Marvel fans have been consistently lucky when it comes to video game adaptations: the indomitable Marvel vs. Capcom, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and a bevy of others are excellent examples. It's a rich, engaging universe teeming with different personalities, so like in the world of gaming itself, there's something for everyone. Marvel Heroes is a colorful representation of that varied spirit, allowing you to take up the mantle of your favorite superhero and embark on a journey through familiar set pieces of the Marvel mythos. But as with some of Marvel's youngest talent, the potential for greatness has yet to be refined.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to take a chance on this free-to-play powerhouse. Comic fans will appreciate the original narrative that focuses on both lesser-known and prominent personalities in the Marvel multiverse. The spotlight shines on characters from Thor to Wonder Man, and the game is better off for it. Missions and objectives are woven seamlessly into the plot, with milestones and boss battles separated into bite-size chapters. The action plays out in a style similar to that of Diablo or any other loot-happy clickfest: an isometric view with chests to discover, interchangeable baddies to fell, and a staggering number of side quests.
A league of nefarious supervillains are banding together to aid Dr. Doom in yet another bid to take over the world, and it's up to you (and a group of friends, if you prefer) to stop him. It's standard fare, especially for the superhero multiverse, but anyone aching for interactions between Moondragon and the Hulk or Tony Stark and the Scarlet Witch will no doubt be jumping with joy at the chance to impersonate a favorite character.
The first hero is free, and you can choose from five to get things under way: Hawkeye, the Thing, the Scarlet Witch, Storm, and Daredevil. Each comes standard with his or her own set of special abilities and a fighting style distinct from the rest. Hawkeye is a ranged fighter, while the Scarlet Witch excels at inducing status effects and magical damage. Skill points earned while grinding can be used to upgrade existing powers or unlock brand-new ones. Special attacks, such as Thor's Thunderous Charge or Cable's Bold Aura, require spirit points (stamina) to execute. Spamming these moves ensures a quicker route to victory, but you'll run out unless you allow enough time for the gauge to recharge. There's a minimal wait for the meter to fill again, so you've got plenty of room to play around with flashy finishers intertwined with melee combos.
Interchangeable abilities offer a chance to experiment with different combat strategies when the standard "left click, left click, right click" begins to wear on the nerves. And considering the number of nameless baddies you have to wade through in each instance, it will. Luckily, the waves of inconsequential henchmen you have to cleave through to get to the boss encounters are good for boatloads of loot, including items used for buffs and various types of passive support. Just don't be surprised if that's all the baddies end up being to you: living treasure chests.
Speaking of treasure, if you choose not to drop any real-world money, you're saddled with some useless items. Equipment locks to one character, and enemies drop various pieces meant for use by characters you may never see in-game unless you purchase them or find a random unlock token. It's a frustrating move on the game's part to entice you in such a way, especially if you're dead set on keeping the "free" in free-to-play, but at least there is a wide variety of heroes to unlock should you find Marvel Heroes worthy of tangible coinage.
That's something that should be given a good amount of thought, however, because the content simply doesn't drive you to purchase additional characters. Microtransactions can no doubt augment your experience, but they're not required to accomplish great things as your chosen hero. Despite the variety of heroes, accessories, equipment, and locales, bashing the same skulls in over and over is dull. Whether you group with friends or fly solo, the sojourn to eventually topple Dr. Doom becomes hopelessly tedious. For this reason, if you plan on seeing an endgame, it's best to tackle Marvel Heros in bursts, at least this early in the game's life cycle, where daily missions and survival challenges aren't enough to keep you repeating the same actions each day.
Luckily, there are plenty of players online, and decent lines of communication to keep things as streamlined as possible. Player versus player takes your strategic prowess to another level entirely, and because all of that is free, there's no immediate incentive to spend a penny to "improve" your game. But should you feel like dropping some coin, you'll find that none of Marvel Heroes' premium content smooths over its issues. A new costume for Captain America won't make the grind more exciting, nor lengthen the game once you've mastered your character. Extras like pets or additional characters are interesting, though not particularly useful. Right now, Marvel Heroes is rough. With additional content in the form of new instances or variations in enemy types it could, like Peter Parker and his metamorphosis into Spider-Man, come out swinging.