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A Few More Hours With: Marvel Heroes

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I don’t think I’ve ever written a more negative preview than for Marvel Heroes. There was a reason for that: it was terrible. Ever optimistic, and hugely hopeful for a fun F2P entry in the Marvel universe, I’d hoped to return to the game to see if criticisms of its alpha and beta phase had been taken on board, to create the superhero MMO/aRPG we’d been hoping for. So far, it’s doing its best to stop me finding out.

Diablo 3 pissed a lot of people off, us included, with its moronic necessity to be always online for no good reason. Marvel Heroes takes the online nature of the genre a step further, with MMO-like shared areas in its dungeon-crawling click-me-do, both hubs and large regions for battling bads, between the solo-able dungeons. None of it actually adds anything to the game that I’ve been able to discern, but it does a better job of excusing why the game is online. It is defiantly multiplayer, against all sense.

Twice, in the same very early mission (coincidence, rather than a specific bug) I’ve had the game blink out of existence and be replaced with the login screen. So twice I’ve lost the dreary progress of running toward that point, through an instanced underground station, to the nightclub district. It’s the second mission in the game, and it’s just as uninteresting as it was in beta, but at least here I can view it in a sensible resolution. Until it vanishes. Trying to log in again, I eventually receive errors about being unable to reach the authentication server. Which it suggests is likely a problem with my internet connection. And what is it really? Visit the forums and it’s apparently deliberate maintenance. Maintenance they’ve not informed themselves about, not forewarned with global messages in game, and such that their own loader doesn’t know, thinks the game is online, and lets you try to launch. (And doesn’t explain last night’s drop.) It doesn’t sing of a game that’s been tweaked to perfection.

Yes, it’s the day after launch, and teething problems and extensive offline time seem woefully inevitable with all MMOs these days. It’s just, well, Marvel Heroes doesn’t feel like an MMO in any useful sense. It’s an action RPG where MMO happens to you, against your will. The opening shared hub leads to the peculiarly depressing sight of five Hawkeyes, three Storms, four The Things, and three Daredevils on the same spot, all hanging around in the same blue square, being given the same mission by the same person, which they’ll all inevitably play on their own. Until the game doesn’t let them any more.

At this point it starts to feel self-defeating. It was great to play JC Denton in Deus Ex – you felt special, important, significant. Had you started the game in UNATCO HQ with fourteen other identically dressed JCs, standing in a crowd around a single Joseph Manderley, you’d have felt like a sausage in a sausage factory. As well you are here.

The reason you’ll see Things, Storms and Hawkeyes is because of the dire selection of characters available for free at the start of the game. Anyone you might actually want to play (understand that the Hawkeye on offer is the ridiculous purple and pink version, rather than the excellent Fraction reboot – you’ll have to pay money to get that) costs real-world money. So for Spider-Man, Iron Man, Cyclops or Deadpool, expect to hand over the heftiest chunks of cash. And the most interesting characters in the Marvel NOW era of their comics – Loki, the Young Avengers, the FF – are nowhere to be seen.

For our review, creators Gazillion gave us 10,000 in game “G”. So yes, this article is entirely bought. And that’s actually a ludicrous amount of pretend money – to buy it would cost around $90. Which puts my spree into some perspective. Having paid 2000G for Spider-Man as a playable character, 1200 to stop Hawkeye looking like a complete idiot, and 1250 for a pet dinosaur, were I just some awful ordinary member of the public like you, that would have set me back over $40. Utterly ludicrous. What feel like nothingy trinkets – a different character to play as, a pet of dubious worth – possibly purely decorative, and some pretend clothes, costing more than a new copy of Torchlight 2 or Van Helsing.

It’s important to note that the game certainly has improved since the beta. Not only that it no longer looks like it was made for Amiga, but the dreadful animations have been fixed, and the sprawling locations seem to me to be a lot smaller. But what I couldn’t tell in the barren beta servers was just how much the enforced multiplayer was going to spoil just about everything.

Imagine you’re playing Titan Quest, Diablo II, or whatever your preferred ARPG might be. You’re soloing at the moment, and you’re in a brand new location. What’s the feeling? If you’re like me, it’s one of buzzing with potential. You’re going to encounter new enemies, likely find better loot, and tick off a bunch more missions from your list. The map’s all greyed out, and the territory is yours to explore! Now imagine that with your first footstep you encounter seven other players fighting all the enemies just ahead of you. Half of which are wearing the same costume as you.

That’s the Marvel Heroes experience. It’s not designed to play like an MMO, where aggroed enemies will focus on the players who bothered them. Instead it’s a giant free-for-all, where everyone else is there to spoil any fun you might be having. For one blessed moment I found a stretch of snake-filled sand where there was no one else around, and finally found myself facing a half-decent challenge. At last there were more than just three enemies attacking at once, and I was having to do more than point the cursor. And then two Daredevils turned up and starting killing them too. And I was back to being bored. It’s like when you’re playing an MMO, happily dealing with a mob, and then some other player swoops in and “helps”, and you think, “Gee, thanks you, but I was fine.” Except, for the whole game. And you’re doing it just as much as anyone else, or you wouldn’t have anything to do at all.

Dungeons can be privately instanced, but the game rather peculiarly defaults to auto-joining you to a party when you go into them. This has the bonus of making the dull, repetitive areas get finished more quickly, but again robs you of any challenge, or chance to deploy skill. Uncheck the auto-join option, and you can take these on for yourself, with significantly weaker enemies.

There’s lots in here for the MMO stuff too. There seem to be some Daily somethings, but it was greyed out and didn’t seem to want me to know, along with some challenges that were also greyed out. Presumably they’re for when you’re a higher level – the game has no interest in making this clear. In fact, it has no interest in telling you why you do anything, really. Instead it’s SHIELD agents telling you that you need to stop HYDRA from doing something, and AIM from doing something else, and the Brood, and the Hand, and I imagine it can’t be long before the Kree and the Skrulls make an appearance. Then you go click on them a bunch, probably ending in a boss fight. Except for most of that time other people are clicking on them at the same time.

And in order to ensure that there are enough enemies on any map to suffice for this mad free-for-all, they spawn at an idiotic rate. And there’s no rationalising it here – they just PING into existence in front of you, all the time. At one point I saw 16 members of The Hand all ping in at once, but seem to get stuck in a squatted position, just wobbling a bit as I and one of the seventy billion Daredevils killed them all. I imagine eight or so Scarlet Witches were casting their big wobbly pattern on the ground nearby. They usually are.

Switching to a different hero is still just as stupid as before. Having bought Spider-Man, and switched over to him mid-battle, he is of course only level 1, compared to my Hawkeye’s level 12. So he dies instantly. And to get him to the point where he’d be a character I could continue playing with? I’d have to start the whole linear drear-fest again. Why? After having spent what should have cost me an astonishing $20 to unlock Spider-Man as a character, why on Earth can’t he be the level of my other characters? Or at least be the same level at the point of purchase. TWENTY DOLLARS. The average price of an ARPG! The idea of playing it through for a third or fourth time to unlock further characters just seems impossible.

Marvel Heroes is definitely a better game than the beta version that was so utterly dreadful. But it really is nowhere near good enough. It’s free, for sure, so long as you want to play as a character they know you don’t really want to play as. But ultimately my brief hours with it were very dull. There’s no panache to the combat, there’s no pleasure in the loot drops, there’s no intricacy to levelling (to the point of only upgrading abilities – there aren’t even attributes to boost) – were it an offline, single-player ARPG, it would be a disappointing one. That it’s then made more alienating by its MMO overcrowding, and completely fails to find any joy in its license, makes it very hard to like at all. Oh, and running through a distinctly un-Marvel area strewn in (identical) piles of dead bodies, my Hawkeye sighed to himself, “Why are all the beautiful ones taken?” Which weirdly was perhaps the highlight of the experience.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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