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


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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