COMMENTARY: Avengers Alliance and the Unexploitable Carol Danvers


As anyone who listens to the Infinite Crossover podcast or follows me on Facebook knows, I’m utterly addicted to Playdom’s Marvel Avengers Alliance social game. Over the last year and change, Playdom has quietly managed to develop what is easily the single best super-hero RPG ever released. Now, that may sound like hyperbole, but it really isn’t. The game features an unbelievably diverse and ever-growing roster of characters ranging from mainstays like Cyclops and Captain America to exotic characters like the recently released Fandral of the Warriors Three and Runaways’s Niko Minoru.

One of the things that has kept players coming back for more is the commitment on the part of the developers to constantly tweaking both the mechanics of the game and the balance of character abilities. One of the most common ways the latter is accomplished is through the release of alternate costumes. This is usually done by way of special missions or as a reward for mastering all of the given tasks in a particular chapter. These alts have included a ’90s-style Cyclops with the ability to keep allies from perishing in combat, a classic Daredevil who applies the irremovable Internal Bleeding attack and, most recently, a Captain Marvel costume for Carol Danvers.

Primary Ms. Marvel Costume
Primary Ms. Marvel Costume

Ms. Marvel was among the initial group of characters released with the launch of the game. Though she was initially useful, the failure of the developers to tweak her in any measurable way saw her quickly relegated to the ranks of characters left to gather digital dust as players gravitated towards characters with exotic abilities and diverse power sets.

What’s more, it seemed a startling oversight to keep the character’s costume options confined to the traditional black and yellow Ms. Marvel suit and an even more revealing version variant modeled on the costume she sported when she was initially released in 1969. Despite the proverbial “full-court press” from Marvel upon the announcement of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s relaunch of Marvel’s new leading lady in the new role of Captain Marvel, only minor tweaks were made to her in-game abilities and repeated calls for a costume reflecting her new title and status went unanswered.

Now, with the launch of the second installment of Captain Marvel under DeConnick, the game has finally caught up with the comics and the way that the developers went about their task wound up being a very interesting reflection of Carol’s journey as a character.

The new model has several interesting facets to it which speak to the ways in which Carol’s role has changed as well as the ways in which she has evolved personally.

Brains as Well as Brawn

Captain Marvel Tactician Alternate Costume

Previously, the character classes available for Ms. Marvel were limited to the Bruiser and Blaster classes. For those who have never played an RPG, this means that she was offensively overpowered as a Blaster and defensively overpowered as a Bruiser. Both classes are severely limited and offer little in the way of advantage to the player controlling them. With the update, one of the classes made available in the Captain Marvel alternate costume is the Tactician class. Tacticians gain an extra attack when hitting or when they are hit by a Blaster. What this reflects is Carol’s greatly expanded role as one of the thinkers of the Marvel Universe. She has long since outgrown her role as a shoot-first, ask questions later brawler. She has been shown to be an effective leader, possessed of a fine strategic mind, even to the point of occasionally challenging the tactical decisions of Captain America (whom she outranks, by the way).

Unchained by the Past

When the Captain Marvel series was announced, I had an opportunity to speak with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. My first question to her related to Carol’s checkered past, specifically her issues with alcoholism and sexual abuse. KSD’s response was very telling as to her intentions. She made it quite clear that, while those problems had played a large part in shaping who Carol was, they would not define who she had become.

Captain Marvel Stats
The Unexploitable Captain Marvel

As a part of the update in Avengers Alliance, the developers added a passive ability called Unexploitable. To understand the significance of this, I’ll take a moment to explain how exploitation works in the game. Whenever a negative status effect like, say, Weakened, Off-Balance or Exposed are applied to a character, a character executing a move with the Paragon Exploiter facet deals extra damage to the character suffering from the application. With characters and items capable of applying, at times, a dozen or more exploitable debuffs, this can easily turn the tide of any match. What Unexploitable does is not only protect Carol herself from this extra damage but all of her active allies as well. All by herself, she removes the ability of exploiting characters to take advantage of perceived weaknesses in an opponent.

It would have been very difficult to come up with a more perfect special ability to provide to a character who has overcome so much to become Marvel’s highest-profile female character and an inspiration in her own right. She not only refuses to allow herself to be limited and continuously harmed by the trauma of her past but challenges those around her to step up in the same way.

The update was certainly long overdue. As someone who shouted most loudly and often for its arrival, I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. Now, since the Captain Marvel alternate costumes are available only once one has completely mastered the most recently released chapter, I’ll ask that you excuse me while I head back to the game. I need my fix, and I need Captain Marvel on my team.

Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.

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