More than a decade after Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 debuted, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is finally here. The game is fun, vibrant — and a lot more difficult than its predecessors. Team Ninja is known for developing tough games, and Ultimate Alliance 3 is no exception. However, you can rise to the occasion by constructing a smart team, building your characters to suit your play style and tracking down the game's rewarding extra challenges. From managing your superhero roster to upgrading your Iso-8, there are lots of tweaks that can take your experience from "impossible" to "invincible." Excelsior!
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Leverage team bonuses.
One great thing about Ultimate Alliance 3, compared with its predecessors, is that you can get team bonuses, even if only two characters share an affiliation. (In previous games, all four party members had to belong to the same team.) You can throw together any four random characters and get something good. But if you're looking to maximize a particular benefit (more health, better defense, etc.), simply check the Teams screen to see which party members fit. Go to the Hero Select screen, and press Y to see a full list of teams and affiliated heroes. Then, build your party accordingly.
Go the "wrong" way to find rewards.
As long as you follow the dot on your minimap, you can get directly from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. However, doing so (at least on your first play-through) isn't a great idea, as you can find lots of useful stuff if you venture off the beaten path. Search dead ends, unoccupied rooms and breakable walls, and you'll find XP cubes, Iso-8 spheres, Infinity Rifts and more. The Infinity Challenges, especially, are important for leveling up and unlocking new characters, so when Nick Fury says there's one nearby, find it immediately. Remember: The next plot point may prevent you from backtracking, and then you'll have to replay the whole level.
Participate in every Infinity Rift.
As you traverse the game, you'll discover Infinity Rifts, optional challenges that you can take on at any time,even from the main menu, between plot chapters. Provided you meet an Infinity Rift's level requirement, I suggest you take it on as soon as possible. Infinity Rifts are great for leveling up, as you'll fight tons of minions, or XP-rich bosses, or both. You can also earn extra rewards depending on how well you do, including XP cubes, Iso-8 spheres and alternate outfits for your heroes. Some Rifts even grant you access to hidden playable characters. While I won't spoil which ones, some fan favorites are tucked behind the toughest Infinity Rifts, so you'll definitely want to work your way up.
Visit the Lab.
As you play UA3, you'll accrue money and Enhancement Points. You can spend these in the Lab, which you can access from any S.H.I.E.L.D. point. In the Lab's Alliance Enhancement section, you can upgrade your entire team's stats, damage, defense and more. While these upgrades can get expensive pretty quickly, even buying just a few of them can start to turn a chapter's tide in your favor. Best of all, upgrades are permanent and affect every single hero you recruit. Later on, you can also use the lab to upgrade Iso-8, equipable accessories that can enhance individual heroes' stats. The process is a little tedious, but the boosts can be profound — particularly late in the game, when you can equip four different Iso-8 upgrades at once.
Replay missions (if necessary).
If you find yourself needing more XP, or you think you might have missed a helpful extra item, you can always replay chapters. This is also a great way to bring underused characters up to par, or simply experiment with characters you may not have tried before. To replay a chapter, head to the main menu and pick Chapter Select. Then, you can replay a chapter in any difficulty level that you've already unlocked. Be aware, though, that the game can support in-level saves for only one chapter at a time. That means that, if you're in the middle of a chapter and jump to another one, all your progress in the first chapter will be lost. (Your individual character progress will remain, though.)
Try new party members …
There are 36 characters in UA3, making it the most densely populated game in the series so far. (And there are at least three more DLC packs on the way, featuring the Fantastic Four, more X-Men and characters from Marvel Knights). Couple that with the game's more lenient team bonuses, and players have every reason to try out every new character who comes their way. Characters have different strengths and weaknesses, which you can view in a stat matrix on each one's status screen. This way, you can make a party that's balanced between melee attacks, projectile attacks, normal defense and energy defense — or you could just make a party that leans really, really hard into one particular strength.
… but don't get too attached.
One difference from the previous Ultimate Alliance games is that heroes in UA3 don't gain experience unless they participate in battle. That means that a character who's out of your party for too long becomes functionally useless. If you try out a new party member and don't love the way he or she plays, swap in another character ASAP. If you don't, you'll find your old party members under-leveled and will likely have to replay chapters or Infinity Rifts to get them back up to speed. To be fair, the game gives you a generous number of XP cubes to alleviate this problem. But during a single play-through, you'll acquire enough cubes to keep only one or two extra party members up to par. If you want to train up your other heroes, it's best to save them for a different play-through.
Heal early; heal often.
Enemies in UA3 hit harder than ever before, and your healing options are much more limited. Unlike in the first two games, where every enemy and crate spewed forth healing items that your team automatically collected, orbs that restore your health and energy are much rarer this time around. Furthermore, your party won't collect them automatically; you'll have to run around the battlefield and get them for yourself. If you don't, they disappear after a minute or so. I don't have any perfect advice about how to balance healing and attacking, since you don't want to lose momentum in battle by hunting down every last orb. But keep an eye on your health, because your "revive" skill has only three charges per battle.
Don't forget to upgrade your skills.
Each character has access to four special skills, which unlock as you level up. However, skills don't automatically get stronger. Instead, you need to manually invest AP, which you acquire as you level up. Upgrading skills lowers their cost and upgrades their damage output. There's no special trick here; just pick the abilities you like, and upgrade them as you can. I bring this up only because new characters who join your party do not come with skill points automatically allocated. If you just recruited a hero and are wondering why his or her attacks are barely scratching the enemy, it's probably because you forgot to allocate skill points.
Find each boss's weakness.
Some bosses in UA3 are straight-up slugfests, but most have some sort of gimmick that you'll have to master. Some of these mechanics are clever, and I don't want to spoil specific fights. But I'll say that in three early examples, you'll have to defeat additional minions, toss an enemy's projectiles back at him and fire mounted guns at a giant boss while he's stunned. If you're trying to stagger a boss and even your strongest attacks have no effect, you're probably missing some part of the environment that could make your job a lot easier. If you can interact with an object — particularly an object that you haven't seen during the course of the regular level — that's probably the key to defeating the boss.