Diablo may not have defined the Action RPG, but the franchise’s dominance has allowed it to iconically represent the genre. Some might say that Diablo III‘s missteps have caused a passing of the torch(light), but a key element missing from Diablo‘s history has been affecting its future success: David Brevik.
It might be an overstatement to say that he’s entirely responsible for the Diablo franchise (at least through Diablo II), but while Blizzard’s Diablo III was not his vision for the franchise, know that his vision for the future of ARPG’s will come to light in the form of Brevik’s latest project, Marvel Heroes. And Brevik isn’t just bringing ARPG’s back to the prominence they deserve, he’s changing the relationship players have with their MMO’s.
At first glance, Marvel Heroes looks a lot like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance from 2006. It’s a team based Marvel game with a third person isometric view and RPG elements. The similarities stop there, however, as you explore the world and combat enemies by clicking the mouse and using powers off your keyboard. Powers are derived from skill trees (each character will have three) that you advance through as you level. Some of the powers are the typical AOE attacks or buffs or in some cases even flight. The powers all match what fans will expect for each character. Hulk has anger-based physical attacks (including an allegedly vicious headbutt), whereas Thor can attack with lightning and wield Mjolnir.
Where Marvel Heroes truly breaks ground is that in attempting to be an MMO ARPG, it has broken from any existing genre. During the PAX Panel it was referred to as a MOAR: Massively Online Action RPG. Characters exist in a world that is publicly accessible by other players. There is no solo play. You will encounter people out in the world and have the opportunity to team up or attack them. Players share these public instances for roughly 70% of the game. This is an extension of the direction ARPG’s have been heading, but where Marvel Heroes really becomes a game changer is that there are no custom created heroes.
Depending on your purchases you can choose from up to twenty-five possible heroes at launch, but so can everyone else. With only twenty-five possible player types and a world population that is significantly larger than that, players are guaranteed to encounter their doppleganger. Brevik said he knew from day one that they had to have people playing as the Marvel characters. It’s a brilliant decision that helps people feel more immersed in the Marvel Universe rather than running around with a custom-made ‘knockoff’ avatar. Why fight alongside Spider-Man when you can BE Spider-Man? The distraction of seeing multiple Wolverines is a small sacrifice to ensure that everyone can berserker rage to their heart’s content. And, it even gives players the option to form all-Wolverine guilds. By fracturing the player-avatar relationship, Marvel Heroes will allow for just such experiences that players have never seen before.
One of the largest complaints about Diablo III was the lack of endgame PvP. Both Brevik and Gazillion Entertainment have made sure that will not plague Marvel Heroes. When asked during the panel if PvP would be included, Brevik’s laconic response was, “Yes. At launch. Not just dueling.” The crowed appropriately erupted in applause. There will be three factions players can join, and those factions will fight each other in PvP-specific battlegrounds. Additionally, while there will not be any PvP servers, there will be zones designed for open combat where players will need to ready to be attacked at all times. Brevik also noted that the values for skills in PvP and PvE were decoupled, so that they can tune each aspect independently. No longer will a fun PvE ability be nerfed because it was overpowered in PvP. Overall, Gazillion sounds like they have refined the endgame model that was successful in Diablo II, and many of the players that have been disappointed with Blizzard will find a welcoming home in Marvel Heroes.
Also, there will be crafting in Marvel Heroes, as players will be able to upgrade items (comparable to upgrading flawed gems to flawless gems from Diablo), and players will have crafting recipes. Brevik described the process as the “Horadric Cube 2.0”. Although character appearance will be dictated by their costume, players will still acquire and upgrade their gear throughout the game. Some types of gear are character specific; for example, Thor can equip helmets and the Hulk can equip rage. There is one shared inventory amongst your characters, but a nice feature is that you can switch your characters on the fly; albeit with a brief casting time. This means that the only way you’ll be known in the world is by your name, as your appearance can completely change in an instant.
There are still a few additional characters still in development. Brevik said the plan is to release a new character roughly once every six weeks. There are five starting heroes, with the rest to be acquired either via purchase or as in-game loot. Prior to launch, characters can be acquired by purchasing the Starter, Premium, or Ultimate packs, which come with a selection of specific characters and skins. The Ultimate Pack contains every character and skin for a hefty price. These products will expire come launch, though. Once the game is live, the only way to acquire new characters is to find them as loot. There will be common heroes who drop more often, and rarer heroes who will be tougher to get. Of course, the more popular heroes (like Spider-Man) will be among the rares.
If looting seems to be too daunting a task, there will be tokens available for purchase that will guarantee a hero token will drop. The only catch is that the hero will be randomly chosen. Effectively, you’re buying a chance to get the hero you are looking for. This is an interesting gambit on the part of Marvel and Gazillion, as this seems to be the only sustainable revenue source mentioned. Hopefully, the Starter packs will be profitable enough to sustain the game for a while.
The Ultimate pack will not have everything, however. Each character will start with five costumes available, but there will be a sixth “chase” outfit that can only be looted, and it will not be easy to obtain. This is to ensure that even players who purchase the Ultimate pack have epic loot to strive for in game.
The game itself will focus around the fight against Doctor Doom and his acquisition of the Cosmic Cube. Players will be brought all over the Marvel Universe and fight several villains. For example, the on-floor demo had players fight through the Savage Lands and concluded in a face off against Sauron. Sauron had a flame-based attack that engulfed the floor immediately around him, which caused Brevik to note that players needed to observe the number one rule of video games: Don’t stand in the fire. With Marvel’s resources behind them, Brevik noted that any villains that didn’t appear in the initial story would be left for future content patches. In response to whether any of the villains, such as Venom (seen in the trailer at the panel) would be playable, Brevik commented, “That would be fun.”
In keeping with the comic book origins, the cutscenes in Marvel Heroes are all voiced-over motion comics. Actors such as Stephen Blum (Wolverine), Nolan North (Deadpool), and Christopher Daniel Barnes (Symbiote Spider-Man) were recruited to reprise their famous roles. This helps the game sound as impressive as it looks.
Marvel Heroes is pushing the ARPG in new directions. With the Marvel license behind it, even an average game would seem like it would be an easy success, but David Brevik and the team at Gazillion have gone out of the way to ensure that this game will be as amazing as a man bitten by a spider. Marvel Heroes will release on June 4, 2013. It will be free to play, but as mentioned, Starter packs, Premium packs, and the Ultimate pack are available now for pre-order at marvelheroes.com.