A little over a year ago, I reviewed Marvel Heroes. While it's foundations were solid, there were multiple points that I found wanting, including the way it bungled story progression between multiple heroes and its overall handling of the free to play economy. So why are we talking about this again?
Well, what was Marvel Heroes has been rebranded as Marvel Heroes 2015, there by earning it a second chance at Metacritic, and a chance, a year later and in far better standing, at a second look from me. It's kind of a brilliant move, especially when you consider the growth in the life span of an MMO, and rather then catching flak for errors at the beginning, Gazillion's renaming should end up earning them some new fans that weren't around for mediocre start.
Ethics aside, Marvel Heroes 2015 is, at the core, the same game it was a year ago. It's an Action RPG, designed by the creator of Diablo, and as such, is defined by two main characteristics: Click on things till they die, and collect the loot they leave behind. You play as one of many, many available Marvel Heroes, and through bashing, smashing, shooting, exploding, and general mayhem, level up from 1 to 60.
The main story mode is relatively unchanged. You still face off against an assortment of Marvel's finest rogues, with Doctor Doom playing the part of ultimate baddie. Since it's release, there has been a new chapter, taking place in Asgard and incorporating the Dark Elves featured in Thor: The Dark World, added to the end. Loki, ever the conniver, steals the power of the cosmic cube upon Doom's defeat, and with it he awakens the elves and takes Asgard as his own. Fighting ensues, and the Trickster God is defeated, with the ending pointing to an even greater evil that forces the Heroes to take Loki on as help, thereby opening him up story wise as a hero you can buy.
The most welcome change to the story mode is one that doesn't effect the narrative at all. Easily one of the worst features at Marvel Heroes release was the inability to switch between characters without, essentially, forcing a story reset. This has been done away with, stricken from the record in favor of a system that tracks each hero individually, allowing you to level any hero, at any time, without negatively affecting any other hero. It was a much needed change, and one that immediately made an impact in the way I approached the game.
Other work has been done to bring MH more inline with modern ARPGs. Team Up characters, the equivalent of Diablo 3's hirelings, or Torchlight's pets have been added, an in a bit of a different twist, they can be called in on when they are needed or simply left on, giving some greater versatility to hero choices and letting some weaker heroes keep up with the powerhouses. They can also be set to offer passive stat boosts, if you, like me, don't think Hulk needs someone running around with him 24/7. The only downside to this is that Team Ups need to be purchased, either with real money or through in game currency, and are never explained in game. I have never found trial and error to be the best form of discovery when money is involved.
Keeping with the improvements, Omega points were introduced and are earned alongside experience points, creating a pool that each hero has their own access to. Of all the systems added, this is the least impactful so far, as most bonuses you can purchase ride the line of being both expensive to purchase and not doing anything noticeable. That being said, the fact that you are always earning them makes them a constant presence, unlike Diablo's paragon system, which only earns points after you have reached max level.
The final big addition game wise are synergies, which provide an actual, tangible benefit to having a ton of alts (alternate characters). Heroes who have reached levels 25 and 50 can add small percentages to stats, like Rare Find or Health. The synergies are specific per hero, but you can have up to 10 turned on at any time, and they are set on a per hero basis, allowing you to min/max to your hearts content. It's a nice bonus, and one that encourages thoughtful choices in future hero purchases, as well as rewarding people who simply have to buy everything.
By separating the gameplay progress of the heroes, while also adding in systems that join the experiences in important ways, Gazillion has taken steps to make the purchase of heroes something more then just a monetary transaction. The expense of heroes, which average a cool ten spot, is worth it if you take that hero as far as they can go, especially with a story that sits at about the 20 hour mark.
What I found most impressive though, are the steps they've taken to make your time spent in game feel valuable. Any hero can be purchased with Eternity Shards, an item that drops from all enemy types about every 6-7 minutes, and there is always some kind of additional prize drop running, whether it be soccer balls for the World Cup, or sea shells for summer. Everything, whether shard or promotion drop, can be stashed away if you don't collect enough to cash in, as there is a good chance that promotion will pass by around in the weeks to follow. On top of that, the pay gates that used to block off end game content are completely gone, with boss terminal access available as early as level 20. It's a total reversal from the position Marvel Heroes took when it was released.
There are still improvements that can be made to the overall experience, especially when it comes to the purchasing of additional heroes. Whether by money or shards, there's no way to try heroes before you buy them, and with the variety of styles and attacks each have, it can be easy to purchase a character you like that plays in a way you don't. The same can be applied to Team Up heroes; the only thing offered to you before buying is just a picture of what the character looks like, and it lacks basic info like whether they are ranged or melee, damage dealers or tanks. Some of that can be guessed by simply the virtue of who the character is, as I doubt anyone would peg Spidey as a tank, but those same people might be surprised to see Magik pop out with a sword instead of a ranged blast of some kind.
With the additions to the game and changes in the economy, recommending Marvel Heroes is an easy call to make. What was fun but ultimately forgettable is now fun with absolutely no caveats. Even without a lot of money to spend, there's enough value with in playing with one hero and working up to additional ones to give it a try at the very least. A year later, Marvel Heroes is the game it wanted to be when it was released, and its ability to grow and change by acknowledging its problems and actively trying to solve them, is a testament to one of the best features of MMO.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!