Like many others, I was initially skeptical when Marvel Heroes was announced. There had already been a Marvel MMORPG in the works before then, Marvel Universe Online, by Cryptic Studios, which I remember looking forward to. This time around, the idea was to have everyone, instead of playing a custom character, play some of Marvel’s greatest known and more obscure characters. Immediately, thoughts of multiple incarnations of Spider-man running around just sounded rather silly. And then I played it.
Let’s rewind for a moment though. I had the opportunity to check out Marvel Heroes at New York Comic Con. This was post-panel, where they had announced three more characters (for a total of around 26 announced) and costumes. The developers readily admit that this game is like the older sibling to Gazillion’s other Marvel MMO – Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. Both games are similarly chock full of characters that you can play and built in Unreal 3. While Marvel super Hero Squad Online is targeted at children, this story and game are targeted at everyone. David Brevik, who is obviously most known for his role in the Diablo series, has definitely brought his knowledge and experience over to his work with Gazillion and its development arm, Secret Identity Studios.
I was able to sit down and play through a tutorial level, known as The Raft, and a couple of story missions. To give the game a proper try, I used three different characters during my playtime – Iron Man, Deadpool, and Storm. Storm, in fact, had just had her new Mohawk Storm costume announced at the game’s panel just before I tried it out, and I did get to unlock that one for play during the story missions.
Let me get this out of the way – the game is fun. Oh, there’s definitely obvious influence from other games such as Marvel Ultimate Alliance and of course, Diablo, but it goes a little beyond that in incorporating much from the Marvel Universe and a brand new story from Brian Michael Bendis. They are indeed launching a new story unique to the game that will center on Doctor Doom and the Cosmic Cube. Gameplay involves moving with the mouse and right or left clicking to use primary attacks, but there are also several skills you level up and unlock that you can slot in your skill bar however you’d like and activate with the keyboard.
Though you won’t have to be completely familiar with the characters and plots before you play the game. It does help, of course, but the tutorials and characterization should be easy enough to pick up. Each character will be voiced and offer comments while you play them. Deadpool was especially fun for this. Of course, if you are familiar with the various Marvel characters it’s only that much cooler when a character shows up to meet you.
One aspect that initially bothered me was the fact that you play as pre-made characters. But the thing that changed my mind was the fact you have the ability to change to any other character at the press of a button. It’s not the traditional custom character, but the game doesn’t have a traditional class system, so giving you access to all these characters that play differently serves to scratch the itch of variety. Deep customization is still a selling point in an MMO for me, but I can appreciate the value here. The ability to unlock new costumes from various story arcs, TV shows, and movies, will hopefully keep your Storm looking differently than my Storm. There is a crafting system where you can use resource drops and other items to create costume pieces, some of which are only available this way. You’ll be able to unlock patterns and components drop as loot that can be used to add stats to costumes. Sometimes bosses or other tough enemies will drop entire full costumes. Costumes range from classic to modern and everything in between.
So, what about the MMO features? This game features both open public areas and instances. Parties may group easily. If someone invites you to a party, a little waypoint portal will open up next to you. The game has persistence for each player and there will be both an endgame and PvP component, both of which haven’t yet been revealed. Difficulty scales depending on the number of people in a party and there are both instanced missions and quests as well as a public quest system. There are towns, which are not instanced, as well as social areas for players. The instanced portions are straightforward. Grab your friends and head out into the game’s content. But the public quest system and public zones are almost more notable.
Public zones are randomized and reset every so often. This is intended to make the game more replayable and to provide some challenge as well as a bit of exploration. I’m an explorer, so that was a bonus to me. You can explore and stumble onto quests and other elements (known as “Discoveries”) during missions as well, but in public zones, these elements will shift locations. So if you found and defeated a great boss yesterday, today if you log on, he’ll be in a completely different area. Same with bonuses and other goodies you might stumble upon. You’ll have to find it every time.
In essence, Marvel Heroes is coming along pretty well. For the serious, hardcore MMO players that demand deep customization and the existence of a living, breathing world, this might not be the game for you. But for many players, the game will offer some fun times with great characters. Fun is a huge key here since we’ve seen several of these components before. They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but they don’t have to. There are little touches like the ability to pick up, throw, and destroy items, as well as the ragdoll physics that help enhance the comic book feel. The game has just entered closed beta, so there’s still much left to be revealed, but from my limited time with the game, I’d say Marvel Heroes is onto something.