Over the last decade, the popularity of Marvel and its characters has skyrocketed thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So when Marvel’s Avengers was first announced, fans of the comics, the characters, and the movies couldn’t wait to hear more about the project.
Finally, last year at E3 2019, we got our first look at gameplay. With many fans already on the fence due to it not being a part of the well-established cinematic universe, the game had a lot to prove for those judging it at face value. For those that looked past that, the developers needed to show that they could create a story and live service game that lets players fulfill their superhero fantasy while also being able to play with others online.
Last week on September 4th, the Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics developed Marvel’s Avengers was released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Steam) and Stadia. I picked up the game for PS4 and have been spending a lot of time with it this week.
Let’s see how the game fares at release.
The story begins as Avengers super-fan and fan fiction contest finalist Kamala Khan arrives at the A-Day (Avengers Day) celebration where the Avengers are about to launch their new hellicarrier that uses a new power source known as Terrigen. After checking in, she explores the venue as she lives out what I would say is the best day ever for any Avengers fan.
As the main event kicks off however, there’s an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge which, as many people have likely already seen in the A-Day gameplay video, ends with the destruction of San Francisco and the creation of powered individuals known as “Inhumans.” The Avengers end up taking the blame for what happened and the group is dismantled. A new group, Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) led by George Tarleton ends up taking their place. Five years later, Kamala finds herself on the run after acquiring incriminating evidence from AIMs server, looking for members of a resistance group to help her expose the organization. This eventually leads her to former Avenger Bruce Banner, and together they start to fill in pieces of the mystery surrounded the events of A-Day.
While playing the introduction to this game, I had the same exact reactions that Kamala had when going through the various A-Day exhibits. She became instantly relatable. She geeks out when meeting her heroes for the first time, just like I would have. She also has a wonderful support system thanks to her father, who is such a wonderfully written character that helps to keep her grounded in a world of heroes and villains.
Kamala is us: the superhero super fan. And I cannot think of a better character to help lead the narrative of this game.
As Kamala and the Avengers slowly reunite, we get a look into what happens to a group of heroes after the world turns on them- and I love how grounded it feels. As each Avenger is re-united with the group, the circumstances around it help weave the larger world narrative into place.
There’s also an interesting parallel between Kamala Khan and the main antagonist, MODOK (Mental Organism Designed Only to Kill). As Kamala travels with Bruce Banner and helps to “get the band back together,” she’s also on a personal journey as well, one that transforms her from a kid from Jersey into an Avenger. On the bad guy side, we have George Tarleton, who throughout the game is slowly changing into the big headed MODOK that fans have come to know from the comics.
Without diving into the rest of the story and spoiling things, I think it’s safe to say that the narrative is one of the strongest parts of the game and it’s one that is sure to please any Marvel fan.
I Am Iron Man! …and Thor, and Ms. Marvel, and—
Marvel’s Avengers, at its core, is a third-person action game that lets you step into the fancy uniforms of some of your favorite Marvel heroes as you take on missions, bosses, and collect a whole bunch of loot.
As you progress through the main campaign of the game, you’ll begin to unlock the ability to play as the various members of the Avengers. Each one has their own set of skills that you can unlock as you level them up, and each of them have their own specific gear and cosmetics that you’ll collect as you complete missions.
With any live service game, it’s likely that players will grow attached to certain heroes over others. While there’s certainly no problem here with selecting a character as your “main”, Marvel’s Avengers incentivizes you to play all of the heroes by also offering them up as AI companions to fill up your mission roster. Each mission can have up to four players. If you can’t fill the roster with matchmaking, or if you decide to go it solo, those extra slots will be filled by your leveled up Iron Man or Black Widow, complete with the gear and skill set that you gave them when you played as them earlier. It’s a nice touch, and gives you more of a reason to want to play those other heroes.
The missions you can tackle range from quick hit and run operations that can only take up a few minutes of your time, to larger area missions with plenty of optional tasks for your group to do. You can easily just go for the main objective, but a SHIELD agent might need help being rescued, or there might be an extra couple of chests over in the other direction- it’s up to you whether or not you and the group want to go after these (though the answer is almost always a yes.)
While the missions can feel repetitive, either due to the enemies you’ll frequently encounter, or the areas you visit, being able to tackle a mission as an alternate hero can make it feel quite different. As an example, if you’re in a wide-open level with several different objectives to tackle, flying around as Iron Man or Thor can feel very different when compared to running around on the ground as Ms. Marvel or grappling from platform to platform as Black Widow.
In addition to the toolkit given to each character, there are also various environmental obstacles that can help to shake up each mission. Certain doors can only be opened by bashing them open with a character like Hulk or Thor, while other doors require a more delicate, hacking touch by Iron Man or Black Widow. It’s an interesting touch that makes having a varied mission roster a decent consideration. Though, if you’re running a mission by yourself and you’re not playing as one of the door-smashing heroes, the AI companions aren’t smart enough to bust them open.
Additionally, a level might have one or more locked doors, with the locks to open them serving as sort of a mini-puzzle. There are three different types of locks that I’ve seen thus far, and having the type of lock be randomized helps to shake things up just a little bit. Though, admittedly, I’m at the point where I know where to find these regardless of the type that shows up in the level.
As I would get my hands on an Avenger for the first time, I always keeping an eye out to see which one was the most fun to play. And while yes, just the hero themselves may be enough of a reason for some fans to play as them, at the end of the day I want to make sure I’m having fun using all of the bells and whistles they come with. Right when you unlock a character, they don’t really have much in terms of abilities and gear. However, after leveling up and dumping just a few skill points into the various levels of customization that are available for each hero, I quickly found myself growing fond of each character for different reasons. It’s not so much that each hero plays a certain way (they do, to a point), it’s that they can act differently depending on the skills you choose to unlock for them. This allows you to mold even your least favorite hero into one that you can enjoy more than you thought you would. Even after unlocking the entirety of the skills, there are still a lot of variable options for you to set to make sure the hero has the bonuses that are useful for how you want to play them.
As you skill up your heroes and progress through missions, you’ll earn gear for your heroes that can have a wide range of attributes. After figuring out how I want my characters to play, I can then further enhance that by finding gear that adds bonuses to the abilities I use the most. Of course, the gear is heavily reliant on luck that it’ll drop with the perks that you’re looking for. The amount of the bonuses can also differ by mere decimal points, making gear progression frustrating for casual players, but a fantastic thing for those that like to min-max.
Last but not least, yes, there are micro-transactions. However, they are purely cosmetic. Each character gets a “challenge card” which is similar to something like a battle pass. As you level the card up, you’ll unlock upgrade resources to boost your gear, skins, nameplates, emotes etc. Using currency earned via these challenge cards (or purchased) you can unlock these items sooner. Future characters will require a buy-in for their challenge cards, but depending on how much you grind before their release, you may not need to spend money at all. If you do, it’s worth mentioning that the amount of currency given to you will more than make up for its initial cost. The model of zero pay-to-win micro-transactions is certainly commendable, and having things this way incentivizes players to keep logging into the game. Personally, I think it’s a good way to go. There’s a marketplace as well where certain cosmetics are available for a larger chunk of your currency. If you don’t have a lot of progress on your challenge cards, there’s also a chance that you might unlock a cosmetic here or there from doing missions as well, though like all things, it’s reliant on luck.
A Mixed Presentation
As I played my way through the campaign, I fell in love with the story and the characters. The vocal performances, score, and narrative came together in a way that should easily please any Marvel fan.
Unfortunately, the greater elements of this game are easily diminished because of a variety of issues. During my time with the game I ended up running into several issues. During the final campaign mission, I had enemy and player models blinking in and out of existence. At one point, the game actually froze on me, forcing me to restart it in order to proceed. Even when taking some images for this review, I ended up being flung out of bounds in one area, eventually failing a mission because I couldn’t stay on the control point as I drifted out into the vast reaches of nothingness. I’ve also encountered NPCs repeating dialogue. Seriously, I know I’m the best, but does the NPC need to tell me a dozen times? In a row?
Additionally, I’ve also had audio glitch out and repeat on missions. A sound that I can only think to describe as “banging on a trash can” would somehow end up repeating the same couple of seconds and then loop itself. This happened once when my game froze on the final mission, and then again during an early part of another mission. And yes, if you’re wondering, that sound did repeat for the remaining 15 minutes or so of that mission.
Avengers! Please Assemble
Marvel’s Avengers is not without its issues. The first time I visited the cosmetics NPC, the game forced me to buy something using my hard-earned currency, with no option to back out of the store. The UI often feels clunky, not displaying the gear you’re actually trying to select. A mission somehow had multiples of the same modifiers. Matchmaking also seems to pair oddly, and that’s when it works at all.
The parts of the game that work are a solid start to what is supposed to be a live service game with years of free updates ahead of it. Frankly though, I’m surprised at just how many issues the game currently has.
At the end of the day, I’m ultimately enjoying my time with the game, it can be a lot of fun. However, when asked to present a final score, I simply cannot ignore the many issues that are holding the game back at launch. Hopefully the developers can get things sorted out and these issues that are currently hindering the game will soon be a thing of the past.
Review copy purchased by reviewer for PlayStation 4. Screenshots courtesy of Square Enix and taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Square Enix.