But I've given it a chance over the last few weeks and had a discussion with Jeff Donais from Gazillion, and now I realize that the developers were never attempting to make an open-world sandbox with infinitely customizable characters. Instead they have made a linear story-based romp with tons of loot, plenty of explosions, and more classic Marvel characters than you can shake an adamantium claw at. Getting over preconceptions and imagining a dungeon-crawler that is set in the Marvel universe will bring you closer to understanding Marvel Heroes.
Each zone is huge and has plenty of room for as many characters as want to show up. Each zone has four evil encounters that will spawn in the form of bad guys. All of the players in the zone will be warned when it happens, and a simple indicator appears on screen to show where to go to fight the evil doer. In one zone, I fought The Shocker. Joining me were Spiderman, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and another Thing. There was so much chaos and destruction going on during the fight that I didn't really care that there was a carbon copy of myself fighting next to me. I just wanted to kill the baddie and get the goods. Occasionally more "random" events, like a Hydra beach-landing, needed to be stopped. These events broke up the linear story grind that permeates the entire game.
Experience and loot drops like crazy as you fight. I often had issues with inventory control, but at any point I was able to run back to a way point and teleport to a safe zone (marked by unlocked chapters in the story). The Avengers Tower, for example, gave me everything I needed from a crafting store to an NPC who sold me other heroes. Unloading loot was not a problem.
When you look at the costumes available for each hero, you can see just how much passion the developers have for the characters. Marvel has given Gazillion free rein over any character from any section of the Marvel universe for the next decade, and it shows in game. You can buy amazing-looking costumes for your Iron Man, for example, from his zanier Silver Centurion armor (complete with very '80s shoulder-pads) to the suitcase Mark V he used in Iron Man 2. Black Widow can be outfitted with her classic comic look or with the movie outfit. It's quite impressive.
There are cosmetic items, like flaming skulls, that will give players a slightly different look from others. On top of the different costumes for characters and the sheer number of characters that can be picked from, I saw many different character looks and never felt as though the game was just a series of clones. The characters are very well animated with individual fingers and costume pieces, and each one has a unique set of voice emotes. My Thing would say something different to each hero he came across. When he met Spiderman, he said, "Hey Spidey, how's it hanging?" but then warned Wolverine to point his claws somewhere else. I also saw Spiderman tell The Scarlet Witch, "With your hexes and my spider sense, we should hit Vegas." All of the voice work and sound effects are crafted to match the incredibly well-done graphics.
Combat is pretty basic. You can click or press W to move forward, "drive" your character by pointing your cursor, fire off abilities by pressing keyboard shortcuts, and loot goodies by clicking on them. Experience and health dots are acquired simply by running over them with your character, but they do fade over time. You'll fight your way through a zone with other players, find your target location on the map, and make your way into an instance to destroy your target and move on to the next chapter of the story.
Between objectives you'll be treated to semi-animated cutscenes. They feature a simple story and classic characters. It's all very linear, but that's the idea. If you do happen to want some more free-form action, make your way into mid-town Manhattan. There you'll be able to fight muggers or Hydra villains. It's more open than the standard gameplay, but it is nice to smash heads willy-nilly without a goal in mind.
There is no gamepad controller support for the game yet, and PvP is just now being introduced. Once you complete the linear story (including the brand-new Asgardian content!), then you can repeat it on a harder mode. The events that pop up in each zone, combined with mid-town Manhattan, crafting, collecting heroes and grinding out experience, gives the game many, many hours of gameplay.
Is Marvel Heroes an open-world MMORPG? No, but it's never tried to be. It is a silly, awesome-looking romp through the Marvel universe that is chock-full of the proper set of hero designs from just the right eras. Sure, you can play as the newer, modern Iron Man, but why would you when you can play as the classic gray metal behemoth?
I grew up on Marvel in the '80s and '90s, and I have to tell you that seeing some of the characters in game, like Cyclops and his amazing animations, gave me a thrill that easily overcame my distaste for the lack of customization. I never found myself needing to spend any money in the item shop, and I found myself enjoying the game even when its patterns of play started to show.
Marvel Heroes is a fantastically made game. It's hard to believe that it's free.
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