Raven’s “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” is still widely beloved by comic fans as one of the best action/RPGs on modern consoles. We haven’t seen a new entry in Raven’s superhero-based hack ’n’ slash since 2009, but Marvel fans might soon find a way to scratch that itch when Gazillion Entertainment’s Marvel-themed MMO releases later this year.
“In a lot of ways, this is massive multiplayer ‘Ultimate Alliance,’” Gazillion Entertainment’s president and COO David Brevik tells us when we sit down to play the game with him. “It’s a little bit deeper, a little bit more of an RPG, but in a lot of ways ‘Marvel Heroes’ is very much in tune with that look and that feel.”
As one of the co-founders of Blizzard North, Brevik served as a lead designer for the first two “Diablo” games. Now Brevik hopes to take his experience working on the Ferrari of action/RPGs to make a Marvel Comics game full of side quests, randomly generated dungeons, and loot. Also, it’s free to play.
“From a design perspective, making a free-to-play game means we can break all the rules,” Brevik says. “Since we don’t have people locked into a subscription, we can create a different type of MMO, and give people something they’re not used to.”
Just because the game is free doesn’t mean Gazillion is skimping on production values. The game uses the Unreal 3 engine to produce massive environments where hundreds of players fight hordes of thugs online together. Marvel story architect Brian Michael Bendis is writing the plot, which is told through more than 100 minutes of animated comics produced by popular Marvel artists and voiced by many of the actors from Marvel’s animated films.
The story follows the events that take place after Dr. Doom acquires the cosmic cube, which is basically a high-tech Tupperware container full of primordial energy that gives its owner the power to reshape reality. In Dr. Doom’s hands this is bad news, so the heroes of the Marvel universe unite to take him down. In his mad quest for power, Doom is traveling the world to acquire any mystical or supernatural artifact that could challenge his power. First on the list is the Tablet of Life and Time, a life-giving relic currently under the possession of Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin. The game starts as Marvel’s heroes converge on Manhattan to acquire the tablet before Doom gets his hands on it.
A premise like this isn’t nearly as exciting if you can’t play as Marvel’s A-list superheroes yourself, and Gazillion is working to add to an already long list of heroes, which currently sits at 26 playable characters. One of the odd story conceits is that anyone can play any character at any time. Costumes don’t affect a player’s abilities, but their skillsets are just as diverse. I took the Punisher up to level 14 and unlocked a variety of his long-range abilities. The action is fast and explosive. Characters’ various powers seem to work well together, and experimenting with how different characters can play off each other is fun. The Punisher’s rapid-fire skill allows him to wield two automatic rifles and mow down foes, while armor-piercing rounds let him charge up a devastating long-range sniper shot. Each character has three different skill trees. I explored many of the Punisher’s long-range weapons, but he also has a guerrilla skill tree that focuses on close quarters combat and martial arts, and an explosives tree that focuses on setting everything on fire.
At its core, “Marvel Heroes” is an action-driven MMO. Its simplicity of play, addictive loot trail, variety of character classes, and low barrier to entry should make it immediately appealing to thousands of comic fans.