Sawbuck Gamer

Assembly Required

Marvel: Avengers Alliance is a fun exercise in superhero team-building.

By Samantha Nelson • April 30, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

The team-up concept is simple and lucrative. Get some superheroes who people like, put them on the same team, and have them fight together. It works in comic books, it worked in the Avengers movie, and it works in the Marvel: Avengers Alliance game.

The reason for the team-up is not so important, so the best explanation that Alliance provides is that some cosmic event called The Pulse has rained a McGuffin called Iso-8 all over New York, sending every superhero and supervillain on a mad chase to get as much of it as they can. You play a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent tasked with leading heroes into battle. Your team and your enemies take turns unleashing a huge variety of moves—from Iron Man firing missiles that set people on fire to the Invisible Woman erecting force fields around her team.

You complete missions to recruit more heroes to your team, thus making your grand alliance even grander. Some missions can only be completed by a specific hero, which is the game’s way of nudging you into playing with some more obscure characters. The game also includes a huge set of “research” paths by which you unlock new gear, a strong player-vs.-player combat system, and time-limited side missions that offer even more special heroes as rewards. There’s plenty of fun here to keep players busy until the next Avengers movie comes out.

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27 Responses to “Assembly Required”

  1. Jackbert says:

    Justice League, Avengers, or X-Men? And why.

    Justice League. Though they do have to deal with “overshadowing” issues (Batman and Superman being more powerful and popular than everyone else), they have the most consistent roster, and the best storylines in my opinion.

    • X-Men.  Justice League and Avengers have ACTUAL LITERAL GODS on their rosters and it seems like the only interesting stories they have to tell (where the heroes seem like they face a real threat) are COSMIC SUMMER CROSSOVER SUPERVILLAINS ARGHH stories.  Or lofty meta-/Kingdom Come/Watchmen-wannabe stories.

      Truth be told gimme a Spider-man loner hero any day.

      • Jackbert says:

        Justice League and X-Men are close for me. I’ve read more of Justice League than X-Men though, so I’m sure my opinion is biased for that reason.
        Yeah, I’ll take Batman over any of the three. (Another reason I’m biased towards Justice League!)

    • Roswulf says:

       X-Men, simply because the team actually has a core idea in the relationship between humans and mutants. It’s not the most coherent of core ideas, but it allows “X-Men villain” to mean something whereas “Avengers/JL villain” simply translates as “significant threat.” The Justice League and the Avengers are forever burdened by their “Comics Universe Team Up” origins.

      Or to be more honest, X-Men, because I watched the cartoons as an impressionable child.

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      I’ll be the lame guy who picks all three, because to my mind they’re good for different things. The Justice League has a lot of semi-mythological weight to it, it’s more or less the story of a pantheon deciding what to do with their immense power and heroic destiny and so forth. The characters are more defined by their power sets and their assigned roles in the DC cosmology than anything else. Reading a great Justice League story is like reading myths from a pantheistic, much cooler version of modern society.

      The Avengers, on the other hand, are more like a workplace drama. Being Avengers is a job, with a pretty high chance of workplace injury and very high turnover. At their best, they’re just as likely to deal with a bunch of random villains as with some grand cosmic hoop-de-doo, and the contrast between their more fantastical exploits and their workaday lives in between creates the most fun in my opinion. They also have the most diverse mix of characters (to a fault, actually. Is anyone NOT an Avenger of some sort these days?), who are more interesting as people than as power archetypes.

      The X-Men are at heart a family story. They’re people thrown together by quirks of genetics and fate, struggling to get by in a hostile world. So you tend to get more domestic drama, because they’re X-Men all the time. They can’t just go home at the end of the day, they’re always together. It’s one reason you see so few of them split off into other teams. Being X-Men is what defines them the most.

      So, depending on what mood you’re in and what kind of story you want to read, the answer to your question could be any one of them at any given time. Thank you, this has been “The Space Pope thinks about comic books too much.”

      • Jackbert says:


        Very apt descriptions. I might have to steal your Justice League as myths and Avengers as workplace drama theses for arguments with my friends, because none of them would pick Rescue Me over Homer!

    • Electric Dragon says:

      Justice League. But only in the form of the early/mid 2000s Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoons.

    • Cloks says:

      Justice League International. I like my superhero teams blundering and comical.

    • X-Men because they’re the only one whose inactive time is just as good if not better than their superheroing time. The best parts of the Justice League cartoon were the will-they-won’t-they moments between Batman and Wonder Woman, and the best parts of the Avengers movie were the banter bits because they’re portrayed as genuinely interesting people. The JL and Avengers comics try to do this, but it always comes off stiff and dreary (except for Justice League International with Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, and Shazam, as that book clearly had one foot in the comedic end of the pool).

      X-Men, on the other hand, more often come across as some sort of awesome college dorm. They’re constantly outside playing softball or basketball or having water balloon fights. They’re very open about their ego clashes and incestuous hook-ups and they have to work through those emotional entanglements and try to become better people and better heroes for it. The Justice League don’t tolerate that sort of behavior and the Avengers, well, they have Hawkeye for all that. The X-Men are also the only one of the three where it feels totally natural for a villain to reform their ways and join the good fight or for a hero to cross the line and go too far. Sure, both the Avengers and Justice League have had former baddies on board, but they always labelled as “the wild card” for it.

    • I can’t really compare them, since I’ve only ever followed X-Men.

      What I loved about X-Men, especially in Claremont’s original run, was its ability to be dark and grave and serious, and actually pull it off.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

      Well, Avengers and New Avengers are definitely the best team books coming out at the moment, so I’m probably going to go with them. I gave up on DC a few months back, all this editorial shit just ground me down.

    • stakkalee says:

      I’m going to go with the Justice League as well, primarily for story reasons.  Marvel Comics grew organically as a single, shared universe while DC Comics had various publishers ‘bolted on’ to the central universe; as a result you have all these different comic book genres overlapping.  In the hands of a talented writer the Justice League presents the greatest possibility for story variety of the 3 teams.  Since the League only really gets together for the world-altering stuff, the rest of the time you’re looking at 2-3 person teamups – Superman needs Zatanna’s help dealing with a magical threat, giving us a vulnerable Superman and Zatanna in a sci-fi story; Green Lantern and Hawkman get together to hunt space fugitives, and we see the differences between Thanagarian and Oan peacekeeping methods; Batman and Aquaman team up on a criminal-harming-the-environment story and we have two authoritative personalities butting heads.  With a good Justice League story your destination is limited only by the talent of the writer.

  2. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    I played this game for a couple of months, and was having a lot of fun with it.  It’s one of two Facebook games I’ve actually spent money on.

    Unfortunately, I started getting an increasing number of “combat validation error”s – which basically means “your fight went too well, didn’t match what we think you should be able to do, so we’re going to void your match, make you reset the game and lose any resources you used for the fight”.  Checking the forums, this was a problem for a lot of people.

    I was trying to gain ranks in PvP at the time, and these errors ruined my progress.  I posted on the forums several times asking for help over the course of about two weeks, and Playdom never replied to me or anyone else about it, so I quit the game.  Very infuriated that I spent money on gear that apparently made the game think I was cheating somehow.

    It seems to me that especially with a game that has somewhat of a “pay to win” setup, that if I spend money for tokens or powerups that help combat, and then you void the match where I used those items, you’re basically stealing from your customer. (If you don’t address the problem at least, which they did not.)

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      According to the forums, after the last PvP season the errors were fixed.  Too bad that did nothing to help me, who spent money DURING that season that was wasted.

    • The PVP seasons always feel horribly broken to me. They start me off against level 124 players with Black Cat and Deadpool (which everyone buys because he’s cool and popular but actually he’s not very good) who drop dead after one round, then start throwing all these level 52 players with magical glowing trenchcoats, movie uniform Avengers and that damn tactician version of Dr Strange (or worse, Annihilus Human Torch) who just refuse to take damage at all. Where are the players in between? Let me face them, make it a fair fight!

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        For horribly broken PvP opponents, I’ll take Hercules or Scarlet Witch.  I can only kill them if I get a stun in before they start doing their thing.  Every time Hercules dodges my attack and gets a free counter attack 1-shot kill, I want to murder a kitten.  And Scarlet Witch always does her “next attack is heal instead of damage” buff right before my Savage Hulk Thunder Claps everyone to death.

        • I thought I was so clever when I first put Hercules on my team, but then everyone started doing bleeding attacks and he would get bleed out damage on every counter, whether it connected or not. He wound up being the first party member to pass out every round. Right now I rock the wunda twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Hexing your opponents with her basic attack is the very best thing, but her defense is practically non-existent.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          @dsanskrit:disqus  – Out of stubbornness I used Hulk and Doctor Strange all the time in earlier levels.  (Strange’s ability to do an AoE attack and AoE heal in the same turn was too good to pass up.)  When I started getting my ass kicked by Captain America all the time, I got my own WWII Cap and replaced Strange with him.

  3. Mike Podgor says:

    This is one of the few Facebook games I play regularly, and I’ve noticed that a few characters seem absurdly overpowered for PvP. The Human Torch is one of them, as he continually restores his own health and if you hit him with a melee attack you get hurt. On the whole, though, it is an enjoyable game. Basically an RPG without a story more extensive than “Stop these guys from doing things”.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      The key I found for fighting Torch is to hit him with a debuff attack so his heal goes away.  Then he’s pretty easy from then on.

      • inamine says:

        That and a pinpoint debuff gets rid of everything annoying about him (other than leaving him with 2hp before his turn)

    • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

      The PVP is definitely flawed; the rock-paper-scissors nature of the game actually helps keep things in check to some degree, but there are definitely heroes that are basically required to get much further than diamond league, most of them on the pricey side. Captain Britain and Psylocke are my most successful combo, along with some key pieces of gear; the Power of Four and the Magnetic Accelerator are both ridiculously powerful farmable items.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        What ticks me off is how many people have that goddamn Scroll of Angolob from a previous PvP season.  Being able to remove all enemy buffs and friendly debuffs as many times as you want with no cooldown is CRAP.

        • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

          I know right? The only upshot is while it’s a free action, it actually has a three turn cooldown, so if you can bait the AI it’s at least semi-manageable. That said, the worst part is you probably won’t even know if they have it until it’s already fucked your plans completely.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Oh, it DOES have a cooldown?  Maybe it was some other piece of overpowered crap I’m thinking of that can be used every turn…

          Oh, I remember.  It’s something that drains health and stamina from all enemies and gives it to your team.  And I think has zero cooldown…WTH?

  4. Jeremy Sullivan says:

    I’d go with X-Men, simply because they so often have no business winning the fights they get into (especially the original team). The ability to fly (end of list) or throw snowballs at a guy doesn’t really compare to wielding a GL ring or Mjolinir.

  5. mizerock says:

    I’ve been playing this game for a long time, and have only spent $1 of real money on it [there was a gold sale, months ago, that was simply too good to pass up]. I only had two FB friends that also played it, and after they gave it up I figured I would have to stop too, since it’s so much harder to play without those daily mutual gifts. But no! The habit is too firmly ingrained by now. So what if I don’t rank very high on PvP? So what if I run out of ISO long before I’ve completed the special missions? So what if I can only occasionally afford to level up my characters, or to recruit new ones? I still find myself eager to prove myself a worth agent to Nick Fury.

    Probably 1/4 of all I know about Marvel characters, I learned from (or was inspired to research due to) this game. Maybe even more.