[20 June 2013]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
Marvel Heroes has been billed as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Well, actually as an action-MMORPG and the addition of that word probably makes all the difference to what the end product looks like.
Yes, Marvel Heroes is a superhero action-RPG with a persistent world, the need to level up and gain loot, and some ability to do some basic kinds of crafting, but anyone expecting what is usually meant by the term MMORPG is probably going to be disappointed, viewing Marvel Heroes as something like an MMO-lite at best.
The game is at its core Diablo but with superheroes. Players emerge in the guise of one of several dozen Marvel heroes at the Avengers Tower, a hub area that allows players to buy and sell and to craft items. They are then charged with missions that take them around the globe to famous Marvel universe locations, like Hell’s Kitchen and Madripoor, to beat up bad guys and collect loot.
Unlike Diablo, when you are wandering the Tower or areas like Hell’s Kitchen or Madripoor, you won’t be soloing the area or playing in an instanced area with a few friends or a small pick up team. Instead, dozens and dozens of heroes will be charging around fighting thugs, the minions of Hydra, or the Hand ninjas alongside you. This is the “massively multiplayer” part of Marvel Heroes‘s MMO. There are instanced zones that involve confronting boss characters by yourself or a small team, which makes some sense as a free-for-all with hundreds of characters battling the Taskmaster just doesn’t seem fair or fun.
Given that respawn times are very fast in the persistent zones and that bad guys spawn in droves, this isn’t a real problem as there are plenty of opportunities to level up and grind for loot in any of these areas. Loot drops appear to be assigned to your own character as well, so you won’t have people swiping your stuff before you can get at it.
And, well, that’s about it. It’s Diablo, kill, loot, respawn, repeat. You’re just doing it with familiar Marvel characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Scarlet Witch filling familiar RPG roles, like ranged fighters, melee fighters, tanks, and those who specialize in crowd control. Zap, zap, pow.
If it sound like I’m not all that excited about this, well, I’m not especially. This is a perfectly competent Diablo-clone set in a universe that people like. You start with one of five starter characters and can unlock more as you complete missions or by purchasing them with points accrued by fighting or paying to unlock them with real life money. Additional costumes for the basic characters (like the Grey “Mr. Fixit” Hulk or the original 1960s fishnet stockinged Black Widow) can be purchased with actual cash (and possibly acquired through rare drops as well, but I haven’t played long enough to know whether or not that is the case for sure). All of this fan service is cool, and as a big fan of the Peter David run on Hulk, for instance I, of course, love the opportunity to wear the skin of my favorite Hulk, the aforementioned Las Vegas bouncer incarnation of the character, Mr. Fixit. But once the comic book geek fan service glow fades, the game is what it is, a pretty simplistic version of an MMO.
The missions are written by Marvel scribe, Brian Michael Bendis, and while the dialogue is acted in a rather hammy way at times, the cutscenes are fun and well paced, featuring a fairly decently written plot about Dr. Doom trying to take over the world again and also featuring some really cool comic book art to illustrate the major plot points. While better written than most of the Diablo games, these brief narrative vignettes, again, don’t change the fact that everything else here is something most gamers have seen before, just with a Marvel superhero veneer.
However, I may not be the target audience for the game. Frankly, if I were still a teenage comic book junky, which I once was, I would probably really get into this game and possibly play the hell out of it for a summer. It is free-to-play after all (though I would also probably longingly peruse the additional character skins in the in game store, longing to pick up one of these more unique looks). While I still like comic books and appreciate the form, if I began playing a game that requires the kind of time commitment that a Diablo-clone usually does, I really want something that surprises me or innovate in some way more so than this one does. I’m willing to mess around a bit with some different characters and play to advance the plot, but I just don’t see myself spending hundreds of hours in yet another hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, even if Wolverine is in it.