Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a mostly welcome, modern update to the popular series with a few noticeable flaws.
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 19th, 2019
One of the most pleasant surprises in video gaming in 2019 is that a long-awaited sequel to a series that seemed dead in the water has actually been announced and released in relatively short order. There are actually multiple game franchises this could apply to but in this specific case, we are referring to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.
Though it has had a re-release on modern consoles (albeit a somewhat shoddy one), the last entry in this popular franchise, that started with X-Men Legends in 2004 and grew to include the whole Marvel comic universe, was Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 in 2006. The series formula – which was basically a “What if Diablo, but with superheroes? – worked and was really successful for a time; but, they also pushed out four titles in two years. The rapid release seemingly led to franchise fatigue.
Thirteen years later, the series returns with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order and a lot of things have changed. The series, which was previously multi-platform, is now a Nintendo Switch exclusive. There have been various developers involved with the franchise; this time it’s Koei Tecmo – best known for series like Dynasty Warriors. That should be a worrying thing, as those games are big on action and spectacle, but also tend to get boring pretty quickly for many. However, Koei Tecmo manages to deliver something with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order that feels pretty much like a natural evolution and continuation of the franchise.
The plot of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order loosely follows along the same lines as the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last few years. There are these very powerful stones called Infinity Stones that control things like time, space, reality and so on. An already very powerful bad dude named Thanos wants the stones. It would be very bad if he got the stones. You, as various heroes of the Marvel Universe, must stop not only him but multiple other bad guys from possessing the stones.
Where the game wildly diverges from the MCU is locations and cast. In Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, you’ll go from Avenger’s HQ to Wakanda to the X-Mansion and more, with a roster that’s a wide mix of classic characters, newer characters and some obscure characters with some really out there cameos popping in where you’d never expect them.
Much like previous entries, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s biggest strength is easily its fan service, where the appeal is seeing this massive cast interact and team up. However, there are some notable absences. There’s no She-Hulk. There’s not even a mention of Namor or Atlantis. The Fantastic Four are coming as DLC but not involved in the story at all. That said, it’s a more ambitious adventure and crossover than you saw in Infinity War or Endgame, and that’s pretty cool.
The look of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it fits the game well with the characters all sporting a slick cel-shaded style. And unlike a certain other upcoming Marvel game, while a lot of the models don’t match their movie counterparts, they don’t look like bad knockoffs either.
The levels themselves are varied, but also a little bland. The design is mostly corridor after corridor but you won’t notice that much as you are continuously fighting many enemies on screen at once. For the most part, the game runs very well and can handle a surprising number of characters on screen. The only time I experienced issues with the game running was unleashing super team attacks while there were a lot of enemies on screen; the game would suffer some very noticeable frame issues, but it never interfered with actual gameplay.
The camera is a pretty major hassle though. Sometimes it’ll get itself into an angle where you can’t see anything. Other times it’s really hard to judge height and distance. The one other issue I had, mostly when playing undocked, is it’s somewhat easy to lose track of your character when a lot of action is going on; but, it never became a constant problem.
The previous games in the series were mostly simple hack-n-slash affairs. While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t buck that trend on the surface, it actually goes way deeper. Simply jamming the attack button will just make you go down fast, You really need to take advantage of synergy attacks, team alliance bonuses, dodging, extreme super moves and sometimes stuff on the field if you are going to progress. It really helps keep the action challenging and varied.
However, you will still be also doing a lot of hacking and slashing as your primary attack, and while this could have been a pretty dull affair that gets tedious, the combat in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 just feels really good. Hits have an impact, and no enemies are just huge sponges that take forever to put down. It keeps the action at a great pace throughout.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does have some pacing issues in terms of leveling your characters. The “recommended” levels for your characters rise incredibly fast in the story portions, a minor annoyance if you don’t want to slow down and spend a ton of time either replaying chapters or tackling “Infinity Challenges”, which don’t pay out as much XP as they should. This is partially due to the story mode being pretty short; you can get through it in under 10 hours.
You basically have to take new characters onto your party as they become available because only those characters will be properly leveled without any extra work. Experience isn’t shared. There are “experience cubes” that give a boost but they don’t pop up that often and you can’t get many from Infinity Challenges. If these cubes should be raining down constantly – at least in the challenges if not in the story mode – it would at least encourage you to play with more of the characters instead of leaving a large majority mostly unused.
Character level progression may be individual, but there’s also an “alliance enhancement chart” that give stat boosts to your entire roster. It’s streamlined, but there’s a lot of customization involved as well. Your alliance can lean towards something with a lot of vitality or defense or energy. etc.
A way to customize your individual heroes more is through equippable crystals that give individual stat boosts that you can level up and combine to make stronger. This does actually mean your Captain America will likely be very different from your friends’ Captain America – not only due to how you develop your alliance enhancement charts but what crystals you have equipped. It’s a really welcome amount of depth to what could’ve been a fairly straight-forward action game without much in the way of customization.
Ultimately, how much you get out of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 very much depends on how much of a Marvel fan you are (or a fan of previous entries in the series). If you are the kind of person who watches the movies and at least some of the TV shows, maybe even reads an actual comic book or two every now and again, this is probably a worthwhile pick up. It’s a solid game that allows you to play as and team up with some really great Marvel characters that are well-represented, and you’ll really appreciate the various deep pulls and Easter eggs.
If that doesn’t describe you, you’d likely be better off playing actual Diablo III instead of this lite version with a superhero skin thrown on. I certainly fall into the former category so I had a pretty good time with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 and hope there are more entries in the future that can iterate on the formula more.