The free-to-play game scene is booming right now. There’s Apex Legends, Final Fantasy 14, Fortnite, Destiny 2, Warframe – and so, so many more besides. But getting to the front of the pack is hard: there’s an ever-increasing number of competitors, and what was once the domain of experimental up-and-comers is now the killing floor for triple-A developers. Yes, indies can make a name for themselves in the space, but the established studios rule the roost now: it’s hard to be a small fish in a big pond when sharks like Epic, EA, Ubisoft and Bungie are milling about.
The newest addition to this proverbial feeding frenzy? Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. Teaming up with relatively unknown studio Player First Games (seriously, the outfit doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page at the time of writing), Warner Bros. has wrestled into the free-to-play market in a meaningful way with MultiVersus – a free-to-play crossover fighting game that has pilfered characters from across the expansive Warner Bros. Discovery catalog. If you don’t know the game, it’s like Smash Bros. Except it’s not.
Like Smash, you can select a character from any one of some myriad properties. Instead of Nintendo, though, the roster is picked and chosen from licenses from Warner Bros., DC Comics, HBO, Turner Entertainment, and Cartoon Network. So, you can have characters from Scooby-Doo teabagging Steven Universe, or maybe you’ll see Harley Quinn smash a Game of Thrones character around the face. There’s also an original character, Reindog (half reindeer, half dog), who may quietly be the best character in the game. But don’t tell anyone.
Unlike Smash, there’s a deeper focus on team play, with characters able to equip perks and create synergies that are fundamental to victory. Moves are designed to support each other, characters are thought up in harmony with each other, and stacking boons or debuffs and juggling your enemies between yourself and your ally is essential if you want to come out on top. To me – already about 15 hours deep, I think – this makes it more interesting; coming up against an Iron Giant and Finn the Human that know what they’re doing online is worlds apart from coming up against two randos that spam Batman. The team dynamic keeps you on your toes.
It’s early days, but MultiVersus has what it takes to stand up there at the top of the free-to-play Mount Olympus, fists pressed into hips, shoulders tall and chest out, looming over the myriad interlopers that have come before. And there’s a few reasons for that.
Firstly, there’s the monetization. Yes, it’s free-to-play, so there are microtransactions. But they’re quite unintrusive: if you want, say, the Wonder Woman with some more skin on show (pervert) you can get her for Glemium – that’s premium cash. But you can unlock her, as a character to play as, with in-game currency you don’t have to buy. And it won’t even take you that long to earn enough for a character. If you’re set on maining someone properly, and don’t mind not being able to counter switch between rounds, you’ll probably never have to spend a penny on this game. Sweet! It’s worth noting that it’ll cost you about $255 to get everything you cannot unlock with in-game currency, though – things like skins, ringout effects, announcer voices – but they’re not essential to enjoying the game, or how it plays. Unless you think you’ll only be good at Batman if you’re playing the version with a slightly bigger chin.
If you do want to try more characters (my personal favourite Garnet is available right now), you’ll get the option to test a rotation of free characters that changes every week. It’s a nice way of keeping things fresh for free players, allowing hybrid players to experiment more, and coaxing paid players into learning the movesets of the whole roster. As far as fighting games go, I don’t see a downside! Killer Instinct demonstrated that this model works well back when it launched on the Xbox One in 2013: giving you the option to ‘try before you buy’ lead to a strong playerbase and active community that topped 10 million – some four years after it launched! Can MultiVersus live that long? With such a strong well of content to draw from, it certainly seems possible.
Speaking of which, the support for Multiversus has been superb to date: we’re not even out of beta yet, and already Player First Games has demonstrated it’s willing to listen to fans’ complaints. Taz has been nerfed into the ground – he was one of the free characters during early access, and his incessant tornado attack prompted teams that’d come up against two Taz in a match to simply plop themselves off the edge of the map. It was unfun. And it was addressed within a week. If that’s the reaction we can expect from the studio as we plough on into Season One, there’s a lot of hope.
We’ll see if everything looks this hopeful as the game moves from its open beta phase into its full launch phase, but everything so far seems like a statement of intent from both Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Player First Games. And that 60,000+ player count the game managed to rack up before it even released will no doubt be spurring the developer on, too.
You can tell that this is a game that intends to stick around for a while – you wouldn’t leverage this many licenses in one go if it didn’t – and I truly believe I’ll still be playing it in a year’s time. When I’ll likely be able to see Neo from The Matrix do his bullet-time dodge from Marvin the Martian’s cartoon bullets, as some Mortal Kombat characters look on, confused about why a dog with horns has been able to set them on fire.
This game is beautifully dumb, and I love it. Now, won’t you join me in some toast?