Marvel Heroes beta is all click and no bite, and strips the fun of loot hunting
Note: This story has been updated with some requested clarification. See update at the end of the article. Marvel Heroes is an upcoming free-to-play PC MMORPG that allows players to step into the spandex underwear of their favorite Marvel superhero and embark on a quest to – what else? – save the world. The project is under supervision of David Brevik, Blizzard North co-founder and creator of Diablo, and the plot is written by Brian Michael Bendis, a much-loved Marvel storyteller. This all sounds like the recipe for a standout experience, but in practice, Marvel Heroes is thus far a bland and standard affair that might appeal to Marvel fans and few others.
Marvel Heroes starts with a bang; the opening prologue has you choose one of several starting characters – including the likes of Captain America, Ms Marvel, and Hawkeye – who are then informed by Avengers Tower security that the Raft, a maximum security prison for supervillains, has been compromised. Your chosen hero teleports to the Raft and fends off attacks from Hydra thugs, who carry weapons like laser rifles and acid launchers, while attempting to put down Living Laser and the Green Goblin. There are explosions everywhere, cool enemies to fight, vibrant colors, smooth animations, and nifty little set pieces. In one section, as you run past what appears to be a lab of some type, you realize it's actually a prison holding the Venom symbiote. Eddie Brock breaks in and releases it, once again unleashing one of Spider-Man's most feared (and fan-loved) enemies.This, naturally, is followed up by transporting your hero to Hell's Kitchen, where you fight muggers. This area's boss lies hiding, waiting, in the mysterious catacombs of the New York subway system. Wait, what? How did we go from a supervillain super-prison break to random thugs on the street? Hell's Kitchen is an important part of the Marvel universe, but the sudden descent from thrilling attack to meandering in dark alleys is jarring, and in my time with the game, things never quite escalated back to that initial, exciting level. Still, Marvel Heroes is a game where you make your own fun by living out your childhood fantasies. You can throw Captain America's shield. You can SMASH!! as the Hulk. You can dish out witty one-liners and break the fourth wall as Deadpool. You're not stuck with whatever starting hero you choose: an in-game store allows you to purchase additional heroes and, from there, customize their appearances with costumes from that hero's history. Not a fan of Hawkeye's classic purple spandex? You can take a cue from Joss Whedon's The Avengers and dress him up to look like his movie counterpart. This hero store is also where the game's monetization comes in.
Unless you're a huge Captain America, Ms Marvel, Hawkeye, or Scarlet Witch fan, you'll probably want to purchase a different hero for your playthrough of the game. Open up the game's store and you'll see plenty from the Marvel universe, which I expect will only get larger as the game nears release. It wouldn't be a surprise if it grew from there either, since the Marvel universe has approximately one metric buttload of heroes from which to choose. The heroes, at least for now, have to be purchased using real-world money; they can't be earned. Prices are listed in “Gs,” and since this is still pretty early in beta, I couldn't purchase any additional Gs myself, so I can't say how fair the prices are. What's odd is that some heroes – like Daredevil – will cost only 100 Gs and change, while others – like Iron Man – will cost nearly 10 times that amount. I toyed around with Captain America, Deadpool, and Daredevil and they all seemed pretty balanced stat-wise, so I'm curious as to what the justification is on these prices. Is it popularity? If so, it's going to feel pretty disheartening when you see your favorite hero for sale at bargain bin price. Don't worry Matt Murdock, I still love you. Each hero starts at level 1 and doesn't level with you, so if you choose to play as one hero for a good, long while, and then feel like changing it up, you're practically starting the game over. You could keep a steady rotation of heroes and have them all level up before you progressed from area to area, but the more Marvel superheroes you like, the slower your overall progress will be if you adopt this tactic. You'll also need to share inventory space with each member of your team. Although the enemies you dispatch will most likely drop items for whichever hero you're currently playing as, it's not guaranteed. You could find some pants for Hulk, even if you don't own him. That's a clever way of enticing people to make impulse buys in the store, but then your inventory will start to fill with Hulk's pants of +1 smash, next to Deadpool's katanas. It feels like the game is actually punishing you for liking Marvel too much. Once you've picked a hero, you can also purchase alternate costumes for them. This is cool, particularly if you like a certain era or story arc from Marvel's history, but it underscores a significant problem with the game: this is a Diablo-style loot-and-grind, but none of your loot will change your appearance. There are no aesthetic changes when you swap from one set of weapons, gloves, masks, bodysuits, etc. to the next. It wouldn't really make sense for Marvel Heroes to mix and match loot the way you do in Diablo or WoW since the hero should always look like his or herself, but you lose a sense of progression, and thus the loot hunt feels a lot less fun. Additional heroes and alternate costumes aren't the only items available in the store, but since Marvel Heroes is currently in closed beta, there were several tabs grayed out and unavailable to select. XP gain boosts and money gain boosts are common in free-to-play titles, and I suspect that's exactly what you'll find in the section labeled “Boosts.” Unfortunately, with no way to purchase additional currency and several tabs grayed out, I can't tell you what you'll find for sure. There are a lot of questions with this online store, and I look forward to when the beta opens up enough that I can give a more thorough assessment.
Kid-friendly Diablo, adult frustration
Marvel Heroes is taking much inspiration from Diablo. The UI looks and functions largely the same, albeit with a modern, technology-driven aesthetic as opposed to fantasy. Heroes have health and “spirit” bars in the same place as Diablo's health and mana pools. They have spec trees which give your hero new abilities that are then assigned to the A, S, D, F, G, and H keys. You click to move, and click to attack. The fictional island of Madripoor, with its sandy beaches full of torches and magic snake-people, could easily be mistaken for a Diablo zone. What Marvel Heroes doesn't crib from Diablo is the motivation for pushing forward and grinding out your character. There are boss fights, but nothing so spectacular and larger-than-life as you would expect from the Marvel universe. There are new zones, but they feel lifeless and repetitive. There's new gear, but the only changes such gear brings is numbers. There are new abilities and new enemies, but neither demand that you make tactical decisions; it's fine to stand in place and click, click, click. You can play with hundreds of other players at once, but unless you enjoy having your kills and loot stolen, you'll likely come to loathe most of your fellow heroes. This particular aspect is so annoying that I ended trading Daredevil for Deadpool, simply because Daredevil is primarily melee, so it was hard for me to even get a hit in on enemies before characters with range killed them. If you'd like to try the game for yourself, register a new account, fill out a survey, and cross your fingers for an invite. Just know going in there is a long way to go before Marvel Heroes becomes a game you should think about playing. Update: Gazillion entertainment wanted to clarity that the starting lineup of heroes may change before launch, the pricing of heroes was placeholder and may also be adjusted before launch, heroes will be able to be earned by playing in the final version and, contrary to how it seemed to play in the beta, loot will be instanced and private for each player.