As mentioned in my last post, games are, in fact, fun and there are many good ones. Games whose flaws are so minimal as to be almost not worth mentioning, games even whose glaring, gigantic flaws can be excused by the rest of their gameplay.
But those just aren’t as much fun to talk about, so instead this is going to be a hit piece on Marvel Heroes. Yeah, I’m inevitably biased; firstly, it’s free to play. Call me traditional, but I prefer to buy a game and then be done with paying for it – WoW’s sub model at least lets you know what you’ll be paying each month and doesn’t limit content based on the fee. Secondly, there’s a bit of an issue in that the game’s servers seem to be located somewhere in Eagleland, which leaves my connection feeling a bit like a couple of tins with some string. Look upon my lat, ye mighty, and despair*. Tragically for an ARPG, lat makes everything I do feel slightly disconnected, especially looting – picking up loot takes a second or so for the server to work out what’s going on. That doesn’t mesh well at all, given the genre’s hack-and-slashy active gameplay.
A minor issue is that looking at the chat window cost me IQ points. Yeah, just turn that off as soon as you can figure out how.
Coming into the game you’re immediately greeted by a couple of cutscenes. Most of these are done comic-style ingame, but the intro is – for some reason – played straight in 3d. The ingame scenes are at least better – they seem to be intended to invoke the “breakfast cartoon” style of the eighties and nineties, which isn’t a style I really enjoy, but it’s at least competently executed. Personally I found most of them a bit narmtastic, although Doom looks suitably epic in the intro.
I picked Captain America as my starter hero, largely because he seemed the most likely to play like a paladin. Welcome to the comfort zone, population me. Considered going with Storm just for something different in the start, but in the end found myself glad that I hadn’t – she sounds like a screechy self-righteous headmistress. “Stop throwing MISSILES in my CLASS!” – except with more lightning. Also, playing a caster? I don’t even. But mostly, it’s because I would never have been able to enjoy playing as Captain America, Leet Hax0r. Apparently the first thing our favourite retro hero did after thawing was get an IT certification.
The first actual gameplay issue that I came across was MMO respawns. There’s no breathing room, no space to get your bearings – mobs just keep. Coming. Back. And MH seems big on ranged mobs, which is fair enough because every character has a spammable travel power – sprint, charge, short-range teleport or whatever, so melee doesn’t have as hard a time with ranged enemies as in some other games. Still, it means constantly either shrugging off gnats or veering off to deal with the irritants. Every overland area is basically the Molten Front.
Also, for a superhero game, the powers don’t feel very heroic. Yeah, I picked a guy who dresses in a flag and beats people up, but still – I unlocked a couple of attacks and they’re just not very exciting, or even easy to differentiate. Throw shield v1, Bounce shield which basically looks the same and should really be a passive, a shout that gives “inspiring” quotes and looks like an emote rather than an effect, Hitler Face Punch or whatever, Shield Bash… my starting gear actually gave me a rank in shield bash, which I couldn’t use because it was too high level. Theory is that it was there for some flavour earlier in the game lifecycle, but then later on they restricted the abilities you could assign.
There are quite a few interface cues that don’t make any damn sense whatsoever, even looking through the eyes of a developer. In Warframe I could see why they approached their piss-poor interface the way they did, because as a dev their associations and paths make sense, even as from a UI design perspective they’re an atrocity. In MH I just get the idea that things are duct-taped on when someone realises they need [x feature].
In my wanderings Downtown – the first real open-world area – I saw quite a few different heroes. None of their abilities were very interesting – I didn’t see a single cast that made me go “hey, what’s that?”. Now granted it was a levelling zone, and people aren’t exactly going to be pulling out the lazor annihilation radius for thugs, but still. By comparison with the satisfaction of laying down a Flame Hammer in Torchlight, it’s a little disappointing to see so little wow-factor going on. Sound design is a particular weak point, and the designers really should know better – many’s the fine ability that can be saved by a nice meaty THWANGGG or a delicious thrumming GZORP instead of tinfoil rattling and old Nokia ringtones.
Trying to follow the main quest through town is all well and good, but I spent ages wandering around trying to even figure out where my main quest was, and eventually getting it confused with a sidequest. I am not a filthy gaming nub, but this shit was inadequate. It wouldn’t have impacted my enjoyment if I was just there to freeform through, which I suspect is the real strength of the game. Being that I had a couple of specific goals, that ambiguity was massively annoying. Points of interest aren’t really clear, quest directions are exceedingly poor, and the map is rather basic.
If it sounds like there isn’t a lot to recommend the game, well, that’s not strictly true. Characters do feel very different, so there’s probably a lot of replay value. Bosses aren’t as impressive when you’re a veteran of Cataclysm, but they’re still pretty damn good for their genre. Bugs aren’t immediately front and center, crashing the client on a regular basis. There’s even a raiding system that was recently implemented, though apparently everyone just shows up as Wolverine. Huuuge surprise there.
It isn’t my cup of tea, but it wouldn’t take all that much for it to make that jump. Well, except for the lat. That’s pretty much a coffin nail regardless.
* Bizarrely, one of the few interface details I really liked was how the latency display broke down into components, showing what exactly was taking so damn long. Okay, so I already *knew*, but that’s beside the point – it’s cool!