tutorial itself: think of it as sort of like the high-tech home base we saw in The Avengers movie. Here, players will be able to accept new quests from NPCs, purchase or upgrade new abilities, and perform a number of other preparatory home base duties before they set out on their next mission. I think it also helps that the game is structured almost like a single-player campaign, with different missions and chapters to advance through. I won’t spoil a lot of the later battles in the game, as part of the fun of Marvel Heroes is discovering the many unique Marvel Universe locations and familiar NPCs as you go along for yourself; but I will say that a few of the earlier missions set in Hell’s Kitchen are certainly a highlight.
The controls are also a breeze to learn, and extremely accessible for newcomers to the world of MMORPGs. Players will simply control their character’s movements by clicking the left mouse button anywhere on the screen. Engaging with enemies is as simple as clicking the left mouse button again when you’re near one of these ugly foes, and the right mouse button comes in handy to change up your combat flow with an alternate attack. It’s also so much fun to pick up environmental objects like barrels and just chuck them at the nearest enemy with a few clicks of the mouse. Of course, despite how easy and fluid the control scheme is, it can still manage to get in the way of things every now and then: specifically when trying to pick up items, as on a few occasions my hero opted to do a flying jump attack right over the collectables instead of actually picking them up like I had intended.
However, this certainly isn’t to say that the game also has its complexities. One of the best things about Marvel Heroes is leveling up your hero, and making good use of all the new abilities and super powers you’ll acquire with each rank you go up. There is almost an addictive quality to leveling up in the game, and there’s nothing like landing the finishing blow on a boss and being met with that sweet sound of the level-up notification. For such a vastly-envisioned game, I was very happy to see such a great attention to the finer detail, and even the smallest things in the MMORPG experience, like picking up XP or health power-ups, or even equipping some newly-found armor on your superhero, feel extremely spot-on.
But one of the biggest downsides about the game is that, despite having such an impressive roster of Marvel superhero characters to play as, there isn’t really that much incentive to actually switch between the cast of characters once you’ve already gotten started. The problem here isn’t because each new character besides the original five will set you back some real-world currency in one form or another. In fact, those in-app purchases feel entirely warranted in this context, because the rest of the game is wonderfully void of the usual free-to-play tropes that always seem to set out to halt your overall progress at every chance they get.
No, the problem here is that every different hero has their own specific XP, and they start off at Level 1 after you purchase them. Since such low-level characters couldn’t last a minute on some of the more challenging levels near the mid-point of the game, you’re pretty much sunk unless you feel like erasing all of your hours of progress and starting over from the beginning with your new hero. My recommendation is that if you know you’re going to want to shell out some real bucks to play as your favorite super hero in the game, then you might as well buy them right at the beginning and start your adventure off right, or else you’re going to be faced with some serious retreading.
So in the end, while Marvel Heroes certainly has its flaws as a MMORPG and a basic video game in general, playing as your favorite superheros in a Diablo-type environment is still pretty cool as hell. Even though the frustrating imbalance used to make up for the other online players trekking through the Marvel Universe can get to be a little much, and a largely imperfect system of switching between characters will mostly leave you with a single hero to go save the world, the overall experience is still nothing to scoff at, and will be sure to delight your inner Marvel geek in more ways than one.
Story – 8/10
Graphics – 9/10
Gameplay – 7/10
Music – 8/10