On paper, Marvel Heroes sounds like an invincible game. What could be better than playing with iconic characters from the Marvel universe in a top-down RPG MMO designed by the makers of Diablo--all for free? However, like all superheroes, you’ll soon realize this free-to-play game has weaknesses that can mar its overall performance and can make you wonder whether you should spend time (and money) playing it at all. There’s no question the game offers plenty of ways to have fun, but you will have to ask yourself if decent is simply good enough for your wallet.
Comic book fans will appreciate the game’s original storyline that not only brings lesser-known characters into the spotlight, but also helps shape your missions and objectives. The game is divided into chapters and involves foiling the plans of various supervillains who are aiding Dr. Doom and his plans to--you guessed it--rule the world. Missions involve traveling to different locations in the Marvel Universe and interacting with non-playable characters that give you additional objectives or rewards for completing tasks for them. The format is typical to that of most MMO games, involving fetch quests, boss battles, and group instances, but there’s an added layer of lore to appreciate from the comics. You’ll run into heroes you might have forgotten like Hank Pym, Wonder Man, and Moondragon, and hand-drawn cutscenes effectively bookend each of the game’s chapters making the story easier to follow.
From a distance, Marvel Heroes looks appealing, but its pretty visuals simply won’t draw you in. Environments are detailed and range from vibrant forests to dark alleys, but they won’t stand out to you as being famous locations like Xavier’s School or Avengers Tower. If you zoom in, you’ll also notice that your characters look bland in comparison and are too small to notice any detail on them. In fact, if it weren’t for the game’s comic book cutscenes or NPC conversations, you might forget you’re playing a Marvel game at all.
The game lets you pick one of five heroes to play as when you begin your adventure, and each one comes complete with a distinct fighting style and set of abilities. Classes include ranged characters like Hawkeye, tanks like Thing, and status-inducers like Scarlet Witch. You can further customize your playing style with skill points you earn when you level up that can be used to unlock new powers or to upgrade previous ones. Your powers require spirit or stamina points to use, but you’ll never need to worry about running out as they recharge quickly letting you enjoy a wide arsenal of combat strategies whenever you want. Enemies also constantly drop loot and items that provide additional buffs and passive support, so you’ll have plenty of options to further tailor a hero to your style.
Your first character is free (and you'll sometimes unlock random heroes as you play), but additional ones will cost you. The items enemies often drop won’t always be ones your current hero can equip either, so the game teases you into playing as other characters every now and then. What’s more, dropped gear and even premium equipment will often lock to one hero, preventing others from using them too. It’s also a shame that you won’t always have the fluidity of swapping characters as easily as you’d want, especially when some classes make missions easier.
Marvel Heroes can be played entirely solo, but it’s a lot more exciting getting to tackle missions and enemies with people you meet online. Communicating with players is never an issue and the game even automatically groups heroes that enter instances together, giving you more options to fight enemies in a more strategic team-based format. However, it’s a bit disconcerting that the game makes no reference to the fact that you’ll see dozens of, say, Spider-Men on-screen at the same time. This makes it disorienting when teaming up with others who are playing the same hero as you or during the fun, albeit chaotic, Event battles, which pit all players in an area against one boss. Of course, if you’re willing to part with some money, you can also purchase additional costumes. They only provide an aesthetic upgrade, but at least you’ll get to stand out in a crowd.
Aside from story-based missions and instances, Marvel Heroes also offers plenty to do once you finally thwart the end-game boss, Dr. Doom. Daily missions, group, and survival challenges give you additional ways to spend time online and reward you with powerful items and keys that unlock even more missions. You won’t always score a key when you finish a challenge, however, so you’ll be motivated to replay previous challenges with different groups of players. Additionally, the game offers a fun PvP mode that further tests your strategic skills against other players in team-based combat. Enjoying these and any of the game’s missions is completely free, so you’ll have plenty of ways to spend your time farming for items or maximizing your hero’s stats.
While the game’s microtransactions augment your gaming experience past your initial five characters, you won’t have to spend a single penny to enjoy everything Marvel Heroes has to offer. And even if you do, your money won’t improve its flaws. The game offers plenty to do and an impressive breadth of characters and skills to master, but some polish in certain areas could really help make it a game you’d want to pay to play. If you’re looking for a new MMO or a game with Diablo-like replayability, play Marvel Heroes first and pay for it later (if you want, that is.)