Hands On: Marvel Heroes

This is the dynamic nature of most of the game.

Over the last few days I’ve played through all the available content in the closed beta for Diablo-like MMO, Marvel Heroes. And throughout there was one thought in my head: why did they let journalists look at this now? It’s possibly not the most positive thought.

Marvel Heroes, in its current beta form, is dreadful. Let’s be clear – it’s not finished, there’s no release date yet, and there’s clearly lots of work yet to be done. But they invited the press to have a play of a very limited portion of the game so we could report on it. And it’s currently a giant, dreary mess, a clash of woefully weak combat, and lacklustre delivery, so barren of ideas that I kept wondering if I was doing something wrong. Looking like it was made in 2002 (which is no mean feat with the Unreal Engine), and playing like it was made in 1986, this ARPG MMO feels like one of those ’80s half-arsed movie tie-in arcade games that would be ported clumsily to home computer.

In this limited version, I was able to pick between a small range of Marvel heroes – I picked Ms. Marvel. And was immediately disappointed to see she was in her old costume, and indeed still called Ms. Marvel. But we’ll get back to that. I then began staring in surprise at the peculiarly tedious world of clicking and clicking with little reward and no motivation.

Huge, flat, featureless zones stretch repetitively for acres in each direction, fogged out on your minimap such that you’re forced to lamely wander throughout until you stumble on the entrance to a lair or warehouse. These can be enormous, entirely non-distinct city blocks, the same assets repeated over and over, with just one doorway to find in amongst it all. On your way you meet hundreds and hundreds of identical spawning enemies, popping into existence immediately in front of you, and dropping the same six items of bland loot over and over and over. Reaching a base opens up more of exactly the same, usually ending in a “boss fight”, which involves briefly left-clicking on a known Marvel enemy until he or she falls over.

And that’s it. You can sell loot to people back at Avengers’ Tower, but they don’t yet have anything to sell you back. You gain new powers through levelling, but they offer little that your first two abilities don’t cater for. And you can unlock other Marvel characters with virtual currency, but they appear at level 1 no matter what level your first character’s at, so are completely useless.

Another mystifying aspect of why we were so enthusiastically invited in at this point is that there are no graphics options in the game yet. Meaning it plays at a default crappy resolution, and looks absolutely awful. (It’s worth noting that the screenshots you see on this article were not taken by me. Part of the agreement to play this closed beta was that we wouldn’t take our own. The pics you see here were not representative of the dreary, grey world that dominated most of the available game – I put the most realistic one at the top of the article.)

City Of Heroes, which came out 2004, looked better than this on release – better models, better heroes, and indeed was a proper MMO. This is not. This is a stripped down ARPG, top-down, fixed camera, and almost featureless, with other people trapped in the same wasteland. While I’m hopeful it will look better at a sensible resolution and with some graphics options switched on, that isn’t going to change the fact that you’re mostly playing on grey streets and brown warehouse districts, without a glimmer of careful design or detail.

I had a further reason to be interested to take a look at Marvel Heroes. In the last few months I’ve gotten into Marvel comics for the first time. Influenced by my chum and RPS co-owner Kieron Gillen now being one of their main writers, and his having written long stints on Uncanny X-Men and Journey Into Mystery, and now writing Iron Man and Young Avengers, I’ve really clicked with superhero comic fiction in a way I had no idea I would. And so it is that I’m tapped into the news that Marvel has or is about to relaunch a huge swathe of their biggest titles. The Marvel NOW endeavour sees books like Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, X-Men and Hulk restarting their numbering at 001, reintroducing the ongoing stories of their most famous characters. So what better time to launch a Marvel MMO that includes all these heroes?

What better indeed. But it’s not this. I know that Nick Fury isn’t currently in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. He is here. I’m aware that Carol Danvers accepted the title of Captain Marvel about six months ago, losing the Ms. Marvel mantel along with completely changing her outfit. But Marvel Heroes hasn’t heard. It simply bewildering that a project so closely related to the House Of Ideas should be so wildly out of touch with it. Sure, it’s not out yet, and no, there’s still no release date for the F2P game, but they surely must have access to Marvel’s plans for the forthcoming year? This could have been a game to reflect forthcoming events, or at least sensibly tie in to the newbie-welcoming NOW notion. Instead it adds archaic content to its dogged design.

Instead the result, at this point in development at least, is the least appealing aspects of a Diablo Clone placed into an entirely unnecessary MMO setting. The endless clicking that a Torchlight or a Diablo can make so compulsive is currently utterly unrewarding here, as you fight literally hundreds of identical enemies in each map (one sidequest asks you to kill 100 Mole peeps, then a couple of boss characters, and then amazingly pops up asking you to kill another 100), for no appreciable reward. Each new power I’ve unlocked has been far less effective than the two I started with, and there’s no nuance in enemy attacks that would require you to ever employ a tactic. Over the last week the press have had access to the game at all times, but the servers have only been populated by testers in very short, very awkward timeslots (2am to 4am, for instance). So while I didn’t spend time on busy servers, I did team up with other hacks and found nothing improved for doing so.

Of course I have no idea how many more months of work are due to be put in here. I hope it’s an awful lot of them – and perhaps if other previews echo my thoughts, more will be added on. But it’s also hard to see how this skeletal game could be fleshed out into something special. Intended as free-to-play, it’s going to need a hell of a lot more motivation to get people to fork over cash, since right now there’s no perceivable motivation to carry on playing for free.


  1. MuscleHorse says:

    So, one to watch then?

    • caddyB says:

      Reads like 7/10 to me.

      • Groove says:

        I was dismayed to learn that these screenshots are meant to be the good ones. These are the promotional press photos? Shiiiit.

        John’s not wrong about CoH looking better 8 years ago. You don’t need lots of detail to have a good art direction, but this game has neither.

  2. Uthred says:

    The nitpicking about the game not being up to date with the universe’s canon setting seems a little misguided. The status of characters in the comics is going to change a lot quicker than the games likely to release updates so chasing being “up to date” is probably going to be unattainable. As such it makes more sense to focus on “iconic” versions of the characters which most people with a casual knowledge of the universe are a) more familiar with and b) more interested in playing. Though it is nice to see a new comics fan so quickly adopt the familiar pedantry of the comics veteran ;)

    • Wreckdum says:

      Let’s ignore the fact that the gameplay is garbage and focus on the part that 10% of the people playing will care about… o.O

      • frightlever says:

        The game isn’t finished so gameplay can change and hopefully improve, but trying to stay current with the Marvel Universe would be an exercise in futility. JW is relatively new to comics – give it a couple of years and he’ll understand. At any rate there are two Marvel Universes. Well, two that are currently popular. See? Complicated. All you can do is pick a snapshot and work with it.

        • CobraLad says:

          Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was set in Civil War, with first game having established X-Men mythos. There was game about recent Skrull Invasion in development.
          Sure they must use 80s versions so people dont get confused.

          • Uthred says:

            The first game established the X-Men mythos? I dont think Marvel Ultimate Alliance established much of anything. Perhap’s you were referring to the X-Men Legends games? I’m also not sure why you consider the 80’s versions to be the “iconic” versions of the characters. To be honest the iconic versions of superhero characters are often not directly associatedable with a particular time period. Rather they represent a composite view of the character that reflects the characters most well known traits, well known is the important part as they need to resonate with the audience. MU2 was set in an adaptation of the Civil War story arc and not a particularly faithful adaptation at that, of course the game can broadly reflect more current storylines but the majority of the potential audience for the game are much more interested in playing Carol Danvers, not whether she’s called Captain Marvel or Ms Marvel.

        • John Walker says:

          No, this isn’t naivety on my part. I may be new to reading them, but aware of how fast things change. My point was, Marvel NOW is a very clear entry point, and carries with it some of the more significant changes. Heck, even just a post-AvX Marvel world would have made at least some sense.

          • Shuck says:

            Work started on the game more than two years ago, and if my own experience working on a licensed game is typical in any way, Marvel could very well have given them absolutely nothing, and certainly not any hint of their plans for their universe. Which would have left them in the position of continuously playing catch-up, which they probably decided to avoid from the start.

          • mckertis says:

            “even just a post-AvX Marvel world would have made at least some sense”

            “Even” ? AvX ended just a month ago, there IS no “post-AvX” anything !

          • John Walker says:

            There’s post-AvX everything! All the major books are picking up after the events!

          • fiachsidhe says:

            and what makes you think they won’t have those costumes as unlockable? So far, the website lists many of the costumes. Colossus even has his Phoenix Five suit as an unlock. Hell Marvel has even authorized Gazillion to make up their own costumes. Kind of like “What If…?” for outfits. Like what if Tony Stark made armor for the X-Men, etc.

            They chose the more recognizable version. I’m sure Ms./Captain Marvel will have her current outfit as well.

      • Uthred says:

        I wasnt ignoring anything, I’m sure Mr Walker’s report on the gameplay was accurate and I had nothing relevant to add on it, so I chose to comment on the section of the article where I did have something to say. Why, its almost as if thats how comments normally work.

        • Marr says:

          > I had nothing relevant to add on it, so I chose to comment

          That’s pretty much the problem right there.

      • Rout says:

        Yeah, let’s ignore that JW’s article is about a video game on a gaming website, and not an exercise in comicbook fanboyism. Nerd rage: ENGAGE!

    • megazver says:

      Yeah, came to post this. The rest of it looks troubling, but them focusing on iconic versions of the characters is just how it works with game adaptations of these comics.

    • Oasx says:

      It probably makes the most sense to do all the characters as they were when development started, and then when they have the game in a good shape and nearing release they can update the few characters who need it.

  3. Shockeh says:

    Given his relationship with Marvel, it’d be very interesting to see what Kieron thinks of it when he gets to play it. Both in terms of valuing his critical appraisal, (and we clearly do, because we all keep reading it) and whether he is forced to some extent to show retraint in what he says because of those links.

    (Keep up your writing Gillen, I’m gutted you’re not writing Cyclops at the moment.)

  4. AmateurScience says:

    Jimmeny crickets it looks like NWN!

  5. Dominic White says:

    It looks very much like the Marvel console ARPG series, with games like Ultimate Alliance. Anyone calbe to compare it to that, rather than City of Heroes? Because those were pretty good games, even if they weren’t to everyone’s taste.

    • Choca says:

      Marvel Ultimate Alliance wasn’t all that great but is still miles ahead of Marvel Heroes from what I’ve played of both games.

  6. Craig Stern says:

    I wonder what would happen if dull, uninspired AAA games got the same treatment as mediocre indie games, and were simply ignored in favor of focusing coverage on work that is actually interesting? What if this had been a write-up of Drox Operative, an actually, legitimately interesting ARPG that was recently released?

    (I’m just idly musing here; obviously, RPS needs to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to covering Big Games.)

    • John Walker says:

      That really wasn’t the thought process. We were offered time on the beta, and I thought: “Ooh, I want to play a Marvel ARPG – that sounds great.” So I played it.

      Obviously there are certain key games that we feel we’d be remiss to not feature alongside other sites, but that doesn’t drive our decisions as frequently as you might think.

      • TsunamiWombat says:

        I think the more logical answer is that RPS is clearly a media juggernaut masquerading as an English PC focused site that applies favoritism and corrupt nepotism in all it’s decisions, offering coverage on the basis of what generates the most Hits and Profits, and ‘journalistic integrity’ is just an insult they use when they throw interns into the scorpion pit. Also Mr. Walker rides a T-Rex with the words “EA Paid For This” spray-painted on the side in hot-red.

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          Adam Smith says:

          I’m playing Drox Operative right now. Will have thoughts soon!

          • NathanH says:

            Excellent. Now, your next project is to quietly bump off all the other RPS writers, replace them with clones of yourself, and thus unleash the greatest video game blog ever made.

          • Brise Bonbons says:

            I look forward to hearing more tales of Drox Operatives, as I love to hear stories of its simulated world – unfortunately I can’t bear the actual gameplay long enough to experience these myself. :(

            Luckily there are hundreds of other amazing games that demand my attention, so I will survive.

          • Craig Stern says:

            Oh, good! I’m looking forward to seeing what you think. :)

          • Craig Stern says:

            (Or should that be Wot You Think? No matter.)

          • celozzip says:

            i just got excited when i looked at drox operative, but it’s just another “you are the ship and not a character on the ship” game. boring. at least with ftl i can control the little dudes inside even if i can’t actually go on space stations and planets like mass effect.

            never seems to be any infinite play mass effect-style space rpgs, except for the old republic which has boring combat and lots of travel back and forth. probably have to wait for 0x10c?

        • John Walker says:

          Yes, that seems fair.

          • spunkify says:

            Hey John,

            I write for a F2P focused site and while I found some of your arguments valid, overall your experience seemed to have been quite a negative one versus mine.

            For one I find the departure from the typical fantasy setting most ARPG take quite refreshing. I often found myself comparing this to D3 and while D3 may not be considered the perfect example ARPG, it does give readers something to compare it to.

            There are a lot of things it does right that give it charm including hero appropriate voice acted interactions between your current marvel hero and other heroes around him. The combat itself isn’t that bad and while I wished their were more powers per superhero, this is something that the developers stated they were adding in the next upcoming patch.

            You don’t mention the fully voice acted motion comics at all which propel the story forward, a nice twist that incorporates the familiar comic book feel with added flair. While not all of these were done I did feel like it kept the players interested in the current story rather then simply focused on wherever they had to go in order to complete the current quest (I never ran into those kill quests you mention).

            Additionally the game has small features that were nice additions such as the ability to swap between heroes on the fly without having to go back to a loading screen or play through the starting area again. You simply swapped them out and continued on. The costume crafting feature, which let you change your appearance to another costume style, was also a nice addition since it allowed you to embed stats into your costume. Effectively allowing you to have multiple costumes with different effects.

            The stat options themselves were much more interesting then what is found in D3 in my opinion. I regularly got items that gave unique bonuses such as a chance to knock back on hit or additional stats if I fell under a certain percentage HP. Items giving powers was also nice since it let you gain an additional power without putting a point into it, effectively allowing you to try out the power early or just spend your points elsewhere for the time being.

            The overworld was a nice addition in my eyes since it allowed you to take on world bosses instead of just zoning into one instance after another alone or with a party. The boss fights I will admit were hit and miss but some were very difficult and required full use of my heroes abilities and the help of others (when it came to the overworld bosses). It was clear to me though that some of the fights will be tweaked since when a boss fight was done well it was leaps and bounds more enjoyable then the barebone fights I encountered (notably Doctor Octopus) .

            For a F2P game I feel as though Marvel Heroes gives or will give a solid ARPG experience to those wanting something a little different. It is rough around the edges but has a lot of charm and doesn’t make you feel like a second class citizen if you dot pony up any money since new heroes and costumes randomly drop while playing so you don’t have to pay for new ones if you don’t want to.

            Just a second opinion from someone who works with just F2P.


          • Snargelfargen says:

            Providing a thorough list of a game’s features is a good way to make the readers’ eyes glaze over.

            I can’t speak for John, but I imagine he didn’t think it was worth ennumerating all the game’s details when the overall impression was still disappointing. Keep in mind RPS’ writing is mostly opinion pieces, which is why there are no actual product reviews, just “wot i thinks”.

          • Machinations says:

            “You don’t mention the fully voice acted motion comics”

            This is clearly VERY IMPORTANT!


            Is this also going to be F2P? Because that model will guarnatee the promise of shit indeed becomes a huge stinking turd.

          • fiachsidhe says:

            “Providing a thorough list of a game’s features is a good way to make the readers’ eyes glaze over.”

            That may be the biggest load of cop out, apologist garbage I’ve ever read.
            Providing a thorough list of features is what John Walker was already doing, only he left out all the good ones in favor of ranting, while using another preview as an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy.

            Most of his complaints are based on ignorance:
            Ignorance to what a closed beta represents.
            Ignorance to how game development that started several years ago, can’t possibly keep up with current comics.
            How action ARPGs usually work.
            Ignorance to what graphics looked like in 2002.
            and even ignorance to how the Marvel Universe is structured (literally thousands of different dimensions representing different versions of the same teams, etc.). Chances are, this game world isn’t going to be Earth 616 (the “standard” Earth in mainline comics).

            You’re also assuming the readers are complete idiots, incapable of dealing with a list features for an upcoming game. Which pretty much ignores countless thousands of previews and reviews that have come before.

            Face it, this is a “me too” article that complains about an unfinished game, because some other nonobjective blogger did the same.

            I was able to read that quote you argued against, without my own eyes “glazing over” just fine.

          • fiachsidhe says:


            Cherry picking, followed by obnoxious sarcasm. A sure fire way to devoid your comment of value.

      • Craig Stern says:

        I believe you! I imagine that you avoid running articles similar to this on indie games out of mercy, more than anything.

  7. Shuck says:

    I must say I’m surprised by the review. I’ve worked with some of the people on this project, and I know they’re quite smart chaps who have a deep understanding of ARPG gameplay. There are some weird mistakes being mentioned here that I know they wouldn’t make. Which means that either this build is really not representative of the final game, or their voices aren’t being heard within the company. Since I haven’t spoken to any of them lately, the latter may be the case, unfortunately. Let’s hope not, though – there’s so much potential here, it’d be a shame to waste it.

    • spunkify says:

      I suggest reading my response to John right above your comment. I do think he was overly harsh in his first impressions of the game.

      • Shuck says:

        Sounds like there are some specific issues that were mentioned that are things I’ve had past discussions about with a few of these people, and I know they’ve got a better handle on it than seems to be evident in the game being discussed.

  8. Duoae says:

    2002 graphics?

    John, I suggest you google a couple of 2002 games and compare them to this. Not saying the graphics are great but…

  9. ostego says:

    Gazillion will never improve this game. The whole marvel license was landed by their BD guy who sells technology yet to be developed and then never follows through. Any hope at a decent licensed MMO from Marvel is a pipe dream until their contract with Gazillion ends.

  10. Xanyr says:

    The one thing that will clinch this game for me is… how similar is it to the game “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2”?

  11. TwwIX says:

    I’ll stick to Torchlight 2. Somebody will eventually make a Superhero themed mod thanks to the mod support.

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    “But Marvel Heroes hasn’t heard. It simply bewildering that a project so closely related to the House Of Ideas should be so wildly out of touch with it.”

    Most comic book licensed properties pick a point in continuity before the present storylines, or a variant thereof and stick to it. Because updating your whole videogame world with every detail of the comics every time something changes WOULD LEAD TO UTTER MADNESS.

    This is because the comics themselves aren’t even consistent from year to year about who’s dead, who’s resurrected, who’s alive, who’s married, who’s had their marriage annulled by satan, whose kids have been wiped from continuity, whose kids have been restored to continuity again, who has a living/dead/married/opposite gender counterpart in another universe, whether or not this universe’s version of the character can remember events from last year’s alternate timeline crossover event, who’s got surviving clones, whether a particular villain was behind that plot or was it an impostor because we need that villain to be a temporary ally of the heroes, how much the backstory of a particular character has been messed with because they’re one of the few dead characters that need to stay dead but we still want to add something new, which storylines are now not-canon due to licensing issues, who is actually a skrull, and FUCK IT ALL THEY CHANGED THE COSTUME BACK AFTER JUST SIX MONTHS.

    So the licensors pick a point in time, ignore the main continuity until/unless they decide to update their universe later (or just split the whole thing off), and don’t worry too much about it. Because the same month Thanos altered the fabric of the universe so that it was impossible for any more resurrections-via-retcon to happen, they decided to bring back Colossus* via a huge retcon.

    *This may be inaccurate due to not having read that storyline since 2006, but it was something pretty ridiculous. There was an actual storyline where basically the whole universe was falling apart because of too many ressurections-via-retcon, and that was supposed to be ending. Not that there would be no more retcons, but that retcons wouldn’t be used as a device to resurrect characters and character resurrection would have reasonable explanation if it happened. It didn’t even last one month. Considering that Thanos was at the center of the storyline, the fictional-Marvel-company is lucky Thanos didn’t take it out on them for jerking him around.

    The House of Ideas itself is less and less in touch with The House of Ideas every friggin’ year.

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  14. Ruffian says:

    How am I just now realizing that Mr. Gillen has been writing for marvel? Should probably pay more attention I suppose. Ah well, off to check out some of his work!! I think I’ll start with this here Beta-Ray-Bill OneShot/Mini-Series I’m seeing on his wiki page, if I can find it…always did like that fool.

  15. DickSocrates says:

    When I think of Marvel Super Heroes, I think of mile upon mile of tiled flooring.

  16. vertiboxgaming says:

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  17. nodlak says:

    Your review on this game is about as useful as tits on a boar, I don’t much care for the game, but painting it in the worst possible light because you don’t like it is a total dick move, way to misrepresent pretty much everything. other than the launch woes the early adopters had, i checked it out and gave it a fair shake, never had a single problem crash etc and every downtime has been announced in game, on the forum, on the launcher and on twitter. This one article is enough for me to in no way ever trust a single thing spewed out of this shithole website, there hows that for a fair shake of your website, cause it is exactly what you did with the game.

    • Timmytoby says:

      You might want to check out the date this preview was written.