Except, its quite a different beast, so comparisons to City of Heroes or DCU Online don’t entirely work. Whereas those games were role playing games, instead Marvel Heroes is much more a straight action game, that puts me in mind of classic “dungeon crawl” games.
Essentially the way it works is you have a roster of heroes from the Marvel Universe. So unlike DCU Online, you do actually get to play as the characters the company is famous for, rather than just helping them out. Having selected your starting character, you then play through the main storyline, moving out from the main game hub in Avengers Tower (where your bank, vendors or crafting takes place) to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. You’ll be given missions by various SHIELD agents and you essentially work your way through the area, beating up various miscreants along the way, before you make your way to the boss’s lair, beat your way through his various thugs, before smacking the boss (Green Goblin, Taskmaster or the like) in the face, collecting your XP and loot, and then moving onto the next area and beating up some more people.
As gameplay goes, there’s no real role play here. Its all about the combat. That said, it is an awful lot of fun to play as your favourite Marvel Heroes and battle well-known villains. As is usual, as you collect XP from your various encounters, you’ll eventually level up and be able to upgrade your abilities and powers, as well as access new ones. You’ll see other players running around the same areas as you, and you’ll team up with them throughout the game, either being put into a party in an instanced boss lair, or taking part in some of the open events, which see the likes of Electro or Venom attack in an area of the map, and large groups of heroes have to descend to defeat them.
The game itself is free to play, so there’s nothing stopping you checking it out. When you start playing you’ll be given a chance to select a starter hero from a basic set (I went with Daredevil, and I heartily recommend Mark Waid’s current run on the book if you’re not reading it), and from there you can build up your roster of heroes to play. While there is a chance of a new hero being rewarded by the game or dropped as loot from any mob in the game, this is however where the game starts to make its money.
The game operates an in-game store where you can buy alternative heroes, costumes for those heroes or power ups for in-game currency (paid for by the real world kind). This is a pretty common model these days, however I will say the heroes and costumes are not cheap. That said, I do think the model this game is using seems pretty generous, since you can play without spending any cash at all, as long as you’re not as fussed who you’re playing as. And there’s always that chance of getting another hero as a reward.
The drawback however is that on buying a new hero, you’re essentially prompted to restart the game as that hero. The ability to just bounce between the different heroes isn’t perhaps as clear as it should be, and it took a bit of time before I realised I could travel back to previously-visited waypoints without resetting my game progress and simply fight my way through those old zones in order to level up the new hero to the point I was at. The downside to this though, is it does stall your progress in the storyline as you go back to the old zones. However at least its not lost.
This does however throw up other issues with the game. I found it not uncommon to run into an area as Daredevil, only to find another 10 Daredevils looking back at me. It does rob the game of some of its effect and breaks some of the engagement you might enjoy. Having plonked down some cash in order to try out another hero or two, I did also find that there perhaps wasn’t as much differentiation in the characters. Sure as Iron Man I’ve got a more ranged approach to things than Daredevil’s more melee style, but it doesn’t feel as well defined as a proper class structure. I also missed some of the feeling of those heroes. As Iron Man you’re still just running around zapping people, not flying. Spider-Man isn’t web-slinging around the maps. There’s limitations imposed by the gameplay that do serve to make the characters feel a little more generic, at least to the point I’ve played the game. Its possible later powers will open things up a bit, but realistically you’ll never have the freedom of movement that a game like DCU Online or City of Heroes offered. In fairness to the developers, they’ve done a good job modelling the various characters, and many fan-favourite looks are available through the in game store, and at the end of the day, the game does seem to be designed to be a dungeon crawl with friends, and in that regard it succeeds well.
I’ll be honest, I’m enjoying the game a lot more than I thought I would. Despite being so combat focused I do still find it fun running around, and it seems like a game I’m more inclined to pick up for half an hour and then put down, rather than something like Skyrim that’d need me to sit down for a few hours. Your mileage will probably vary though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if non Marvel fans get bored a bit more quickly.
Don’t take my word for it though. As I said, the beauty of the game is free to play. So why not check it out, and let us know your thoughts in the forums?