The timing of Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2 is fortuitous. With Captain America: Civil War on the horizon (it releases in the US on May 5), interest in Marvel properties is undoubtedly going to soar. With no Civil War tie-in game announced, it looks as though fans will have to find themselves content with Avengers-related mobile games, and AA2 fits the bill.
AA2 was released worldwide on March 30th of this year. It follows the popular Marvel: Avengers Alliance, which released on Facebook (and later for iOS) as promo for The Avengers in 2012. The first game saw some growing pains behind the scenes: first published by Playdom, it’s now only a Disney Interactive game and is no longer running on Playdom servers. There was even a spinoff game, Marvel: Avengers Alliance Tactics, which was essentially the same mechanics, images, and sound with an isometric 3D map strapped to its back. Tactics was shut down in 2014.
Though successful, the first Avengers Alliance game is arguably constrained by its availability as an Adobe Flash app accessed via Facebook. This is where AA2 really breaks the mold. Released on Android and iOS, the game doesn’t rely on Facebook as a host, although players can still link their accounts and engage in gameplay with friends.
I played AA1 for quite a while a few years back, and although I hadn’t anticipated there being a sequel, I was pleasantly surprised by the decision—and especially pleased by the mobile-only release. AA1 played as a browser game, and it ate up a significant chunk of my memory. Upon launching AA2, I immediately noticed aesthetic differences and token story changes, along with a handful of deeper changes.
In AA1, players have a customizable avatar (a S.H.I.E.LD. agent) who teams up with Marvel heroes. The story itself is split into two seasons, and recounting the details of their plot would be a novel-length exercise, but suffice to say it taps into all sorts of Marvel canon and sends the player after AIM, Loki, and lots of other Marvel big bads. One big thread that ties into both the plot and the gameplay is the acquisition and use of Isotope-8, a crystal that boosts hero stats.
For those who care about that sort of thing, the Marvel Universe reality number for the game is Earth-12131. The art, while not an exact replica of MCU likenesses, is very much influenced by the films—I’d say more so than it is the comics. The games exist in an odd No Man’s Land where you’re—or at least I’m—never sure how closely the game is meant to follow the MCU.
With 153 heroes to recruit, level, and train, players can strive to build strong teams with their favorite characters. I usually went for Cap and She-Hulk whenever possible, but I enjoy almost everyone in the Marvel canon, so I wasn’t fussy about who I recruited and in what order. True strategists might find themselves wrapped up in the endless quest to recruit and train the perfect team.
In AA2, Hydra is the big bad, although other forces are encountered throughout. Isotope-8 was nixed for this game, and we’ve gained power cells to unlock upgrades and heroes. This time around, the player doesn’t have an avatar to bring into battle. Also, AA1 included a helicarrier with which to send individual heroes on special missions, and that was nixed for this game too. General combat, while improved, is mostly the same.
In fact, the designers seem to have realized the value in not significantly rehauling a popular property. Gamers interested in turn-based combat and Marvel superheroes were overall satisfied by AA1, and that meant keeping it simple for AA2. For me, the trite plot plays second fiddle to the thrill of sending superheroes into battle, but for others the continuation of the storyline might be a draw.
There’s also a handy new option to include three “reserve” heroes in addition to the main lineup (which is usually a frontline, an ally pre-selected as per the level’s plot, and a leader), which means that if a character is defeated you can just swap them out. This was an improvement over the constant healing resources I ate up in AA1. With a judicious combination of heroes with healing abilities and the safety net of the reserves, it’s far easier to focus on combat versus keeping everyone alive.
Overall, I thought Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2 was a sleeker, handier, and easier to play update of something I already enjoyed. Gamers who enjoyed Avengers Alliance will likely be in the same boat.
However, there is one element I think AA2 lacks: more heroes.
Knowing that AA2 is meant to be promotion for the cinematic universe’s latest release, I expected to see more of the characters from Civil War in the game (and more of the plot referenced: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are certainly not at odds in the game), and I expected to see them centralized.
I was looking forward to recruiting The Winter Soldier—and Scarlet Witch, and Falcon—but to my disappointment, there was no sign of The Winter Soldier. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by playing Star Trek: Timelines lately, a strategy RPG that spans virtually all of the Trek canon and gives you multiple iterations of many characters (i.e. Mirror Universe Spock alongside regular Spock), but I wanted a smorgasbord of character options.
Multiple iterations of character is something I’d love to see handwaved into the game—the ability to recruit, say, Bucky Barnes from the Howling Commandos and also The Winter Soldier. I’d love to see Tony Stark from the comics and MCU Tony Stark, and I think other Marvel geeks would appreciate it too.
Obviously, I don’t expect to be personally catered to, but I’m still baffled by the lack of tie-in with the MCU. And if the point is to collect a roster of Marvel superheroes, why have such a limited amount? My hope is that the roster will expand with updates.