News, Views, and Reviews
Gazillion Entertainment has lifted the NDA and opened the beta to the public, so it’s time to discuss Marvel Heroes. This is a weird mash-up of genres and game types that happens to work really well, and even adds some great ideas of its own. Marvel Heroes is an ARPG and an MMO that uses Marvel super heroes. Enjoyment will vary, based on user preferences for this type of game and appreciation for the source material. Marvel Heroes is very straight forward to play, and it’s F2P (Free 2 Play) structure is one of the better versions of that pay model, so it’s very approachable.
Controls: First and foremost, it’s an ARPG (Action Role Playing Game) presented in the isometric camera view. Players control their characters by left-clicking on the ground where they want them to move to, or holding the left mouse button down will allow the character to “follow” the mouse arrow. The character’s main attacks are also bound to the left mouse button, and players can either click on an enemy at a distance and the character will auto-attack them or they can hold the left mouse button down on that enemy. The right mouse button is also used as a different type of attack. As the character levels up, special attacks can be unlocked and bound (by default) to the A, S, D, F, and G keys. These attacks use “spirit” or an energy pool that slowly drains as that attack is used, and refills when its not being used. The H key is used to heal with health packs, that can be bought, found, or drop as loot from enemies. During combat, enemies also can drop red orbs that also restore health, blue orbs that restore spirit, yellow orbs that give bonus experience, or purple orbs that restore both health and spirit. This keeps the combat pretty constant, as players really don’t have to stop for any reason to heal or prepare for the next wave of enemies. Already, there is a good range of heroes to choose from, which provide a variety of play styles. Big, strong types like the Hulk or the Thing will play differently than quicker melee types like Spider-Man or Daredevil, which play differently than ranged fighters like Cyclops or Iron Man. It’s important to point these differences out, as first impressions are key, and they may vary based on which hero is chosen first. In other words, don’t judge the game until you’ve tried a few of the different heroes. For example, I sort of enjoyed the game at first, until I switched to Deadpool and started having a lot more fun.
For me, the controls are the biggest obstacle to this game. Not that they don’t work correctly or there are any problems, I’m just not a big fan of isometric click-to-move type games. I’ve played games like Diablo and Torchlight, and I try to get into them, but my hands get tired and I wish there were alternatives. In a fantasy ARPG, there is a certain level of acceptance, that I’m a certain type of mage or fighter and I’m using these weapons or spells, fighting these fantasy monsters and skeletons or whatever. Using the Marvel super heroes is really cool, but it does present a strange version of that acceptance: I’m a super-powerful character that has to tediously slug away at street thugs and robbers. If players can accept that this a game and game things have to happen, and forget that the “real” Hulk would quickly smash his way through these weak enemies, there is a lot of fun in Marvel Heroes.
Graphics: Marvel Heroes uses the Unreal Engine 3 and provides a decent amount of environmental destruction. The environments are colorful and there is a lot of detail, right down to little crabs scurrying around on the beach or empty soda cans blowing down an alley. The characters have a lot of detail, too, and the camera can be zoomed in closer to appreciate those details. Players will likely play with the camera zoomed out as far as possible, to see all the action. In addition to a big roster of heroes to choose from, many have alternative outfits, so its nice to be able to zoom in on these, too. Marvel Heroes, like a lot of PC games, can scale its settings down to accommodate less-capable PCs. Having a system that can handle a lot of players and crazy super power special effects on screen at once is more important than having superior graphics. I dropped my settings down, just to see what it looks like, and it looses some of those small details and some of the textures look pretty flat. It’s still playable, which is more important, but it is noticeable. Games like League of Legends, in comparison, have an advantage with their “cartoony” presentation, which looks good even on lower settings. In other words, its an odd choice to make Marvel Heroes look “realistic” given that only higher end systems are going to be able to appreciate those details, anyway.
Game Play: Being able to play as a Marvel super hero will likely be the main appeal of Marvel Heroes. Again, the variety of heroes offers different play styles, and even each hero will have a few variations to allow some player customizations. After creating an account, for free, players are given a set number of heroes to choose from: Daredevil, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Storm, and the Thing. Additional heroes can be purchased, with real money, or can be found as very, very rare loot drops. Speaking of loot, Marvel Heroes handles the main staple of ARPGs, loot drops, in a pretty creative way. You’ll still find, and equip, the various body and weapon slots, but these don’t change your appearance. To change your appearance, you have to buy new costumes, also with real money, and I think the prices are pretty low. The stuff you equip modifies basic stats like armor and defense, but also have a very specific bonus to one of your specific special abilities. This makes a LOT more sense than, say, finding some “+2 strength belt” for a character that might not even use strength. This also ties into the ability customization options, as every time you “level up” you can spend two points on the basic attacks, passive abilities, or the special abilities that get slotted in the action bar. For example, with Deadpool, I could upgrade his guns and bombs, and make him more of a ranged fighter than a melee fighter. Or, I could upgrade his healing factor and sword attacks, and stay toe-to-toe with his enemies. The leveling/looting system is actually really good, and some of these features I’m surprised haven’t shown up in other games.
My favorite feature is being able to swap heroes, even during regular play. Simply press T (default) to bring up a list of heroes you’ve unlocked, pick one, click, and then you’ve swapped to that hero. All of your heroes share inventory, but experience is not shared. Fortunately, previously played areas become permanently unlocked, so you can “level up” your newer heroes by replaying those levels. Again, it might take some experimentation to find that particular hero that makes the game so much more enjoyable.
Sound: Marvel Heroes uses a decent amount of voice acting for an ARPG. Cut scenes are comic-book panels (for now? these could be filler for the beta) with voice overs, and key characters will explain things to you when you find them. A neat feature are the comments characters will make to other characters in their vicinity. Naturally, comedic characters like Spider-Man or Deadpool will have funnier comments. Sound effects are also impressive. The background music tends to loop too much, but it can be turned down if it gets too distracting. Still, the emphasis here is on action; no lengthy dialogue scenes or unwanted narrative getting in the way.
Maps and Multi-Player: Oh yeah, Marvel Heroes is also an MMO. More specifically, an MMOARPG; if that wasn’t a genre before, it is now. For the most part, this is handled very well. The main areas of each map are open to any number of players to run around, fight enemies, collect loot, and find mission objectives. These objectives are usually entrances to smaller maps, that become “instances” for those individual players that enter them. Additional entrances can be found during exploration of the main areas, and these are usually small one-and-done areas with really tough enemies guarding a chest of random loot. Players can join parties, and take out these instanced areas together, or go solo. Fighting enemies “above ground” in the main areas drop player-specific loot and everyone shares experience, even if you aren’t in a party. Big events, like timed waves of enemies or super tough villains, will draw lots of players together for awhile, and can be quite spectacular. There are no “healer” classes, so anyone can “revive” fallen heroes as needed. Again, it might seem silly that four Hulks, two Spider-Mans, three Iron Mans, and several other heroes have to wail on a villain like Venom for five minutes, but the silliness just has to be accepted.
Unfortunately, the maps in Marvel Heroes are also their biggest, most fundamental flaw. Players of ARPGs will be familiar with the idea of running around a big, open area, gradually filling in a mini-map of that area as they go. Exploration of these big maps, and discovering those optional instances, is one of the rewarding aspects of ARPGs – that just doesn’t work in an MMO. I can’t speak for everyone, but when I play an ARPG, I like to meticulously discover every inch of the map and defeat every enemy I can find before moving on to complete the main story objectives. It’s a little tedious, but that’s part of the core game mechanics. Turn that map into an MMO map, fill it with RESPAWNING enemies, and obscure those objective entrances, and that tedium becomes unbearable. A story objective might be an enemy base, and you’re given a vague description like “the cargo freighter” in the mission text. When you’re dropped down IN a cargo shipyard, and exploring every inch of that shipyard, entering all the optional entrances, and constantly defeating respawning enemies as you go, it nearly becomes a deal breaker – when you learn that the “cargo freighter” is actually TWO MAPS beyond this map. Or, you might THINK that this “subway entrance” is just an optional instance, but it actually contains ANOTHER entrance that leads you to a different area, and THAT map has the correct mission objective entrance. It’s beyond frustrating.
Conclusion: For all the clever decisions Gazillion Entertainment has come up with – merging the MMO and ARPG genres, including a huge roster of Marvel heroes, providing a depth of customization, and giving loot drops significance in the realm of super heroes – it’s unfortunate that a core mechanic like map exploration is so problematic. I’m not asking for big, flashing arrows, but when a quest objective isn’t even on your current map, a little heads up would be nice. Something simple, like a longer quest log with more helpful directions would be nice: “Head east, past these shipyards, through the storage area, and on to the next cargo ship area” would have been a LOT more useful than “search the shipyard for the cargo ship.” Hopefully, with enough player feedback, the developers can remedy this. Otherwise, Marvel Heroes is a solid title that features a pretty straight-forward gaming experience. Gamers not interested in Marvel super heroes – or ARPGs, for that matter – might not enjoy this as much, but hey, it’s free!