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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: What's the problem with Marvel Heroes?

Eliot Lefebvre

Marvel Heroes is going to release soon. Maybe. Probably? It's hard to say. We have a release window for the game but not a large amount of evidence that the game is actually moving toward that release window; there are beta updates but no clear signs that the game's open beta will be coming soon. That's a bit duplicitous for people already asked to purchase the game's high-end item packs, but that's a strategy employed by more than a couple of games now, so I'm not going to be too harsh about that.

Or maybe I am, seeing as how the game is asking you to spend a lot of money sight unseen when it has some pretty stiff competition out already. I'm increasingly of the mind that Marvel Heroes is taking a hard sell and making it endlessly harder by launching into the teeth of other games without a solid strategy. Worse yet, it might be far too late for the game to change anything for the better in a significant fashion.

Frank Castle does not look particularly involved for a man holding a rocket launcher.Spider-man's Stronger, Faster Clone Saga

Right now, you can go buy Torchlight 2 on Steam for $20. Who knows, it might even be on one of those weird limited-time sales right now; I'm not sure. You can buy Diablo III for $60. You can download Path of Exile for the low price of absolutely nothing. And while I'm not personally a huge fan of the Diablo-style roguelike, I'd be remiss if I didn't say that these are good games by any metric you care to use. Torchlight 2 is a game that I'm quite fond of for its general pluck, character options, and overall unexpected fun value, something I noted in a recent roundtable on the game.

Marvel Heroes is launching against these games. Maybe you beat the first two already and you're in the mood for something new, but it's still asking you to commit to this new game instead of these other games when it doesn't offer much more than a licensed property.

This is the biggest complaint I have about Marvel Heroes. I'm not upset that it's a Diablo clone, something Gazillion has taken pains to reiterate at every occasion. I'm upset that as Diablo clones go, this one is not doing anything particularly inspired or novel. It's not just a clone; it's a weak clone.

Updates have been released to the game's beta client, but none of them has added anything to make me sit up and take notice. The most novel mechanic is being able to switch characters on the fly, and even that just means going back to the grindstone because characters level independently. It saves you the trouble of logging out to switch, but it doesn't change the fact that each new hero grinds up from nothing all over again. Other than that, it's relying on the same gameplay as its contemporaries with none of their unique properties.

Oh, it also features destructible environments, but we all know how limited those wind up becoming past a certain point. You won't be able to randomly blow up buildings; you'll be able to throw cars around and blow them up. It's nice but not stunning.

Not only does it fail to serve up its own style of dinner, but the actual meal is not a great rehash of the same meat-and-potatoes. Loot for the game, on a whole, is much more lackluster than its contemporaries and not prone to changing your appearance or points related, which is one of the fun points of clicking about in other games. The stat system is less than transparent in how raising an attribute improves your overall performance, something that should be immediately obvious. The biggest draw is playing as a known superhero, but said heroes are essentially just character classes with a different name and more restrictions. I imagine it's just a matter of time before we see functionally identical heroes with one or two changed abilities -- and yes, War Machine should play fairly close to Iron Man, but I don't think that's going to be the extent of it.

DULL SURPRISE.Are we getting closer?

The game's launch window is not too far from the present, but the game isn't making any aggressive moves toward launch. It's happy to sell future players big item packs, but there's no indication of when it's moving into open beta or release. That isn't exactly unusual, as I mentioned in the opener, but it's not a move that garners a great deal of good faith, nor does it strike one as indicating that the game will be out Any Day Now.

Unfortunately for Marvel Heroes, it's going to have to release eventually. The trouble is that more time in beta doesn't appear to be addressing any of these core issues, focusing instead on trimming up balance concerns and making everything a bit smoother in play. It's a series of small improvements to a game that isn't shaping up to have much to offer compared to its obvious competition.

I don't doubt it's going to have players. What I doubt is how many of those players will stick around after a certain point and how many of them will be inclined to pay money. Either the game is going to be as free-to-play as it claims (giving many players no incentive to pay) or it's going to have a functional paywall at one point (which will raise the very reasonable question of why you don't go to play one of the equivalent games that are cheaper and arguably better).

And I don't see any of this changing, which is upsetting because the core premise of an action-based, character-based online Marvel game is pretty compelling. It's not, I fear, what we'll wind up getting.

Feedback and shouts of denial can be left in the comments below or mailed to, as usual. Next week, let's talk about the state of Champions Online without regard to recent event-based shennanigans.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre spent years in City of Heroes before the world-shattering event that destroyed his home world. But he remains as intrepid as ever, traveling to other superheroic games and dispensing his unique brand of justice... or lack thereof.

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