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First Impressions: The ‘Marvel Heroes’ MMORPG

I’m not really a fan of MMORPGs. Nothing against the genre and its millions of fans, you understand, but I’ve checked, and it turns out that very few of them allow you to play as 50 Cent on a quest to recover his jewel-encrusted skull, and that sort of thing is very important to me when it comes time to make my entertainment choices. I am, however, willing to be proven wrong, which is why I played a demo of Marvel Heroes, the upcoming MMORPG from Gazillion.

The verdict? Well, there are no jeweled skulls, no Draculas to be whipped to death, and I didn’t see a single Bulbasaur in the whole darn thing, but what I played was still pretty fun.For me, the biggest selling point was that you actually get to play as Marvel’s characters. That was one of the things that initially turned me off of DC’s DC Universe Online — as much as it might make sense in the context of the story, I don’t really want to play a game with Batman in it where I don’t actually get to play as Batman. Hanging out with Batman might be my real-life dream, but in a video game, it seems like a waste of the property to just have him standing around issuing orders rather than going and fighting the Joker himself.

Of course, the tradeoff is that you lose a lot of the uniqueness that you get in other games. Even if they just coded in characters based on the entire Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, odds are pretty good that they’re going to get more players than they have characters for, and the number of people who want to play as Angar the Screamer and U.S. 1 (namely me) is pretty small. As a result, I imagine you’re going to have an awful lot of the same character, and that can hurt the experience. As much as you might tailor your Punisher to your specifications in terms of costume and abilities, he’ll never be the Punisher, and running across another Frank Castle is just going to be par for the course.

Then again, it’ll also be possible to get a bunch of friends to all play as Ben Grimm and declare yourselves to be the online Yancy Street Gang. It could go either way.

The in-story reason for all this character confusion probably has something to do with the game’s overarching plot, which is that Dr. Doom has gotten control of the Cosmic Cube, something that fans may recognize as a capital-B Bad Thing. I’ll go ahead and assume that this also provides a convenient excuse for everyone to bop around to their favorite Marvel Universe locations. The demo I played was set in the game’s opening level, a mass breakout on the Raft that mirrors the launch of New Avengers — Brian Michael Bendis is also in charge of the game’s storyline — but to be honest, I’m hoping for Monster Island and a playable Googam, Son of Goom.

Again, that might just be me.

As for who is in the game, it’s a pretty interesting roster. They’ve already announced a pretty nice slate of characters, including big guns like Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, upcoming video game darling Deadpool, a few more obscure characters like Rocket Raccoon, and of course, Wolverine.

For my demo, I played mostly as the Thing and Ms. Marvel (who apparently hasn’t gotten her promotion to Captain yet in the world of Marvel heroes), and while I I have to admit that despite my misgivings, I had a pretty good time with it. The sound and dialogue were sharp, the gameplay was interesting, and the bosses provided a pretty fun challenge. Of course, I was playing it without the multiplayer aspect that pretty much defines the genre and a half hour doesn’t allow much time for level grinding, but the randomized events that popped up in the city streets were fun, and felt like the basis for a solid experience.

More than anything else, Marvel Heroes reminded me of the X-Men Legends / Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, and that’s not really a bad thing. I had a ton of fun with those, and even though I mostly played them solo, there were some great times to be had getting friends together to team up with it. If Marvel Heroes can capture what’s great about that without making it feel like a full-time job to play, I think it’ll be in pretty good shape.

Seriously though, Monster Island. And playable US 1. This is what the people want, Gazillion.

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