Marvel Heroes: An Unexpected Return

Human Torch 1

Something unexpected happened while I was recovering from my recent surgery: I had a random urge to play Marvel Heroes again. I was really excited about Marvel Heroes when it first came out, because I’ve recently become a fan of this particular flavor of ARPG. Ever since I picked up Torchlight (I never got into Diablo, but Torchlight, especially its sequel, really clicked with me), I’ve dreamed of a Diablo-style MMO. So when I stumbled upon a random beta gameplay video of Marvel Heroes, I was pretty excited. I actually considered buying one of the hero packs, but decided they were (and are) overpriced. It’s a free-to-play, no need to commit cash until you know it’s worth playing, and I’m not sure I would notice the difference between the Iron Man suit from the third movie and any other costume.

When the game came out, I picked The Thing for my first character. I usually enjoy tank classes (I loved my engineer in Torchlight 2) so I figured Thing fit the bill. Unfortunately he felt slow, had uninteresting powers, didn’t do much damage, and was just generally not that fun to play. I was more than a little jealous as I watched Storm and Spider-Man and Rocket Raccoon blow their way through groups of mobs while I plodded my way through one at a time (I just got out-DPSed by an animal who eats out of garbage cans, how embarrassing). The game got a little more interesting when they gave me a second starter character character for free, Hawkeye. He’s mostly built for crowd control, which I also sometimes enjoy in the right balance. He was fun for a while, but by level 20 or so I could tell he wasn’t going to be much fun to level. Also, I was a little frustrated with the launch rush overpopulation and the general overpricedness of the game. The game isn’t quite pay-to-win, but it certainly isn’t pay-for-hats either. It’s more like pay-to-be-awesome: you can have a good experience and not pay a dime, but if you want to play as your favorite heroes, you’re going to have to shell out some money. In the end, I chalked Heroes up to the category of a good idea with poor execution and moved on.

Then I saw a Massively article about the game’s 2.0 patch, with a new zone and, more importantly, new heroes added to the starter lineup. I’m not sure why, but that was all it took to suck me back in. I started a new account so I could pick a new starter hero, and this time around I picked The Human Torch, an AoE DPS nuker. He has less survivability than both characters I’ve previously played, but when you one-shot entire groups of enemies, you don’t need to absorb much damage. Torch’s Scorching Pyre skill is basically a spam-to-win button, with a big area effect killing most enemies in a single shot, a tick or two of burning finishing off any survivors. The only thing that really gives me any trouble are bosses, as they take significantly longer to burn down (pun intended) and dish out damage a lot faster. I expect Human Torch’s OPness to fall off later in the game, especially in hard mode, but either way he’s a fun character to play.

Heroes has fixed a lot of the annoyances I had when the game launched. For one, they’ve dropped the prices on all of the heroes across the board. Before, a popular hero like Spider Man or Iron Man would cost $20. They’ve now dropped that price to $13.50, and occasionally put them on sale. Cheaper heroes now run for around $9. This is still expensive enough that I’m not going to go out and buy every hero that looks mildly interesting (especially when you consider that a standalone ARPG runs for around $10-$20 on Steam), but it’s reasonable for a freemium MMO. On top of that, all enemies now have a chance to drop “Eternity Splinters,” a sort of currency that can be used to buy any hero for 400-600 splinters, and while the time to gather these is significant (I’ve picked up maybe 60 in 20 levels), it makes free heroes seem more attainable. I see a lot less “X is overpowered” and “Y is worthless” in the chat nowadays. The overpopulation has of course subsided, from a mixture of natural player base decline and bad initial reviews scaring people away.

Speaking of which, Marvel Heroes still has its problems. Ironically, my annoyance with the overpopulation of the launch rush has given way to an annoyance with underpopulation. The automatic group creation for instances almost never finds anyone for me (though this matters less with a DPS character than it did with my previously tank and support characters) and sometimes I run in to a place (usually large open areas) in the overworld where, by the time I’ve finished off all of the enemies by my self, they’ve already started to respawn, and I can’t get away easily (though this is great for farming Eternity Splinters). Perhaps most worrisome is the fact that heroes seem pretty unstable; nerfs and buffs have been major, so some heroes that were terrible at launch may now be among the best, while others who were great have lagged behind. Fans of the game are quick to point out, though, that this is because Gazillion actually listens to their players in considering balance changes, which sounds appealing as long as Gazillion is smart enough to differentiate between players whining because they aren’t good enough at the game and players with a legitimate balance suggestion.

So Marvel Heroes is a much better game than my initial impression suggested, and I would say that it deserves a second look from anyone who, like me, tried it early on and almost liked it. It’s still not the ideal game I’m looking for, but it’s certainly entertaining enough. I don’t know if I’ll be coming back for years to come, but for now it has really managed captured my attention. I’m even considering buying a hero or two in the Black Week sale going on right now. Expect to hear more in the near future!

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