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MultiVersus is back, but it still has the same identity crisis

MultiVersus full launch roster
WB Games

No game has been able to dethrone Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the king of crossover fighting games, but Player First Games and WB Games’ MultiVersus is trying its best to take the throne.

This game is a melting pot of Warner Bros. properties. It’s a crossover fighting game where characters from DC Comics, Game of Thrones, Scooby-Doo, Friday the 13th, and more can square off in cartoonish battles. It was a hit upon its beta release in July 2022, but that attention quickly fizzled out in the months following its release. In a surprising move, WB decided to delist the beta in June 2023 in order to do more comprehensive reworks for a full relaunch in 2024.

That rerelease is imminent, and I was able to check the new version out and speak to its design director ahead of the launch. From a gameplay perspective, MultiVersus definitely feels like a more polished and intense fighting game now, but this rerelease does nothing to address its at times soulless presentation outside of battle. In fact, it worsens it.

A polished fighting game

MultiVersus relaunches on May 28, bringing gameplay reworks, improved netcode, and new modes, characters, and stages with it. During my preview playtime, I got to go hands-on with three new characters: The Joker from DC Comics, Banana Guard from Adventure Time, and Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th (once again proving MultiVersus isn’t afraid of weird IP pulls). I also experienced Rifts, the new PvP update that improves MultiVersus’ offerings for players who aren’t competitive-minded.

MultiVersus - Official Launch Trailer "Stars Collide. Pies Fly."

It doesn’t feel like an entirely different game, but all the additions and the jump to Unreal Engine 5 do make it understandable why Player First Games and WB Games pulled MultiVersus offline for nearly a year to make these changes. According to Designer Director Daniel Kraft, one of the main elements of MultiVersus that the team focused on after beta feedback was improving online play.

“We’re super appreciative of all the players who joined in on the beta,” Kraft tells Digital Trends. “We took a lot of learnings, so we have been working really hard. One of the main things that we pushed really hard over this past year is getting the netcode working because we feel if we can get the game feeling like you’re sitting next to your friend in the same room, even when you’re playing online, that’s the ultimate win. We’ve put a lot of effort into our new netcode and our new rollback system.”

All my matches ran smoothly, but that is just my experience on a prelaunch build with a wired connection and a limited player pool.

Kraft also stressed that Player First Games wanted to make MulitVersus more approachable and entertaining, which led to further gameplay tweaks (like adding parries and dash attacks), an Unreal Engine 5 upgrade to make the game look better, and zooming the camera in during 1v1 matches.

Black Adam fights in MultiVersus.
WB Games

I enjoyed the core combat of MultiVersus back when it dropped in 2022, and I think it feels even better to me now. My favorite character to play during this preview session was Jason Vorhees, as he can make himself immune to knockbacks while charging up heavy attacks. If the core fighting mechanics are what drew people to MultiVersus in 2022, then that part of the game is stronger than ever.

Demoralizing menus

Although MultiVersus is very enjoyable once you’re in a match, the moment a match ends, players are thrust back into very clinical free-to-play game menus. The game awards various currencies that can be spent to acquire items in an in-game shop (where real money can be spent as well) and for progression toward its battle pass. Returning players will get this season’s battle pass for free, but that will be yet another microtransaction going forward.

The presentation for all this feels pulled straight out of Fortnite. The overwhelming numbers of purchasable items, currencies, and well-known IP thrust in front of my face throughout all this is a constant reminder that WB’s corporate overlords are looming over MultiVersus and hoping it’s a financial success. I was granted access to everything in this prelaunch build for free too, so I imagine I’ll feel that even more once this stuff is all actually locked behind playtime or paywalls.

I hoped that Rifts would help shake this feeling, but it doesn’t. Each rift contains a loose story that plays out across several encounters and culminates in a boss fight. Some of these are standard fights, others add unique stage gimmicks, and some are minigames that recontextualize gameplay.

Reindog, Finn, and Jake in MultiVersus.
WB Games

Kraft hopes these minigames and Rifts at large “help players to learn and understand the characters in a less stressful environment,” and I do think it succeeds at this. It’s where I got the hang of Jason Vorhees before heading online while playing as him. That said, Rifts lack personality in how they are presented. In a game that boasts an impressive voice cast, it’s disappointing to see all dialogue play out in text boxes with no additional audio. Once again, it’s also presented in a clinical-looking menu rather than something more charming like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s World of Light or Mortal Kombat 1’s Invasions.

If you’re not in a fight, MultiVersus gives the same exact vibe as mobile games like Marvel Strike Force. There is some clear passion on display thanks to developers who truly care about the characters featured, but it’s all buried under microtransactions and menus that subtly direct you toward purchases. MultiVersus now lacks the novelty that allowed me to overlook that problem when it first launched, so while I do think it’s fun to play, its retained core issue is harder to ignore than ever.

MultiVersus relaunches for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on May 28.

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Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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