Marvel Avengers Alliance is just one of many Marvel games that has enjoyed months in the top grossing lists for Facebook, Google Play, and the App Store. It’s not exactly surprising, then, that Disney Interactive has released a follow-up, Marvel Avengers Alliance Tactics. How cool of a follow-up it is might surprise you though, it definitely left me pleasantly surprised.
If there’s anyway to instantly regain my attention after I’m turned off by the phrase “Facebook game”, it’s to point out that it’s a “Marvel tactical RPG”. Admittedly, I’m a big fan of the genre (my favorites are the Fire Emblem series and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance), so I’m going to like any tactical RPG that’s halfway decent. On the other hand, Marvel Tactics could quickly prove disappointing when it’s stacked up against titles from Nintendo and Square Enix.
If you’ve played the original Avengers Alliance, this Tactics iteration is going to feel pretty familiar. Both let you team up with SHIELD and a slew of heroes and villains. Your units still gain experience, level up, learn new skills, and gain access to various equipment slots including new uniforms and stat-boosting ISO-8. Tactics even divides characters into the same six classes as its predecessor: the neutral Generalist as well as the Blaster, Bruiser, Scrapper, Infiltrator, and Tactician classes, which form a rock-paper-scissors relationship of advantages against each other.
Even though both games are so similar on the surface, the tactical gameplay represented by the word “Tactics” in the game’s title changes everything. Tactics amps up the turn-based RPG combat with the ability of units to move around the battlefield, constantly trying to gain the upper-hand in combat. Each map is overlaid by a grid, and each character has a speed that determines how far they can move each turn. In addition to attacks having a damage rating and special effects, attacks also have a limited range and accuracy. For example, Iron Man’s hand blasters deal a good amount of damage to one nearby target, while the unibeam that bursts from his chest hits everything, friend or foe, in a straight line until it hits a wall.
Whereas the original Avengers Alliance let you play a SHIELD agent who teamed up with heroes and villains, Tactics casts you as a SHIELD commander who directs troops rather than directly entering the fray. The first hero to join your team is Iron Man. After a quick tutorial mission where Iron Man dispatches a small but fierce dinosaur, you’ll recruit Black Panther to your team as well. After that, you have full control over which heroes and villains you choose to recruit; although it might be a while before you can afford another.
The game takes place in the Savage Lands, where countless versions of Earth are colliding. You are in command of one particular instance of SHIELD and its heroes. It’s a pretty ridiculous scenario, but it’s a great excuse to pit all the heroes and villains from Marvel’s extensive catalog against each other. It’s why you might be fighting velociraptors with lasers, then experimental scientists, and then fiery Norse demons, all within the span of three missions. It’s also a way to explain why you and your opponent might both have Wolverine when you dive into PvP.
You have your own SHIELD base in the middle of the densely jungled expanse that is the Savage Lands. From here, you’ll send out jets full of your heroes to quest locations and other players’ bases. A jet can carry up to 4 units to each mission. Flying to a mission takes real time, but you can eventually have enough jets and warriors to dispatch multiple missions simultaneously.
Tactics is free-to-play, and it brings all the timers, energy meters, and multiple currencies to go with it. I hate seeing an otherwise fun game hurt by being free-to-play, but that tends to be what happens when a developer leans so heavily on these tools. That said, the original Avengers Alliance had these things and it did just fine. The core gameplay of Tactics is a lot of fun, so I think it’s worth playing as long as you do so in bursts. Sitting down for long play sessions just isn’t possible when it costs energy to start each mission.
It’s not as deep as other tactical RPGs, but it’s definitely on the deep end of social free-to-play games. Each hero can equip four active abilities, a defensive ability, and a passive ability. Each of those abilities can be leveled up. Each hero can also equip pieces of ISO-8 to get their stats boosted. There are six classes of hero but you can only take four to each mission. The amount of customization you can put into a single four-character team is impressive and, more importantly, it feels like it matters. Matching up your heroes so that they compliment each other is a lot of fun. Sometimes that means your heroes will actually have abilities that help each other, and sometimes it just means you have a wide enough variety of heroes to handle any type of enemy you face.
In combat, there are tons of status effects that you definitely have to consider as you play the game. The original Avengers Alliance game has well over 100 different effects and I can only assume Tactics has at least half of those. Effects range from beneficial (Flying) to detrimental (Bleeding) and can be passive (Binary), inflicted (Stun), or self-inflicted. Status effects provide a great opportunity to make smart plays, and the interface makes it easy to keep track of them all. Health and status bars for every unit on the field line the edges of the screen, with friendly units on the left and enemy units on the right. The interface does its job wonderfully, making it easy to get critical information at a glance, and then you can always hover over something for more details.
I’m happy to recommend Marvel Avengers Alliance Tactics to anybody who is a fan of the Marvel universe, the original Avengers Alliance game, or tactical RPGs. The 3D graphics serve the game really well, developing your team is exciting and fun, and the tactical combat is as deep and challenging as you’ll find on the Facebook platform. The decisions you make when building your team and then commanding them on the battlefield feel like they matter, which makes it rewarding to put my time into the game. Traditional elements of free-to-play games work against an otherwise good game. Fortunately, the Marvel games seem to be pretty fair on this front, and you’ll still be able to get in a good 30 minutes per play session.