Field Report: Marvel Heroes

Marvel Heroes has landed with a slew of expectations. Beyond carrying the Hulk-sized weight of being the first major MMO based on the Marvel license, it's also being followed closely by many Diablo fans, because of David Brevik's close involvement in the project. Marvel Heroes doesn't quite come off as a completely superheroic experience, but its engaging story and satisfying combat system does make it worth assembling for. focalbox The story starts off grimly and theatrically. A-list supervillain and all-around badass, Doctor Doom, has commandeered a Cosmic Cube, one of the universe's most powerful weapons. The Cube has made him so powerful that it drew Uatu the Watcher to break his longtime oath of noninterference into action, where he was promptly stomped down by the all-powerful Latverian monarch. To stop Doom from taking over all of reality as we know it, the world needs a hero. Fortunately, as I noticed, there are quite a few of them floating around. After suiting up as master archer Hawkeye, it didn't take long for me to notice one of Marvel Heroes' first flaws. I landed in the Hell's Kitchen overworld and it was already filled with corpses of defeated thugs and punks. After getting passed by about a dozen Wolverines, I immediately lost the sense of immersion that I normally look for in an MMO. Part of that is because there are only five free characters to choose from at the start of the game. It's one thing to be in a world filled with unique user-created characters, but the free-to-play nature of Marvel Heroes meant that many characters looked exactly the same. At one point, I was surrounded by four other Hawkeyes wearing the exact same costume. It was like something out of the Clone Saga. That's not to say this doesn't feel like a Marvel game, because it certainly feels like a comic book story, in the same way Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends did. The story, penned by former Avengers and current All-New X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis, takes players to nearly every corner of the Marvel universe--from the ninja-filled streets of Madripoor, to the mafioso-themed headquarters of The Kingpin, to the prehistoric Savage Land.

A diverse roster leads to some interesting team-ups

Combat in Marvel Heroes will appeal to classic Diablo fans. The left mouse button is primarily used for movement, attacks, and other environmental interactions. It's easy to pick up, even for those without much experience. Given the game's free-to-play nature, the user-friendliness benefits it greatly. Unfortunately, there is currently no controller support. Given that there are only six designated attacks (eight, if you count the two mouse buttons), it feels like Marvel Heroes could have worked well with a gamepad option. Level design is structured like most dungeon-crawlers, with aforementioned overworlds that feature servers filled with heroes and more closed-off mission areas that only include the player and four other random users. With the combat so easy to understand, there was little communication needed. Everyone seemed to know to simply fire away at anything that moves and that if anyone had a purple cloud over their head, they probably needed to be resurrected. Everyone received their own loot, though anyone was free to picked up anything dropped by a player. Because of that and because of the lack of communication, Marvel Heroes felt like much more of a solo experience. In fact, I barely communicated with anyone during all my time with the game. In some ways, I actually enjoyed the solo MMO experience more. Where Marvel Heroes' level design falls short is in its lack of clear directions. Many of the levels in the game are fairly large and finding the next story point can get aggravating. A question mark will appear if you get close enough, but other than that, you're flying blind and it becomes very easy to get lost. At one point, I was asked to infiltrate a Purifier training camp within Fort Stryker. Unfortunately, I was never told where the training camp was and I wound up completely running in the wrong direction. At this point in the game (with my Hawkeye at level 16), enemies began spawning by the dozen and hitting a dead end meant assured death. A half-decent waypoint system would have been a godsend. BOOM video 15418 Finally, if you don't like Hawkeye or one of the other four free heroes available at the start of the game, Marvel Heroes also offers up new heroes (nearly 20 others) for purchase. Unfortunately, the heroes and their costumes demand hefty prices. Favorites like Iron Man and Deadpool were demanding nearly $20, while other recognizable characters like Hulk and Punisher were going for around $12. More mind-boggling was the number of costumes available for around the same price. Iron Man, alone, has 11 different suits of armor. While the base game is free and can be enjoyed without spending any money, the sheer number of microtransactions (many of them comprised of some really cool pieces of Marvel fan service) means this game is not for the impulsive buyer, unless you're Tony Stark. There are several costumes that will appear as drops, but they're very rare and far-between. In fact, I have personally yet to find one. Despite its flaws, Marvel Heroes is one of the most user-friendly MMO's I've come across, with combat, crafting, inventory management, and characters all easy to pick up and learn. Newcomers will appreciate the simplicity, but may leave veterans aching for a little more complexity. As for Marvel fans, they'll appreciate all the pieces of fan service, the original story, and the settings that are faithful to the source material. It's a fun ride, just as long as you don't mind forgoing a little bit of character individuality.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.