First Impressions: Make mine Marvel Heroes!

First Impressions Make mine Marvel Heroes
Sometimes it's best to meet a game at its level instead of trying to project wishes and dreams on it. That's the attitude I tried to take while giving Marvel Heroes a test drive. Instead of thinking of it as a superhero MMO in the vein of, say, DC Universe Online (blasphemy for them Marvel chumps, I know), I recognized what it was trying to be almost instantly: a superhero-flavored Diablo.

And you know what? That's what it is. Whether that's a horrible, shirt-rending event or something that sounds like a cool mix is up to you. Personally, I like the idea of dealing with the massive Marvel cast directly instead of creating lame clones, especially since there are added layers of costume and build varieties on top of that. And I especially liked the notion of just jumping into a game without all of the typical MMO complexity and just pew-pewing with Iron Man.

So for better or worse, here are my thoughts as I spent a couple of nights with Marvel Heroes taking a few characters through the prologue and chapter one.

The concept

So the idea behind the game is straightforward: You jump into the skin of one of many, many Marvel superheroes and then go to town on baddies in a 3-D isometric format. You give your mouse a workout, occasionally fire off special attacks, and pick up gobs of loot. Special attacks take Spirit, which slowly builds up over time, so you have to balance those with your free default attack. There looks to be some light crafting (especially for costume variants) as well, but I didn't get into that.

You begin the game by picking one of a handful of characters and then can either pick up or buy additional ones later. All of these collected heroes go into your roster, which allows you to switch between them on the go. While you have a shared inventory, each hero has his, her, or its own independent levels, so the more heroes you want to actively use, the more time you're going to have to invest in leveling each of them up.

Each level gives you a skill point to invest into a really skimpy talent tree. Each character has three trees, but there are only a handful of talents (and several ranks per talent) in each tree.

Because it's Marvel, there are a lot of fanservice and comic book callouts on display. In the first stage alone, I got a glimpse of Venom, met up with S.H.I.E.L.D., and had to fight the Green Goblin one-on-one. Each character is capable of grunting out a few catchphrases and limited conversations with other NPCs and heroes as well.

Punishing

At character creation, I selected the Punisher. I did this because I either didn't know the other superheroes or thought they were pretty lame. Frank Castle is never lame, except for that one time that he appeared in Archie Comics. True story.

The Punisher's default (and Spirit-free attack) is a powerful single shot with his rifle. That was fine, although I found that I'd have to click directly on an enemy to hit it instead of just tab-targeting or aiming in a direction. Using his first special attack was a lot easier, since that transformed him into a double machine-gun-firing lunatic. Then I only had to choose directions.

Most of the mobs in the first couple of levels were pretty weak, just humans with guns or suicidal fists. It felt good mowing through them, I won't lie, and the loot acquisition is just as addicting as it is in the Diablo games. There isn't a ton of strategy for these lowbie mobs, and any form of superhero travel or movement was absent as far as I could see.

Before long, the Punisher leveled up, and I got access to a shotgun and a -- why not -- bazooka. The bazooka was pretty dang fun to use, although it felt weak when it didn't one-shot standard mobs.

I did jump into the game store to pick up a few additional heroes and spent a little bit of time fiddling around with the Hulk, Iron Man, and the Black Panther. Iron Man was perhaps the most fun, especially with his long-range attacks and nifty shield. The Hulk was just horrible as a level 1 fighter thrown into a level 3+ area; he really needed to be taken back to the prologue to XP grind. Seeing a standard mob take a dozen blows from his huge fists without dying was immersion-breaking, to say the least.

Pros

As it stands somewhere in closed beta, Marvel Heroes handles pretty smoothly. It's quite responsive, it's detailed and colorful, and it never allows walls and buildings to obscure your vision. The UI is minimal, unobtrusive, and fairly easy to figure out. There's a lot of fun action to be had, and I liked that I could explode or toss cars and the like in addition to enemies.

And while it may be a love-it-or-hate-it angle, I kind of dig the way the game encourages you to collect and customize the famous Marvel heroes roster. Right off the bat, I felt as if there was a ton of replay value lurking there, and I really wanted to try (and dress up) every single character.

Marvel Heroes definitely feels like a 15-minute MMO in that it's ideal for bite-sized chunks of gaming. Sometimes we need games like that to break up the time-heavy demands of standard MMOs. Here I could just get in, kick the crap out of bad guys, and get out without feeling as if I wasted a login session.

Cons

While I admit that my time was limited and the game is still in development, I did leave with a lot of questions. I have no idea how linear Marvel Heroes is, where players will congregate and interact, how to access a bigger map of the world, whether there were waypoints on the map, or how to go about crafting. I couldn't find an options screen, although that may be disabled for the time being.

Probably the most annoying factor was the isometric perspective. It's decent for what it is, but sometimes you really want to see past the edges of the screen and can't without moving there. It felt a little claustrophobic at times, especially in the bigger areas. This problem is compounded by the fact that waves of mobs keep streaming in from the sides, so even after you clear an area, you can't trust the game to move back there without hitting more opposition. It would be nice to have seen where a safe zone existed, particularly when my heroes were in trouble and needed a breather.

I'm also pretty underwhelmed by the talent trees. Really, with as few options as each character has, all of the talents should just be on one screen and the devs should call it a day after that.

Final thoughts

When Marvel Heroes comes out, I'm pretty sure it'll have a place on my desktop. It's not as robust a superhero MMO as some might want, but for what it is, it's pretty satisfying. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and it gives a lot of action without much fuss. This type of MMO might well tap into the mindset of action figure collectors who always had to "catch 'em all," and it could possibly soothe the souls of alt-happy gamers.

Eliot Lefebvre

This article was originally published on Massively.