By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
I took some time this weekend to try something I haven’t done in a while – I played a brand new game. The game, MultiVersus, from Warner Bros. Games is so new, in fact, that it isn’t even being called a full release. It’s technically still in the beta testing phase before final release; though it’s an open beta, and freely available to anyone who wants to download it.
Building on the popularity of cross-franchise fighting games, like Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. games or Sony’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, the game features popular characters from across the Warner Bros. catalog of properties.
Theoretically you could end up in a match where Batman and Bugs Bunny team up against Arya Stark from Game of Thrones and Scooby Doo’s Velma.
Once your past the skins, and the associated super powers – Shaggy, for instance, has a special move where he pulls a sandwich from thin air which he can then throw at his enemy – it’s your basic button-masher fighting game. There are combos and power moves based on button and directional stick combinations. There are special dodges too, and moves associated with specific jump combinations. If you want to bother to memorize them all for each character, I’m sure the super adroit and dexterous could pull of some fantastic and strategic moves. But these games move fast, too fast for me to put too much thought into strategy. I find when I try to set up specific moves and play strategically, I die quickly. When I point my character in the direction of my opponent, mash the buttons like a madman, and rain down a random series of punches and kicks on them, I do much better.
It’s been true with most fighting games (except the Soul Calibur series, where I really do get to play with more finesse), and it doesn’t change much in MultiVersus. Or, at least, it hasn’t so far. To be fair I’ve only played five matches against real people – winning the second, third, and fifth – and only in the one v one mode. Perhaps in team matches strategizing could be more important, especially if you can communicate with your teammate and run interference while they set up a move or combo. I haven’t had the opportunity to catch a friend online and try it out yet, and I’m not even sure if any of them have installed it. There also looks to be a local play mode, where you can sit down on your couch and play the game against the person sitting next to you instead of against an online opponent. However, the game appears to be always online, even when playing in local mode.
Overall it’s fun enough, for a free-to-play game, and it promises to keep itself fresh with a rotating series of unlocked characters. But this mechanic of having a rotating cast of unlocked characters points to at least one of the monetization routes Warner Bros. is likely to take with the game – paid character unlocks.
Right now, for instance, I’ve unlocked Wonder Woman by playing through the tutorial. While I probably should have played my first few rounds with her, knowing she’s unlocked for me permanently, I didn’t. Instead I chose to play with Garnet, from the Steven Universe series. Over the course of my five matches, and three wins, I leveled Garnett up to level 3, and unlocked a permanent power boost for the character. But, if I want to keep playing with her after her rotation on the unlocked list is over, there’s probably going to be an option to pay to unlock her permanently. I haven’t seen this option yet on the game’s store, but it’s still in beta. Not all of the features have been baked in yet.
What I have seen the game hawking already are cosmetic upgrades and something Warner Bros. is referring to as a season pass. If this season pass is like those found in other “free to play” games, especially mobile games, it’s going to include various stat and level boosters, cosmetic upgrades, in game currency and experience boosts. You’ll “earn” these through hitting special game-play milestones during the season.
They’re also selling “Founder’s Packs” that include a number of character unlocks, along with in-game currency and special cosmetic effects. The number of character unlocks and other perks vary, depending on the level of founder you choose to be – starting at $39.99 and going all the way up to $99.99 for the “Premium Edition” Founder’s Pack.
The number of character tokens available suggests there will be more characters added after the beta too. Even for the basic pack, there are more character unlock tokens than there are playable characters currently in the game, and I can’t imagine they’d leave it where it is. Not when their promo video is showing iconic characters that aren’t available yet, especially with the deep catalog of properties that Warner has access to.
With this type of monetization system, there is always the spectre of “pay to win,” which can come in two forms. You can lose access to characters you’ve spent in-game currency and time on leveling up, encouraging you to pay cash for a permanent unlock. Or you can purchase perks and stat boosters or level boosters that give you an advantage.
Both tend to leave some gamers with a sour taste in their mouth. But while that’s something gamers should be aware of, it isn’t reason enough for me, at this point, to write the game off. The local mode alone is a game changer for the free-to-play formula, and I can’t wait to download a copy of the game to a console so I can play it side-by-side with my kids and see their joy at watching Shaggy throw sandwiches at Superman.
MultiVersus is currently available, free, on PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S, and Windows PCs. For this column the game was reviewed on a Windows 10 laptop, with an Intel i5 chipset, 8 gigs of RAM, and on-board graphics, running through the Steam platform, with an Xbox 360 controller.
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