Marvel and Cryptic fans received the equivalent of a comical kick in the crotch in 2009 – there wasn't going to be a licensed MMORPG for loyal supporters of Spider-Man and his posse of interesting superheroes. It was a real shame, the possibilities of Wolverine-patterned spandex, and the masterminds behind City of Heroes would have been a very delicious match, but it, sadly, wasn’t to be. Stan Lee and his corporate gang looked elsewhere to bring their characters to life, with a subscription fee, and Cryptic would go on to release their once endorsed product as “Champions Online” a very good MMO in its own right.
But collectively comic book and online fans alike have felt an itch for the logo of red and white. Since SOE released their own branded superhero title upon the world, DCUO, it seemed only fair that Jack Kirby’s creations get their own virtual world – and wouldn’t you know it? To follow along this almost apocalyptic plague of Marvel movies rocketing into theatres, we now have word of a new MMO, Marvel Universe Online. Well isn’t that just the fanciest thing?
Things are not what they seem however, and if I was a more immature man, I’d bet that a villain had gotten hold of the development team in charge of MUO. Gone are the usual character creation tools, but instead you will take on the role of one of Marvel’s well established heroes following a more story driven experience. This creates a flutter of the heart for any immersive player – this just doesn’t sound right at all, The Silver Surfer would not spend the majority of his time dancing on a street light whilst Spider-Man jumps up and down against a brick wall shouting “LVL 12 DPS LFG!” What would The Avengers think, honestly?
To make things even scarier is the fact that this game will be free-to-play, across both the PC and 360 platforms. It is common knowledge amongst genre fans that this subscription model is akin to the devil, or perhaps a rampant venereal disease – perhaps gonorrhoea or that itchy one, crabs. Things indeed look frightening at this stage for MUO, but like any good horror film, here at MMORPG.com we like to take things slow, split up in times of increased terror, and force our faces into mugging smiles that say “well it might not be the anti-Christ when it’s born – and those haunting cries of “EVIL” coming from the development studio might just be our imagination”.
So what would this already oddball sounding game need to do to beat out the competition of City of Heroes, Champions Online, and DC Universe Online? Well in a very lucky twist of fate, I have written down a few hopes and desires.
From what little details we know, Marvel Universe Online isn't going to be a traditional experience, which in many ways can be a good thing. Following set plotlines for individual heroes creates a more definitive comic book experience in the way that previous games have failed. So while it is all well and good to create a leather crotched villain called "Cowboy Groin" it isn't nearly as entertaining to find yourself in a world inundated with insane looking peers - each grinding the same villains, nobody seemingly normal around you. MUO has the chance to create a more authentic superhero experience, albeit with a more linear tone. So in effect you may be trading some freedoms, but in a sense gaining a more engrossing and even immersive experience.
In the somewhat scattered details, there has also been talk of the game featuring storylines that feed into the actual comic themselves, in effect allowing fans to play the adventure that is usually inked upon the page. Following the idea through would be groundbreaking in terms of interaction, and if executed properly and with a few sidesteps to quests like "Captain America has lost his gloves, go find his gloves and bring them back" Marvel might just be golden.
One of the best developments in recent years in MMORPGs is more interaction in combat. From Champions Online’s “hold down to power-up” style play, to DC Universe Online’s out and out brawling, I would love to see Marvel Universe Online follow in a similar vein. I am thinking Streets of Rage meets Marvel VS Capcom with extra awesome. Combinations may be tricky to perform on a keyboard, but with a beat-'em-up style system we might just have something very special on our hands. I am imagining a world not dominated by calls of “My gear is X level, while yours is X level, no fair” but instead annoyed chants of “Button basher! OMG!”
It sounds so peaceful doesn’t it?
One of the advantages that the developer will have over its superpowered counterparts is the fact that they are already dealing with a well developed lore. Playing recognisable characters means that audiences will already be familiar with the abilities and skills of their chosen avatar - so from Cyclops' laser infused vision, to Thor's love of "smashy, smashy, with my hammery" there will be a degree of recognition, but also a weight behind the moves and even combinations that can be pulled off. So rather than arbitrarily choosing to excel in mind zapping powers, we the gamers will know exactly what we're getting into when we choice to play as a certain hero, and what we can expect when advanced to a higher level.
While it may be taboo to decline a random duel request these days, I for one am bored with the whole concept of PvP. While a lot of MMO mechanics have raced ahead in recent times, this is one element that has largely stayed the same, whilst the usual suspects line up to indulge in it. It just all seems so tired, and with the added headache of gear and specific character builds, I want to see Marvel approach this element differently.
In the above category I hoped for an arcade infused style of play, and the PvP aspect would greatly benefit. Instead of cool-down hot bar abilities, and +10402 Strength tunics, let's do away with such nonsense, and allow players to take each other on with sheer ability. Button presses and combos would dictate the pace of combat, and would really bring some much needed excitement to those of us who see this aspect of MMO gaming as nothing more stat building, gear posturing, and little bitch tactics of stabbing and dancing around in a circle. Oh and some dynamic, less instanced arenas would be better.
The End Gaming
It is always going to be difficult for any online experience to keep a players attention for an indefinite amount of time, and the general thought will be that Marvel Universe Online needs to cater to those looking for something to do when level caps have been breached and storylines exhausted. To this I say why?
Marvel are seemingly creating a game that is driven by storylines, and hopefully this will make it through development. If each hero has their own plot and interesting story, we are talking about a lot of hours of gameplay. If this extends occasionally with new content and new adventures, then players will once again resume their adventures. This is going to be a F2P title, and the reason behind repetitive unconquerable end-game content was to keep players subscribed and paying monthly fees - not the case here. From what details have emerged, it seems that Marvel Universe Online is heading off in a different direction, and if this is story-driven like their comic creators, then so be it. I for one play a game because it interests me, because it excites me, and because it's fun. I stop playing when I feel like I've exhausted the content, and that all the developer is doing is dangling a metaphorical carrot above my head for me to flail at redundantly. Hopefully MUO will take heed of this, and realize now every MMORPG needs to cater for those that just can't let go.
The Closing Comments
From what we know, Marvel Universe Online sounds different, scary, odd, weird, and yet profoundly exciting. The idea that we will play as some of the most recognisable fictional characters is a huge gamble, and yet with the right plotlines, twists, and turns, it could pay off massively. The developers are writing their own rules by simply making the above decision, and so we could be looking at more of an interactive story than that of a never-ending quest grind. What does the game have to do to be King? Simply follow its own path, avoid the pitfalls of your average MMO, and make it the best super hero-based experience they can.
City of Heroes, Champions Online, DC Universe Online, and now Marvel Universe Online - each have their merits, and each their own unique twist on the genre, which will be the monarch of the genre? Time will tell.