Fans at New York Comic Con had one of the first opportunities to test drive Gazillion Entertainment's free-to-play "Marvel Heroes," a massively multiplayer online action role playing game written by Brian Michael Bendis and developed by "Diablo" and "Diablo II" mastermind David Brevik. Brevik took CBR News on a guided tour of the game's features, providing a hands-on demonstration of the early stages, explaining how "Marvel Heroes" differs from other action/MMOs and superhero games.
"The story is loosely based in the 616 universe, but we're going to pay homage to a lot of classic stories comic book fans will really love and recognize," Brevik said of Bendis' story, which sees Doctor Doom gaining control of the Cosmic Cube. "We have lots of great villains in the game, including some obscure ones like Living Laser, to Green Goblin, Madame Hydra and Electro. We have Shocker in this demo, Doctor Doom is the overall villain, we've got Magneto -- we showed him off in the last demo at Comic-Con International in San Diego. There's a large variety of characters and villains."
A player's first task in starting the game is choosing a hero, though the game also allows players to switch on the fly. At NYCC, the choices were Deadpool, Hulk, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Thing and Wolverine. Though not included in this build, Gazillion announced Nova, Luke Cage and Jean Grey would be playable at launch. In total, Brevik said there are upwards of twenty playable characters, but some will be locked until players complete certain tasks.
Starting with Ms. Marvel, Brevik and his team walked CBR News through some of the game's features, as Carol Danvers punched and blasted her way through Hydra soldiers infiltrating the Raft, a prison designed for supervillains. "Ms. Marvel has a roundhouse kick, punch and a shooting power. So she's a combination of melee and ranged combat," Brevik said. "A lot of the characters play very, very differently from each other, depending on their powers."
After reaching a few computer terminals to restore power -- and witnessing a Venom symbiote escape along the way -- we reach our first mini-boss fight, Living Laser. "With Laser being the first boss, he's very gentle," Brevik said, laughing. Ms. Marvel's flight power proved useful in avoiding Living Laser's blast patterns, and Brevik noted unlike in many MMOs, flight can be fully controlled rather than just having the character jump and hover. "You can't do anything while you're flying. Flight is a power in and of itself so it takes up a slot. You can't attack while you're flying, but you can fly over things and not get attacked," he explained.
The Raft is what Brevik described as a "tutorial area," allowing players to get a feel for the game's controls and features. It's also an "instance area," or private level for only the player and his or her party (though the Raft is single player only), serving to advance the story. Other types of areas are public zones, which Brevik said are "safe areas" where hundreds of players can gather to "chat and trade -- the kind of things you can do in a regular MMO." There are also public combat zones "where you could have 25-50 people all running around the same area fighting together, but they're not in a party together, they're just in the same area fighting," Brevik said. "There are group activities to do in these areas. We have quests. The one we're demoing on the show floor has Electro coming down and ten superheroes are all going to town on him. Lots of stuff is going on on the screen with some really great fights."
Because the hands-on demo was not linked to the games played on the show floor, Brevik encouraged running from Electro in the public combat area. "You'd need twelve heroes to take him down," he said.
We did, however, take down the Green Goblin on the Raft, using Storm. As Goblin's pumpkin bombs explode, they create smoldering, toxic craters all over the ground, which Ororo can helpfully fly over. "Stay out of the poison," Brevik said. "Number one rule of video games, stay out of the fire/poison." In the tussle, though, Storm's cape caught fire briefly, which looked pretty intense. "Yeah, things like that can happen. You can catch fire, the enemies can catch fire. It's pretty fun."
Fans of the "Diablo" franchise, for which Brevik developed the first two games, will be immediately at home with the controls of "Marvel Heroes," which consist largely of directing the hero with the mouse and pointing at enemies to attack. For those new to the genre, it's still easy enough to pick up and play, though aiming can take some getting used to, especially for sweeping moves like Wolverine's dash attack. The move takes Wolverine halfway across the screen, slicing through any enemies unfortunate enough to be in his path -- it's fun using the dash over and over, watching Logan jump merrily about the arena. The powers feel appropriate to the characters -- Hulk's jump leaves a crater in his wake, obliterating nearby foes, which definitely feels like a "Hulk Smash" moment.
Because fans play as the Marvel characters rather than rolling their own heroes, the public combat areas may indeed feature multiple versions of the same character running around. Brevik said that both the ability to switch characters on the fly and the ability to equip "lots and lots of costumes" means this shouldn't be cause for concern. "Your Iron Man won't necessarily look like everybody else's Iron Man. Additionally, with the drops you receive in the game, your Iron Man will be statistically different from another's Iron Man, as players control leveling up in the RPG sections. They'll look different, they'll play different and they might have different things they do. Players can switch their character at any time; if you think, hey, that's too many Iron Men for my taste, I'm going to play as Storm, you can. Or, you can make a guild called "The Bubs" and run around as a pack of Wolverines -- we're allowing players to do that too."
Brevik told CBR his team went through seven item systems before settling on the current features, as they were looking for something that would make sense in the context of the game and create a rewarding experience for players. He said item drops didn't necessarily make sense in fantasy games either -- "Why was that bat carrying a halberd? It doesn't even have pockets!" -- but for the Marvel heroes it was especially important to think of the story. A lot of drops, then, are costume-based, and users can build new looks for their heroes once they've collected all the pieces of a suit. "There's a costume slot and a costume crafting game associated with it. The look appears in your costume closet, and once you have memorized the pattern you will have that look in your closet forever," Brevik said. "You can apply the stats from the random item drops, called a core, and then you combine the core to create a costume that has stats. Then you don that. So you determine your look, basically, and it can come from anything that's in your closet."
There will also be microtransactions, Brevik said, though at this point he couldn't say what will be sold through the game. Something of note is players can complete the entire game without spending money. "Rest assured it will not be 'pay for power' or anything like that -- there are no artificial barriers, just lots of stuff to enhance your experience.
"Here's an action MMO where you can play as the Marvel heroes, and the kicker is we're giving it all away for free," Brevik said. "We're really excited about that -- you can play through the entire thing for free."
"Marvel Heroes" is currently in closed beta. Fans can register for a chance to join the beta or to be notified when the game is released.