Marvel Heroes is currently flawed, but this ARPG has an immense amount of potential.
Marvel Heroes is a game I’ve been waiting a long time for. Having been a fan of Gazillion’s initial foray into this universe, Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, I’d longed for a ‘big boy’ version of one of my favorite mutant-filled video games. So, was it worth the wait?
Those who’ve been following my columns have gotten a taste of what the game’s offered thus far. However, these were written during earlier betas and much, generally for the beta, has changed within the game. Graphically, the game is far more impressive. By launch, texturing for characters has been touched up, particularly on the faces, cleaning up some previously plain or otherwise unattractive character models and, with them, a refinement of their animations. Particle effects have been improved, scaled down in some cases and greatly exaggerated in others to create a balanced, organized type of chaos…when one is playing alone. When in a group setting, where the game truly shines; several heroes all flinging some rather epic powers can turn the screen pure white and red at times, making dodging and surviving a bit difficult. While the options menu contains a slider to reduce these effects, it currently does little if anything to make large-scale battles easier to navigate.
While the gameplay overall is enjoyable, if not flat-out addictive, Marvel Heroes is not without some very serious faults. The defense stat currently does nothing to negate damage, causing a severe imbalance at end-game where most characters die from a single hit of any kind. For ranged characters, this simply creates more of a challenge; for melee characters however, this would stall progression entirely if not for the ability to leech experience points off of other members of the team. Arguably, melee-ranged characters lose their luster from level 25 onward. That said, a developer mentioned an incoming update meant to address this on a Reddit thread, allowing tank and melee characters to (hopefully) fully realize their potential.
Unfortunately this leads to another concern involving the Marvel Heroes version of ‘end-game’. While the campaign was a joy, it only gets a character to somewhere between level 25 and 30. The rest of the time, with a level cap of 60, is spent grinding dailies until a character is maxed, at which point you’ll be grinding that same character more to get ‘item find’ gear, only to grind with said gear for ‘special item find’ gear, only to grind yet more with special item find gear for costumes and heroes.
Defenders of this mechanic claim this is typical of the ARPG genre, and they’re correct to some degree. However, Marvel Heroes is not merely a Diablo-clone; it’s also an MMO, one with a world I’d hoped was a bit more expansive. It’s very possible to burn out on the game before even glancing at a hero beyond your first. While a lack of long-term content is forgivable for a newly launched game, the campaign can be completed in a day’s time and leaves one with nothing to do but grind the same map constantly for rare gear/items, all with exceedingly low drop rates. It’s a tedious experience for just one character, let alone several.
I’ve complained about this mechanic before, in games other than Marvel Heroes. I dislike when games force players to choose between getting better loot and being team players. The use of item find/special item find/credit boost/exp boost gear in Marvel Heroes comes at the expense of better stats and defense, a characteristic of selfish players sacrificing team efficiency for greed. I can’t fault them, the point of any RPG is ‘loot’, hence developers needing to be conscientious of whom they’re enabling in their games. Drop rate + gear should never be in a team-oriented game, I should never have to carry someone with my +dmg, +attack speed Storm while the weaklings behind me spend all their time looting and breaking objects for chances at rare items.
Back to the point, the game gets very repetitive, very quickly. This was expected and accepted beforehand, assuming the key mechanic to breaking up the monotony being the assortment of heroes. However, my past column indicates my feelings on the current hero roster and their accessibility, players having to choose between expensive, real-life costs or intense amounts of unrewarding grind.
I’ve clocked nearly 50 hours of game time in Marvel Heroes since head-start, and to some that would be an indication of my love and passion for the game. They’d be half right. I do indeed find Marvel Heroes fun, however a question was recently asked in a forum thread that stopped me in my tracks:
“If these weren’t Marvel characters, would you still be playing?”
The honest answer is, no. Alone, the game doesn’t have a lot to stand on. What I find enjoyable and what keeps me coming back (for now) is that I’m not just blowing crap up with lightning, I’m doing it as one of my favorite characters in the history of fiction, my beautiful African Queen, Storm. Will that keep me forever? Nope. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
There is a huge amount of interaction between the developers and the community, an impressive amount that gives me hope for the game’s future. Bugs are constantly being fixed, and the devs are actively replying to forum threads and even asking their own questions as they continue tweaking and refining the game. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a private message from a developer asking for more information about an issue I’d posed in someone else’s thread; this is the kind of thing that endears me to a company and thus their product, a clear show of faith and effort to fix what players feel is broken. Also, prompted by player and reviewer concern over pricing of some heroes in the mall, they’ve also created a new, stickied thread where players can voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions about the price structure. Who knows, maybe reasonable compromise will come soon afterward.
I continue playing Marvel Heroes not for what it is, but for the immense amount of potential I feel it has, for what I feel it will become given a bit more time in the oven. Flawed as it is, I would recommend the game to anyone curious; the initial run through the campaign with one of 5 free heroes (ending with 3 total for free over the course of the game) is enjoyable, and it’s not really until end-game that the game’s issues truly make themselves known. You have until then to make your decision on whether Marvel Heroes is a worthy, lasting entry in your gaming library, or a forgettable loss of a few hours.