As a concept, the upcoming Marvel Heroes MMO is a dream come true for fans. The opportunity to run around as a Marvel superhero of my choice and explore the ENTIRE Marvel Universe? For hours on end? And for FREE? Where can I sign?
Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to gain access to the closed Beta version of this game, and wanted to share some insights for anyone eagerly awaiting the official June 4th launch date.
I have some very vague memories of visiting a childhood friend’s house almost entirely for the purposes of playing Captain America and The Avengers on Sega Genesis.
Marvel Heroes has done away with the side-scrolling and 16 bit tunes, but other than that, the core selling point isn’t all that different. You get to shoot arrows at bad guys with Hawkeye.
That sits just fine by me.
For anyone unfamiliar with an MMO, Marvel Heroes is in the style of Massive Multiplayer Online gaming.
What this means, is that unlike your standard single-player, first-person shooter (think Batman: Arkham City, Halo’s story mode, or most every game you know and love) you’ll be playing the game alongside hundreds and possibly thousands of other gamers, in a uniquely open universe.
As a result, in certain portions of the game, you will be able to view and fight alongside other players. If you coordinate things, they may include your friends, or they may be complete strangers who just happen to enjoy the same game as you.
A lot of times you will actually be reliant on fighting alongside these other gamers, usually when facing a particularly challenging boss in the open/multiplayer part of the World.
For example, in Marvel Heroes, you’ll encounter Venom wreaking havoc on the New Jersey docs, and need to take him down with the help of other players in the area looking to complete the same mission. The idea is that on your own, Venom would be far too powerful a villain.
Of course, the other facet of the MMO experience is that you can choose to fight Venom whenever it suits you. Each “Chapter” offers an open environment for you to explore and navigate at your own pace.
In Hell’s Kitchen for example, the second Chapter in Marvel Heroes, there’s a graveyard full of gangsters and HYDRA agents. You can spend hours taking down bad guys here, OR you could never even enter the graveyard.
An MMO also means that the game is fairly reliant on strong servers and internet performance. Unlike a third party console where you insert your own disc directly into your X-Box, Marvel Heroes operates completely online, through the power of game-developer Gazillion, or possibly Dr. Strange.
To a degree, this dictates the need for Beta-testing (the developers need to know their servers can handle a certain number of gamers all at once), as well as some of the inherent difficulties of a game like this. Simply put, a slow internet connection or older computer with limited RAM can severely diminish your ability to enjoy the game experience.
Ok, so with that very limited explanation of an MMO out of the way, we can get to the real question: How does Marvel Heroes hold up?
Marvel Heroes is a fun, action-packed romp through the Marvel Universe distinctly for fans of the Marvel Universe. The gameplay is very much in the classic X-Men Arcade style of smash-em-up/mash-em-up, with the graphics only ever attempting to provide enough visual to keep you SMASHING.
Marvel Heroes is NOT high art. In fact, it’s not even low art. It also isn’t really trying to be – there’s one goal here, and that’s to create a superbly addictive and entertaining rendering of the Marvel U.
Personally, I’ve had fun playing the game so far, but that’s largely predicated on a couple of elements:
1) I am predisposed to love this game. I’m a huge Marvel comics fan and a game that lets me take Rocket Raccoon through a Kingpin Warehouse is going to have be pretty darn flawed to get on my bad side.
2) I am playing this huge, open arcade game completely for FREE.
When combined, this essentially creates a scenario where I am playing a new installment of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance at no cost. And I loved the first two Ultimate Alliance games.
End of the day, Ultimate Alliance is the closest comparison I have to the actual gameplay of Marvel Heroes, adding in the experience of managing gear (armor, weaponry, various stat boosters) and attacks (you can align power points to different moves and attacks as you level up).
If you’ve played Ultimate Alliance, you know this is not a game based on strategy. You run heroes through Dr. Doom’s castle and you smash doombots. Smash, rinse your costume, repeat.
I could be wrong, but if immersion into the Marvel Universe isn’t at least mildly thrilling, Marvel Heroes won’t stand out as an MMO. This game is not a standout in terms of gameplay innovation or graphics.
Marvel Heroes is for Marvel fans. And as that, it’s kind of the perfect way to have the entire Marvel U in the palm of your hand.
DCU Online, DC Comic’s 2010 MMO, is the most likely comparison point for Marvel Heroes, as every move made by either competitor is held up to the mirror of the Big Two.
My quick-fire reaction is this: Upon launch, DCU Online featured much stronger animation and gameplay than the current state of the Marvel Heroes Beta. On the other hand, it did not match Marvel Heroes for:
2) Ability to bring to life the Marvel Universe
Are these both cop-outs to avoid saying DCU Online was clearly better? Yes and no.
On the one hand, when it first came out, DCU Online really allowed you to explore the cities of Gotham and Metropolis in a way that Marvel Heroes isn’t even attempting.
The animation and graphics of DCUO were a huge selling point, and were done VERY well. You could fly across the water and visit the entirety of Arkham Asylum, hop rooftop to rooftop across from Wayne Tower, or cruise by the Daily Planet on your way to the next mission.
So yes: in terms of immersing gamers into the DC Universe, DCUO was initially much stronger than Marvel Heroes.
The flipside to this is that Marvel Heroes is clearly not trying to replicate that kind of detailed video game animation. Since the game will be available to play for free from day one, this makes a TON of sense.
It really wouldn’t be reasonable to create graphics that exciting and then 1) Serve them up to HUGE amounts of gamers and 2) Not charge a thing for it!
The advantage to Marvel’s approach too, is that rather than featuring just two cities for you to explore in incredible detail, the Marvel Heroes game will take you from expansive location to expansive location.
You won’t get bored with Hell’s Kitchen, for example because you’ll quickly be able to move to the New Jersey docks to take down the Hood, and then to Madripoor to fight the Hand after you beat it.
And even if you beat all the Chapters available (I have not yet played long enough to determine how quickly this might happen), you can replay them with a wide variety of different Marvel heroes, attempting to level up and explore the potential of all your favorite Marvel characters.
In short, although I greatly enjoyed DCUO for months, I gave it up eventually as the game became overly focused on PVP elements. Essentially I hit a point where I couldn’t really continue playing casually because casual play didn’t generate enough rewards to continue on to the hardest levels.
I’m very optimistic that Marvel Heroes will be more egalitarian in its offerings. To its credit, Marvel Heroes isn’t trying to be DCUO, either. This is a very different game, one that will remain far more accessible to a wide range of gamers, despite the similar MMO label.
In so many ways, the modern Marvel Universe starts with Brian Michael Bendis’s New Avengers: Breakout and we’ve seen that used as a starting point in shows like Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Well, they’re starting with a supervillain breakout on The Raft here, too, and now it’s up to the Avengers and Marvel superheroes to sort out the mess.
Better yet, the story doesn’t stop at the breakout, as we quickly learn in a cutscene that the HYDRA coordinated attack was in league with none other than Dr. Doom. His motives will become clearer as the game proceeds, but for the time being, just knowing a Dr. Doom scheme is at the heart of Marvel Heroes sets the game up for greatness.
These are fun animated motion comics for Marvel fans, but don’t expect any displays of digital animation greatness, at least at this point. Nonetheless, the cut scenes get the job done and the voice acting for each hero is, so far, pretty spot on.
As I’ve alluded to, playing Marvel Heroes is about as basic a command system as you could possibly create.
You click to move your character to an area. You click the same spot on the mouse to attack an enemy you’ve moused over. You right-click the mouse to do a different physical attack.
As you level up your character, you’ll be able to purchase new abilities and assign those attacks to hot keys on the keyboard. With Hawkeye, I quickly gained taster and freeze arrows, and eventually worked my way up to double arrows with vibranium tips.
The character enhancements are a lot of fun and definitely give the gameplay more nuance as you’re able to decide if you want to freeze the attacking A.I.M robot, taser the two oncoming henchmen, and do a quick getaway roll to escape and stun the encroaching demolitions specialist.
As you’d expect, the major downside to such a simple control system is that duplicating one action for multiple items leads to a lot of screw ups. The biggest one I keep facing is a desire to shoot an arrow at an enemy, only to start running towards them because I missed the target and executed a ‘move’ command. With Hawkeye, this is particularly annoying because as a character I’d rather keep my distance and fire away. Instead I wind up running into hordes of Maggia crimelords like a genuine nut.
Tips That Make Playing More Fun
As a few readers have pointed out, you can hold down the shift key when your characters fires a long range attack. This will keep you from mistakenly running into a combat zone and quickly finding that Rocket Raccoon does not take well to close combat.
You can also hold down the mouse to move your character and continue moving without needing to click over and over.
Finally – One of my main issues with an open-ended game like this is that it’s hard to know when you can just stop playing. Weird concern, I know, but I like obvious stopping points, completed missions, save spots, etc. Well, with Marvel Heroes you can create this for yourself by clicking the ‘bodyslide’ icon in the top right corner above the map. Not only do you get to pretend to be Cable for a minute, but you’ll quickly transport to Avengers Tower and can finally take a minute to grab that burrito you’ve been craving.
There are essentially two elements to each Chapter of Marvel Heroes.
On one hand, there’s the external, MMO portion of the world. This is where you’ll start each Chapter, running out into the fray alongside all the other heroes that have decided to put an end to Doom this day.
The open-ended portions of the world are vast enough to give you more than enough to do.
Actually, they’re a little too busy. There’s almost no resting in this part of the game as enemy agents are always at the ready, and perpetually respawning. If you’re in the open environment, you had better be prepared to fight, and fight some more, and then maybe for a change of pace you could fight.
Fortunately, each Chapter also contains one-player episodes (think the Dungeons of DCUO), which are self-contained missions with a beginning and an end.
These levels are where you’ll find the primary chapter bosses, but you’ll also find bonus dungeons full of everything from A.I.M. robotics initiatives to Maggia crime hideouts.
Personally, I much prefer the single-player levels just because of the ability to actually complete the challenge. When you defeat an enemy in these they do not respawn, which is a good call by Marvel Heroes. The other nice call to allow continued gameplay? When you lose to a boss, you continue from the exact spot you left out, with all the minions cleared out from before and with the boss still at the reduced health level you left him.
This helped me immensely fighting the Hood. I’m fairly certain that if I had to beat him in one shot, I’d still be stuck there, and if I had to go through the minions all over again, I’d get that bored, repetitive feeling gamers know and dread.
Personally, I’m excited about what I’ve seen of Marvel Heroes and look forward to continuing to play in the future.
I’ll admit that I’m also the main audience for this game. I’m not sure it will impress serious gamers or hold up to much critical analysis, but for the price of a Slurpee on 7/11, this much superhero action is hard to beat.
Your own best bet for access to the close beta is to register an account with Marvel Heroes.