When the first and second Marvel Ultimate Alliance games were re-released recently, it was bittersweet. It was cool seeing these classic games regain the spotlight for a little bit, but it was fleeting and never led to anything new. Raven, the original developer of the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance and the X-Men Legends series, is still stuck making Call of Duty content. Marvel licenses jump around more lately, now that the brand is so valuable. A Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 will likely never happen. But over the past few years, Marvel Heroes has been getting better and better. With Marvel Heroes Omega debuting on consoles soon, the game is in its best position yet to lay claim as the next best thing.
When Marvel Heroes launched, things weren’t great. It was confusing, poorly balanced and just sort of bogged down in a sloppy way. But Gazillion didn’t give up, and it has since been relaunched as Marvel Heroes 2015 and Marvel Heroes 2016. Massive improvements have been added, consisting of things like content, character rebalancing, and tweaks the allowance of free content. Marvel Heroes Omega almost feels like a different game as well, with its UI and controls tailor-made for console play. Local multiplayer helps a lot as well.
So what is Marvel Heroes? How does it compare to Marvel Ultimate Alliance? Here’s the pitch: Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play, online multiplayer dungeon-crawler. It’s more or less Diablo, but with MMO trimmings and microtransactions. David Brevik, who is most known for his role in the creation of Diablo itself, even ran Gazillion and served as the face of Marvel Heroes for a long time, before leaving the company in 2016. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a very similar style game, as it is an isometric action-RPG based on building characters and combining skills.
Marvel Heroes’ greatest strength is how flexible it is. The roster is huge and all kinds of goodies, such as costumes, can help customize a player’s experience. Skill trees are very open, although the Omega version appears to be simplifying them to some degree. It’s also very quick; while inventory management is still a big thing, even more because that’s how free-to-play games go, the combat itself is fast, exciting and smooth. Marvel Ultimate Alliance could be clunky at times, with weird button inputs and sluggish attacks.
That flexibility is tied to an enormous amount of fan service. Another part of the appeal of Marvel Ultimate Alliance was how much cool stuff you could unlock. Different characters, costumes and other neat Marvel tidbits were all over the place, and that meant you could experiment with more characters than simply Wolverine in a t-shirt and Spider-Man.
Marvel Heroes Omega takes it to the next level. Want to play as Squirrel Girl? Different versions of Thor? Spider-Gwen? All are present and accounted for. Marvel Heroes Omega will have over 30 characters at launch and assuming it takes off, will double since the PC version is over 60 at this point. Each of those characters has multiple costumes available, some of them changing the model, animations and voice of the characters entirely. In addition to that are team-up characters, which assist players and expand the roster even more. It’s amazing how much pure content is in Marvel Heroes, and while it can take a while, most of it is entirely free. Or, you know, you can drop coin to get it faster. We don’t judge here. Much.
Where Marvel Heroes Omega is lacking is the story department. It’s there, but there are no pretenses about the game mostly being about dungeon-crawling and loot. The Marvel Ultimate Alliance games were much more ambitious, for both better and worse. The first was all over the place, but did an admirable job bringing in as many characters as possible and tying it all together. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 went big and tried to do a less crude Civil War, which went about as well as an adaptation of mediocre source material could. The X-Men Legends games were also hovering around the “not great, but enthusiastic and sincere” territory, and that’s pretty cool for a comic book game.
Do I think Marvel Heroes Omega will replace Marvel Ultimate Alliance? Nah. They exist in a similar genre bubble, but are different kinds of experiences. But they’re similar enough to scratch the same kind of itch. If you want to play a new Marvel RPG and don’t want to play some particularly awful mobile games, Marvel Heroes is where you want to be. Marvel Heroes Omega looks like a great game, especially for local co-op dungeon-crawling. Especially since you can play as Squirrel Girl and Rocket Raccoon. Just saying.