Marvel Rivals is already fun, but it needs to lock down its identity

Key art for Marvel Rivals

After spending a weekend with the Marvel Rivals alpha test, I discovered that I had almost completely forgotten it was a Marvel game.

From the moment it was revealed, Marvel Rivals was labeled an Overwatch clone. That comparison wasn’t simply due to it being a 6v6 hero shooter with a similar art style, but even its UI looked almost identical to Blizzard’s once-dominant title. The main differentiator we knew of before anyone got their hands on it was the fact that it was a third-person game rather than first-person. Now that I’ve gotten hands-on with the alpha test and have a good idea of what the base Marvel Rivals is attempting to build upon, it is clear it is straddling the line between embracing its Marvel IP and wanting to recapture that original Overwatch experience. And while the current experience is certainly enjoyable, it may need to commit to a direction to have lasting appeal.

Putting the hero in hero shooter

The Marvel Rivals alpha let me sample 19 heroes and villains divided into the familiar Tank, Damage Per Second (DPS), and Support roles. Each character has a star ranking for their difficulty, which is helpful considering the current tutorial is so bare-bones that it may as well be absent. That will hopefully be addressed by the full release, but for now, learning any character is a trial by fire.

I was able to sample each of the characters in each of the three game modes: Convoy, Domination, and Convergence. These are the standard hero shooter game modes of escorting a payload and capturing points on a map, and they serve as a solid foundation even if they aren’t terribly creative. While I was expecting the game to evoke Overwatch in its UI and controls, I wasn’t prepared for how secondary the Marvel elements would feel in their current implementation. There wasn’t much that screamed “Marvel” in my first few matches aside from some overbearing hero chatter. (I still hear “I’m Hulking out” in my dreams).

A lot of heroes fight in Marvel Rivals

The word “clone” feels reductive, but it’s undeniable how much influence Marvel Rivals takes from Overwatch beyond the basic hero shooter formula. Doctor Strange’s magical shield and Magneto’s barrier are just Reinhardt’s shield. Groot’s vine walls function like Mei’s ice walls. Star Lord’s Blaster Barrage is analogous to Reaper’s Death Blossom. In the heat of a battle, when you’re mainly only seeing characters besides your own as colored outlines through the frenzy of abilities and particles, they become more functions than distinct characters.

It wasn’t until I moved down the roster that I found a few primary exceptions. Iron Man’s flight ability is completely unique and, while sluggish in its current form, it does play how you would expect that specific hero to. However, it’s really Spider-Man that feels like he’s ripped from a completely different game, for better and for worse. He is easily the most mobile character thanks to his double jump, wall-crawling/running, and web-swinging. Swinging in particular doesn’t feel like it was designed for the more linear and often cramped environments of Marvel Rivals. Being that this is the highest difficulty character, it very well may be a skill issue on my part, but I never felt in control of where I would end up or what surface I would or would not stick to. I wanted to play as him most because, to borrow a cliché, it actually felt like I was playing as Spider-Man. The problem is, for now, Spider-Man doesn’t fit very well in a hero shooter.

Team up abilities in Marvel Rivals

Just like the concept of worlds colliding to pit these heroes together, Marvel Rivals is attempting to merge the traditional hero shooter formula with heroes that retain their own identities. The problem in this early stage is that it is done in unequal measures. Spider-Man’s kit feels faithful to the character, but fails to fit into the mold of the game, while other characters like Magneto may look the part and fit the meta perfectly, but aren’t fully unique. With some balance work, I think Marvel Rivals has a lot of potential in the hero shooter space. It just needs to figure out exactly what kind of hero it wants to be.

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