Is MultiVersus going to be secretly amazing?

Opinion by Luke Albigés,

A free-to-play fighting game from a brand new studio might not have the hallmarks of greatness about it, but MultiVersus' creative twist on a beloved formula and bottomless roster potential might just set it up for success.

I'm a sucker for a good fighting game, so I've been quietly hoping for MultiVersus to be great ever since news first leaked about this crazy crossover fighter. In the last week, we've seen a proper gameplay deep dive with the devs taking on two fighting game pros, as well as a new cinematic trailer (both embedded below) ahead of the next closed alpha test taking place this week, and the hype is starting to swell. Now we've had a chance to play the game a little, it seems like there's a chance that if Warner plays its cards right, MultiVersus could be one of the sleeper hits of 2022. Here's why...

MultiVersus has character to spare

Even just in this early trailer, the MultiVersus roster is already shaping up to be something special. Seeing Garnet team up with Jake to take on Taz and Harley (with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Green Lantern reference in the same scene, no less) crossed my geek streams in all the right ways, and it's not just tapping into fandom or nostalgia. The whole cast has been adapted to fit a common art style, and while most come out of this really well (Batman looks awesome), a few (Steven in particular) still feel a little off compared to the rest of the cast. Behind the homogenised art style, though, are voices that fans will instantly recognise in the majority of cases. Kevin Conroy reprises Batman, Maisie Williams is back as Arya Stark, and most characters are voice by actors who have played the role in some capacity, lending a degree of authenticity that just feels lacking in similar games. Yes, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, I am looking at you — what could have been a glorious celebration of decades of cartoon fun ended up falling flat and feeling soulless, thanks in no small part to the lack of voices. MultiVersus doesn't just have its actors phone it in, either...

Quality banter confirmed

If you've played the recent Mortal Kombat games, you'll have seen just how much having characters square up to one another with tailored dialogue before a fight adds to the experience. Even within MK's more limited scope, some of those exchanges are gold, so the potential for amazing lines in something as broad as MultiVersus is enormous. The 2v2 format also gives more angles for wisecracks, letting your character quip about their partner rather than their opponents (hearing Jake try out his best Batman impression will always get me) and there seems to be a pretty surprising spread of these. They're also a great opportunity to drop in-jokes and niche references to really sell it to the fans, and they occur throughout matches... I've never even watched Game of Thrones, but hearing a vengeful Arya Stark return to the stage after losing a stock only to tell Superman she would "bury him in his red bloomers" was magical, as was Garnet kicking Batman's ass then succinctly telling him, "go back to your man cave." The amount of value this adds for fans cannot be overstated, and I've even dropped stocks because I've lost it at a few particularly spicy one-liners. From wholesome exchanges between same-universe buddies to quips you would never expect to hear two random characters share, this is one aspect where MultiVersus is head and shoulders above its peers. And it's only going to get weirder and wilder as the roster continues to grow, too, and with just how broad the Warner umbrella is, that future crossover potential is one of the most exciting things about the game — the well of possible characters, stages, mechanics, objects, and cameos is borderline bottomless.

It's built around 2v2 duos play

Most competitive fighting games are one-versus-one affairs, even if some offer tag team battles — it's typically still one person at the helm for the full team. I've seen my fair share of actual team competitive events and they're always pure hype, so I'm crossing my fingers that MultiVersus might take off as the first big fighter where team play is the standard. So many other esports heavy hitters revolve around team play so it's not like it would stand out as unusual on the competitive scene, plus the game is entirely built to promote synergy and teamwork in 2v2 play. Pretty much every character has at least one move that serves to help their teammates in some way, with support characters tending to have even more — original character Reindog was clearly designed to promote this aspect of the game, with the ability to tether to their buddy and yank them back to safety when they're about to fly off the stage, while Steven Universe's whole deal is using his bubble shield to armour up his ally. Many moves interact differently with friends and foes, so Jake's chomp debuffs devoured opponents but buffs allies while Harley's balloon bombs can either tag enemies or refresh her partner's aerial abilities when they bounce off them to help them soar around the stage. Even just basic coordinated strikes feel fantastic, and it's always a thrill to anticipate your partner's big horizontal knockback not quite being enough to secure the stock and throw yourself off the side to land a huge spike to seal the deal. You can still play 1v1 if you like, but some characters lose more than others there so it doesn't feel as good, and the same goes for the chaos of the free-for-all mode. Doubling down on duos feels like the right play, and it presents many a glorious moment, and with big combo plays possible, it can be as much fun to watch as it is to play.

Characters all have roles

You might have picked up on the little icons on the roster image above... these correspond to that fighter's designated role, and while there's no fixed team composition or anything like that, it's a good indicator of who might fit well as a partner for each character. The fist icon represents the Bruiser archetype, close-quarters fighters with good damage potential and the most common type in the current build. Next, you have Assassins, weapon-based characters represented by the blade icon who typically trade off raw damage for mobility and utility. Then there are the Tanks, represented by the shield icon and designed to take a beating... especially useful for the Mages (fireball icon), ranged specialists and zoners who get most of their damage from traps and projectiles. Finally, the shield symbol indicates the Support role, and each of these brings something different to the table, from Reindog's clutch tether stock saves to Steven's life-saving shields. Good roster knowledge will lead to some smart buddy picks and rematch counter-picks — if you're paired with a Shaggy who likes to charge up or a Tom who needs space to set up hazards, you might want to take someone who can hold down the front line and/or keep enemies occupied to help them do their thing. Similarly, if your partner plumps for someone a little slower, you might consider bringing Finn (who can easily give them lifelong speed buffs) or Harley (to help with their air game) as backup. Again, the 2v2 nature of the game is going to make for some really interesting — and potent — partnerships, especially as the roster continues to expand over time.

MultiVersus' basics are tight

Mechanically, MultiVersus has a lot in common with Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series. Points are scored for knocking rivals off the map, with knockback effects increasing in potency as the recipient has taken more damage. 2v2 games default to first to four KOs and solos first to two, though Custom games do let you fiddle with the rules to your liking. One of the core differentiators between MultiVersus and Smash is ability consistency. Smash gives each character their own tools on a case-by-case basis, leading to some fighters (hey, Kirby) having way more mobility than others. While there does feel like there are slight differences in movement between MultiVersus' characters/classes, they all get the same kit in the air — two dodges, two jumps, and two special attacks, refreshed by touching the ground again. This gives every character the tools to make risky off-stage spike plays or make it back from the brink of defeat, helped by the fact that you can wall jump as much as you like so just making it back to land is enough (so long as there isn't an opponent waiting above with a spike of their own). Between this and the lack of blocking — your only defensive options are either static or directional dodges — it makes for a really fast-paced and aggressive game, which is satisfying to get stuck into and great to watch. Playing into the latter, things like cooldowns and effects right there on your character. How much damage they've taken, dodge availability, skill cooldowns, and even status effect build-up and successful dodge prompts all cling to the character, so players can read the stage quickly and easily while viewers can follow what is going on even if they might not have a grasp of the game's systems. It's hard to miss out on the hype of seeing someone save a stock with a clutch dodge then get the counter-kill when the word "Dodged!" pops up to announce it, after all. Unlike so many similar games, MultiVersus feels tight and predictable, with base systems that work well serving as a great foundation on which for the more interesting mechanics like character interplay to build.

It's surprisingly tech

Let's talk about Perks. Each character gets to equip three basic ones and a single unique one (currently from a pool of just two), all learned via levelling up that particular fighter. The character-specific ones are somewhat reminiscent of the character variations in other recent Warner fighters, offering quite subtle tweaks to how certain moves or abilities function — with Finn, for example, I typically take the one that generates a gem on landing a fully-changed ground attack as it lets me be more aggressive, but if my buddy is struggling, I might switch to the one which offers cheaper buffs after an ally KO to give them a hand in the rematch. Characters level pretty quickly so you don't have to go without for too long, plus there's also an option that lets you borrow a standard perk from your ally (which is doubly useful since they each have enhanced effects when both fighters have the same one equipped). There's a pretty deep pool of these standard perks and each fighter only learns a handful via level-up, but looking long-term, you can use Perk Training to grab any other possible perk in the game for a cost. Better yet, the price is halved if you have that perk unlocked on another character already, so while it costs the same currency used to unlock extra characters (meaning you'll probably want to do that first), things like an extra jump and damage boost when badly hurt sure do look tempting. It reminds me of Street Fighter x Tekken's gem system, only much more subtle and (seemingly) balanced, plus you can see other fighters' perks before a match starts and change yours out before a rematch if you want to try something different.

MultiVersus is fun as heck

My time with MultiVersus so far has been almost the exact opposite of with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. There, I was instantly suckered in by a cast of characters that sung to my childhood self but soon grew tired of its middling, gimmicky gameplay. Here, though, I went in with fairly low expectations despite big love for some of the characters, only to find myself still sitting in the lab with Finn well into the night, just working on fun new combos and plays. The more I play, the more I'm drawn into the game, just like how I get with other more traditional fighting games that get their hooks into me. The team-based nature of the game is a big part of that, and while it's long been an option in similar games, the way MultiVersus leans so heavily into supporting and reinforcing the mode makes it feel not only viable but crucial to the game's potential success. Both in terms of the interesting gameplay options it opens up and that wonderful interplay between characters before, during, and after matches, the 2v2 format is a great hook and while it will remain to be seen how it goes down with the public and the competitive scene, I'm all for it. Finn and whoever against the world, baby!

It's not just multiplayer

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's not just online multiplayer matches that count towards Battle Pass and mission progress — if you don't fancy taking on the world, you can play in bot matches and still earn the same rewards as if you were playing online. You can even bring a co-op buddy along and team up against bots if you want to work through things together, or just stick to solo play while you learn a new character or earn a few perks to get someone started so they're not going into an online brawl at a disadvantage. While it doesn't seem like there will be any kind of dedicated single-player mode (which is probably for the best — good luck creating a coherent story for this crazy roster), the comprehensive training mode and bots will still help you learn and play without fear of running into an absolute monster of a team that just crushes you in seconds, or random co-op buddies who don't know what they're doing (or worse, are simply out to troll). It's also great for if you just need a few more KOs or hits to complete a seasonal mission, letting you batter bots to get that done quickly then bail after the first round. If you are all about the online, though, early impressions are positive, with rollback netcode helping make matches feel more stable and cross-play between Xbox, PC, and PlayStation seemingly working great already.

What about monetisation?

Good question. The alpha gives us what appears to be a full 50-tier Battle Pass crammed into a week, although it's not currently clear how long seasons will be in the final game. Although it isn't live yet but there's a store icon on the main menu and you'd imagine that will be filled with optional consumables on top of all the pass rewards (a la Fortnite and many others), and early screenshots also showed an additional currency, so we'll have to wait and see how (or indeed if) that works, too. The most consumer-friendly examples of the Battle Pass model offer enough premium currency rewards in their Premium tier to pay for the next so long as you're a regular player — Fortnite players have long been able to afford the following season's pass just by progressing most of the way through the current one, so I really hope MultiVersus will follow suit. Character unlocks are done with Gold, a currency that seems readily available in-game. While an alpha is no real indicator of the final game's economy, I was able to purchase all five additional characters in a couple of days, and Gold can be earned for everything from levelling up fighters and increasing your player level to advancement along both the premium and free Battle Passes. What we have right now is clearly designed to be a microcosm of the final system, so I hope it doesn't just get stretched out to fill a longer season — the current regular unlocks feel rewarding and really make you want to keep playing.

It could easily have been a simple cash-in

Warner could have done the bare minimum with MultiVersus and the wild array of characters and content it brings together from beloved franchises and it would still likely be a huge success, so it's absolutely fantastic to see Player First Games live up to its name and deliver something which seems to do the classic franchises featured justice. I've loved my time with the game so far and am looking forward to seeing the ridiculous roster continue to grow, and it's about time Smash had some decent competition — we've seen many a platform fighter since Nintendo's own crossover love-in took off but few have come close to its quality. And as a free-to-play rival with its own massive in-house talent pool from which to draw, MultiVersus has a better chance than any challenger to the House of Mario's effort that has come before. Like, bring it on, man!

Looking forward to trying out MultiVersus for yourself when it goes into open beta in July? Get in the comments and let us know!
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.
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