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Hands-on with Marvel Heroes

Emil Vazquez

Earlier this week, Gazillion Entertainment invited the press to participate in a hands-on demo of its upcoming MMO, Marvel Heroes. Massively sent freelancer Emil Vazquez to try the game out and tell us what he thought.

I went into the Marvel Heroes demo fully expecting the game to reflect the design influence of David Brevik, the esteemed co-founder of Blizzard North (of Diablo and Diablo II fame) and now Gazillion's president. In that, I wasn't disappointed.

Though the game proudly touts a stable of MMO buzzwords -- grouping, instances, shared worlds -- it's easy to see Marvel Heroes as a sort of spiritual successor to Diablo, and Brevik's influence shines through. It might be massively multiplayer, but it's a loot-based brawler at heart. And it's going to be free-to-play.

The game's pedigree isn't the only thing worthy of note. Marvel Heroes is the first iteration of Gazillion's new 10-year contract with Marvel, which hands the studio the rights to a potentially staggering number of characters from the extensive Marvel mythos. Though some players might be disappointed that the ability to create their own heroes has been entirely passed over in favor of the chance to play as existing Marvel characters, it's likely that the IP will allow for an almost unlimited selection of mutants, misfits, Norse gods, and cocky inventors. Additionally, Gazillion intends to patch in new characters and skins on a regular basis post-launch, a la League of Legends.

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There were only a few characters for us to choose from during the short demo. I chose to play as Wolverine from a roster that also included Iron Man, the Hulk, and Scarlet Witch. Upon loading the game, I noticed that our party of press demo superheroes consisted of one Iron Man and two Wolverines. This set off some alarms for me (I'm the sort who will spend hours at the character creation screen and then scrap all of my work just to start over), but I took it as a personal challenge: I would be the best, baddest Wolverine ever... for the duration of the 15-minute demo. Clad in traditional black-and-yellow X-Men spandex, I scuttled around Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters using an interface highly reminiscent of the latest installment in the Diablo series (the one that lacked the Brevik touch).

The demo followed a linear path. Our motley crew of Logan clones plus Tony Stark began by speaking with Professor X (not voiced by Patrick Stewart, but it was a decent impression), who sent us off to slaughter anti-mutant extremists. Story scenes unfolded in a "motion comics" format. I found it appealing, and it drew me into the story as much as any CGI cutscene might have. Though the dialogue can seem over-the-top at times (it is a superhero MMO, after all), the writing seemed solid enough; as the story is penned by Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, it seems safe to say that the story will at least remain consistent with Marvel canon. We also killed a Sentinel along the way without much trouble before rescuing the ever-bigoted William Stryker from Magneto (this last scene left me wishing for faction-based gameplay -- I admit, I wanted to defect to the Brotherhood of Mutants).

Marvel Heroes something
The real draw of the game, though, is the actual gameplay. As someone who's played through the Diablo trilogy countless times, I would say that the closest analogue to Marvel Heroes' gameplay would be Diablo II (but with Diablo III's action bars). You slice, leap, and laser your way through masses of loot-piñata mobs, dodging attacks and ultimately relying more on your twitch reflexes than piles of stats to keep you from harm.

That said, gear is an interesting beast in Marvel Heroes. There's no auction house; everything you get will be something you loot or something another player sells to you directly. Additionally, new powers can drop off of mobs, supplementing your character's array of attacks acquired via the normal leveling path. As in Diablo III, you can have only four abilities slotted at a time (plus left- and right-click bindings). All in all, the gameplay is standard Diablo/Torchlight fare, but with superheroes -- certainly not a bad thing. Brevik even admitted as much.

"It's a Diablo-like game," Brevik told us during the demo. "We're taking a Diablo-like game and making it into an MMO."

But just how MMO is Marvel Heroes? It plays like Diablo, but instanced content does not a world make. Brevik clearly felt the same way.

"Diablo games have been very insular [in the past]," said Brevik. "There's been a strong hub and spoke model."
This looks like it won't be the case in Marvel Heroes. A series of central non-instanced hubs are planned for the game (think capital cities), with public zones allowing for swarms of players to cooperate on common goals. Instanced content exists as well and is completely randomly generated along with the public zones, which turns out to be another nod to everyone's favorite demon-slaying series.

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The game's most creative feature is the ability to swap out heroes on the fly. You'll start off with one hero and work to unlock more (no word yet as to how, though I smell a cash shop with an in-game currency option; again, think League of Legends). From there, you can change out your heroes in-game. You'll have to level the characters separately, however, and each character is slated to have a plethora of paths in terms of abilities and builds; someone's ranged DPS Iron Man may be completely different from a mobile skirmisher Iron Man (these builds are complete speculation on my part).

"It's the same kind of mentality as Diablo," Brevik continued. "It's like how you could have a bow Amazon or a spear Amazon in Diablo II."

It's a nice idea to have a stable of characters to choose from, and it should go a long way toward ensuring that players can feel like unique super-powered snowflakes. Additionally, it was clear from the demo (and from the developers) that any sort of holy-trinity model was not planned for the game; you won't have to keep a geared and leveled healer or tank hero in your roster.

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Some topics were off-limits for discussion. PvP plans and any real cash shop details were under lock and key, but the game as it stands just looks good. As I said before, I thrive on personal customization, and the idea of having to play as preset characters was initially troublesome for me. Yet the sheer variety of options, both visually and gameplay wise, did a lot to assuage my fears. Some might call it a superhero-skinned Diablo clone with a few bits of MMO glued on. While that might be true, there's also nothing inherently wrong with that.

Marvel Heroes will be playable at San Diego Comic-Con. As of press time, there is no release date. An open beta is planned, but it is also as-yet undated.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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