When Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix first revealed their new Avengers game, I wasn’t sure what to think. The gameplay looked more than passable, but those faces, those voices… The character models made me weirdly uneasy, like I was looking at bad waxworks. No, worse, like my 5 year old was showing me drawings he’d done of his favourite heroes and I had to nod and smile so as not to discourage him. The beta went some way towards getting me onboard, reassuring me that even if I couldn’t get fully used to the faces, at least the gameplay was my kind of nearly-mindless grind. Now, having spent some considerable time with Marvel’s Avengers, I can honestly say the faces don’t bother me anymore. I’ve been having a blast.
There are caveats to that, of course. Lots of them. This is a game with many flaws, none overly damaging, but very few that are totally ignorable either. And yet at the same time it seems to have achieved what it set out to achieve. It could have done with a few more months in the proverbial oven, and the endgame needs some work, but on the whole Marvel’s Avengers is a pretty good time.
The campaign centres around the events of A-Day, when the Avengers failed to prevent a catastrophe that resulted in their public admonishment and disavowal. It also left many people altered on a genetic level, exhibiting powers like the X-Men mutations. One such is teenager Kamala Khan, known in the greater Marvel universe as Ms Marvel (no relation to Captain). An Avengers mega-fan at A-Day to submit her fan fiction comic, she is caught in the blast and subsequently develops the ability to stretch and reshape her body like Mr. Fantastic.
Unable to accept the fate of her favourite heroes, Kamala has spent the last five years trying to prove that the Avengers were not to blame and that the company who stepped in, AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) is not what it seems. Before long she’s on the quest to reunite the Avengers, defeat AIM (led by the Scientist Supreme, Monica Rappacini and supervillain MODOK). This results in a solid 8-ish hour campaign that sees you flitting between Kamala and the Avengers in both story and side missions.
I say “solid” because the campaign is perhaps the most consistent element in Marvel’s Avengers. While most of the missions are a straight mix of running, jumping, and brawling, it remains enjoyable throughout, helped along by some surprisingly watchable cutscenes. The character models take a while to get used to, but the writing is good, doing an admirable job of replicating the personalities of each Avenger as presented in the MCU. The banter is believable, the jokes and jibes mostly hit the spot, and whenever it takes on a more serious tone the actors do a commendable job. The guy behind Bruce Banner in this game is especially worthy, as is Kamala Khan. Despite being a bit of an over-the-top fangirl in the opening hours, she begins to mature as the story progresses, and by the halfway point I had warmed to her completely.
Every mission involves a certain amount of combat against multiple enemies. Big mobs are the order of the day, and whichever Avenger you choose to play as the action is satisfying and cathartic, even if it is way too messy at times. Enemies, scenery, particle effects, explosions, and debris fly around you like you’re at the centre of a hurricane, and when you add other Avengers into the mix, either AI or player controlled, the framerate can tank hard. It rarely lasts long and didn’t ruin anything for me, but it definitely struggles at times.
Perhaps Crystal Dynamics’ biggest triumph is nailing the feel of each Avenger. Concessions have been made for the sake of balancing: if you could literally wreck everything and be nigh invincible as the Hulk or Thor, why would you play as Black Widow? Watching Hulk get smacked about by relatively puny robots is a bit weird, but this is a video game after all. The synergy between characters would also be a lot more impressive if only you could see through the sparks and shrapnel during fights, but it’s endlessly satisfying to stun an enemy with Nat’s Spider Bite right as Hulk thunderclaps them into oblivion, and Iron Man being able to summon and then allow someone else to pilot Veronica is a very cool touch.
If Avengers has a major problem right now it’s the endgame and multiplayer. The Avengers Initiative mode is pretty bare bones, and part of that is down to the poor rewards and lack of variety. It’s good you can unlock character-specific loot, but cosmetics are still locked (and we’ll come to that shortly) and the missions are so repetitive that it’s hard to keep playing for sustained periods. More focused, Destiny-like Strike missions or even more dynamic objective lists would help a lot in the multiplayer missions. At present, most missions are just you beating enemies snotless while holding control points or rescuing hostages.
Thankfully, the campaign is great, mixing in a decent variety of mission types with a few interesting one-offs thrown in. Iron Man has a few of my favourite sequences, speeding through bullet hell gauntlets or fighting against a raging storm to break through the atmosphere, and the boss fights might be long affairs but they’re mostly pretty fun. None are overly taxing, but they make good use of the available space and force you to use your character’s powers to succeed.
Each Avenger has three powerful Hero abilities that can be modified as you upgrade them. Assigned to the left and right triggers, with the Ultimate ability requiring both, these are designed to turn the tide in a scrape. For instance Kamala, can restore a percentage of her health with one skill, while her Ultimate causes her to “embiggen” and do way more damage. Iron Man can call down Veronica with his Ultimate, while Widow pulls out a bo-staff and goes ham, using her other abilities to cloak herself or shock the enemy. Each ability is intrinsically tied to a specific character, which adds another layer of personality to each.
Because it’s 2020, Square Enix have seen fit to drop a great big bone of contention in the middle of an otherwise fairly tasty salad, by giving each character a Challenge Card. This looks very much like a battle pass for every hero, which has caused all kinds of controversies, but as MTX models go, it’s not the worst. To clarify, this is roughly analogous to saying a small turd isn’t the worst thing you could find on your pillow of a morning, and I’m not condoning MTX models in any way. But honestly, the one in Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t seem too problematic so far.
Essentially each character in Marvel’s Avengers has daily and weekly challenges that award points, and these points unlock boxes on the Challenge Card containing nameplates, emotes, takedown moves and, crucially, outfits. The initial six heroes are all unlocked at launch, meaning you can earn their “Premium tier” rewards by spending points alone, but for additional heroes you’ll need to spend 1000 Credits to unlock this Premium tier. Credits can be earned by completing the already unlocked Cards, or of course, you can spend real money if you want to speed up the process. As it’s for cosmetics only, you really don’t need to do this.
The only issue I can see so far is that earning these points takes a long time. After some rough calculations I’d say the average person could maybe complete a Challenge Card in 3 or 4 weeks, but again, these are optional extras that you’re not obligated to unlock. And there are outfits rewarded in the story or purchasable from an in-game store using virtual currency that you earn by completing missions and opening loot chests. It ain’t that bad, folks.
What is bad, currently, is the loot game. Gear feels like an afterthought most of the time, and I find myself opening the menu and holding L2 to automatically equip the best gear without reading what any of it does. I’ve seen screenshots of people unlocking “Elite” gear in the endgame with some very cool effects and synergistic buffs, but I’m not at that level with any one character yet and may not be for a while. Not only does the loot not alter your appearance, but it has a bunch of stats and numbers on it that don’t seem to have much impact on the gameplay. Live service RPGs seem to unanimously struggle with getting loot and power levels right (Destiny 2 is undergoing a bunch of changes for Beyond Light three years after launching, and The Division 2 is… Wait – is The Division 2 still a thing?), and Avengers is no different.
Had Crystal Dynamics taken a bit more time to iron out bugs and glitches, and had the monetisation and ridiculous pre-order bonus nonsense not been thrust front and centre during the marketing phase, Avengers would be weathering a lot less flak right now. It’s a great game held back by a bit of a wonky engine and an aimless multiplayer mode, both of which will be fixed in due course, I’m sure. The campaign, though, is brilliant – particularly if you’re a fan of the source. Yes, the faces take time to get used to and I for one am not happy that Hawkeye has been pushed to the back of the bus at launch, but despite its flaws I’ve had a great time with Marvel’s Avengers – and I’m not done yet.
An exciting campaign
All six playable characters feel great
Lots to see, do and unlock
The engine struggles during busy action scenes
Bugs and glitches throughout
Endgame is currently underdeveloped