Gazillion Entertainment blew the lid off of Marvel Heroes this past weekend with an open beta event to celebrate the theatrical release of Iron Man 3. For the first time ever, tens of thousands of players were able to get into the game to check it out for themselves prior to its release in June.
There is no question that David Brevik is one of the original Diablo developers. There is an unquestionable similarity between the two games and even, to a lesser extent, Diablo 2. Marvel Heroes is clearly an action-RPG and fans of that particular genre will feel instantly at home.
Marvel Heroes is definitely a throwback to the heady first days of the Diablo franchise. This is something that Gazillion Entertainment proudly touts in nearly every interview and very prominently on the MH site.
I entered the game as Black Widow with absolutely zero options for customization. That will come later in the form of costumes. Still, after playing Neverwinter for the last week or so, a game that has an amazing amount of customization, it was disappointing. It would have been nice to have been able to choose some small way to set your character apart but it is not to be. So, on finishing the tutorial, I joined hundreds of my mirror images and thousands of Iron Men, Hulks, Captain Americas, Spider Men and more. I actually found it kind of distracting.
In fairness, higher levels and more costume options will make a big difference in this regard. But at the earliest stage of the game, it’s odd, to say the least.
Playing the game for even a few minutes is a familiar and comfortable experience for those who have enjoyed action RPGs. The view is an over-the-shoulder isometric one and players can see a wide range of terrain surrounding them. In addition, Gazillion shines a red spotlight on incoming monsters in the tutorial which helps with targeting to attack and to learn the controls which, again, are very familiar to those who have played Diablo.
The public areas of the game are packed with bad guys and quests that lead players through the first zone. Players can assist others in these areas. Experience, items and gold drop for everyone who takes part. Random bosses appear from time to time as well that will take a lot of people in a zone to take down working as a team.
Game play is fast and furious with bad guys running at you from all angles and at amazing speeds. It’s worth every effort to utilize your character’s innate abilities to their fullest. Widow’s attack was pretty awesome, primarily as a ranged fighter but not a bad hand to hand combatant up close. She’s my kind of gal and I thoroughly enjoyed playing her.
Still, I can’t help but feel that a superhero should be just so much more than that. Why is it that every rank and file thug on the street can damage her? She’s a superhero, for crying out loud. Somehow it just seems wrong though I’m not entirely sure how it can be fixed.
Most individual quests lead players to an instanced zone to complete, usually with a boss at the end. My guess is that this continues throughout the game, though I only experienced the earliest locations. Defeating a boss gives players a medal that offers different stat boosts and/or bonuses to attack or health, etc. One nice touch is that each is named for the boss taken down and the properties it features have something to do with the type of attack that he (or she) utilizes in the battle. These are account bound and can be switched out as desired.
Overall, I really liked Marvel Heroes, though to be perfectly honest, it’s a game that I would go to on occasion for short periods of time. But it is fun and it does satisfy that action RPG itch that I get from time to time. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre and or Marvel’s universe.
Back in our initial beta preview, I spoke a lot about how Marvel Heroes may not be what we MMO gamers are expecting from a Marvel Universe MMO (I think we’d all like the game more if it were our heroes in the world). But I also noted that the game was fun, despite not meeting what I demand of my MMOs. Marvel Heroes is clearly not for the vast majority of our users, accustomed to character creation, customization, and depth. Instead, I suspect Marvel and Gazillion are aiming at a much wider base of players who don’t necessarily care if there are fourteen Wolverines roving around the same inner-city map. And that’s just something we have to live with or ignore.
One thing that’s immediately apparent to me about Marvel Heroes is that it’s far more “MMO” than most Action RPGs that claim to be as well. Shared open world spaces alone put it closer to that distinction than say, Diablo 3. And while the title has all the trappings of an engaging ARPG experience (lots of random loot, quick pacing, isometric perspective, skill-trees, and on and on), I still can’t help but find it feeling watered down overall. The skill trees for each hero, while an undertaking no doubt to design this many for so many iconic characters, are rather dull.
I can’t say whether the skills and abilities of each hero become more enticing the further you go in, but at the onset every Marvel Hero you play with from Thor to Rocket Raccoon feels unimpressive. And if there’s one thing that I expect to hold Marvel Heroes back, it’s not the fact that everyone plays these iconic characters... it’s that the action itself is lacking a surprising bit of oomph and pizazz. Your punches, shots, lasers, shield tosses... they all feel kind of weak. I first selected Captain America in honor of this weekend’s Avenger’s themed test, and my smile at playing Cap and throwing his shield quickly became a frown. I was bummed to toss my shield only to see it hit a guy, have him flinch, and then come back. Meanwhile my enemy kept shooting me, like I wasn’t so much the hero as I thought.
And that’s the risk you take having players level up these superheroes. You’re making them “weak” at the onset, and suddenly the mystique of playing someone incredibly powerful like Hulk goes away because he starts off as “Generic Hero Number 23” instead. When you hit a Hydra peon with the freaking Incredible Hulk, he should be downed in one punch and send flying. He shouldn’t stand there solidly on two feet taking a beating before falling.
Now, this might all sound damning, but it’s not the case entirely. I expect that the intro levels to the game are merely that... the intro levels. I’ll reserve judgment on the entire package until we dive deeper into the content post-launch. All the pieces for an engaging and fun to play ARPG with MMO elements are there. My chief concerns aren’t the use of heroes and forty cloned Logans running around, it’s the combat at lower levels and whether it will be exciting enough to hook most average gamers beyond the initial awe of playing as Iron Man or Thor or Spider-Man.