I’ll tell you the truth, I’m still not entirely sure how to classify this game. It bills itself as an MMORPG, but I don’t think that’s an accurate label. While it certainly is online and there are certainly a multitude of people playing at any given moment, it feels far more like a solo game with some occasional cooperative situations. I also don’t consider this an RPG. While there is a definite story and each player character is technically a part of that story, with so many copies of the same characters running around the landscape, neither of those things ring true.
It should be noted that all the best visuals are in the intro and cut scenes. The aesthetic within the game itself is adequate to the task, with no great visual highs, nor deep lows. The overall look is reminiscent of late 90s solo RPGs, which isn’t bad, but it’s not what most MMO players expect these days. You can zoom in to get detail, but there’s really not much to see that would make it worth your while. And without the ability to change the camera angle, zooming in just means that you’re cutting off your field of vision and leaving yourself open to attack.
The music isn’t bad, but it isn’t what I’d call inspired, either. As with the visuals, it is sufficient to the task.
My biggest gripe with this game (aside from the fact that it isn’t really an MMO, or an RPG) is that you can’t create your own original character. Right from the start you’re stuck with the roster of available Marvel characters that are only “customizable” via a limited number of purchasable (cash shop) costume changes. Moreover, armor drops change your stats, but they have no affect on your appearance. So many identical Scarlet Witches… Adding to that heavy sense of sameness are the seemingly unlimited, nearly identical fights.
Battle isn’t exactly long on strategy; go there, blast/punch bad guys until they fall down, collect loot, lather, rinse, repeat. I also take exception to whatever metric they used for some of those bad guys, as they seemed completely unbalanced. Seriously, if I throw a car at street thugs, those thugs should die. Basic human thugs shouldn’t have the kind of constitution that allows them to get back up and ask for more, their strength is supposed to be in numbers, nothing more.
And while I’m at it, why can I, as Scarlet Witch, throw a damn car? Despite the descriptions, and established character histories, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between any of the characters’ powers.
The story might have been interesting, even compelling, but without the ability to make player characters in any way unique, it really couldn’t matter less to the game itself. It’s as if the game asks you to suspend your disbelief, while actively telling you not to bother believing.
Crafting isn’t terribly complex, but given the genre of the game, it really doesn’t need to be. Instead, it’s more of a resource for getting additional healing kits, cosmetic effects, gear upgrades, etc. What I really like about it is that, when crafting, both your personal and storage inventories are available, without having to run back and forth between them. That’s a nice little convenience that eliminates a lot of tedium, allowing you to get back to blasting bad guys and throwing cars around.
Weirdly, if you want higher level goods from vendors, you have to level individual vendors up by donating items you would otherwise sell. Early on, this creates a nice little catch-22: If you want to be able to buy higher level goods, you have to donate as many of your drops as possible, but if you donate those drops to level the merchant, you won’t have enough cash to buy the goods he has. Eventually, as you make more and more from missions, this problem resolves itself, but it’s an odd system to have in place at all. And it’s even more odd that players would be expected to level up ALL the vendors they choose to go to, because leveling one doesn’t do anything for any of the others, and they all sell different goods.
Had Marvel Heroes come out years ago, it probably would have seemed pretty impressive. As it is now though, this game feels like a giant step backward. Worse, it’s a giant step backward with your eyes shut. With real innovation, the isometric, Diablo-like engine could still be not just viable, but vital. Unfortunately, not only there is there nothing really new, but a lot of what made those older games fun is missing as well.
For what it is, MH is fairly well put together, everything matches and meshes, but as a whole MH has a very designed-by-corporate-edict feel. All the required branding elements are in their proper place, looking as they should look. There are cartoon cut scenes with 2D “animation” (not many moving parts) and, at least in the beginning, some CGI. The many hunks of narrative and dialogue text are written correctly, with proper punctuation and grammar. They may have even been written cleverly, but I was too disinterested to read very deeply. Which is a great pity, considering that Brian Michael Bendis is behind the story that drives the game.
Having said all that I have so far, it may come as a surprise when I say that I have no doubt that MH will probably be around for many years. I’m certain will not lack for new players, however, I also expect player turnover to be high. When it comes to player-specific longevity, without the ability for players to invest anything of themselves into their characters, or the game itself (no unique PCs/lore, taking screencaps is a pain, no fansite kit) I don’t see there being much.
As previously stated, MH feels less like an MMO, than like many solo games being played at once. In a strange way though, that may work in its favor. The basic social features (chat, etc.) are available, and finding a pick-up group is as easy as logging on. And the direct simplicity of both game and mission structure allows players the chance to chat it up without the risk of blowing it for the group. No one is relying on anyone else to heal or buff, so the pressure is less.
You can get quite a bit out of this game without ever laying down a cent. And there is certainly something to be said for a bit of mindless smashing and crashing at the end of a long day, especially when it can be had for nothing, or next to nothing. And none of the cash shop items are in any way required to get to the end game.
In the end, I don’t think this is really the game for either dedicated MMO players, or diehard Marvel fans. Many of the former won’t like the lack of true customization or group strategy, and, because of game mechanics, the latter will only get a loose approximation of the characters’ canonical abilities. That said, I think Marvel Heroes is uncomplicated and certainly entertaining enough to be a good primer for those new to online gaming. It’s a way to get familiar with the medium without being overwhelmed or overcharged for the experience.
For the rest of us jaded game-veterans, however, MH is one of those games that builds huge anticipation, like that “must have” toy every December. Alas, as most kids discover, the hype is often far more exciting than the toy itself.