We go hands-on with Marvel Heroes, the upcoming free-to-play action MMORPG from the mind of Diablo creator, David Brevik. Will we be playing with power, or paying for power?
It’s the classic playground scenario: the new Spider-Man film has just been released at the cinema and you’re playing superheroes versus supervillains, and two of your friends want to play as Spider-Man. They bicker. They argue. They do that silly childish interpretation of a fight where they just end up flailing at each other for thirty seconds, before one runs off to tell teacher – game ruined.
Imagine a similar scenario, but online. How much more frustrating would that be if everyone wanted to play as the same hero? It would be like the League of Legends patch day, every day – the folks with the quickest internet and quickest hands grabbing whatever hero was the flavour of month.
But Marvel Heroes doesn’t like that idea. Instead, it takes the Oprah Winfrey approach: “You can be Spider-Man!” It shouts. “And you! And you! And you! Everyone can be Spider-Man!” The cheers can be heard across the globe as everyone hurriedly logs in to play as the webslinger, binding foes, swinging across the city and firing off snarky one-liners.
But what’s this? A new Iron Man 3 trailer? Iron Man is awesome – I want to be Iron Man! “And you can,” says Marvel Heroes. A quick button press and now you are Tony Stark, blasting away at goons and inter-dimensional space alien things. No bickering. No arguments. Just jump right in and start saving the world.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games will already have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to play Marvel Heroes – just imagine its light, action RPG formula transferred into a massively multiplayer world and bolstered by far more clicking. You choose your superhero, team up with a few pals and lay the smackdown on any and all bad guys that cross your path.
Marvel Heroes may be an MMO, but it takes a more linear path. Rather than make the story a background element, here it is placed front and centre, complete with motion comic cut scenes to flesh out individual chapters. From your base at The Avenger’s Tower – before moving on to Professor X’s mansion later in the game – you’ll be able to find all the expected shops, crafting stations and quest givers, and then head off to famous locations from the Marvel universe in your attempt to stop Dr. Doom.
Sadly, some areas feel a little devoid of any life, whereas others are so chock full of mobs that getting anywhere is a chore. Although, on a more populated server, perhaps these issues will not be as pronounced. There’s lots to do along the way, though, including region-wide public quests that task you with pushing back invading enemy forces or taking down a powerful supervillain.
Combat is spectacularly flashy and pacey with all sorts of different hero powers and abilities sparking off at once, but some tweaking could still be done to the ability trees. Currently they feel a bit skeletal and limited in choice – it’s more a case of deciding when you want to unlock skills rather having the option to specialise in different areas or particular paths. You’ll tend to find one or two skills that work better than the dozen or so you can choose between so you’ll pump all your skills points into them and forgo the rest.
Iron Man, for example, has a particularly satisfying set of rapid firing lasers and hugely damaging charged up attack that work so well together most of his other moves become redundant – especially the homing missiles that seem more interested flying off after unthreatening barrels or crates rather than the thugs beating on you.
Similarly, the majority of Hawkeye’s abilities are simply different elemental variations of his bow attacks. They definitely have their uses – lightning arrows chain damage between groups of small enemies, ice arrows slow large foes charging towards you and fire arrows explode (and there’s nothing wrong with a good explosion) – but they do feel a little uninspiring.
That said, Marvel Heroes can still be a good laugh. Its combat is not particularly deep – outside of a few interesting mechanics during boss battles – but there’s something terrific about playing Iron Man, flying alongside Thor, and seeing The Hulk hurtle through enemies below. It’s a free-to-play action MMORPG that offers all the loot, questing and dungeon exploration you would expect – and it does all of this without trying to force you to part with your cash too.
Marvel Heroes, from Marvel and Gazillion Entertainment, is currently in closed beta. A release date has yet to be announced.