This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the open beta for Gazillion Entertainment’s free-to-play MMORPG Marvel Heroes. I got an invite for the closed beta a few weeks back, but didn’t have the chance to play for very long. I took more time with the Beta this past weekend, and was impressed by it. Since progress in the beta won’t carry over to the game’s launch, I avoided making too much progress in the game. At the same time, I got a good sampling of what the game had to offer. Marvel Heroes will feature over 2 dozen playable characters (including Rocket Raccon and Squirrel Girl), each with their own upgradable skill tree, Unreal Engine 3 powered graphics, randomly generated environments, and a script by Brian Michael Bendis (Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, Ultimate Spider-man).

Marvel Heroes will be free to play, although players can purchase items in-game via microtransactions. You can purchase everything from costumes, to characters, to equipment and stat boosts. However, you won’t have to spend any real-world money to see everything the game has to offer. Right now, you can purchase starter packs which grant items, characters, and early access to the game. The game is also available on Steam, and you can download the client and purchase a few starter packs. Although many see the F2P model as a cash grab, I personally think it’s ideal for MMORPGS. I personally don’t play them often enough to justify the subscription fees demanded by games like World of Warcraft and Eve Online. It’s not so bad as long as players still have access to a substantial portion of the game for free.

Anyway, back to the game. Doctor Doom has teamed up with Hydra and a number of other villains to gain control over the cosmic cube. Naturally it’s up to Marvel’s pantheon of heroes to stop it. After signing up for my account and downloading the game’s 10 gigabyte client, I jumped right into the game, choosing Scarlet Witch as my first character. There is a breakout at the raft, so naturally that was the first mission/tutorial. The game is pretty simple to pick up and play. One power is on the left mouse button, a secondary is on the right, and you can assign other powers that your character unlocks on one of the hotkeys. After making may way through the raft, bumped into Green Goblin, which was a randomly spawned event boss. Defeated him gave me a special medal my character could equip for stat boosts. Finally, I encountered the Living Laser. After making quick work of him, I was sent back to Avengers Tower.

At Avengers tower, I could regroup, purchase new items from one of the many SHIELD agents, meet other players, and have Henry Pym and Wonder Man craft materials for me. It was kind of weird seeing two Iron Men, three Captain Americas, and even a few Wolverines wandering around. Even without the other players, Avengers Tower was a pretty active place with the NPCs around. Ben Urich was interviewing Jewell, Jarvis was there, and Valkyrie was handing out on the balcony just to name a few. I opened the in-game store to check things out. Gazillion gave players some credits to spend on items, so I purchased Spider-Man, Captain America, Cyclops, and the Punisher along with some costumes.

After talking with Maria Hill, it was out to Hell’s Kitchen. Apparently Rhino and Shocker were trying to rob a bank, and Shocker was still on the loose. I started out on a rooftop where I could buy items from Misty Knight. If I was KOed during the mission, I could either be transported back here or wait for another player to revive me. When I hit the streets, I seen several players battling Electro, who is an event boss. I had to team up with the other players there to take him down as he was very tough. Also, I would randomly activate a side missions in which I would either have to defend a police barricade, take out a group of gang members, or take out some arsonists. While it was my choice whether or not to fight them, doing so yielded rewards. I also came across a door, which led to the offices of Gazillion Entertainment, which was under siege by the Hand. The ninjas wanted to be portrayed in a more positive light in their games, so they attack the developers. Yeah, that’ll make a good impression. Then again, why the hell would anyone set up shop in Hell’s Kitchen anyway? After taking them out (and dying several times in the process), I earned a bundle of exp, items, and currency. After collecting my spoils, it was off to the subway to fight Shocker.

The subway was full of Maggia goons, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle (all my characters were level 3 by that point). After making my way to Shocker, I defeated him. Phil Coulson informed me that Doc Ock was trying to steal an ancient tablet from the Kingpin, and Gambit was waiting for me in the nightclub district. I decided then and there to back out for the time being, although I’ll be sure to return on launch day, even if I have to start from the beginning.

When players first enter the game, it might remind them of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and it doesn’t seem to move too far away from that game’s design. Of course you’re controlling a single hero instead of a group, but you can team up with other players that you come across. While there are many standard MMORPG features, this game has more in common with Diablo than DC Universe or Champions Online. You’ll find yourself grinding, picking up a lot of loot, and reselling it while building your character’s powers. There are a lot of different characters and a lot of different options for play, whether you want to work on your favorite character or assemble a whole team of them. You can switch between characters at anytime, although it takes a few seconds to switch, and you can’t be attacked during the switch. With more content coming post-launch, this game could be a fun diversion for Marvel fans looking for a new gaming experience. The game launches the first week of June. To learn more about it, check out the official site here.