Marvel’s Avengers releases in a pretty strange spot just before the start of a new generation of consoles as a live service game. Though it features a surprisingly captivating single-player campaign, satisfying combat (including a whole lot of “thonks”), and, at times, some absolutely gorgeous visuals, I can’t help but feel like it should have assembled a little later.
The first thing to know about Marvel’s Avengers is that its polarising beta actually did it a bit of a disservice. With the focus on explaining its many moving parts (not very well, it must be said) and getting players interested in its live service aspect, it didn’t devote much time to the game’s best feature: the single-player campaign.
You play, for the most part, as Kamala Khan, an affable “Inhuman” who crosses paths with the broken Avengers in the years following A-Day. Due to a massive Terrigen explosion, Kamala is one of many who have been gifted superpowers and branded an Inhuman, people who are hunted by the shady AIM for their own machinations under the pretense of the Inhumans being dangerous. It’s up to Kamala and the fractured Avengers to come back together to put an end to AIM’s plans, one quip and giant punch at a time.
Kamala is a unique leading lady, a doe-eyed do-gooder who is perhaps too naive for the real world and isn’t afraid to show some vulnerability. She’s an awkward teenager simply trying her best, and while I get the impression she won’t be to everyone’s liking, I feel she’s the best possible driving force for the story, rather than you sulking around as one of the jaded Avengers. She’s intended to be your entry point into this world and she fills that role well.
The composition of the campaign will actually see you playing as each member of the Avengers at some point to prime you for the endgame, and each plays differently to the other. Iron Man is best for raining down attacks from above and providing air support, whereas Thor has massive area of effect attacks that can clear out the screen in no time at all. Black Widow, meanwhile, is great for de-aggroing enemies and closing space down, while Hulk takes the tank role as he seems to be best for soaking up big attacks and pulling away attentnion. Kamala makes the support slot her own, her powers allowing her to heal teammates and also clear some room with her embiggen ability.
While playing through the campaign, you are assigned a set Avenger for specific levels with AI companions backing you up to mixed results. The AI range from helpful to a hindrance, sometimes working with you to target the biggest threats together while completely ignoring you being down and needing reviving at others. You can also use matchmaking to get other players involved in certain missions, the live service aspects baked in to the single player experience to acclimate you to it for later, though you really can just completely ignore these for your whole time with the story. You’d be wise to.
The narrative is certainly the game’s brightest spot and while it’s nothing particularly fresh as far as superhero tales go, it balances being an origin and redemption story well, helped by the dependable talents of Nolan North, Laura Bailey, and Troy Baker, even if the latter does tend to chew the scenery as the remorseful Bruce Banner. They all share a great camaraderie and natural chemistry, which also extends to the game’s combat.
When Marvel’s Avengers’ combat really gets going and you work in tandem with others to deliver devastating blows and wipe out the many, many onslaughts you’ll face, it’s brilliant fun. Each Avenger features Heroic abilities which can drastically alter the turn of battle, delivering huge damage and also helping out your teammates in tricky situations. With enough skill points, which are earned with each new Hero level, you will eventually be able to unlock Mastery skills on top of the base skill trees that add further complexities and nuances to how your Avengers play, making them really feel like your own.
You don’t really need to engage with the intricacies of the game’s many different skill trees if you don’t want to, though. Marvel’s Avengers works just fine as a no-nonsense brawler while playing through on normal difficulty, though you will need to learn enemy patterns and tells for counters if you want to get through the toughest opponents. It’s always satisfying to counter an attack that’s projected with a wind-up and yellow ring, breaking the opponent’s guard and stunning them before hitting an ability to devastating effect.
There’s also a great heft to combat in general — you can tell the mind behind God of War’s combat is involved here. Strikes feel weighty, especially Thor’s hammer which has just the perfect sound of “thonk” whenever you land a hit. As repetitive as Marvel’s Avengers may be, it settling into a familiar pattern of beating up increasingly cheap robots, I didn’t really tire of all the punching and laser-blasting. It’s the kind of game you can find simple comforts in, shooting the breeze with a friend as you wail on guys over and over, racking up sweet combo moves and thonking an evening away.
It’s a shame, then, that almost everything surrounding the combat and story is so, so weak. Marvel’s Avengers has all the trimmings of a live service game without anything compelling to keep you playing, and it all comes down to the way gear and loot works — the loop that’s worked so well for games like Destiny in the past. To put it bluntly, loot all feels entirely superfluous and like busywork that is neither rewarding nor engaging.
Your gear, which somehow appears invisibly under your Avenger’s skin, defines your Power level, a wildly inconsistent number that defines how well equipped you are for a certain mission. The higher the Power of each individual gear item, the higher your overall Power level and how prepared you are for different situations. In theory. I’ve noticed that the mission Power levels seem to flip flop around when the War Table — basically the rather clunky mission select — refreshes, so much so that it feels pointless gearing up for a difficult mission when the Power level will change anyway.
The way you level up this gear also makes the whole process of acquiring loot feel like an utter chore. In-between missions, you’re able to boost your gear by using one of the game’s many, barely explained resources, and when I say many, I mean “way too goddamn many“. From Polychoron to Uru and the seemingly twenty other resources to collect in Marvel’s Avengers, it’s just an absurd, big red button amount of stuff. There’s so much stuff in the game that it actually ends up feeling overstuffed, as if the developers were afraid players wouldn’t have enough to collect and chucked in everything they could muster instead.
Trouble is, you get better gear after almost every mission, meaning that you gain no attachment to any of the gear you’ve acquired, which makes boosting with the previously mentioned resources a total waste of time. It’s as if you’re trying to appease some giant number god that you never can, just an endless grind of holding L2 to equip the best gear, dismantling the ones you don’t want and then boosting to feel barely more powerful than before. While specific gear has certain buffs and perks, these again feel minimal in their effectiveness and how they change up the overall gameplay. Perhaps this gear grind will be more integral for those playing on higher difficulties, but for most people playing as intended, the whole loot system may come across as wasteful and pointless.
Considering that the quest for loot is the main focus of Avengers Initiative, Marvel’s Avengers biggest attraction after you complete the ten or so hours of the campaign, that’s a bit of a problem. I felt next to no compulsion to keep playing, grinding through the secondary storylines, opening vaults and playing through the same mission structure over and over again: Land in an open environment, collect chests for loot, solve a puzzle for loot, and fight waves of bad guys until there are none left. For as much as I enjoy the combat, I cannot see it being enough to keep me invested in the service aspect of the game for the months and years they’re hoping for.
Perhaps the quest for cosmetics could have kept me invested as there’s an impressive amount of skins of different rarities to collect, though I quickly realised that the grind simply wouldn’t be worth the effort to unlock them naturally. I managed to accumulate 3000 credits over the course of the campaign and many hours within Avengers Initiative, completing objectives with the sole purposes of acquiring said credits. A legendary skin costs 7000 credits. You can find credits and receive them as rewards very sparingly, though this tightfistedness makes more sense when you see the prompts to visit the premium marketplace all over the game’s messy menus. What makes this worse is that I couldn’t back out of the cosmetic vendor the first time I encountered them, meaning that I had to spend my hard-earned credits on something I didn’t want just to move things along.
Marvel’s Avengers’ live service is also let down by just how poor its matchmaking services are. Every other mission selection caused some kind of hang-up or freeze for me when playing with a friend; around a third of our play time together was spent troubleshooting and restarting the game entirely. I couldn’t invite my Strike Team to the helicarrier and then go into a mission as it would just get stuck on a black screen, we instead having to resort to selecting a mission and then joining each other. When we did get into a mission together, finish it and then decide to go into another mission straight after, the game would just get totally stuck in place, our Avengers standing around and grunting as crickets chirped away. Actual crickets. Someone programmed in cricket noise for, I guess, an in-joke? I lost count of the amount of times I had to exit to the main menu or close the game down and try again — pretty sure it hit double figures, though.
So, About Those Microtransactions
Players can spend up to £79.99/$99.99 in one go on credits, which are mostly used for purely cosmetic skins.
However, players can also spend credits to increase tiers on challenge cards to unlock additional resources, which can be used via boosting to level up gear.
Matchmaking isn’t the only place where Marvel’s Avengers feels technically lacking. It absolutely chugs along on a standard PS4, the framerates dying a jittery death during every busy fight. This makes chaotic encounters feel like battling against a tide of porridge, which isn’t ideal when the combat relies on good timing to deal with the trickier enemies the game’s latter stages throw at you. Things became borderline unplayable during the final sequence, my eyes blurring along with the screen as the game crawled across the finishing line. They say (incorrectly) that the eyes cannot see beyond 60 fps, but my word is it totally apparent when Marvel’s Avengers drops below 30 all the time.
Bugs and glitches are also increasingly common the further along you get in Marvel’s Avengers, so much so that it feels like Crystal Dynamics devoted most of their attention to the cinematic-heavy first few hours rather than the game as a whole. I had dialogue get stuck on loop and morph into a frankly stressful wall of noise, AI partners completely disappearing and zipping around the level due to desync, cutscenes that massively stuttered so much that they looked like stop motion, enemies becoming one with walls, and, most curious of all, an entire fight sequence that played out in slow motion. I haven’t played a AAA game this messy in quite some time.
Marvel’s Avengers just doesn’t feel like it’s ready for the limelight. As well as being a bit of a technical disaster, there needs to be more compelling systems and gameplay loops — whether in this generation or the next — to make it worth assembling for as the weeks and months go by. For now, though: come for the game, ignore the service.
A Deluxe Edition PS4 code was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Marvel's Avengers is held up by a surprisingly excellent single-player campaign and let down by its stagnant gameplay loop and widespread technical issues. We definitely can't do this all day.
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