It’s been a long 10 years since Marvel and Activision released Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, the semi-official fourth game in the series that began with X-Men Legends way back in 2004. If you’re a nostalgic fan of the series, it’s a lot of fun to look back through the journey that spans from Alison Crestmere’s first tentative days exploring the X-Mansion, to allying with the Brotherhood to take down Apocalypse (in the sequel), to banding all the Marvel characters together to defeat Dr. Doom’s Masters of Evil, to finally fighting the fearsome Fold in the frenetic Ultimate Alliance 2.
It’s been so long since that final encounter in the game’s final act in Wakanda that many fans of Ultimate Alliance have long since abandoned the hope of ever getting another game. Our surprise at the announcement of a Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 were matched only by our enthusiasm, and with the game coming out next month we were immediately curious to see how (and if) they were changing the formula so that it matches the expectations of a 2019 crowd.
We’re happy to see that Ultimate Alliance 3 will be adding in some exciting new characters and features while still respecting and maintaining the elements we love from the older games. Here’s a rundown of both the old and the new of Ultimate Alliance 3 (did we mention we’re super excited to play this game?):
Teams of four
First things first, Ultimate Alliance 3’s gameplay will feature player-made teams of four Marvel characters, a staple number that’s been in place since the beginning of the franchise. As we hoped, this also means up to four players can play cooperatively – both online and local! In today’s online-obsessed gaming world, it’s a rare treat to get to play with our friends in a real local game. We expect the easy, pick-up-and-play style of the game to make this a hugely popular game at parties. Just be sure to have an extra controller lying around!
Like in the preceding titles, you’ll come across glowing blue icons on the ground that serve as the game’s checkpoints. These are points where you’re permitted to save, load, change teams, upgrade characters, change costumes, or fast-travel to prior locations. It’s an especially useful feature if you’re a completionist who finds they missed something important back during the first act. It’s also handy if you pick up new gear or characters that you want to switch between as the story progresses.
Lockjaw offers teleporting
Once you’re on a mission you’re committed. Whatever team you assembled will have to do until you reach an extraction (“Xtraction” in the earlier games) point. The exception (“Xception?”) to the rule was that you were allowed a portal every five minutes courtesy of Blink. In Ultimate Alliance 3 you’ll get the same function, this time with the help of the lumbering and adorable Lockjaw.
While this wasn’t implemented in Ultimate Alliance 2, we think a return of this feature is a good thing; being able to quickly switch in a character at any time took weight away from our team-building decisions prior to a mission, and led to some cheesing of the system with characters like Iron Fist (the game’s only healer).
Four abilities per character (MUA2)
While X-Men Legends 2 (and even Ultimate Alliance) had around 10 upgradeable moves per character, it looks like Ultimate Alliance 3 will be maintaining the trend of its prequel. Characters in the upcoming game will cap at four abilities, with each mapped to a designated button on the controller. While this at first sounds disappointing, remember that there’s a large roster of characters (over two dozen!), and that this way there are fewer instances of moves being copy/pasted between the cast, allowing for each hero to feel more distinct. Scarlet Witch, for example, can buff her teammates with a radial healing effect, while Daredevil uniquely uses radar sense to identify enemy weaknesses.
Remember when you could put Scarlet Witch, Magneto, Juggernaut, and Toad on the same team to receive the “Brotherhood of Evil” bonus back in X-Men Legends 2? Or put Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America together in Ultimate Alliance to form the “Classic Avengers?” Ultimate Alliance 3 incorporates and improves this feature, allowing you to once again benefit from assembling a particular team of heroes. Some will deal bonus damage, others receive additional XP, and some even regenerate health passively when grouped up.
There is, however, one hugely significant change to this function in Ultimate Alliance 3: Multiple team bonuses can stack. Put together a team like Black Widow, Spider-Gwen (she’s in this game!), and Scarlet Witch and you’ll trigger a “Women of Marvel” bonus. Add Miles Morales (yep, he’s here too!) and his inclusion with Spider-Gwen will add the “Web Warriors” bonus on top of that. Keep track of which pairings provide which bonuses and you can start putting together more cohesive teams.
Extreme and Synergy
The first three games in the series featured “Xtreme attacks” which worked like ultimate abilities for each character. These ranged from the big crowd-clearers (like Storm’s ‘Raging Tempest’) to the more creative tricks (like Gambit’s ‘Prince of Thieves’ that provided a brief but substantial increase to loot found). These ultimate attacks were removed in Ultimate Alliance 2 in favor of fusion abilities, which came in three varieties: Targeted (for massively damaging single targets), Clearing (AoE), and Guided (which bulldozed the competition in a direction the players set).
Ultimate Alliance 3 is bringing together the best of both worlds, giving each character both an Extreme Attack and Synergy Attacks. Fill up the EX gauge and you’ll build up power to unleash your individual Extreme Attack, or combine unique character abilities together (like Iron Man shooting his uni-beam at Captain America’s shield) to make more devastating attacks. splitting the laser to hit multiple targets, Storm and Thor create a cyclone with electricity, etc. If all four characters unleash their Extreme Attacks at once it’s considered an Ultimate Extreme and generates a ton of additional damage.
If you’re a Nintendo Switch owner, this is your time to shine; it’s the only platform that will be able to play this game, at least for now. Interestingly enough, this Marvel made this decision after Nintendo first visited them – before the Switch was even publicly revealed. They showed them the hardware and discussed their plans to move forward with its launch, and the presentation was solid enough to convince Marvel to work exclusively with Nintendo on the game.
While Marvel Games is providing the character selections and writing talent, the game’s actually developed by Team Ninja. Marvel Games were huge fans of Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo for years, and always wanted to work with them. Both teams wanted to see the series return, and when Nintendo eventually jumped on as their publisher, they started cooking with gas.
Meet the cast
While the first two X-Men Legends games focused on keeping the characters in the X-Men (and Brotherhood) family, Ultimate Alliance brought the story to the full Marvel universe. This meant the inclusion of characters like Daredevil, Dr. Strange, the Fantastic Four, and Venom. Ultimate Alliance 3 is bringing in a huge assortment of characters, some of whom are making their debut, such as Crystal, the Guardians of the Galaxy (finally!), Miles Morales, and Spider-Gwen.
Check out this pic of the the full roster so far:
Marc Sumerak is recognized as one of the best writers for Marvel content, and his talents are coming to the franchise once again. He wrote the plot for Ultimate Alliance 3 with the intent being to weave together aspects of both the comics and the films. As such, characters like Captain America will draw from both: He’s got the looks of Cap from the MCU, and has an appropriately cool shield kick animation, but some of his other moves (like his more cartoonish block) are more in the style of the comics. Similarly, his attitude and dialogue will be a little more on the corny side. As for what this plot is, we don’t know the full details yet, but here’s what we do know:
The story starts with the Guardians of the Galaxy entering a derelict Kree warship. Here they confront Nebula, Ronan the Accuser, and eventually Proxima Midnight, the first encounter with Thanos’ Black Order. The infamous Infinity Stones are gathered aboard this ship, and the ensuing battle scatters them across the universe. The subsequent chapters take take place at locations like the Raft (at which point you’ll be introduced to most of the other cast), the Shadowland, New York, Avengers Tower, the X-Mansion and more. We also know that certain baddies (like the Green Goblin) will be in possession of various Infinity Stones.
Since the game can be played either locally or online, every character also gets a variety of emotes (to help communicate without a headset). Iron Man will have numerous quips he can say at any moment, and Hulk is verified to shout “Hulk approves!” which we’re certain that players won’t spam.
Alliance Enhancement System and ISO-8
If you’re still disappointed that each character only gets four moves, you’ll be happy to hear about these two big gamechangers: ISO-8 and the Alliance Enhancement System. The latter is a series of upgrades that applies to the whole team. The dev team has cited it as being similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, with nodes unlocked through both credits and enhancement points. Characters will level up individually as they always have, and Ability Points (another takeaway from earlier titles) can also be used to improve your character’s primary abilities.
ISO-8, on the other hand, is an element that you can equip on your hero. This lets you tweak their abilities in a fight to dramatic, direct effect. These are dropped during particularly tough encounters and provide creative new elements to your combat: Decreasing damage when health is low, increasing the chances of health orbs dropping, largely improving your chance to stun, and more. You can also break down individual ISO-8 pieces to upgrade other pieces to bolster their effect.
Speaking of tough fights, we also know there’ll be a new “stagger gauge” mechanic. This is a feature implemented during fights with heavies, mini-bosses and boss characters, and will be displayed via a purple stagger gauge. This gauge will have to be depleted before you’re able to do any lasting damage to the target, and the enemy is stunned and open to attack. The only way to reliably deplete the stagger gauge is to deliver continuous damage. Considering that you’ll have to balance this with managing your own power cooldowns, this will undoubtedly lead to some pretty cool changes to the usual strategy.
Lastly, we know that Ultimate Alliance 3 will include Infinity Trials, which work similarly to the Rod of Trials from Ninja Gaiden 2. These Infinity Trials are optional battles that appear as rifts during your first playthrough. Players will be transported to a new location, in which a tough challenge mode will trigger, featuring twists and variations on previous encounters. Undergoing these trials are always heavily rewarded, and are most certainly worth your while if you’re trying to maximize your characters before the start of each new act.
Stay tuned with Softonic for more news and details about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as they’re made available. We can’t wait to get our hand on a copy on July 19 – less than a month!!