Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a feast for many types of Marvel fans. There are several comic-specific cameos and introductions for characters who haven’t shared the limelight with their Hollywood counterparts. At the same time, there are a variety of callbacks and cameos from the big and small screen alike that fill in the gaps for fans who haven’t necessarily been there from the start.
In many cases, though, when Ultimate Alliance 3 attempts to cater to this department while still conducting itself as an action adventure role-playing title, it loses its footing with small missteps. The big picture at times becomes muddied from its attempts to be everything all at once.
On the surface, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 seems like an easy-to-pick-up, drop-in/drop-out arcade brawler. However, some might not be ready for the actual undertaking that lies ahead. Very early on you are introduced to the set list of stats to tweak and monitor. As new characters join your alliance, they too will also be included in this stat rush.
Completing a level or chapter in the game might introduce anywhere from one-to-four new characters at a time. If you’re susceptible to the overbearing fear of missing out (FOMO), then you’ll likely find yourself frequently switching your team composition. It’s far too easy to get lost in the minutiae of it all, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing with some characters making their video game debut. This is important as you’ll need to become comfortable with the Team and Lab menu options in order to utilize perks and alliances to their maximum capabilities.
Stacked character stats
Initially, you’ll be solely responsible for your powered abilities. These are different from your standard light and heavy attacks, which are executed with one button press. Heroes will start with only one slot available, with more unlocking as new character levels are achieved. It should also be noted that the button mapping for these can be changed, leaving you to assign them to whatever face buttons you choose. Each attack can be leveled up itself, but much like in other traditional role-playing grinds, you’ll have a higher cost to reach more powerful tiers of that specific attack. It took me well into my playthrough to start linking all abilities and standard hits together for chained attacks.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is more than just having your dream team of superheroes go on to battle villains across the Marvel universe. There is very much rhyme and reason for your team’s structure. When selecting characters, you’ll get bonus buffs dependent on affiliation. For example, choosing Captain America and Iron Man shells out an Avengers affiliation buff. This becomes more complex when you start to delve deeper into the menus.
The team bonus in itself is a nice added value. However, there is also a hexagonal platform, known as Alliance Enhancements, where new perks and bonuses can be purchased with the in-game coins. These are earned by destroying level set pieces and bosses. This is specific to alliances with other character alterations coming in the form of nifty space jewels.
Down the road in the game, the element ISO-8 comes into play. Without getting into spoilers, it adds another layer of stat maintenance, and in a good way. You’ll see things like durability increased when certain ones are equipped to one of your characters’ slots. These slots vary depending on the hero. You can also upgrade these by breaking down old or duplicate ISO-8, amplifying the effects of perks. The requirements to upgrade are more intensive in the higher tiers.
When actual characters reach a new level, their various attributes and powers are increased as usual. This process can be expedited with the use of rare objects, like Enhanced XP Cubes. These are hidden throughout levels and obtained by completing challenge trials. So, it pays to explore!
With minor annoyances comes great distractability
It’s almost hard to pin down when Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 starts to get good. It’s somewhere around the middle of the game when things start to feel fully fleshed out. This is when the roster is chock-full of nostalgia, combat become a more fluid, and your ISO-8 collection has managed to grow more than a measly few shards of space jewelry. Having said that, the format of having to dive into roughly four-to-five hours before things become fully fleshed out was something I wasn’t completely ready for.
Outside of the nuances of the leveling system, I found myself questioning some of the design choices. I would have discarded them as random oddities if they didn’t start to stack up to the point where I audibly said to myself, “Why did they do that?” Giant cannons included in some boss battles feel out of place, something that would have been better suited for a Lego spinoff.
A few of these examples include design elements, like frustrating enemies with close to one-hit kills, or items that fall through the map after being thrown. Even some of the combat suffers from shortfalls in hitboxes and the block/dash ability. These minor annoyances didn’t completely detract from my experience. I found myself fixated on small things within each level, some that could have been remedied with minor changes.
For the most part, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order embraces its place in video game releases. It’s a AAA third-party exclusive that has managed to squeak its way onto a Nintendo platform. With that, there is somewhat of an expectation to be visually polished in all areas. Looking back on my experience, that was mostly the case.
Every model in the game is impressively designed, particularly being that you don’t ever really spend too much time zoomed in outside the normal photo ops. The vivid colors of Spidey’s kin, Avengers, and a slew of X-Men are all fantastically detailed. Even characters like Nightcrawler and Beast shine in their minimalist design.
Some levels visually outperform others, like Chapter 3: Shadowland with its striking blood moon. I marveled at how great it looked, especially with the game running at 1080P and 60fps when docked. But many of the beginning levels have a general emptiness to them. This is remedied down the road as you turn the corner midway through the game. This is again the point where things become more aligned visually, gameplay and tactics-wise. This was a minor letdown as much of the initial phases are spent getting off of the ground.
Final thoughts on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3
I had a lot of excitement going into Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Even so, I tried to keep that contained during my experience, looking for consistency in gameplay, mechanics, and overall presentation. The end result was something in-between all of those.
The leveling and progression system of the game really doesn’t start to take form until hours in. However, what is overwhelming and disjointed at first glance starts to find its groove.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is definitely a game catered to fans of all walks, from comic book diehards to those newly introduced to superheroes in the MCU resurgence. I’m sure people will have questions as to who certain people are and what role they play in the Marvel universe. The game excels in many different areas, especially uniting a massive cast and bringing heroes to the roster that almost everyone can identify with. But that doesn’t excuse annoyances and design choices that make appearances throughout the lengthy campaign.
If you’re a light Marvel fan, you might have some small stints of research ahead of you. Be ready as the experience isn’t all “beat ’em up” or as action-oriented as it might seem at first glance. The menu hides a number of different tools for you to surely build the ultimate team. There’s no doubt, though, you might have to work for it. But hey, you can do this all day, right?
A review code was provided by the publisher.