Friday, 7 June 2013

Marvel Heroes Review in Progress

Editor’s note: Given the size and nature of most MMOs, we’re holding off on assigning Marvel Heroes a final score until we get a chance to try out endgame. You can read our initial impressions of the game below, however, which will be updated as we go along. Additionally, in the spirit of full disclosure, please note this review was done with the Marvel NOW! Premium Founder Pack which grants access to five heroes at the outset, rather than the standard one.

First Impressions

Considering the recent free-to-play transitions of Rift, The Old Republic and The Secret World, to suggest that MMO fatigue is setting in is, at this stage, probably the understatement of the century. But seeing as most recent entries in the genre have been designed with subscription fees in mind, it’s nice to encounter one that was always intended as a free-to-play game. Enter Marvel Heroes, the new action MMORPG from Diablo creator David Brevik.

Billed as the spiritual successor to Diablo II but with an assortment of Marvel’s superheroes rather than Barbarians or Witch Doctors, the appeal to most PC gamers should be instantly apparent. What’s slightly less clear is how necessary it was to introduce aspects of the MMO genre into a game that probably would have been just as enjoyable without them.

Upon starting the game, you’re given the choice of five heroes each with a different specialisation: Daredevil (melee damage), Hawkeye (ranged damage), Scarlet Witch (ranged caster), Storm (ranged controller) or Thing (tank). I chose Storm but it wasn’t long before I got Hawkeye as a quest reward. You can switch between heroes at any time on-the-fly and the developers advise you to do so regularly seeing as they level independently. This means if you want to have both as viable options later on, you need to put in the legwork as you go. While it’s fairly interesting as a mechanic, I quickly found that if I tried to do this it left both heroes under-levelled for future story missions unless I grinded on mobs in the area. So for now I’m sticking with Storm, and will explore the whole hero-swapping thing a bit more next week.

The iconic characters seem to be much closer to their ink and paper originals than the adaptations that have hit the big screen in recent years.

The story, so far, has been well-realised and engaging thanks to the graphic novel presentation. From what I’ve seen the iconic characters seem to be much closer to their ink and paper originals than the adaptations that have hit the big screen in recent years, with Spider-Man in particular being a revelation. I won’t go into any more detail to spare you spoilers, but rest assured that my opinion at this stage is that the cameos and high-fidelity realisation of familiar characters should please newcomers and Marvel fans alike.

While the game already scores a tick for reverently dealing with the source material, the stumbling block for too many Marvel titles is gameplay. The good news is that the different specialties of the heroes are already fairly obvious, so whether you prefer to play as a melee or ranged damage dealer, a support class or a tank, the options are all here (even though the chance of other heroes dropping as loot may not necessarily be). Combat is fairly repetitive and currently lacks the variety in both enemies and abilities that makes Diablo shine, but I’m optimistic that it’ll get more engaging as I get further into the game. The lack of a dodge makes crowd control feel a lot more important, and the spell and particle effects are certainly satisfying. What I’m less sure of at this stage is the size of the enemy packs that attack; they’re huge, and while this is clearly intended to create frenetic, overwhelming gameplay, in reality it comes off as chaotic and a bit of a shambles, especially in the group content. It’s difficult to keep track of where your character is and what they’re doing, let alone where the miniscule bosses are and especially if other players are swarming around too.

Prime examples of this are the group events that take place when you’re roaming the zones on your way to tackle your next objective. One of the earliest I encountered was a battle against Electro in Hell’s Kitchen, where over 30 heroes united to take the villain down (which you can see in the top video). Trouble is, all I had to do was stand there spamming my character’s basic attack until he fell over, moving occasionally to avoid the damage dealing patches on the floor. It really didn’t feel that heroic, or even that fun. My next encounter, this time with Venom, certainly improved things thanks to him leading us on a merry dance around the map, but it still felt a little empty; rather than an epic superhero showdown, this was me bashing a loot piñata until it burst. I’m hoping the bosses get more complex the further I go on, because if it stays like this then fatigue is guaranteed to set in long before the level cap.

While having your heroes only dressed in famous vintage costumes such as those from the 90s cartoon is a nice idea in theory, in practice it’s actually a bit of a drawback.

One of the biggest claims about the game is that you can access all heroes and costumes for free. It’s too early for me to comment on whether that’s true or not, but suffice to say I haven’t seen any drop yet. Given the hero types available as starter characters though, most players should find one that fits their style. The question is whether or not you’ll get bored of them before finding a new one. The skill tree system already seems to offer relief from this through a fair degree of customisation, but I’d like to wait until I’m higher level and can play with it a bit more before I give a final judgement. What I’m already sceptical about though is the decision to restrict the aesthetic changes to switching costumes.

While having your heroes only dressed in famous vintage costumes such as those from the 90s cartoon is a nice idea in theory, in practice it’s actually a bit of a drawback. Unless you’re a gamer who enjoys scrutinising every piece of gear to see which will give you the biggest edge over the competition, I’ve always felt the key thing that keeps you playing and chasing loot drops has been the changing appearance of your character. Despite being only a handful of levels in I’m already bored by the fact my character consistently looks the same; yes, in theory I can change character if I want to mix it up (assuming I’ve been levelling them in tandem), but surely that’s meant to be more of a solution to gameplay rather than aesthetics? Hopefully this’ll change as I progress, and I’ll see my first costume drop before too long.

But the above pretty much sums up where my early qualms with the game really lie. It’s been billed heavily as an MMO, and admittedly the term is broadening, but it seems to miss a lot of the staples of the genre that appeal to me. A key point here is instancing. For those who don’t know, an instance is a copy of a dungeon accessible only to you and your party. It’s done in a bid to address the issues commonly encountered in shared spaces, such as too many people wanting to complete the same quest or kill the same monster. The idea itself is perfectly sound, and works happily in many online games. It’s execution in Marvel Heroes appears flawed to the point of being broken.

It’s been billed heavily as an MMO, and admittedly the term is broadening, but it seems to miss a lot of the staples of the genre that appeal to me.

When you enter a story area or one of the miscellaneous questing dungeons discovered while exploring areas, you’re automatically placed in a group and an instance of the dungeon is created; the drawback is that it’s not necessarily a fresh version. If you’re tasked with killing four boss mobs, you could be placed into a group that’s already killed three. While you can get still credit for the fourth, you’ll ultimately have to leave, re-enter and hope the next group you get will enable you to kill the first three bosses if you want credit for the quest. Similarly, you could end up against areas and bosses designed for five players, trying to take down incredibly taxing mechanics on your own, such as additional mobs spawning. I found myself irritated beyond measure, essentially playing roulette when trying to complete certain quests. Coupled with the long loading times that accompany zone changes, it quickly becomes tiresome.

The last thing I should probably mention is the cash shop. To be honest, I’ve had a brief browse and then left it alone. So far there doesn’t appear to be anything in there that looks like a game-breaking power-up. While the experience booster is a time-saver, it’s not going to give anyone too big an edge. What I’m slightly more sceptical about is the rare loot drop chance booster. Again, it’s too early to say for sure, but if the drop rates for costumes and other heroes are so prohibitively low that you’ll need to buy a potion to have a realistic chance of acquiring either, then you’re pretty much forced to spending money one way or another in the cash shop to get new characters. That would disprove one of the key tenets on which the game is built; that you can get every hero for free. It’s something I’ll have to explore once I reach the max level, though.

There’ll be more on my impressions of Marvel Heroes early next week, especially the game’s crafting system. If you’re feeling at all curious about the title, I’d strongly recommend you download it and try it out for yourself there’s a great deal of value here for absolutely no cost. If you’re still uncertain though, check back next week for more or hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions.

Luke Karmali is IGN's UK Junior Editor and has played more MMOs than you can cripple a social life with. You too can revel in mediocrity by following him on IGN and on Twitter.

Source : ign[dot]com

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