A Day With ‘Marvel Heroes’ [Impressions]

After spending a brief period in beta, Gazillion Entertainment’s Marvel Heroes, formerly known as Marvel Universe Online, made its debut on PC early last week.

From the get-go, Marvel Heroes appears to have a lot going for it. You’ve got Diablo-style, loot-hoarding ARPG action; you’ve got a healthy cast of heroes from the Marvel universe to play as; it brings elements of MMOs to the genre; and, perhaps most enticingly, it’s free-to-play.

It also doesn’t hurt that famed Diablo developer David Brevik is involved in the game’s development.

Despite all of that, I admittedly went into Marvel Heroes not expecting to be impressed a whole lot. I, like quite a few PC gamers, have already played just about every ARPG released over the past several years, and it was fast getting to the point that I just don’t care about them anymore.

After spending only several hours with Marvel Heroes, however, my loot lust had already been re-ignited – but the flurry of loot wasn’t what was keeping me playing.

Once you start up the game for the first time, you’re given a selection of free heroes to choose from: Thing, Storm, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and, finally, Daredevil. Each character has unique abilities, but early-on there are some similarities; Storm, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye, for example, appear to be your typical ranged characters.

In most ARPGs, the combat is often, at its best, monotonous. In some cases, it’s mind-numbingly monotonous. That didn’t appear to have changed with Marvel Heroes at first glance, but after leveling up a bit and getting past the prologue, the combat started growing on me. Quickly.

It’s not that Marvel Heroes does anything especially different from other ARPGs, it’s that the skills – at least some of them – feel very satisfying. Once you’ve unlocked Storm’s Thundering Bolt at level 6, for example, you won’t be able to help feeling like a bad-ass as you blow up barrels, destroy furniture, and take out three guys with a single spell cast.

Once you’ve unlocked Lightning Storm at level 18, it gets even better from there.

Don’t believe me that the combat feels satisfying? Have a look at this trailer:

Admittedly that thrill wears off after awhile but it makes grinding on enemies feel a little more satisfying, even if it’s just an illusion.

The combat may be impressive, or at least not overly monotonous, but how is the rest of the game – the missions, the story? Well, that’s where we have a mixed bag. The story is sectioned off in chapters, as is usual with ARPGs but Marvel Heroes tackles story progression a bit differently, and this is where the MMO part comes in.

Once you’ve started up a chapter, the first place you’ll be heading is a hub zone. There, you’re not alone regardless of whether you’re in a party or not. The hub world is how you make your way to the missions, but there are also side-activities to partake in as well.

And that’s the mixed part.

Some of the events, such as random encounters with Super-Villains, can be a lot of fun, albeit often chaotic (and a bit laggy, depending on your PC). Others, well, not so much. In the first area, a side-mission appears that tasks you with dealing with a gang of arsonists who want to, well, set things on fire. While it doesn’t sound especially awful, it’s probably the most monotonous activity I’ve experienced so far – you stand there between two spawn points, and kill them one by one as they come out.

Eventually, you’ll get bored and find yourself just holding down shift + left-click on a spawn point and waiting for the pain to end.

Unfortunately, there appear to be quite a lot of these quests in the four chapters I’ve played so far. Fortunately, you can avoid them in most cases I’ve seen.

The game’s story isn’t particularly impressive, but it isn’t offensive either; you and a band of heroes are first set off on a chase to find a mystic tablet, which seems to be keen on changing hands as often as possible. There are, at least, hints of something more going on behind the scenes. Most of the key story points are done in animated comic form, and the presentation and voice acting are all fairly impressive.

Perhaps later on in the game the story will spice up a bit.

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There were concerns early on about how the game’s micro-transactions would be handled, but thus far it doesn’t feel too much like robbery, so it at least has that going for it. There are exceptions: if you want to buy Iron Man, and why wouldn’t you, you’ll have to fork over $20. Buying Black Panther, on the other hand, only costs $10.

The prices for costumes vary wildly as well. If you want your Thor to look like the movie version, you’re going to have to plop down $15 (or $13 if you have “G” currency left over).

One concern I have is that, if you intend to play Marvel Heroes for an extended period of time, you are at the least required to spend money on extra bank storage slots. Seeing as how I’m only half-way through the game I’m not familiar with the end-game content, but one of the micro-transactions involves that end-game content – and that’s potentially troubling.

I’ll have to revisit that and more in another look down the line, but so far Marvel Heroes seems to be fairly promising. Even if you don’t plan on sticking around past the main story, there’s enough content to be had free of charge that the game at least warrants a looking at.