Some might consider it a pointless exercise to review a free-to-play game. Surely if you want to find out whether it’s good or not, you can simply go play it! It doesn’t cost you anything!
But it does, of course. It costs you precious hours of your life — and if the game can get its hooks into you, perhaps more.
Certainly, Marvel Heroes borrows from the most addictive genres there are, blending aspects of MMORPGs and games like Torchlight or Diablo. Before being dropped into a persistent online world, you’ll choose from one of five free heroes: Daredevil, Storm, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch or the Thing. Then, as with any hack-and-slash game, you’ll spend most of your time cutting your way through swaths of unremarkable goons on your way to the next objective, or deciding whether this pair of +25 defence, +10 health boots are better than these +25 health, +10 defence boots.
But don’t worry about getting hooked. Even though it’s modeled on such an established genre, Marvel Heroes manages to botch the fundamentals of the formula.
The combat, for instance, is incredibly tedious. Players will probably rely on the same three or four moves to cut down the legions in their way. Other times you’re actually starved for choice. Case in point: the first random “event boss” I encountered was the Rhino, who I found trading blows with a player using Colossus. However, I was using Storm at the time, who specializes entirely in movement and area-based abilities. Thus I spent the next minute and a half standing still and holding down the left mouse button for the basic single-target attack.
Then there are the items, another core element of the genre. Equipment doesn’t show up visually on your character model — which seems understandable, considering how critical costumes are to a superhero’s identity. However, the lack of visual progression removes a genuine source of pleasure from finding loot. Your Daredevil might be decked out in epic gear, but he looks like every other level 1 scrub right out of the starting gate. The little comments from heroes on item tooltips are a nice touch, but insufficient.
Furthermore, your inventory space is very low and shared between characters. Crafting materials don’t even stack in a single inventory slot. You can combine lesser materials to save space, but only at HQ, which means you’ll be making frequent return trips just to lighten your load.
Apart from being poorly designed, the game generally feels rough and untested. Respawn times are all over the place; in particular, destructible objects come back within seconds, fast enough to actually appear on top of you if you aren’t careful. Some powers, such as Storm’s flight ability, are prone to bugs. Instead of staying at one consistent altitude or gracefully rising and falling with the terrain, she freakishly jerks up and down every time she passes over an object. She also became stuck on more than one occasion and had to wait for her energy to run out before the game would put her back on the ground.
But what’s truly maddening is the path to the craft vendor at home base, which has a trigger that makes characters automatically remark on the majestic view. It’s a well-travelled path, and considering most players are using the same free heroes, you’ll be hearing the same lines over and over.
Lastly, at one point a critical bug or exploit forced the administrators to shut down the game servers and roll back several hours of progress for everyone. For a sturdier game I might write that off as a one-time error, but for Marvel Heroes I’m not so sure.
Don’t expect a stellar story to make up for the lacklustre gameplay experience. The plot is shallow, relying on the forgettable “villains abuse mystic artifact” schtick, and nakedly tries to tie in as many heroes and villains as possible for marketing or fan service.
Moreover, Marvel Heroes suffers from serious story and gameplay segregation. Another event boss I tripped across was Madame Hydra, which genuinely startled me. She was a major player in the plot at that time, and here she was wandering around in the street? And then it was over. We didn’t capture her, she didn’t make a daring escape — she just disappeared in a puff of loot like the 100-odd thugs I had blown past to get there.
The plot itself mainly follows a group of heroes you can’t access for free — the cast changes, but Captain America, Spiderman and Wolverine are the big mainstays — largely divorcing you from the story. Presumably your character, after doing all the work, is just off camera somewhere during the cut scenes, perhaps in the bathroom, or making the “real” heroes a sandwich. If you want to feel like your actions in the game are aligned with the events in the world, it’ll cost you.
And how much would you expect it to cost? Five dollars? Ten? Try $20 for some of the most popular heroes, like Spider-Man or Deadpool. If you wanted to have access to all of the various classes the game has to offer, you’re looking at nearly $200 — and that’s before factoring in new costumes or other items.
It is, frankly, obscene. You can allegedly get all the characters through rare in-game drops, but it strikes me as degrading to grind for hours on end in the hope that your favourite character appears and you can finally play the game the way you wanted to from the start.
Simply put, these prices would be unacceptable for a good game, which Marvel Heroes is not. It explores no new concepts and fails to properly execute the tried-and-true. As such, Marvel Heroes is something for disengaged parents to distract their kids with for a few hours — so long as they keep an eye on their credit card.