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Marvel Heroes Preview

You could say that Marvel is pretty big right now. You could, but you would be wrong. Marvel is massive right now. With a string of successful movies, as well as a number of TV shows, games and of course the thing that started it all, the comic book, it feels like it's taking over the world.

We heard that they were combining their magnificent universe with the glorious genre of MMO and producing a new free-to-play game, and we just had to know more. So when we were invited to pop along to a hands-on preview of Marvel Heroes, we jumped, nay leaped, at the opportunity, and I was the lucky lady who got to head on over.

I arrived a little early, which was nice because I was able to see everything being set up. I stepped into a cozy room, with four Alienware laptops sat comfortably on the table and relaxed whilst I watched the game be reset and organised after the previous group of previewers. I got a little bit excited when they brought in an over-sized poster featuring pretty much all of my favourite Marvel heroes, wondering if they would notice if it went missing (It didn't).

After the other three in my group arrived, we got down to business, and I perched myself down in front of one of the laptops. Due to a slight mishap with the presentation laptop, we instead had a little vocal presentation from the lovely Dave Brevik, who is the mind behind this project.

Dave gave us lots of info about the game, his every word instilling hope in me that this game was going to be great, the MMO that I have been waiting to enjoy since becoming disillusioned (and broke) with WoW. After that, our group was told to go ahead and have a try... no need to tell me twice!

Marvel Heroes is an action RPG crossbred with an MMO. It is a top down view, and you move around by means of pointing and clicking, much like Dave Brevik's other baby, Diablo. This alone makes it stand out from other MMOs out there, and I had to get out of the w,a,s,d mode of movement, as those keys were instead pre-programmed for special moves.

Of course, one of the best parts of this game is the fact that you play as your favourite heroes in Marvel, and I beelined straight for Hulk, because I wanted to make sure I got him before anyone else. Also, I am a bit partial to a smash here and there. This is where it was explained that we could all be Hulk if we wanted. What, really? Yes really. In fact it was suggested that we could make an entire guild of Wolverines if we wanted. Also a huge powers tree means that individuality is no problem, allowing each version of the same hero to play completely differently.

So if anyone can be any hero they like, and we can all be the same hero, then how do we tell each other apart looks-wise? In a word: costumes. I headed straight for my "stash" in the Avengers Tower, where a multitude (LOADS) of costumes were unlocked for my dressing up pleasure. I resisted the urge to spend all afternoon trying on the different outfits, but suited up in some brutal Planet Hulk gear, and set off to explore away.

There are three different types of area in the game; Towns, Public Combat Zones, and Instances. Towns are the safe areas, like the aforementioned Avenger's Tower, where you can find you vendors, and chill out without the threat of being attacked. Public Combat Zones are areas you can head to where enemies will be roaming the streets, and you can tackle them alone, or with the help of friends or others around you. Instances are areas leading away from Public Combat Zones and you will likely find bosses here, and they tend to focus on lore and story progression.

That's another nice thing about Marvel Heroes; the questing system. Rather than have quests dotted around for you to pick up and run back to, with no real meaning in the long run, what Gazillion have done is create a linear story progression. So there are less quests, but they are more meaningful, and each one takes the story a little further. There are 'discoveries' around the public combat zones, like muggings, or invasions, which you can tackle alongside other players in the game and these give rewards, but are less integral to the overall plot.

The quests are dotted with motion comics, rather than animated cutscenes, to provide a form of narration. The artwork is gorgeous, with legends like Brian Michael Bendis, and Ron Lim, being only a couple of the artists providing the scenes. Combine this with some incredible voice acting, and you feel like you're actually in an authentic Marvel comic, which is what they were aiming for.

There are a number of great features integrated into the game which will making the gaming experience a pleasant one. For example, all loot is instanced to you, avoiding squabbles with other players, and encouraging cooperative. Also vendors can be levelled up. You can choose to sell your stuff to the vendors for credits (monies), or you can donate it instead and this will increase the rank of the vendor which means over time they will have better things to sell you. Nice huh? It works the same with crafting vendors, so as they rank up you can unlock new recipes.

Crafting will be a part of the game yes, and it will take time to do. You can combine different 'ingredients' (which you get from looting enemies) to produce a recipe, and you can use things you make to customise your gear. It certainly seems aimed towards personalisation.

I was a bit concerned with what will happen as you climb up the levels, with regards to numbers dwindling. All too often in MMOs, the starting areas are a heaving, social hive of excitement, but upon reaching the more challenging areas, you can spend a whole day without encountering another player, which leaves you feeling, lonely, and takes the "massively multiplayer" away from MMO. These worries were negated though by Mr Brevik, as he explained that they would be able to control how many people were in any given level, to keeps numbers at an enjoyable level.

Now for the real burning question. Is it really free-to-play? Or is it free-to-play, costly-to-win? Well fears be abolished because it looks like the game really will be 100% free-to-play. Everything in the game will be attainable without purchase (bar a few costumes etc that come with pre-orders), and though there will be microtransactions these will only be there for those players who 'just have to have stuff now'. With a mantra of "not paying for power" it seems like for once we have a truly fair, free-to-play system on our hands.

The game itself will be a free download, plenty of frequent patching to produce extra content, and no pricey expansions to buy to be able to enjoy the game as a whole. All in all it looks like it has the potential to be a wonderful game, and it certainly plays that way. All we have to do now is wait until the release, which is "Spring" and we will see how it stands up to the test of time.

Emseypenguin | 14th March, 2013

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