‘Marvel Heroes 2015’ Review: Second Time’s The Charm?

Last year the developers over at Gazillion Entertainment, headed up by Diablo veteran David Brevik, launched their free-to-play action RPG / MMO hybrid, Marvel Heroes. The game received largely mixed reviews by the press, many of which stated that the game’s lack of polish — and depth — held it back from being a serious contender in what was, and still is, a market with some rather fierce competition.

Fast forward to a year later, and Marvel Heroes, as it existed before, is no more. In its place? Marvel Heroes 2015.

So what exactly is different about Marvel Heroes 2015, apart from the title? If you haven’t played since a short time after launch, the answer is quite a lot. Enough to warrant a (slight) name change? Well, there certainly are enough changes to at least make a case for it, but make no mistake — this is still Marvel Heroes. Fortunately for fans, however, it’s a better version of it by far.

If this is the first you’re hearing of the game, here are the basics: Marvel Heroes 2015 follows the traditional action RPG model of absolutely showering you with loot around just about every corner. There’s a story, sure — one that isn’t half bad, even — but the collection of loot, and then the collection of even more loot, is a big part of what will keep players engaged. The other part, and perhaps the most important part, is the game’s cast of playable characters.

The original game launched with a fairly large roster, but the number of playable characters has since expanded to an impressive 36 (as of writing). Generally speaking, each character has his or her own unique playstyle; there aren’t very many characters that feel as if they’re too similar to another hero, and the vast majority of them feel like their existence in the game is justified. If you want to beat/blast/cut down/stomp on enemies with your favorite Marvel hero and feel empowered doing so, chances are high that Marvel Heroes 2015 has you covered.

There are some exceptions to that, however, and when you have that many playable characters in the game, that’s almost to be expected. A number of new additions such as Psylocke feel like they weren’t given as much care as some of the other characters, and even some of the older characters don’t feel nearly as polished as they ought to be (I’m looking at you, Hulk) when compared to the rest of the cast. Some characters can be late bloomers, but that only serves to make the process of leveling up and progressing through the story feel like a chore, especially when you can be having more fun leveling another character.

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As far as the gameplay goes, Marvel Heroes 2015 manages to feel fresh, interesting, and rewarding while still remaining familiar to action RPG veterans. Rather than having you simply pointing at and clicking on something until it dies, the game encourages a much more involved playstyle. To put it another way, Marvel Heroes 2015 definitely takes the “action” part of “action RPG” seriously; each character, even those with less polish, has a certain “rhythm” to them, based on your chosen skills, that serves to make combat actually feel satisfying, and even rewarding of skilled play.

The promise of more loot is a core principle of the action RPG, and Marvel Heroes 2015 certainly won’t disappoint you on that front. Even when there isn’t an event going on that boosts your chance to find items, you can still expect to be able to find something to outfit your character with after a decent chunk of play time. In fact, it could be argued that there may be a little too much loot; the game’s character sheet has several new equipment slots from Insignias to Legendaries to Artifacts, all of which play an important part in fleshing out your character. The number of item slots you have to manage per character can be intimidating, but equipment isn’t really the problem — after all, collecting new, better equipment is what you want out of an action RPG.

The problem I have with loot isn’t the amount of equipment, it’s the amount of currencies and materials you have to keep up with in addition to all of your equipment for each character you own. The Eternity Splinter, for example, is a form of currency that lets you purchase a character for free, or upgrade your current character’s “Ultimate” ability. That one’s easy enough, but between collecting equipment, crafting materials, Cube shards (the former currency for unlocking heroes), runes for one of the new equipment slots, event items, and the currency used to apply an enchant on an item, it can start to feel excessive. This likely won’t be much of a problem to people with more experience in the genre, and it may even be a plus for that crowd, but it’s a lot to ask of a player who’s coming in fresh to keep track of what items they should or should not bother picking up every time they get showered with loot.

Being inundated with loot is, later on in the game, made an actual problem by the fact that your storage options are extremely limited — unless you’re willing to drop some cash in the game’s cash shop. In fact, given the sheer number of items you have to keep up with it becomes an absolute nightmare to manage your items without buying extra storage space. If you have any expectations of sticking with the game for awhile, expect to drop at least $10 to $20 on storage space alone. The developers have to make their money somewhere, of course, but the restrictions on storage for non-paying players feels too prohibitive.

As for the rest of the cash shop, you can expect to see your standard options for many free-to-play games: experience boosts, potions that allow you to reallocate your skill points, boosts that increase your chance to find items, and so on. What most people will be spending their money on, of course, are the heroes (or a new costume for that hero, if that’s your thing). Fortunately for the players, the game has seen welcome improvements in that area. When the game first launched there was a massive price gap between some of the characters. While there is still something of a price gap, it feels a whole lot more fair than it used to. Given how varied the characters are in how they play, it actually feels like a good deal, especially considering how much playtime one can get out of just one character (between 6 to 10 hours, and that’s just counting the story mode).

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The cash shop doesn’t feel like it treads too far into the dreaded “pay-to-win” territory, but that’s perhaps arguable. If you’re willing to drop cash on item find boosts every time you go on your quest for more loot, you’re putting yourself at a significant advantage over players who aren’t using boosts. There are at least ways for non-paying players to get said boosts, although the chances of that happening aren’t exactly high.

The amount of content available in the game since its initial release has been ramped up quite a bit. Even after you’ve made it through the story on Superheroic difficulty, there’s still plenty to do from there. Terminals, which were available around the game’s launch are still present, allowing players to revisit a boss fight from the game’s story mode for the chance at shiny new loot. In addition to terminals, the game now has all-new end-game modes such as X-Defense, which tasks you and a group of players with defending Xavier’s mansion from waves of increasingly difficult enemies (think Horde mode). Naturally, you can expect a whole bunch of loot to come from these modes. Not only will you get a lot of loot, these modes will actually help you level faster than you normally would.

Overall, Marvel Heroes 2015 feels much more fleshed out than its original incarnation, and even if you do end up having to pick up extra storage space, the game offers an impressive amount of hours of entertainment for what should typically be a fairly low amount of money (provided you’re not buying a bunch of heroes with real money). If you’re looking for a solid, fun action RPG to spend your free time with, you can’t go wrong with at least trying Marvel Heroes 2015 — especially considering that you don’t have to spend a dime to give the game a test drive.

It’s not realistic to look too far into Marvel Heroes 2015‘s future, but I can at least say that Gazillion Entertainment is currently taking a pretty aggressive stance when it comes to updating the game. Just about every week during the review process, the game was updated with something — be it a special event, a new hero to play, or tweaks to the game’s existing heroes, both new and old. If the developers can manage to keep that up, Marvel Heroes 2015 seems on the path to only get better from here, and it’s already looking good as it is.

Whether you’re a fan of Marvel or action RPGs — or both — you owe it to yourself to check the game out.

Score: 8.5/10