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Marvel Heroes Hands-on Preview

Posted Fri, Mar 15, 2013 by Ethec

Diablo co-creator David Brevik and his league of superheroes at Gazillion are poised to deliver Marvel Heroes in the late spring. Ten Ton Hammer stopped by their San Mateo secret lair to see how the game is progressing.

Marvel Heroes is billed as an MMORPG, but the game plays more like a co-op action RPG with only the occasional touch of massively multiplayer. And that's not a bad thing - at the core of the fun of Marvel Heroes is deep characters and a rich slate of storylines - both elements hard to find in the average MMO or action RPG.

Take the characters. Players get a surprising variety of playable characters, from the massively motion-pictured (Spiderman, Ironman, most of the X-Men cast like Storm, Wolverine, Cyclops, etc.) to the relatively unknown (Deadpool, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, and more). Each gets an outstandingly familiar or believable voiceover workup, supplemented by layered motion comics that tell story at key moments throughout the game's 8 chapters.

Each chapter rolls through a distinct but connected story arc that in the words of Marvel Heroes story lead (and a paragon of Marvel writing) David Michael Bendis: "from the street level to the cosmic level."

And he literally meant street level. Our session began at around level 20 in chapter 4 at the Avenger Tower rising high above Manhattan, where the crimelord Kingpin keeps a mask in Fisk Tower that's a critical component of an object of incredible power (tm). Players fight through what David Bendik calls PCZs - public cooperative zones - in the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, battling large group encounters like Green Goblin and hordes of alien Mollite invaders in warehouses, subways, and the open streets along the way to Fisk Tower.

Marvel Heroes Hands-on Preview

Because I believe that healthy adamantine bones are the key to a long and productive life, I picked Wolverine out of the gate. Wolverine excels at health regeneration and melee AoE damage - those claws go right through the baddies - and that was perfect for cutting through swaths of henchmen in the Upper East Side. I followed a large pack of players to Green Goblin - not much of a challenge for our combined strength despite devastating gas AoE attacks and beam attacks - before gathering evidence against Kingpin in a warehouse group instance.

Wolverine got me into a little trouble at the start of the Upper West Side PCZ, as a lead from Det. Jean DeWolff regarding corruption in the local NYPD precinct had me facing off against Bullseye, whose one-shot instakill is destined to become nefarious among Marvel players. When he's lining up a shot, crosshairs appear on your character, and you have about 3 seconds to break line of sight - which puts a melee damage character in a pickle. Still, I hope Gazillion keeps Bullseye just as difficult, but I'd like to see the crosshair to fade when I break line of sight, or at least indicate what direction the attack is coming from. Getting bullseyed from off-screen is less than pleasant.

Marvel Heroes Hands-on Preview

Had I the foresight, Marvel Heroes allows players to choose which hero you want to play at any time outside of combat, so prior to the fight I could have called Hawkeye or Thor off the bench, provided they were properly leveled and equipped. Each character comes with a variety of voiceovers ranging from Ironman or Deadpool's comic quips to Punisher's vengeance fueled rage.

List of Playable Characters in the Preview Build
Black Panther Deadpool Scarlet Witch
Black Widow Hawkeye Spider Man
Captain America Hulk Storm
Colossus Iron Man Thing
Cyclops Ms. Marvel Thor
Daredevil Punisher Wolverine

Each character also has a great selection of costumes. My favorite for Wolverine was his Days of Future Past lumberjack outfit - complete with fleece lined leather jacket and pronounced lambchops - but other favorites included Spiderman's black-and-white Future Foundation outfit, Thor's Destroyer suit of armor, the Incredible Hulk's Mr. Fixit suit and hat.

Like any good villain, I didn't see the last of Bullseye once I defeated him atop the police precinct. After a compelling motion comic cutscene where the Detective tells us its time to take Kingpin down, we were off to the Fisk Tower for a showdown with Kingpin.

A harrowing run up the tower's henchmen-filled five floors later , we found that Kingpin called in some favors. Halfway through the fight we were joined by not just Bullseye, but the short range teleporting Electra too. The bottom line: despite Gazillion's intention to make instances scale dynamically to the size of groups, this wasn't a solo fight. It took myself and a colleague about 55 med packs and 9 deaths to win out. Still, I was grateful Gazillion taught me about Bullseye's antics earlier in the encounter.

Marvel Heroes Hands-on Preview

With Kingpin dispatched, I was off to the X-Men Mansion for the start of Chapter 5. I took some time to learn about itemization. First, loot you see is yours, and according the David, about 80% of the loot you get is custom for your character. Use the other 20% to deck out your other characters, sell, or (better yet) trade it in to level up your vendors. Levelled up vendors offer better items and craft better items from components you offer, and going this route allows you to unlock serious upgrades for your favorite characters.

Items roughly follow the traditional conventions (white equals common, green uncommon, purple rare, and yellow epic), and the best items offer single point upgrades to the Marvel-approved attributes (that is, durability, strength, fighting, speed, energy, and intelligence). That may not sound like much, but attribute points in MH are akin to stat points in old school pen-and-paper games. A single point in the right attribute can make almost a level's worth of difference.

One of Marvel Heroes' most brilliant systems is how items interact with powers. Lots of equipped items award ranks in your character's powers, which allows you to spend level-up points in other abilities If you plan well, you can make your character a lot more powerful than their level. On the flip side, respecs are costly, so items might be the microtransaction attracting secret sauce.

Marvel Heroes Hands-on Preview

The user interface is a nice surprise too. Large dials and numbers allow you to easily track the amount of health and spirit your character has left. Marvel Heroes does use the click-to-move interface common to action RPGs, though the ASDFGH keys are used for hotbar abilities. It's unclear whether or not you can remap these keys to, say, the number keys, but after five or so hours of Marvel Heroes, I have to say I like the A-H keys a little better.

All in all, I think players will come to Marvel Heroes for the "action RPG for free" aspect of the game, enjoy the deep dives Gazillion makes into the Marvel cast of characters and story, and stay for the complex co-op instances and boss fights. The game is primed for additional content and characters added in episodic fashion, and David Brevik hinted at PvP coming post-launch as well.

Our thanks to David Brevik and the many folks we met at Marvel Heroes Immersion Day, and look forward to longer beta session times as Marvel Heroes works its way toward a late spring launch.

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