On first glance, Marvel Heroes seems like Diablo with Iron Man; a Marvel reskin of a tried and tested formula, with the guy that came up with that formula, Diablo’s David Brevik, at the helm. You pick your Marvel hero, right click your way through thugs and henchmen, level up, all the while upgrading and customising your hero.
But it’s more than that. This is the Diablo style game that Brevik has been wanting to make for the past decade. The original creator of Diablo now has the resources of a massive corporation like Marvel behind him to build an action RPG. And it’s hewing pretty close to what Brevik originally planned for the Blizzard North’s cancelled version of Diablo III.
“We originally designed Diablo III to be an action RPG MMO, and then I went and made Flagship Studios and we were working on a game called Mythos. It was also an action RPG and an MMO, and so it was kind of taking the ideas we had for Diablo II and then twisting them around a little bit and trying to make them into this Mythos game. Then that didn’t see the light of day.”
It’s a design that David’s been thinking about for years. “I’ve taken that idea and twisted it a little bit more, and then applied it to Marvel Heroes. Ten years in the making, let’s say. Athough it’s only been [developed for] three.”
Marvel Heroes will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s played a Diablo-a-like, and feel like a stripped down RPG to anyone who hasn’t. The focus is on the action rather than the questing. You delve into dungeons to defeat bosses and their minions. Only in this case it’ll be Osbourne’s warehouses or New York’s sewer system where The Lizard has an army of genetically mutated animal men to fight. You start the game with a handful of heroes, which you’ll then level up and customise as you play your way through the game’s story.
But it’s also an MMO: with large public areas in which you can quest and fight in. Think of it being halfway between World of Warcraft and Diablo: combining dungeon crawling and more direct adventuring. And each beat of the game plays like an issue from a comic.
“We have three types of areas,” explains David. “We have a town area, which is a safe zone where you do trading, it’s not instanced. Then we have public combat zones, and these areas could be instanced. This is a big area where people are running around and doing stuff. There’s lots of public events and these things we call discoveries that are in these areas, co-operative things people can get together and do, and everybody that participates gets rewarded.”
For those who like to keep themselves to themselves, solo play is still going to be a big part of the game. “You aren’t required to group to play through the game. You can play through the whole game as a solo player. You’re going to run into places where there are just people running around doing their own thing, but you don’t have to interact with them.”
Marvel are heavily involved in the game’s storyline, which might sound a little familiar to Marvel fans: Doctor Doom has acquired the Cosmic Cube. Writing it, one of the comic’s strongest writers, Brian Michael Bendis. Brain all but created the Ultimate universe, along with being the chief writer on many major Marvel events including House of M, Secret War and Secret Invasion. He’s a big deal.
“He’s written all of the main storyline and all of our motion comics,” explains David. “We have about an hour’s worth of them in the game.... Unbeknownst to us, when we started this project years ago we didn’t realise that the Cosmic Cube would be such a big deal it is now.
Those motion comics are produced by more Marvel talent. “Ron Lim’s done a whole bunch of work for us, as well as a variety of other artists, and then the voice acting is actually done by a bunch of people that’ve done Marvel works.”
They’ve got a star studded cast, some of the best Marvel minds doing the story and narrative. It seems like Marvel are putting a lot of weight behind the game. “It’s been a wonderful experience working with Marvel. We’ve worked very closely, we talk to them literally every day. Marvel have been super-involved as well as opening up the resource ‘Black Book’ with all their information and contacts.”
But can a dungeon crawler’s loot-centric design work for a licensed game? It hung in my mind like a big black cloud throughout the interview. Diablo is all about loot. It’s about finding and equipping randomised brilliant items. Marvel heroes have a rather distinct look. These are established characters. You can’t exactly strap a new helmet onto Spider-Man and still have him be Spider-Man. Brevik has an answer, though.
“One of the unique things about our agreement [with Marvel] is that we have access to everything in the Marvel universe. This is very unique. We aren’t just Avengers or X-men or something like that. We literally have access to everything, all the stories, all the costumes, all the heroes, all 8,000 characters, or something. So that really makes it very special, and so we have access to all of these costumes and in fact even new costumes that are coming out, like the new Marvel Now stuff and whatnot.”
How does that solve the loot problem? Are we just going to have new heroes falling out of criminal’s pockets, for us to hoover up and then use in the next fight?
“We have a costume crafting system in the game, so there are hundreds of costumes, because there have been so many looks that these characters have had over the years. Spider-Man with his regular red and blue, or his white Future Foundation suit, or his black suit, or Iron Man made him Iron Spider. It goes on and on and on.”
Incredibly, this means that you can have meaningful customisation of established characters, simply because they’re so established. They’ve had long enough to swap out their clothes every now and again that there are now dozens for each of them, leaving Brevik and his team with the task of translating them into random drops. Loot problem solved.
The other problem? Builds. How do players differentiate their Spider-Man from each-other?
“The way that you build your Spider-Man may be different to someone else’s, like my Wolverine maybe concentrates on a whole bunch of bleed skills, versus somebody who else's that does a whole bunch of leaping and slashing. All of the characters can be played in multiple ways. And lastly you can change whatever hero you’re playing in your roster and almost any given time.”
So even if you do find yourself wearing the same Spider-Suit to the prom as all the other pretty heroes, you can just swap out to your Colossus and gleam in all your Soviet metal glory.
Which all paints Marvel Heroes as a clear evolution of the Diablo formula, but one that has plenty to make it seem fresh. More importantly, it’s Brevik doing the thing that he’s been trying to do for a decade. With Marvel’s money and resources behind him, this is the best chance he’s ever going to get.
“I’m not going to make the same mistake that I made with Hellgate: London, in that I’m going back to the Blizzard way of ‘We’re going to release this when it’s ready’. We’re going to get into Beta and then we’re going to determine how much more balancing or changing or anything that we need to do in order to really ship this as an excellent product. As we get closer we’ll be able to announce a date, but we’re going to measure where we are first.”
But I was still hung up on something he’d said earlier, when emphasising co-op so heavily. I know the game is called Marvel Heroes, but the Marvel comic world is currently weathering the storm of Avengers vs X-Men. Even good guys fight. So I asked Brevik the only thing I had left to ask; can we fight one another in Marvel Heroes?
“PvP sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”