With the hurricane of hype surrounding Avengers: Age of Ultron still fresh in our minds, it seemed only appropriate to revisit Marvel Heroes. The free-to-play action RPG has been humming along for a couple of years now, building a solid community on top of a fair and rewarding in-game economy. Looting and tuning characters to acquire gear faster and heal their wounds forever is the order of the day. This might put off some looking for a deeper experience in their MMO, but those just looking to throw down in their favorite comic book universe have no excuse not to dive into the dungeon-like city streets and blast the Maggia away.
The story here might be considered lacking if not for the original source material. A massive group of villains led by Doctor Doom have escaped from a S.H.I.E.L.D. prison, and it’s up to Captain America or Squirrel Girl or Venom or Rocket Racoon or Loki or soon even Doctor Doom to stop them. The story is nonsensical and that’s fine; Diablo was never really about story either. What is here is presented well with motion comic scenes and in-game dialogue, but if you’re not already skipping through it on an initial playthrough, you will definitely be during a second run at a higher difficulty.
With a sizable roster of almost 50 heroes in Marvel Heroes, there is sure to be a familiar face for any Marvel fan to latch on to. The roster of starter characters is generous, with free players allowed to pick one to level to maximum and sample the rest for 10 levels before being asked to pay. If you do find one of your favorites among the free choices, you can safely play through the entire game free of charge, only running into a barrier with the small amount of loot storage you get at this level.
Characters that aren’t in the initial group can be purchased for anywhere from ten to twenty dollars, or earned through specific drops. There are also several crafting systems in Marvel Heroes that might seem daunting to new players, but they’re straightforward once you level up.
Each day you log in (even if they’re nonconsecutive), you get a supply of rewards that push you towards the more advanced systems and encourage experimentation,which is supplemented by similar drops from events. Eventually, every item on your avatar can be given boosts and effects, including cosmetics. In addition, XP Boosts and various other currencies are dropped frequently enough that you don’t feel pushed into the cash shop for gameplay necessities, which is a huge plus in any free experience.
Gameplay is almost too simplistic, but it works. You have a bar of powers at your disposal, and the tech trees are nonlinear, allowing you to unlock skills in any order and skip any you find unnecessary. My initial playthrough was with Jean Grey, who can be equipped with rings of fire that take out weaker foes and area of effect attacks that clear our mobs with ease. I also toyed around with Spider-Man and Thor for a bit; each character’s style was different, syncing up well with their comic counterparts.
In addition, each character (and certain enhanced costumes) are fully voiced and respond to who they’re fighting alongside and which bosses they’re taking on. For buffs of Marvel history, there are scores of references to various events from the canon, although some lines are repeated often enough to get annoying over time. There is also an occasional heavy reliance on recent history that has not aged as well as Marvel might have hoped. As much as I personally like The Hood, he didn’t really launch as a villain, so his prominence in the story sticks out.
Other than the main story areas, there are several side modes. These include patrols and defense missions where bosses spawn endlessly on a timer, and these modes are where Marvel Heroes really shines. Divorced from the little logic on display in the story mode, patrol areas allow gangbangers to spawn next to giant sentinels and evil spiders to team up with mole men. This is also where loot is dropped more frequently, especially during the recurring week-long events that drop chests and bonus cards that you’d usually have to pay for. For anyone with the collection itch, rolling the dice on getting a rare artifact or stat boost every ten minutes is intoxicating.
That is really the key thing in Marvel Heroes. What might have been considered a grind in other games is the main mechanic here. There are an endless array of purple pants and katanas to pick up, compare, and donate to your crafters. If you drop a little money initially to set up a character you’d like to play, the game opens up wide and draws you in. The story missions are a bit thin, but everything around it effortlessly keeps you going towards the next goal on an endless checklist.
For anyone who might have picked up Marvel Heroes at launch, give it another try. Gazillion Entertainment has made smart changes to every system, with plenty of new things in the pipeline to keep things interesting. The developer’s love for the source material is evident everywhere, and it’s good to dive back into the comic continuity after a marathon of Cinematic Universe experiences. Despite its flaws, the core loop of the game draws new players in, and its non-fantasy theming is novel enough to keep fans of the genre on their toes. It’s not a perfect replacement for the sorely missed Ultimate Alliance games of old, but it’s pretty damn close.
Marvel Heroes was reviewed in full on a Steam account after spending approximately $20 in the cash shop. Character unlocks were provided by the developer after a complete run of the story was completed.
An action RPG that stands among the titans of the genre, Marvel Heroes is a glorious romp for any member of the Mighty Marvel Marching Brigade.