Into the Super-verse: Six things that made Marvel Heroes great

    
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With all of the City of Heroes revival talk lately, our office chat turned in the direction of other MMOs we’d love to see resurrected. I think we all have our laundry list, but I was surprised to hear both Ben and Tyler strongly advocate that Marvel Heroes be one of the first ones to be brought back. As much as I really liked that game, I guess I had let it slip from memory pretty quickly.

But the more we discussed it, the more those memories returned — especially of all of the features of that MMOARPG that I really adored. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel Heroes wasn’t a perfect online game (and we shan’t mention how badly it was treated in its final days), but I was always in a state of admiration for how many things it did right.

So that’s what I want to talk about today. Even if we never do actually see Marvel Heroes return, it gave a lot of us some pretty awesome experiences. The following things are what helped create those.

Marvel Heroes delivered a strong comic book fantasy

If all of the clones and knockoffs from City of Heroes showed us, it’s that there’s a good subset of players out there who wanted to step into the shoes, combat boots, or tights or their favorite brand-named superheroes. And that’s just what Marvel Heroes delivered, offering a chance to actually be Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, or any of the 60-plus characters that eventually were produced.

The whole idea here was an “anything goes” format, where you could be one of any popular (or even less well-known) characters from multiple series, fight across a range of in-universe settings, form your own crazy teams, and just have fun geeking out on it all. Sure, the main storyline didn’t make sense, but that didn’t matter so much as giving us a playground for our fantasies.

It got wildly creative with classes

Your average ARPG will have maybe a half-dozen classes (and various specs) from which to choose, whereas Marvel Heroes had dozens upon dozens of options. For a while there, it seemed that Gazillion was pumping out a new one every month. Sure, there was no way to actually balance them all (and the less said about the Omega system, the better), but the result of this was that there ended up being a class and playstyle for just about everyone.

And what I especially loved was how the framework of the IP encouraged developers to get really creative in implementing various powers and abilities into this top-down RPG. For example, I thought that putting Rogue in with her power-absorbing mutation would’ve been impossible, but somehow they made it work without being overpowered. And we also got the joy of playing AS villains if so desired, which was supported by the fact that often heroes and villains in the comic books would temporarily swap sides. Doctor Doom for life, yo!

Marvel Heroes offered gender-swapped options

Gazillion really did have a strong business model with this game as it churned out more characters, team-ups, and pets. Which brings me to costumes, because costumes were the best. Players were often petitioning the studio’s artists to make their favorite outfit for any given character, and we never had enough to really suit everyone’s desires. But costumes were awesome for diving deeper into the immersion pool while setting yourself apart visually from all of the other Spider-Men out there.

One of the more interesting experiments when it came to costumes was the ability to equip a gender-swapped variant. For example, you could equip the Wiccan costume for the Scarlet Witch and get the same powerset in a different visual package. For players who wanted to stick with a particular gender as well as a particular class, it was a great option that also pointed to how the comic books often did this very thing.

It always felt very generous as a free-to-play title

Drawing players in and getting them addicted to the game was Gazillion’s focus, and part of that plan involved making it as accessible and generous as possible. Seriously, this game was forever throwing free stuff at you — and not just small freebies, but huge ones like new classes or pets or premium currency. Even the sales often offered good deals, like the famous “buy one, get one” on heroes that would pop up from time to time.

I think we all lived for the anniversary and Christmas celebrations in particular, because Gaz loved to shower us with cool gifts that were far more useful and fun than the boring fireworks that you saw in other MMOs.

There were always movie and TV tie-ins

The timing for this game couldn’t have been better, considering the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man. For the duration of Marvel Heroes’ run (2013 to 2017), it enjoyed riding the wave of popularity that emerged from all of the hit movies and television series. This created so many opportunities for lucrative tie-ins, including movie costumes and the addition of specific characters who were obscure before the screen made them famous.

Again, this went right back to my first point, which is that Marvel Heroes welcomed people who were high off of the movie and looking to interact with those characters rather than passively view them. This type of synergy seemed to work really well for a good while there and could have kept going on through today (can you imagine what the game would’ve done for Avengers Endgame?).

The voice acting was pretty dang terrific

Gaz certainly didn’t skimp on hunting down some of the best voice actors in the business to lend their talents to these characters. Every hero and villain had a slew of lines and quips that kept us entertained, and there were often fierce debates on the forums as to which character had the best actor behind him, her, or it.

Probably some of the more famous actors that you might recognize include Kari Wahlgren, Nolan North, Tara Strong, Kari Wuhrer, Keith David, Jennifer Hale, David Hayter, and some guy named Stan Lee, but the full list goes on and on with an avalanche of talent and previous credits that are quite impressive.

To tell the truth, I could’ve kept this list going for at least 20 or so items, but I’m going to have to stop here and turn the rest of it over to the comments section. What helped make Marvel Heroes great to you?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.

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Susan Moses

Marvel Heroes was freaking great. Yes, you could play it totally free without spending a dime, but the game made it’s money by just having tons of fun characters to play and it made you want to drop $10-$15 to unlock a new character you were excited about without having to grind for it. If you were a broke kid and had your heart set on playing as a particular character, you could grind for a week or two and unlock the character. The characters were designed SO freaking well. Wolverine felt like Wolverine. Spiderman felt like Spiderman. Doom felt like Doom and so on.

The events were always great, although some events were much greater than others. Like the “big 10” events in which 10 events ran at the same time. It was nuts! They had the perfect balance between event-weeks and non-event weeks so that the events always felt special.

At one point I had every single character in the game and all of them were at max-level. Some of them I got by spending “eternity splinter” drops that I saved up, but I probably bought 30 or 40 of them with cash. I also had every inventory / vault space upgrade purchased, and I spent some money on costumes. Like I had all the Age of Apocalypse costumes because that was one of my favorite comic book arcs of all time. When the game went down I added up how much money I had spent on it over the years and it was over $500!

It was a tragedy when the game went down. Honestly, I hadn’t played it the last year it was active because there was a severe drop-off in the amount of new content the last year while they worked on a console version, and the Omega system that they added was a massive grind while also being poorly balanced.

Balance in general was poor in Marvel Heroes. Want to know which character is over-powered? It’s always the character most recently released or updated. There was a bit of a power-creep where heroes were getting stronger every time. If they adjusted a character’s balance, it was always to make it slightly stronger than the strongest character in the game. So everything was always getting stronger and there was always a flavor of the month. I remember I had all the best-in-slot incredibly rare drops for Squirrel Girl (my main) and I was attempting to unlock cosmic-midtown, but the boss to unlock it was way too hard. So I tried Deadpool (who had just been re-balanced near that time) and beat it wearing total garbage gear and without me having hardly any knowledge of how to play the character.

The balance problems is part of why PVP in Marvel Heroes would never work. Yes, there was a PVP mode, but nobody played it. It was implemented and had the word (beta) next to it when you selected it, but it was never updated. Never finished. It was basically broken and there was no point doing it.

Another down-side I think was the inventory management. Even having bought all the inventory space upgrades available, and even after they added the loot-filter where you could never see the lower-quality loot, inventory-management was too big a part of the game. You could spend more than 50% of your time just managing loot. Most of the time, after a big battle in midtown, you’d leave huge piles of loot all over the ground without ever picking it up, and STILL your inventory fills up and you have to manage your loot. They were always adding more and more loot to the game, and the amount of stuff on the ground to pick up / ignore got bigger and bigger.

The ground after a fight would look like this:comment image

Despite it’s flaws, the game was of the best marvel related games ever created. Never before could you play as 60 different heroes from Marvel and never again shall you. Each one, was so carefully crafted to look, sound, and feel the way fans hoped and dreamed they would. But just like how Thanos snapped his fingers, one day, it was all gone.

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CasualSlacks

I enjoyed the tie-ins most. The enthusiasm they injected into the game when a new movie came out covered a multitude of failings.

On the other end, I always wished that the motion comic cut scenes were more impressive. I mean we had to watch them repeatedly. Gazillion couldn’t commission an established pro to do some finished lines?

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Jason Kelley

I miss this game all the time. It wasn’t perfect, but for a huge comics fan, having access to all those characters, even playing the same content over and over, was a dream come true. It’s the kind of game I dreamed of as a kid.

And now it’s gone. :'(

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Bannex

One thing that marvel heroes didn’t do great: top down diablo style Arpg feels terrible for almost every hero other than wolverine.

Nothing better than flying around as iron man only slightly higher off the ground than people are running.

Marvel, see ps4’s spiderman. That is how you superhero.

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Eric Dinosa

I do miss the game. It never was the kind of game I’d play obsessively for too long, but I loved trying out a new patch or hero, playing for a few weeks. It was easy, relaxed and a ton of fun.
I played this just when it came out, on day one, but then a lot of things happened in my life and I didn’t get to play it for a while anymore. What got me back was a stream by TotalBiscuit (RIP, man), who commented on how much more fun it had become.
I jumped back in and played it a lot with my gf. She loved to play as Jean Grey, I preferred Ant-Man or Cap or many others.
Nothing too deep, and sure, it kinda is weird when you have 22 Spider-Men running around at the hub, but it was so much fun to just run in and blow up a whole map of enemies.

And I agree- those “classes” had so much diversity. Loved Deadpool and his “hack”, loved Rogue and Scarlet Witch and many others.

It went away quickly, and to this day, I miss being able to just download it and play it for a few hours.

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Suikoden

I agree. I’m a DC fan first and foremost, but I loved this game. I joined the party relatively late and still had over 300 hours in it when they canned it. It ran smooth, and had a ton of classes. I got in during that last year while they were focusing on the console versions so I thought the content drops were pretty weak during that time, but otherwise an absolute blast to play. I loved the raids and group content as well as doing dailies in zones that had other people running around doing them too.
I would randomly group up with people to get them done. You just don’t get the opportunity to do that in any other ARPGs anymore. I loved the visual variety of the characters as well. The next game I would like to see is them do DFO style game with a super hero IP. That would also be so much fun.

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Cypher

I’ll be honest, I never understood the appeal of this game at all! It just reminded me of those old coin op. Games from the 80s/90s… no individual character expression to speak of and very basic (read: bland) gameplay. I have a similar game on my phone…

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Jiminy Smegit

I feel like this game was handled very poorly. The structural bones of the game were good, the base gameplay was extremely enjoyable but they just did not develop enough content. It felt like they spent way too many resources to pump out new heroes without realising that it was pointless to do so unless they provide enough content to provide a little variety with each playthrough.

Most MMO’s struggle to launch in an entirely workable fashion, spend all of their early development time fixing game issues and then bleed subscribers because they are either tired of the bugs or lack of things to do. This game was reasonably stable early on but completely failed to build on that base.

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plannick

the problem with “content”.. was that people skip it in minutes. the devs were not wrong in saying people basically fly/bike/run/whatever from start to finish, whack the boss and be done with it. then cry no new content… when the devs slowed the fly/blah to try addressing that issue, people went ape shit. but nothing was really changed… it was still run to end, whack boss.. just slower.

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Anthony Clark

Still ticked that this was shutdown.

All the money I spend on that game, and now I can’t play it at all!

This is one of the many reasons I don’t think I’ll be supporting the upcoming game streaming.

Money thrown away.

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Tithian

I loved that game, it was really good at making you feel like you were each hero. The voicelines, the moves and effects, the setting, everything clicked. And the hero reworks they were doing kept things fresh.

Damn, I miss that game.