Marvel Heroes Hands-on Preview -- A True Believer's PlaygroundBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Oct 18, 2012
I'm going to sell you on Marvel Heroes right now: it's basically an MMMUA, or massively multiplayer Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Only instead of Vicarious Visions honoring the legacy of David Brevik's work on Diablo and Diablo 2, you have Brevik himself delivering a loot-filled action-RPG with massively multiplayer components. And it's all free to play.
That's all I needed to know to be convinced, and that was before I even spent a half-hour playing through the early game. Marvel Heroes features a story penned by Marvel Comics' own Brian Michael Bendis. It seems that the Cosmic Cube has fallen into the hands of Doctor Doom and terrible things are happening as a result.
The game's introductory mission sends players off to The Raft, Marvel's max-security prison for super-villains, where a breakout is underway. S.H.I.E.L.D. forces are on the scene to contain things, but many captives have slipped away while others continue to roam the halls of the facility. You're tasked with helping to keep things from spilling over any further, which mostly involves putting the Green Goblin back in his cell.
It immediately becomes clear during this first quest that Marvel Heroes isn't just sticking to the mainstream, or even to just the comics canon necessarily. Alongside deep-cut references to the likes of The Living Laser you also have modern-day fan-favorites, like the one and only Agent Coulson popping up.
The play is pretty much what you'd expect if you're familiar with Ultimate Alliance (or any lootfests inspired by Diablo, really). You're pointing and clicking on where you want to go, using the left and right mouse buttons to attack your targets, and tapping a row of keys on the keyboard to access additional combat and support abilities, as well as healing items.
There are chests to open, loot spilling out of downed enemies (yes, you can hold the ALT key down to highlight all pick-ups on the screen), and quest locations to interact with. Your list of quest objectives appear on the right side of the screen, and each one is marked off as you complete it. Level up icons appear in the same location as well; click it to access your skill tree, allowing you to further power up your superhero.
Marvel Heroes sticks loosely to the established canon, so you won't ever get to a point where you see Wolverine shooting fireballs or fight alongside a Hulk with heat vision. That's the other cool thing about Marvel Heroes: while it's an MMORPG at the core, you're picking and choosing your avatars from an established roster of Marvel favorites. Deadpool, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Hulk, Scarlet Witch, and more were all included in my hands-on demo, but expect a considerably larger final roster.
The skill tree is pretty straightforward to look at, but it offers a lot of flexibility. You might enjoy focusing on building up Deadpool's sword skills, but you can just as easily spend your points on his ranged attacks. In most cases, individual skills can be improved over time by spending multiple points on them.
Then there's the loot. Once again, it's pretty much what you'd expect. You'll pick up color-coded buffs (to denote rarity) for your various body parts as well as stat-boosting medals each time you take down a notable villain. It's MMO mechanics all the way here with items being bound to your character once they're equipped. Marvel Heroes actually allows you to switch between your unlocked heroes at any time with the press of a button, provided you're not in combat, but bound items are hero-specific rather than profile-specific.
There are three basic environments that developer Gazillion Entertainment is talking about right now. Private instances are the most M:UA-like; these are quest-specific locations such as The Raft. In a cool twist, these maps are always laid out randomly, so you'll never be playing the same exact mission twice. You can bring a group of friends along with you on these outings, but you won't have to worry about brushing up against the wide world of Marvel Heroes players.
That's more a concern for public instances, larger group-oriented locations like New York City's Hell's Kitchen. There's no PvP in this space, with the focus instead on group PvE. You'll encounter standard fare grunt enemies that are soloed easily enough, but you'll also encounter the occasional super-villain.
Electro is one such villain, running free in Hell's Kitchen and supercharged for some unknown reason. He's more than a match for any single hero in the early levels; the idea is that multiple players will come across him and take him on together as a sort of dynamically spawning boss encounter. Fortunately, loot drops in public instances (and chest spawns as well) are unique to each player, so stealing won't become an issue.
There are also neutral towns, which are combat-free zones designed for resource gathering and socializing. I didn't get to see one of these myself, but again, it's pretty self-explanatory stuff for those versed in the particulars of this sort of action-RPG.
The gameplay is all nice and familiar, but what really stands out in Marvel Heroes is the look. The Unreal-powered free-to-play game might easily be mistaken for a full-priced release. Gazillion is still working out how microtransactions will work, though having to pay for new heroes beyond a stock selection and additional hero-specific costumes (cosmetic only) at the very least seems like a safe bet.
Those who were hoping to one day see Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3 might as well kiss those hopes goodbye. Marvel Heroes seems to fit that bill in every conceivable way, and you won't have to spend a penny to play it. There's no release date nailed down just yet for the game, but it must be getting close with Gazillion having recently launched the closed beta. You can still sign up for that by heading to the official Marvel Heroes website.