Never fear! Squirrel Girl is here!
[Review Update: Marvel Heroes has gone through quite a lot of iterations since our original review, so we gave the game a second look. You can read our review update and then check out our original review below that. Note the changes between our original report card and our new score for Marvel Heroes in the report card for Vers 2.2.]
Gazillion recently updated Marvel Heroes beyond 2.0 with plenty of new characters, quests, and marvelous gameplay improvements, so we decided to revisit the game and see how things have changed. Marvel fans will probably love seeing, of all the heroes added since launch, back-of-the-pull-box heroes like Squirrel Girl in addition to favorites like Nightcrawler and Gambit. You'll notice first that the lineup of free-to-play heroes has changed over the past few months as well.
You can download Gazillion’s game client or add it to your Steam library right now for free and play with Luke Cage, Punisher, Captain America, Black Panther, Black Widow, Human Torch, Colossus, Storm, and Hawkeye. This change alone has greatly reduced the number of repeated heroes you see in-game, especially at lower levels. The free-to-play lineup changes reflect the way Gazillion has worked over the months to rebalance characters as new content is added. You can level up to 60 now and collect unique gear and costumes as you left-click countless henchmen into submission. All told, Marvel Heroes has made some Hulk-sized rennovations.
Further, my favorite new addition to the game comes in the form of Eternity Splinters, a collectible resource that allows players to buy the characters they want just for playing the game with any of the free heroes available. Spider-Man, for example, has always been a paid character, but now you can learn the mechanics, story, and world with a free character while saving Splinters to buy Spidey. This makes a lot of sense from a consumer standpoint as depending on your favorite superhero, Marvel Heroes may not have seemed all that "free" to play. Now even if your favorite comic star is behind a paywall, you can still get to them by digging deep into the game.
With the 2.0 update, Gazillion adds an Asgardian-themed extension to its story mode, allowing players who’ve beaten back Victor Von Doom to explore Thor and Loki’s world. Loki is the game’s first playable villain, with more coming soon, including my personal favorite Venom. Asgard’s Bifrost bridge looks fantastic and mechanically the game feels more even since launch. The team at Gazillion have been iterating with constant weekly tweaks to skills, damage, speed, enemies, bosses, and earned experience. Where Iron Man previously blasted through the game at a faster pace than others, the full roster of heroes have gotten a lot of attention to improve the rhythm of combat and loot.
For all heroes, Gazillion has also added a wave-based defense mode called X-Defense. (Commenter Barac Wiley Up notes: X-Defense is available starting at level 1 and is currently the fastest source of XP for early leveling) Up to four players can join together with a smooth matchmaking system to defend a group of Professor Xavier’s promising up-and-comer mutant students. I and Gazillion community manager Ryan Collins took on Juggernaut at the end of one wave, but the massive (and soon to be playable) villain took me down. X-Defense has plenty of rewards for high-level players, only matched by its increasingly challenging waves of enemies.
Gazillion has also added Player vs. Player to Marvel Heroes, but I didn’t get anywhere near the skill level of the game’s most dedicated players. Taking Spider-Man’s webs up against Deadpool’s swords will certainly entertain the core Marvel fan base, but the best thing about Marvel Heroes is still the approachability and the fact that anyone will be able to run this satisfying Diablo clone. The environments and thugs still leave something to be desired visually, but there are tons of nice effects exclusive to each unique hero. If you only put enough cash into the game to unlock Rocket Raccoon, your favorite Marvel hero of all-time (you know it is!) and the upcoming star of Guardians of the Galaxy, it’ll be hard to feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth. (Especially by earning Eternity Splinters and unlocking more of your beloved obscurities.)
Marvel Heroes has a dedicated developer and supportive fans. Gazillion has shown that they can aggressively add to their game while keeping an eye on balance and playability. As you dig deeper into the game, it gets more rewarding and gives you more content, meaning even a passing interest in the brand could turn into a full-blown hack-and-slash addiction and all for the low, low cost of free. With more updates on the horizon, including a Mac OS client, Marvel Heroes is one of the best licensed games you can find and certainly the most feature-complete F2P in recent memory.
Don't expect the genre to mutate.
While Wolverine, Cyclops, the other X-Men, and scores of Marvel super-people have their own Diablo-esque massively multiplayer online game now, you shouldn't expect Gazillion to push gameplay forward. Marvel Heroes makes advancements in its marketplace and accessibility, but not in the hardcore click-fest you'd expect of an action-RPG on PC. That's right, this new Marvel game takes on the superhero team-up genre established in X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, is free to anyone and everyone, and has a popular selection of free characters to choose from at the outset.
Scarlet Witch, Daredevil, The Thing, Hawkeye… I ignored these to play with Storm and her ranged weather attacks. The developers also gave me roughly $20 of in-game currency and a bonus pack of characters (I went with the Avengers pack) for review purposes, but I was curious to see how much of Marvel Heroes could be enjoyed for the low, low price of $0. In gameplay and design, Marvel Heroes won't turn any heads, but unlockable content and hours of totally free gameplay demand an optic blast or two from PC and comic enthusiasts.
You start off at Avengers tower and immediately get thrust into battle with some of Marvel's iconic super villains. One of these early fights pits you against Green Goblin and his glider, but at no point will genre-newbies feel like that one mutant kid who didn't get accepted to Xavier's. If you're a weathered hand at games like Diablo and Torchlight, you might get bored in the tutorial section, but there's still plenty of Marvel charm to keep you entertained. Players left click to move their character around, left click on enemies to attack, and left click to pick up loot and supplies. A, S, D, F, and so forth control your special abilities, but you'll have to level up to unlock a bar full of powers.
Storm casts lightning and blows enemies away with a gust of wind for primary and secondary attacks (each controlled with left and right mouse buttons respectively). I quickly unlocked a jump-back move that splashed lightning on aggressive enemies, as well as a spacing move that Storm could use to fly into and away from attackers. No matter which character I tried, every attack and animation stayed true to the original Marvel design.
Spider-Man has hand-to-hand moves complimented by web-based abilities, Iron Man uses lasers for offense and armor for defense, but Daredevil is not totally blind, so I tried playing as him next. If you treat Marvel Heroes like a classic SNES-era beat-em-up, it'll ring true with nostalgia. On the streets of Hell's Kitchen, you can pick up cars to fling at mobs of baddies, explore dead-end sewer paths for extra loot, and generally wreck havoc in the name of justice.
I wasted no time in getting addicted to large piles of loot. Taking on a few extra henchmen often results in a chest full of new costume pieces and supplies, to the point where I had to stick with Storm over trying out every character at my disposal. I got too heavily invested in her skill tree and progression to continue playing as anyone else. Still, it'll be up to you to discover a character you can truly love.
While powers and environments look OK, the character models themselves aren't very detailed and lack any real pop. The destructible environments go from not-broken to hey-you-broke-me with one attack and there's nothing really visually appealing about the game. Textures and models look a little muddied compared to genre-contemporaries, but that's to be expected of something you paid no money for. The Raft, New York City, all the Marvel locales you head to look different enough, but don't expect to be wowed by visuals here. Marvel Heroes mostly makes its target audience clear: anyone with a computer and a patient love for the brand will find a wealth of entertaining gameplay here.
Still, I headed to the shop with my credits to see what a modest buy-in can get you in-game. Fan favorites like Spider-Man and his range of costumes seem really over priced compared to lesser known characters, but once you've purchased the character you grew up with, it's hard to give him or her up. There's a huge selection of super heroes to choose from and even more costumes, but the only change in gameplay comes from altered powers and moves.
It's still more fun to take a specific character like Spidey and beat the crap out of character-specific bosses like the aforementioned Green Goblin. Plus, lesser-known heroes like Rocket Raccoon still come complete with skill trees and full move sets, so shelling out for your obscure favorite doesn't mean you'll be lacking in progression. It'll be difficult to completely avoid buying a hero you really love.
Marvel Heroes smartly teases out these purchases through in-game conversations with side-characters like Ben Urich and loot that only certain heroes can use. Picking up a powerful piece of armor for Iron Man practically forced my hand; I just had to try Tony Stark's power suit on with the rare drop I found as Storm. Can you enjoy this game without paying a cent? Absolutely. Will you? Possibly not. I certainly had more fun with Spider-Man over the free picks I tried.
Comic-book-style cutscenes are hit-or-miss and the story won't take very long to complete, but end-game features daily and group missions or survival challenges to push your character further and reward you with more loot and skill tree unlocks. You can also earn keys to unlock more missions, though these drop randomly so it'll take a bit of grinding to see everything Marvel Heroes has to offer. There's also PvP and group instances, all of which is free.
In fact, Marvel Heroes throws open the Avengers Tower doors to an expansive amount of gameplay, whether you pay or not. I applaud the generosity, and fully admit that Gazillion scores a few bonus points for it. It's not the prettiest or deepest dungeon-crawler you'll ever play, but it's free and it'll run on nearly any system. For Marvel fans like me, it doesn't get much better than that.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive to PC.