Publisher: Gazillion Entertainment
Developer: Gazillion Entertainment
Marvel Heroes was recently launched by developer Gazillion Entertainment for PC, and marks one of the first MMO/Action RPG hybrids designed as a fully licensed free-to-play title. It borrows elements from both fields, featuring open areas populated by other user-controlled characters, along with an extensive loot system tied into multiple characters available since launch.
The pay elements used here are handled well, with monetary unlocks tied into new characters, new costumes, pets, and potions that can grant experience/loot percentage boosts. The only element blocked by actual money that I’m not particularly fond of is the inventory, which only allows for a single hub “chest” that contains a small number of spots to store gear and other consumables. This would be less of an issue if crafting materials were at least stackable, but since they’re currently not, you’ll fill that available space in no time.
On the plus side, the majority of the other items you can pay to get are also possible drops found in the game. The only thing that isn’t, from what I can tell, are pets, which are purely cosmetic additions anyways. Additional heroes and costume variants are extremely rare, but if you don’t want to spend a dime on the game, you won’t have to in order to play through the 8 available chapters and post-game content.
There’s a handful of starting heroes to choose from upfront, with fan favorites like Iron Man, Daredevil, and Hawkeye represented. You’ll also gain an additional character unlock after completing the prologue mission, and a third when you finish the last mission. These are culled from the five starting heroes, and are also random, but ideally you’ll have more than one hero available. My prologue reward was unfortunately my starting hero, an issue that was apparently fixed with the latest patch.
The eight chapters consist of a number of open world areas that are pulled from popular Marvel Universe locations like Latveria and Hell’s Kitchen. These locations consist of large maps broken into smaller zones, often bridged together in some fashion. When you drop into a mission you’ll be able to explore these starting zones, take on additional quests, unlock new waypoints, and tackle optional instanced zones. The main mission quests and side-quests often lead to larger instanced areas, where you can opt to group with other heroes in order to complete them.
Grouping is mostly optional throughout the game, but by default Marvel Heroes will automatically place you into groups if other players are running an instanced zone you’ve entered. This will occasionally happen in the open areas as well, which seems to be triggered based on how long you’re in proximity to other players. There are some open area bosses that spawn on timers, consisting of villains like Blob, Sabretooth and so on, which certainly require a group effort to take down. But the forced grouping can also be turned off if you’d prefer. There are also guild creation options available if you’d like to join with like-minded strangers and friends, or you can simply add current group members to your existing friends list.
Combat in Marvel Heroes sticks to the established formula found in titles like Diablo or Torchlight. You’ll use your mouse for movement, with the left and right mouse buttons controlling your standard attacks or powers. You’ll have to click on enemies to fight or target them, with most standard enemies consisting of simple cannon fodder that will feed your experience bar and occasionally drop decent loot. There are a limited number of slots for hotkeys, which contain the other powers you’ll unlock as you level up, with character specific skill trees to dump skill points into that’ll unlock new powers the longer you play.
Pretty much all of these elements, combat, experience, skill trees and more are in line with just about any current action RPG. I don’t think the combat stacks up well in comparison to Diablo III, one of the few things Blizzard managed to get right with that game. And the skill trees for various characters could definitely use some tweaking.
I was given the X-Men character pack available for reviewing, and primarily used Cyclops throughout the 30 hours I spent with the game after launch. There are a lot of elements to his skill tree that seem less than useful for a ranged class, along with limited dodge abilities (roll right and backwards) and poor damage mitigation even with large amounts of defense stacked on. But despite sometimes feeling like a glass cannon, I’m missing that whole cannon thing with no dedicated, large damage, high spirit expending attack. And while I certainly haven’t played through each and every character available, I imagine that Cyclops isn’t the only one that could use some more work.
As far as loot goes, you’ll run into an awful lot of trash once you hit the tail end of the eight chapters and enter the post-game content. You’ll essentially ignore all green, uncommon drops, and only really get excited by purple loot. Gazillion does handle the trash loot well though, allowing you to use unwanted gear in a couple ways. One, you can pour this loot into leveling up merchants and crafters, which will unlock better items and recipes. Via the crafter, once you’ve leveled up a bit, you can convert rare (blue) loot into purple gear, taking the existing stats and adding more. It’s a useful tool for improving the scant few rare drops you find, and makes bad luck a little less annoying.
Finally, the post-game content could be a bit more substantial than what it currently is. Right now, once you finish eight chapters with a character, you’ll be grinding through a number of daily missions. These are available via terminals in the three major hubs, with each hub dictating the difficulty of the missions available. These missions do not change, so you’ll be fighting the same enemies, in the same locations, and ending with the same bosses over and over again. Since there are only ten missions here, you’ll get tired with this process quickly. Also, loot drops from bosses diminishes once you’ve beat a boss within a 24 hour period, giving you even less incentive to run these missions more than once per day. And the experience grind really seems to chug along at around level 30, which is where you’ll be once you begin these daily missions.
There is some alternative to the daily missions with more difficult group missions that absolutely require a group to complete. These missions offer up variants of the open areas found in the eight story chapters, with random hordes of enemies and a random boss spawn to cap things off. There are also additional objectives to complete, and limited lives to use that are shared across all group members. I like the idea behind these missions, but there’s only a few available, and I’ve had a hard time tracking down enough players to actually complete them. More of these daily missions and group missions would go a long way in making the post-game content a little more enjoyable.
I am pretty impressed with what Gazillion has achieved so far though. I found the game to be fun, addictive, and something that I’m still going back to despite my post-game misgivings. It helps to have additional characters to level, but it’s nice to see that you can literally keep this a free experience if you’re willing to put up with the limitations. The limited inventory situation could be improved and remains the one pay wall that I’d like to see demolished, but outside of that Marvel Heroes is a pretty solid effort. I don’t know that I’d put it above other established franchises in the genre just yet, but if you have some affinity for Marvel and its characters along with Diablo clones, there’s certainly worse ways to pass the time than this.