Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order + Expansion Pass Review

by Harlan Ivester on March 29, 2020

            With the arrival of Marvel’s first family this past week, it seems that Team Ninja’s work on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order has officially come to a close. I’ve poured over one hundred hours into the Switch exclusive, working hard to unlock every character and almost every costume it had to offer. The question is, did I do it because I was having a good time, or did my love of the IP keep me coming back?

            Full disclosure: I haven’t played any of the previous games. My opinion on MUA3 is independent of its legacy. For those unaware, it’s a hack and slash RPG featuring a staggering base roster of 36 playable characters from the Marvel universe, with a few added for free and several more in the Expansion Pass. It offers 2-4 player co-op, locally or online. This game is definitely best played in the former. Online can work well occasionally, but you’ll often see the frame rate left in the dust by a Power Point presentation.

The Story

            As the title would suggest, most of MUA3’s plot is focused on the Alliance working to reclaim the scattered Infinity Stones before the Black Order can collect and deliver them to the Mad Titan. His lackeys are as memorable as they were in 2018’s Infinity War, and this certainly ain’t Brolin’s Thanos. The plot is repetitive; you find a bad guy with a stone, trounce him, and then on to the next area where you meet more heroes (or the occasional villain) to recruit to your team. There’s a little more to it in the back half of the game, but it’s nothing that would ever blow your socks off. That’s okay, though. This story does just what it’s trying to. It gives you some neat cutscenes with cool action and solid voice work. In a hack and slash best played with your friends on the couch, no one is really expecting more. Speaking of the voices, I’m glad to say their lines are decent, aside from one at the end of the story that made me audibly groan. They’re cheesy as can be, but they know that and that kind of makes them fun.

              “I rest my case.”
                   - Daredevil, after defeating an enemy.

              Get it? Because he’s a lawyer?

The Gameplay

            With a grand total of 52 characters, there’s bound to be at least a few of your favorite to play as. I couldn’t keep my team consistent because I was constantly switching out someone because, thankfully, 99% of them are fun and viable team members. That downside to that is, leveling is not shared among them. Only the four characters on your team will level up. This means that if you are at, say, level 50 with your current crew, but decide that Ms. Marvel would work better than Iron Fist, she will still only be level 10 when you tag her in. There are limited solutions to this: cubes that you acquire during gameplay can be used to level up any character from a menu screen at any time. They can also be purchased with in-game currency. Or, much later in the game (or early on if you’re really, really lucky), you can find equipable items that increase experience points gained for all four characters. Unfortunately, these only alleviate the issues somewhat, and I don’t think it’s an accident. MUA3 is designed to make players grind a ton. It’s padding – artificially lengthening your time with the game. If it’s worth it to you depends entirely on whether or not you’re the kind of player who get satisfaction from unlocking every costume, character, etc.

            Then there’s the actual fighting. There are two types of basic attacks. Every character has a light attack that can be chained with additional light attacks building up to a combo finisher, and a heavy attack that doesn’t combine with other attacks in any fluid way. I never found any reason to use a heavy attack, so if I wasn’t using an ability attack, I was just mindlessly mashing the light attack button. Some slight variation in the effect of the order between light and heavy attacks would have made general combat much more engaging.

            Then again, basic attacks are often made obsolete by abilities and Synergy attacks. Abilities are performed simply by pressing one button in addition to a shoulder button, and Synergy attacks are the same, but they trigger a nearby team mate to do a similar attack with you, resulting in much higher damage covering a greater area. This is harder when another person is controlling the character you want to execute the team-up with because you have to time your button presses right, but in single player, you can spam Synergy attacks all day, as long as your EP gauge has enough in it – which it usually does. What I’m getting at is, there’s rarely a reason to do anything other than mashing the same couple of buttons over and over again. You might have to dodge now and then, just for good measure.

             The levels themselves are all very narrow, offering little room for exploration, save the (barely) hidden collectibles. Occasionally, you’ll come across a stage hazard. They’re mostly insignificant, except for when you’re expected to jump through some lasers at the right time. Those are the bane of my existence. The movement in this game is not precise at all, and the jumping is so finicky. Visually, there’s decent variety to the levels, but they all have you doing the same thing. The only one unique being Wakanda, where there are AIM snipers that can take 70% of your health from the opposite side of the map. Not much to speak of.


            At $20 USD, MUA3’s Expansion Pass covers three DLC packs: Curse of the Vampire, Rise of the Phoenix, and Shadow of Doom. To my disappointment, the only new content brought by CotV was the Marvel Knights characters. There are new enemy types with them, but they’re just slight variations on those found in the base game. RotP introduced the Danger Room, a mode where you race against others to complete challenges. It has timed events that are supposed to incentivize players to participate with rewards like costumes, voice lines, experience cubes, etc. Many feared that when time ran out on the event, these rewards would be unobtainable. Turns out, they can still be purchased with in-game currency.

             I let out a huge sigh of relief upon hearing this, because I thought it meant I would never have to play the Danger Room again (but more on this later). DR could be fun if it were functional. It’s not always like this, but I’ve seen the frame rate drop below my shoe size with just a handful of enemies on screen. It’s plagued with bugs that make it impossible to win. It’s usually winner take all in the third round, but every now and then, you have to fight Dark Phoenix in a surprise fourth that actually is winner take all. It’s incredibly annoying when team A wins the first three rounds, but team B gets lucky in the fourth and reaps the rewards.

             Shadow of Doom is easily the best of the DLC packs. It’s the only one with any story to speak of, in addition to new gauntlet challenges like the previous two had as well. I believe it took me an hour and a half to complete the campaign once. Much like the base game, it’s nothing to write home about, and some major “plot” “points” are glossed over like they’re no big deal. Again, what do you expect? Although, much like the Danger Room, I’m happy that I won’t have to revisit SoD’s story now that I’ve claimed all its rewards, because it has the most egregious stage hazards by far. Unfortunately, with the release of SoD came a bug that makes the traditional method of grinding much more tedious. The short version is that it added a loading screen where there wasn’t one previously. This can be fixed by completing a game of the Danger Room once. To my distress, this is not a permanent fix. Unless Team Ninja patches it, I will still have to poke my head in the Danger Room from time to time.

              As for the DLC characters, they knocked it out of the park with all of them. They’re all fun to play with interesting move sets, and some of them have really helpful team bonuses/effects that can totally change how you play the game. In addition to being able to revive herself and fallen allies automatically, Phoenix can refill her team’s EP gauge, and Doom can summon a Doombot that will copy his attacks. Together, they melt health bars in the most satisfying way. Finally, there were over 30 new costumes added in the Shadow of Doom update alone. For $20, I would say that I’m satisfied with the Expansion Pass simply due to the size of its content. I only wish the developers had been able to focus a bit more on quality than quantity.


            Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a good time only to a specific crowd, and even then, it’s definitely got its flaws. At some point, I asked myself if I would keep playing this game if it didn’t feature the Marvel IP, and the honest answer is no. The game is too repetitive and unpolished for me to enjoy it for its own merits. That being said, Marvel fans will enjoy controlling their favorite characters and experimenting with different teams to see how they can most efficiently wipe out bosses, while trying to figure out how to unlock each costume from their favorite comic. This game’s worth depends mostly on the type of fan/player you are. If you know that going in, you’ll have a good time. Just have some patience, too.

Our Score:


A Look Inside