So early this morning there was a tweet in my inbox:
Sim City: “Worst Launch Ever”
Marvel Heroes: “Challenge Accepted.”
This makes me very happy to hear. Not that the launch of Marvel Heroes is going bad, but that the launch has finally happened. I’ve been waiting for this one for a loooong time. You see, I was in the beta for this execrable piece of crap and while I don’t really have any juicy tidbits to reveal about that beta, I held back because I didn’t want to give the impression of impropriety by commenting on it before it had launched.
But now that’s out of the way, time for commenting galore! And boy do I have some things to say about this one. So why the strong language for what could have been a really great super hero MMO? Aren’t you into those kinds of things, LockOn? I was excited about a Marvel MMO. I was excited years ago when Cryptic had announced a deal with Marvel to produce an MMO and saddened when that deal fell through. So when I found out that Gazillion had been working for 4 years on a Marvel MMO, I got excited all over again. And then I got into Beta and actually saw what they had made.
The first problem, is that Marvel Heroes isn’t an MMO. I’m not sure what it is. I know what the developers have labeled it. But the problems with this game are legion. This game has been so badly developed and executed, I will never waste another moment of my life, looking at a Gazillion product now that this is over. It’s not just garbage, it’s deceitful garbage. Allow me to explain.
The best description of gameplay for the game I’ve found so far, was written quite a while back. I’ll quote this paragraph from John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun. He got an early press preview and laid it all out.
“Huge, flat, featureless zones stretch repetitively for acres in each direction, fogged out on your minimap such that you’re forced to lamely wander throughout until you stumble on the entrance to a lair or warehouse. These can be enormous, entirely non-distinct city blocks, the same assets repeated over and over, with just one doorway to find in amongst it all. On your way you meet hundreds and hundreds of identical spawning enemies, popping into existence immediately in front of you, and dropping the same six items of bland loot over and over and over. Reaching a base opens up more of exactly the same, usually ending in a “boss fight”, which involves briefly left-clicking on a known Marvel enemy until he or she falls over.'”
I have read that the original creator of Diablo worked on these games and while I’ve never played Diablo, I must say I don’t understand what kind of special hell players of Diablo games must live in. My fundamental problem with Marvel Heroes and I guess all Diablo games is the control scheme. You see to move anywhere on the screen you have to click on the location with your mouse pointer, and your character moves to that point. Unless, the point you click on, is an enemy. Then the player will launch an attack with whatever power is keymapped to your left mouse button when you click it. So movement, in the game is context sensitive. There are apparently some who actually consider this a good idea. Let me explain why they’re all going to hell when they die.
God said, let there be the Atari 2600, and it was good. It came with a single controller that had an analog stick, and a button. And it was good. Movement controls were isolated onto their own control structure and other actions, like firing a gun, or activating a clickable icon were on another. It’s something every gamer grows up learning how to play with. Unless you grew up playing Diablo games, you guys are just fucked. But, it’s not just that the context switch is difficult for old timers like me. It’s fundamental to a gaming experience that when you do something, it does the same thing over and over. Hell, this isn’t even just for gaming. You turn the car key in the ignition and you expect the engine to start. There’s a whole industry based around dealing with the issue of what happens when turning the key doesn’t start your engine. Light switches turn on lights. They don’t also open doors or windows depending on where you stand. We expect that when we perform an action with a tool or an object that the same thing will happen when we do it again with the same object. Insanity is the very definition of doing something over and over, expecting different results. Marvel Heroes has successfully achieved insanity. Congratulations, you’ve now pissed off God.
It’s almost like Marvel Heroes was designed with a gamepad controller in mind, or even web browser style game controls. (An interesting thought, given that Gazillion also produced the Marvel Super Hero Squad MMO that’s web browser based.) But this game was built for the PC. They knew that when they started making it. We have this entire keyboard of keys here and instead of placing powers in the power tray out in a logical progression, (like using the numbers row), they throw the (unmappable) keys using different letter rows based on, I guess where they want you to keep your free hand when you play. Thank you very much Gazillion but I want to keep my free hand wherever I decide, not where you tell me. And since there’s no joy in this blue grey waste of space you’ve created, I damn sure need my free hand to keep me entertained somehow. (Yes I stole that joke from Yatzee Crosshaw, we all have our heroes.)
Let’s get back to the idea that this was supposed to be an MMO. Not only is Marvel Heroes not an MMO, it’s not even an RPG. You don’t get to be Spiderman, or Thor, or Wolverine. You’re just playing a skin with some bland repeated abilities, while bad voice overs provide context-less quips that drive a splinter into your brain, faster then the horrible controls. You show up, get your mission, and then off you go. No questions, no paths to differentiate, no choices. What were they really trying to accomplish here? Because Marvel Heroes feels like an always online DRM, twitch game, with multi-player that you don’t need or really want. All the characters in the game are built to function self-sufficiently. And when there are no synergies to grouping, why bother?
Did I mention, Gazzilion has been working on this game for 4 years. FOUR years! And this is the crap that they produce. The graphics gave me a warning that my PC wasn’t up to snuff on running it, but when I actually got inside to play, all the world maps are flat 2-D expanses with no major distinctions or seemingly reasons for why such powerful graphics are required. The characters are barely a step up from cartoon level of detail, so why are you demanding all this graphical power? My only conclusion is that the people developing the game don’t know what they’re doing and built a game that requires top of the line graphics cards to play, and provides a 1990’s level of graphics fidelity. They used the Unreal Engine to build a game that looks and feels 20 years old. God, is really pissed.
Finally, there are 60 levels of character progression. How many levels of content are there? 30. That was not a typo, I said THIRTY! So what do you do for the other 30 levels? Random content generator. Go here, click this, get xps. Really? Four years to develop this game, and you don’t even have enough content to level a character to the max level you picked when you started the game???? Who does this? Who allows something like this to exist? Who makes these executive decisions to launch with such a huge leveling gap? Does that sound like fun to you? How do you launch with half a game? How? What business plan do you pull out of your ass is there, that makes that decision look good?
I could go on and on and on. Bottom line. Don’t play this game. Yes I know it’s free, but it’s garbage. Four years for a Marvel MMO and this is what we get. How much money did Marvel put into this? Are they wondering if the Cryptic deal they killed was still a good idea today? I hope they lose their shirts on this. This game is an insult to my intelligence as a gamer, nevermind what it does for the Marvel experience. And if that’s what you’re looking for, go read a comic book instead. No it’s not free, but the experience will be worth what you pay for. Unlike this game, which is worth less then the time it costs you to download and play it. Do yourself a favor and keep a hand free.