House of M…MO
Marvel’s tried to make a splash in the MMO market for years now, but after a few false starts and some interesting moves from competitors—most notably the way DC Universe Online has found success as a free-to-play title—the comics giant has retooled their approach and decided to do something different with Marvel Heroes. Not only is the game launching as a free-to-play title right out of the gate, it’s also doing some novel things in the MMO space, forgoing many of the genre’s conventions for an experience that’s much closer to classic action-RPGs in the vein of Diablo. And before you go crying foul about yet another subpar clone, the man overseeing the project is none other than Blizzard alum David Brevik, who’s widely regarded as the single biggest creative force behind the first two Diablo games. It’s a legacy that shone through quite clearly when Ray and Josh went hands on with the game at New York Comic Con.
Josh Harmon, Associate Editor: Marvel Heroes is definitely the surprise of the show for me. Somehow I’d managed to go until now without ever having heard about it, and now it’s one of my most anticipated games. An action-RPG MMO featuring a huge cast of iconic Marvel superheroes and villains? Yes, please. Plus, it plays spectacularly well. Every character’s attacks and abilities seem to strike the perfect balance between staying true to the character and making an interesting contribution to gameplay, and I love being able to swap between them on the fly. It always struck me as such a chore the way most action-RPGs make you play through an entirely separate campaign in order to level up multiple characters. I love that Heroes will let me try out a new character without having to invest a ton of time, especially given the apparent size of the roster.
Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor: I whole-heartedly concur, Josh. With such a massive roster of heroes to pull from with Marvel, it was great to see that the early build we got to play allowed us to mix and match with eight all-time favorites right from the get go, with many more promised to be on the way. The Hulk, the Thing, Deadpool, Wolverine, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, and Storm were at our finger-tips, and I was thrilled that each time I switched. Each character played completely different from everyone else, even with what could have been obvious clones of each other in the Hulk and the Thing. And as a Diablo fan, it was easy to just jump right in and start smacking HYDRA goons, street thugs, and some classic Spider-Man villains in Green Goblin, Shocker, and Electro, as the control scheme is virtually identical.
Josh: It’s true. The game was about as close to Diablo as you can get, but if you’re going to make a Diablo clone, you might as well do it with David Brevik, right? It’s pretty clear that he’s treating this as the natural successor to Diablo II, so if something struck you as a bit off about the way Diablo III approached the franchise, you should definitely take a look at Heroes. There’s the same randomized loot system, the same ability bar, and the same point and click gameplay, but there are plenty of updates to the formula that have the potential to change things in a major way. As I already mentioned, there’s the ability to swap between characters, and your loot is automatically placed in a shared inventory—though equipping an item to that character means you can’t just swap it onto another. The biggest change, I think, is the addition of way more MMO elements. While there will still be some instanced content—”dungeons,” if you will—that’s limited to your party, there will also be combat zones that allow anyone in the area to participate. On your way to a given mission, you might team up with a bunch of strangers to take down a particularly nasty baddie who’s blocking the way, and in classic Diablo fashion, he’ll get more difficult to take down the more people that are involved. Way more difficult. I mean, you still haven’t let me forget all those times I died to Electro.
Ray: Dude, that was pretty sad. Electro is a B-list villain at best and he absolutely wrecked you. But yeah, the gameplay was great if you’re all about the pinnacle of dungeon crawling made all the better with the world’s greatest heroes. And I loved how the loot you picked up was specific to whatever character you were playing. I knew that when I was Hulk I was getting new purple pants all day and as Iron Man I was getting different armor pieces. Or, if you were lucky and got a rare costume item, you could change the look of your character altogether like with Hulk’s World War Hulk armor. It made it easy to just stick with one character if I wanted or evenly level up everyone so I had a wrecking crew of a roster that I could swap into various situations. The biggest difference, I think, that may make comic book fans scream for joy with this game though is the story. With an original script being written by Marvel’s main scribe, Brian Michael Bendis, and storylines that will touch upon major events like Secret Invasion, this is shaping up to immerse Marvel fans in the Earth-616 universe like never before.
Josh: Definitely. The really mind-boggling thing for me is the fact that this is all free-to-play—and not in the common, borderline shady ways. David Brevik assured us that the all content we saw would be accessible free of charge. We won’t have to pay to unlock heroes. We won’t have to pay to pass an arbitrary level cap. We won’t have to pay to progress beyond a certain point in the story. And, of course, there’s no up front purchase cost or monthly subscription fee. Seriously, I can’t wrap my brain around how they could possibly make money off of this, beyond selling cosmetic items. It’s actually pretty damn admirable. Not only are they shying away from the dangerous trap of pay-to-win, they’re also shying away from the standard free-to-play balance of time versus money, where content is accessible for free, but only if you’re willing to put in a ton of hours. Everything we heard from them was that this game is about as free as it gets—and while I’m excited that such a promising game will be accessible to a huge audience, I’m also equal parts curious and scared to see how it’ll stay viable in the long term. For now, though, I’m just going to hope everything works out for the best and get ready to live out my superhero fantasies online.