From the original boring wasteland that was this game three years ago to a gem of an ARPG, Marvel Heroes hits so many of the right notes when it comes to fun, fast, engaging, and ultimately satisfying gameplay.
My first experience with Marvel Heroes was their introduction at PAX East 2013. Like most, I was awe-struck by the promises of an mmo, isometric, loot hunt set in the Marvel Universe. Down foes with Cyclops’ laser eyes? Bounce Captain America’s shield between baddies? Yes please; count me in.
And in I was with my Starter Pack pre-order, that is until the game’s release. Maybe it was the bright lights, raised staged, or Ms. Marvel’s cosplayer, but my ten minutes with the beta was enough to convince me to buy-in. Then June 2013 rolls around, and instead of seeing my childhood heroes brought to life in adorable, isometric, diablo-esque fashion, I’m greeted with painfully slow progress, a static, lifeless environment, with not a lot to do. I could swing around as Spider-Man and not much else, until now.
Perhaps I have the 3-year Anniversary Event to thank, but all that time has made a huge difference for Marvel Heroes. It feels like a game transformed. There is so much that is not only right with this game, but innovative. Everything you do contributes to your overall power in some way: leveling a new hero, playing an old one, bringing along a team-up hero, feeding a pet unwanted loot, donating rather than selling to vendors, exploring, passing cosmic trials. My personal favorite? Synergies.
Synergies are account-wide stat and affix bonuses earned by playing with different heroes. Rather than feeling beholden to one “Main,” you’re encouraged to experiment with new heroes. Best of all, synergy buffs make thematic sense in the Marvel Universe. Level up Spidey and you’ll be harder to hit thanks to a +4% dodge rating. Level up the Hulk and you’ve got 6% more health. That may not seem like a lot, but consider activating 10 synergies at the same time and the benefits start to add up.
Likewise, each new hero you bring to level cap increases all experience gains in the future (up to +200%), making subsequent heroes that much easier to level. Even if you don’t reach the level 60 cap, bonuses are awarded at levels 30, 50 and 60. While your level 60 Silver Surfer nets you +5% experience, even your middling Black Cat is helping with +3%. And that’s the general theme of the game: all of your actions are rewarded.
Working in tandem with your heroes’ powers and synergies is the “Omega Program”. Regardless of whether you are playing a new hero or the same hero over and over, all experience earned also counts towards unlocking Omega points. The “Omega” system allows you to spend unlocked points on 14 sub-sections in exchange for additional account-wide boosts (think Skyrim’s node system), allowing you to tailor your strengths the way you like to play. Like your power specializations, your Omega points can be reset and respent at any time.
But what if bouncing around a roster of ~56 super heroes doesn’t interest you. You can always just level the same hero multiple times through the Prestige system. Granting more bragging rights than tangible rewards (besides an extra default costume), the Prestige system actually changes the color of your in-game name for everyone to see your dedication to that specific hero. A white or green name may indicate someone’s fleeting interest, an orange or red name may mean they are currently playing a favored hero, and a yellow name exemplifies undying devotion. Earning a yellow name, also known as Cosmic prestige, takes 25 times longer than usual to level, affording the player unparalleled expertise. Green, Blue, Purple, Orange, and Red, on the other hand, all take as long as the standard 1-60 route, which is to say not long at all. A savy player will stack bonuses, buffs, and knowledge of the story-mode in their favor, cutting their 1-60 time to as little as 30 minutes (mind you, that is only for the most dedicated players. I managed to get my time down to 90).
Along with heroes and their relevant account-wide synergies, you can also have a Team-Up hero. Also known as TU’s, these heroes act as AI-controlled escorts that can attack, taunt or heal depending on their available powers. And much like your own character, they have their own gear and abilities for you to spec. Not in the mood for a companion? Then change your TU’s specialization to an “Away” spec which provides you and your party with extra damage, healing over time, or any other number of advantages. All of this and I have yet to mention to loot, and there is lots of it.
In direct opposition to some of the more horrible design trends/flaws in gaming of the past few years, Marvel Heroes throws loot at you, from everywhere and all the time. My past week with the game has made me all but forget Diablo 3 at release, or all of The Division (that dumpster fire of a game). You’re not slogging through uninspired incursions for one chance at one piece of loot that has three layers of RNG stacked against. No. Instead, everything you find is either hero-specific gear or all-accessible gear.
And no matter what you find, you’re always upgrading. Always trying new builds and new pieces of gear, because respeccing is free, just like the multiple specs you can have on each hero. But even gear you don’t want is useful, serving as a donation to grow the in-game crafter or enchanter, allowing those vendors to expand their selection.
And if all of that doesn’t get you, then how about a pet system with pets that are actually useful. More than just a cosmetic tag-along a la Path of Exile, these pets will happily suck up those unwanted drops (literally, it’s called a cybernetics vacuum). Vacuumed items are tallied according to their rarity until you hit that rarities threshold. Give your pet a few hundred common items, and they’ll give you an additional 8% health. Give them 180 cosmic items and they’ll increase all your powers by one. And if you don’t like the bonuses your pet is providing, your crafter can help reroll any number of them (at the price of having to vacuum up loot of that rarity again). Best of all, if you happen to get lucky and find a new pet that you love, the crafter will swap the boosts between them.
I’m not sure who to thank, whether it be Gazillion Entertainment or Secret Identity Studios, but the developers have been making all the right decisions by taking an active interest in raising everyone’s in-game quality of life. So how do these guys make money?! While Marvel Heroes is free-to-play, the one bottleneck is Stash space. Though a couple of extra tabs can be unlocked for free, and hero-specific Stash tabs come in hero bundles (like the Civil War bundle that was on sale for $2.50), you will eventually have to make the choice between ‘travelling light’ or giving in to the gamer hoarder in you. Their other bread n’ butter are the costumes. Much like League of Legends or Path of Exile, you can also spend real money on cosmetic outfits. While some may choose to eschew their purely aesthetic benefits, a lot of the game’s charm lies in the costumes. Whether it’s Hulk in his Planet Hulk armor or Captain America Civil War suit, there are options for both the casual and hardcore comic fans. If budgets are tight, costumes do have a very slim chance of dropping for free, and an extra costume are awarded to those who opt to prestige (three costumes can be exchanged for a random costume at a max level crafter). After stash space and costumes, unlocking new heroes is the next potential moneysink. That may sound like yet another pay wall, but even the average player will have no problem unlocking random heroes at a reasonable pace.
Regardless, and this is coming from a life-long gamer that detests F2P/P2W/IAP monetization garbage, there is enough enjoyable gameplay here for whales and spendthrifts alike. Now if you don’t mind, I have a newly unlocked Scarlet Witch that has been calling my name.