Nothing compares to the loot lust of dungeon-crawling RPGs. Grinding toward that next big bonus item that buffs your character beyond reasonable heights creates a rush that not much else in gaming is able to replicate. Gazillion Entertainment decided to take that feeling and expand it into a massively multiplayer, free-to-play setting with a constantly expanding universe of Marvel superheroes. The effect ends up being fairly rough, but worth a look, and more than that if Gazillion continues to improve it.
Marvel Heroes establishes an extremely satisfying blend of massively multiplayer online gaming and dungeon-crawling, loot-based RPG gameplay. Like other dungeon crawlers, the gameplay focuses on moving through areas clicking furiously on endless numbers of cannon-fodder enemies, hoping they drop a piece of powerful loot. At first, it’s difficult to imagine exactly why the massively multiplayer portion of the game exists, but when you’re out in one of the hub areas, there is an undeniable cool factor to seeing over a dozen heroes working together to take down Rhino. The dungeon crawling comes courtesy of David Brevik, the mastermind behind Diablo and Diablo II. The actual combat feels a bit tedious and boring, but the loot lust is firing on all cylinders, and once again, like any other game of its kin, nothing compares to the feeling of finding that one piece of awesome loot that bestows an incredible stat bonus.
Gazillion Entertainment deserves much commendation for the game’s hero design. Each of the half-dozen heroes I tried felt completely different: Daredevil utilizes a lot of dodging and agility, while Punisher has almost exclusively ranged attacks with a secondary mana meter called Vengeance that builds as he defeats foes, and Ms. Marvel dispatches enemies with devastating energy-based effects. Each hero brings a completely different experience to the table, and each can service a different playstyle for immense replayability. Not all of each hero’s abilities are winners, but most of them are powerful enough to feel like a worthy investment, and the duds are generally forgivable.
It’s not all great; there are a few odd design choices that take a step backward from what seems to be the norm. Joining and starting parties isn’t quite intuitive, and it’s not immediately clear how to start a party. Upon entering a smaller contained area for a mission, you are automatically grouped with one to four other players into a party, which may unbalance the game at times. This party grouping system took some getting used to, but after a while it started to make a bit of sense.
The endgame is mostly decent, with “Daily Challenges” that send you back to previously played areas with stronger enemies and significantly rarer loot drops. The déjà vu is hardly a detraction as that allure of better loot handily justifies the would-be tedium of replaying an old area, though players looking for more will not find it. If you didn’t enjoy the areas in the main quest, there’s not much that will sway your opinion. Another version of these endgame challenges comes in the form of group-based missions, which are significantly more difficult and rewarding. The problem with these challenges is that they require a Cosmic Key to enter, which may or may not be dropped by a boss in an earlier endgame mission. If the boss doesn’t drop the key, you can either play the mission again or just buy one, which can be disappointing. Overall, however, these endgame missions, accessed through terminals, involve a lot of grinding that should feel worth it if you want to find better loot.
The secondary component of this endgame element is the PvP mode, which is still in beta. On paper, the idea of allowing players to pit their powered-up heroes against each other is exciting. In reality, it is slightly less so, as in its current state the mode is heavily unbalanced; there is apparently no system to separate players, so my level 27 Daredevil was getting absolutely thrashed by a level 50 Jean Grey. Still, it’s only in beta right now so it will likely see improvement. There’s potential for a good mode here, particularly with the different ways in which characters can be built.
It’s a shame, then, that Marvel Heroes is plagued with crippling technical and stability issues. The first few days of the game’s release were met with a crash almost once per hour. A week later, things are better, but far from good. The game will either stop responding or crash outright, with some of the worst instances locking up my entire high-end PC (which handily exceeds the game’s system requirements) and necessitating a force restart of the PC itself. Video memory errors, crashing to the login screen, and general “not responding” errors occur far too often, and reboots and driver updates do nothing to alleviate them. One particular oddity was plaguing some users (including myself) when following a crash, the game client would reinitiate the pre-installation process, which is another couple of hours (at least) of waiting.
This is on top of some general performance issues, which grind the game to single-digit fps values at random moments, where elsewhere a dozen heroes onscreen at once have no negative effect. Gazillion is starting to tackle some of the glitches and performance problems though patches every few days, but the most egregious errors make the game barely playable; I’d guess that, cumulatively, I’ve had to replay at least a quarter of the game due to crashes and having to go through areas again. In its current state, Marvel Heroes is quite literally broken and creates a high barrier of entry and enjoyment. It’s worth mentioning that over the course of this review, while the crashes improved just slightly, the pre-install glitch got less and less frequent.
The premium elements of the game are just a bit on the pricey side, with some of the best-known characters (such as Spider-Man) costing as much as $20. It’s hard to justify paying that much for a single character, though since the base game costs nothing, that price tag doesn’t seem so bad when that $20 buys another character that is almost 100% different from the others. At every corner, there are more opportunities to spend real money: storage space increases, XP or rarity boosts, costumes, pets that join you in battle, and more are all options to throw some cash into. They are in no way compulsory, but can be fun additions. You can buy “fortune cards” from Gambit, which grant any random one of a long list of buffs and bonuses. Those are fairly modestly priced and generally feel worth it since even the smaller bonuses (a 50% rarity or experience boost) feel significant.
Marvel Heroes takes a good idea and runs with it, but stumbles at several points and ends up being a disappointing experience. The good news is that there’s a lot of potential for improvement, since there is a foundation of general quality here that runs into structural problems as it goes along. It’s certainly not a stretch to believe that the game can improve, and with the planned additional characters and updates, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the game until I can enjoy it to its fullest potential. Stripped to its most basic elements, this is a decent hybrid of dungeon crawler and MMO, but it’s just not quite there yet, and needs work before it can take its place among its higher quality kin.
Marvel Heroes was developed and published by Gazillion Entertainment. Review access for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.