What do you take when you put the creator of Diablo, the comic book/licensing juggernaut that is Marvel, and legendary comics writer Brian Michael Bendis together into one epic project? The answer is Marvel Heroes, the upcoming free-to-play MMO from developer Gazillion Entertainment, which aims to revolutionize the free-to-play model while delivering the definitive Marvel experience. At PAX Prime 2012, I was able to gain insight into the creation of Marvel Heroes at their panel.
The panel was led by game designer David Brevik, co-founder of Blizzard North and best known for his role behind Diablo and Diablo II. Fitting, as Marvel Heroes is an Action-RPG in the vein of Diablo and Torchlight. Joining Brevik on the panel was Brian Michael Bendis, one of the most prolific writers in comics today, best known for reinventing Spider-Man twice for Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line. Together with TQ Jefferson, Vice President of Marvel’s video game division, this dream team discussed just what makes a Marvel MMO special.
The story is being penned by Bendis, involving heroes from all corners of the Marvel universe teaming up to defeat Dr. Doom, who has acquired the Cosmic Cube (the driving force behind the recent Avengers film), resulting in near infinite power. While this covers a lot of the same ground as 2006’s Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Bendis’ involvement is more than enough to turn a few heads towards the story. The game will feature cinematics in the form of motion comics, which Jefferson made a point of mentioning will be the first Marvel motion comics to be original works rather than adaptations of a pre-existing book. Impressively, Bendis mentioned that as the Marvel Comics universe evolves, these changes will be reflected in the game, meaning that giant crossover events such as Avengers vs. X-Men could quickly make their way to the game in some form.
This was reflected in the showcasing of the character’s multiple costumes. Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were featured in versions of the costumes from their recent film, while Wolverine was shown wearing his somewhat obscure black & grey outfit featured in Uncanny X-Force. Brevik stated that the wealth of each character’s costume history would be explored, promising even the most obscure of costumes for hardcore comic fans. Speaking of obscure, the panelists surprised fans tonight by officially announcing that both Rocket Raccoon and Squirrel Girl will be playable in the game.
The panelists then opened up to audience questions, through which we learned some new things about the game: While it is an Action-RPG, it will be a linear story; dungeons will be randomly generated, ensuring high replayability; multiple players will be able to play as the same character simultaneously, alleviating squabbles over who gets to be Wolverine or Spider-Man (getting flashbacks from the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance co-op days. . . *shudder*). Best of all, Gazillion confirmed that the game will be completely free to play. While micro-transactions will be used to fund the game in some way (my guess is through cosmetic options, a la Team Fortress 2), the entire game, from beginning to end, as well as the complete level cap will be available free of charge.
While Gazillion was unable to confirm an official release date for Marvel Heroes, they did announce the start of the closed beta, beginning October 1st of this year. With this, we’ll hopefully finally be able to see the extent to which the game’s Diablo roots will merge with the game’s attempt to tie to the larger Marvel Comics universe. As for a potential console release, Gazillion was pretty adamant about iterating that the PC versions are the only ones planned at this time, though the game is in development for both Windows and Mac.
I am extremely impressed walking away from Marvel Heroes. For a game that appears like it could have easily been a full retail release, the free-to-play model is absolutely mind-boggling considering the license and the amount of high-profile talent involved. With the beta around the corner, and the game itself free of charge, there is no reason not to keep Marvel Heroes on your radar.