It's your chance to play as some of the world's greatest superheroes...and Hawkeye! 411's Stephen Randle lets you know if this free-to-play Action MMO is worthy of the Marvel pedigree inside!
Title: Marvel Heroes
Publisher: Gazillion Entertainment
Developer: Gazillion Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
Available for PC
One gaming property used to sit high upon my pantheon of great franchises. That was, of course, Diablo, the Blizzard-created dungeon crawler that provided hours of entertainment using the simplest of mechanics: click on something to kill it, then pick up your randomly generated loot and hope it`s an upgrade so you can kill tougher enemies. Of course, then Diablo III came out and it became less about the game and more about monetizing loot drops in service of making extra money for Blizzard through their auction house economy. Thus, you no longer needed to play the ``loot lottery`` in order to get exactly the right gear to trivialize the game content, as long as you had enough currency, virtual or real, to pay the price. But thatís another story for another time.
Well, now Gazillion Entertainment has attempted to create their own version of the popular genre, and in a surprising twist, they latched onto the Marvel license and turned it into a surprisingly decent Diablo-style game. And the kicker? The game is totally, one hundred percent, completely free to play.
Youíre waiting for the other shoe to drop, arenít you? Okay, so, the game really is free. Download it, create an account, and you can be playing right away. Of course, the catch is that you can only play as one of five free starter heroes: Scarlet Witch, Daredevil, Thing, Storm, and Hawkeye.
Aw man, I should have chosen Scarlet Witch.
Not exactly the ďAĒ list, but if you happen to be a fan, then youíre already set. In addition, youíll receive a second hero (again, one of the starting five chosen at random) once you reach the end of the first chapter. And once you beat the final boss for the first time, youíll receive one random hero from the entire available roster. Thatís three heroes for absolutely no cost. Iíd have to check, but thatís not bad value. And in addition, every hero in the game can be acquired by random loot drop. Itís a small chance, but thereís a good bet youíll pick up at least one or two more team-mates in a single playthrough.
Okay, so youíre not too thrilled with the starting five heroes, and you just really, really want to play as Spider-Man from the start. Well, then it starts costing you money. You can purchase any hero for real money, from around nine dollars for less-popular characters, all the way up to the big guys on the scene, who will run you twenty dollars. Itís a hefty price to play the character you desire, in fact itís probably way too high, but if thereís one hero you must play, paying up to twenty bucks for them, given the game costs you nothing, isnít the terrible expense if might be were the game also forty dollars or so. I mean, itís a ridiculous price, but you can see the thought process behind it.
Especially if you got stuck with Hawkeye. Look at him. Smug jerk.
And the game itself is not bad, either, and very reminiscent of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance titles. Thereís actually a storyline that runs through seven chapters and multiple locations, and itís a pretty good one, involving a whole mess of Marvelís cast of villains, the Cosmic Cube (movie viewers may recognize it by another name, Tesseract), and several other mysterious artifacts that could destroy the world as we know it. Youíll travel from the streets of New York to the Savage Lands to Latveria and all iconic Marvel landmarks in between, fighting waves of mooks, crooks, and generally bad guys. Every hero has their own unique skill tree that plays into their powers and strengths. If youíre Captain America, you can brawl up close, and throw your shield for various effects. The Punisher, meanwhile, stands far back and fires off an impressive array of guns. And if youíre Hawkeye, you have the ability to wear a bright purple outfit like itís completely a sane costume choice.
Itís the perfect look for people who thought ďI like Robin Hood, but green just blends into the surroundings too muchĒ
Unfortunately, thereís a hitch in the entire experience that detracts from the overall game, and itís the fact that the developers tried to force the game into an MMO environment. So while youíre wandering the sewers, fighting off Purifiers, there are lots of other people in the area doing the exact same thing. And while I donít have the problems others seem to with seeing a dozen Things, five Black Widows, and twenty or so Captain Americas running around, the simple fact of the matter is that the game doesnít require you to play with anyone else. The gameplay itself isnít particularly difficult, and experienced players can easily solo the content without any assistance. Thus, itís an MMO where nearly everyone is playing by themselves. Thatís not to say that you canít group up with friends and have a good time, and most of the story areas leading up to the boss fights are instanced, allowing you to complete them without the presence of other people, but it does make the open world sections seem pretty crowded, especially since respawn rates can get a little nutty depending on how many people are around.
Graphically, the game is decent, with as much detail as youíd expect from the style. Thereís actually a minimum of palette-swapped bad guys, and each of the heroes and villains gets their own unique sprite. Of course, ďuniqueĒ in this case means ďexactly like the other dozen of me out thereĒ, and while gear doesnít change your appearance (although through the crafting system there are some limited visual effects that can be added to your gear), costumes are available for purchase in case you want to be even more special. Again, prices are a little steep, but if you feel like trusting to luck, just like characters, every costume has a chance to be found as random loot.
Which brings me around to what I was hinting about in the beginning: the loot system. I love random loot. Sure, most of it is vendor trash and only one in every hundred or so will ever be worn by your character, but in the end, itís the random loot that drives people to play this type of game. When Blizzard introduced the Auction House to Diablo III, they took away the drive, because you could just purchase what you needed. In Marvel Heroes, you donít hit the level cap after you beat the game and sit around saying ďwhat nowĒ? The level cap in Marvel Heroes is 60, and you can beat the game well before 30. Beating the game, coincidentally, opens up daily challenges, upgraded difficulties of early game levels, for both solo players and groups to run through, and all the higher level loot drops that go with it. The endgame is still clearly a work in progress (the official word is that the PVP is totally unbalanced and will be for a while), but for someone who plays these games to kill lots of enemies in the hope that this one will be the one that gives you that sweet weapon or piece of gear that replaces your old stuff, Marvel Heroes has it in spades. And since roughly 95% of the loot that drops is specific to your character, you donít end up with a stash full of things that youíre saving in case you ever play a different character. Granted, it would be nice if there was the ability to at least trade items with other players, but Iím sure that will come eventually.
- It`s free out of the box, and you can beat the game without paying a cent
- Diablo gameplay with a roster of Marvel superheroes
- Unique skills trees, sprites, and sound bites for every hero
- Good story, smooth game mechanics, polished graphics
- Would be a much better game without the open-world MMO parts
- Some AI bugs
- Purchasing prices for characters and costumes are insane
- Lack of explanation of some key mechanics
Marvel Heroes is not a perfect game, not by a longshot. Youíre limited in what you can do without paying money (although you can beat the game with three different characters, just not necessarily the ones you would have chosen), and the price structure skews far too expensive for my tastes. The MMO elements seem jammed into a game that would have been fine without them, and yes, you definitely wonít be the only Wolverine on the block. But on the other hand, the core gameplay is one that has gotten people addicted for years, and if you like the genre, youíll have hours of fun clicking on things and watching them drop loot. Plus, there are very few properties right now hotter than Marvel, and this game is practically an encyclopedic tribute to the history of the franchise. The bottom line is, Marvel Heroes is pretty fun, fairly addictive, and while it isnít a great game by any mean, itís certainly a good one, and no one can tell me that a free Diablo-style game where I get to play as a Marvel superhero, even if it is Hawkeye, isnít worth my time. If nothing else, at least it wonít cost you anything to find out.