MARVEL’S AVENGERS REVIEW FOR PC, PS4, XBOX ONE, AND GOOGLE STADIA. Following the sensational Endgame movie, the excitement surrounding the Avengers is surely at an all-time high. It seems like the perfect opportunity for this new Marvel’s Avengers game to swoop in and capitalize on the hype. Give the players Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Black Widow, throw in Ms. Marvel to keep things fresh, and let them play superheroes together. Sounds like a damn good time to me!
Unfortunately, Marvel’s Avengers goes too far off-track to be saved by its heroes, resulting in a mostly functional, yet disappointing loot-based brawler. After 10 hours of campaign gameplay and 10 more hours of multiplayer, it’s time to get into it.
We stan Kamala Khan
Marvel’s Avengers’ campaign starts strong, with the fun introduction of superhero fan Kamala Khan attending an Avengers event in San Francisco. Our protagonist is a finalist in a fanfiction competition, which leads to her meeting the Avengers. She awkwardly interacts with the different heroes and it’s easy to fall in love with her wide-eyed enthusiasm. It’s also great how the heroes are aware of their comic book presence and influence, though this unique element is quickly dropped.
After an optimistic beginning, chaos soon strikes San Francisco which spells disaster for superpowered beings, pejoratively referred to as “Inhumans,” including the Avengers who end up broken and separated. Soon after, the player regains control of the now-stretchy Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) as she works to find the Avengers and fight back against a new enemy. Sadly, this new enemy is pretty boring by Marvel supervillain standards, backed up by lieutenants who aren’t much better.
It’s unfortunate that, after 2-3 hours of promising content, where the focus is on a single or pair of characters, the game takes a jarring turn with its four-player missions that are filled with repetitive objectives. You have to endure 5-6 hours of clearing rooms and defending points with little in the way of exciting context before the final mission eventually pops up. This finale thankfully pulls things back to the more linear, focused mission design with cool set pieces, acting as a reminder of the game’s strong start, but it’s too little, too late.
It’s as though another developer took over the reins partway through creation — which may have actually happened, given the “five core studios” working on this title — before giving them back for the story’s ending.
Not so spectacular
Visually, the game looks serviceable. There are moments when you do want to stop and use the included photo mode, mainly during combat where the particle effects can get wild, but these are few and far between. It’s the environments that ultimately let the presentation down with the limited mix of barren wastelands and science lab corridors blurring together and rarely looking interesting.
Animations can also get a little funky and bug out at times, to the point of evoking memories of jankier, pre-Arkham superhero games. It should look and feel like a step forward, but it doesn’t. Iffy animations paired with samey enemies and outrageously contrived objectives make Marvel’s Avengers feel behind where a 2020 game should be.
Navigating the messy menus is a chore made worse by poor loading times. Even between tabs, there’s a hiccup while everything gets ready. Those poor loading times extend to the load screens, where you have to wait for an age for missions to get started. This is made worse when searching for players or trying to successfully invite friends.
Using the “4K” option on my PS4 Pro, I found the 30 FPS limit to be more preferable to the inconsistent “Performance” mode. While the game was largely stable for the most part, there were moments of clear slowdown when large groups of enemies appeared onscreen. I fear for those playing on lesser hardware like the base PS4 and Xbox One, and look forward to the more stable performance on the next-gen versions.
I am Iron Man (and others)
Despite the outrage aimed at the Marvel’s Avengers cast of heroes not looking like the Marvel Cinematic Universe actors, I found it pretty easy to get used to the character models and the voice actors. Sure, it’s initially jarring to see Iron Man replaced with a Robert Downey Jr. lookalike rather than the man himself, but that soon wears off. While they remain pretty flat personality-wise, in combat they all start to shine as you level them up and unlock new skills.
Initially, combat feels like a step backward when compared to top-tier brawlers like the Batman: Arkham series or Marvel’s Spider-Man, which focus more on rhythm and timing. You don’t get that fluidity in Marvel’s Avengers and it can be frustrating to see your character going against your input. However, this game does lead to some satisfaction further down the line, as you learn more skills that can devastate the opposition and enhance your survivability. It’s just a shame that those initial levels are spent less like a hero and more like a coward, playing on the defensive and searching for health drops.
While characters can feel a little samey at the start, the vast number of abilities to unlock eventually make them unique, with distinct roles. Playing as Iron Man, I know that I can fly around and take out pesky drones at the start of a fight. As the Hulk, I can deal big area-of-effect damage and juggle enemies in the air for the rest of my team to keep combos going. Once leveled up, Thor goes from being a God of War‘s Kratos wannabe to a big-damage thunder god with his own awesome combos and tricks.
I’m sure Captain America, Black Widow, and Ms. Marvel can also dish out some tough love, as I’ve seen teammates use them to great effect. Of course, I’ll need to level them up myself to know for sure. Despite having 20 total hours played, I’m still far from getting everyone up to max level and a high Gear Score. The grind is pretty real and currently requires players to cycle through the same missions over and over again as the most efficient way to progress. Sure, other content is coming in the future, but it’s not here yet.
Unfortunately, though the combat eventually becomes pleasing, there is little variety in the enemies you face or the areas you fight in. Mission modifiers can alter the challenge but rarely do they make the missions more enjoyable. In fact, they often make missions more frustrating, like the modifier that buffs incoming ranged attack damage! Combat in the tighter-focused story missions shines brightest, I feel, but it just doesn’t scale well when more friendlies and enemies are introduced.
It’s not always better together
In a perfect scenario, matchmaking would work every time and you would get three other capable players whose heroes synergize well with your own choice. You’d combine efforts to stagger enemies and take them out in a coordinated assault. This rarely happens, however, with matchmaking often refusing to fill my party for one reason or another, and so A.I. characters take control. The friendly A.I. isn’t so bad and will revive you when you go down, but for an online co-op experience, there is bizarrely little in the way of actual online co-op.
Quick Match can help you find other players, but you can only do that as a solo. My party of two couldn’t use this feature, which meant searching for players and usually only finding one person. This was tested during the launch weekend, but I still struggled to pull together full player parties.
It also seems like the level scaling is a little out of wack. I had a low-level player join me and the game appeared to average out the mission level. So I would find the level very easy, while the other player found it incredibly difficult. That was a poor experience for both of us.
The Incredible Bulk
So what about the loot in this loot-based brawler? The truth is that, until the extreme endgame, I rarely thought about it. I would just hold a button to automatically equip whichever items had the highest number assigned to them and then carry on playing. Gear drops don’t change your character’s appearance, either, making them even more forgettable.
There are some interesting qualities to the loot in the buffs they provide and how they counter certain enemy types, but it means spending more time in the dreadful menus when I’d rather just be enjoying the combat. Of course, you can’t do that without equipping bigger-numbered Gear to do more damage, so you have to succumb to the notifications and interruptions.
Gear Score is just so out of place in Marvel’s Avengers. It makes a bad first impression when it pops up in the Campaign and that stays with you until the true endgame grind, where you get Legendary Gear that can significantly shake up the way a character plays. A clone of the loot grind found in Destiny, The Division, and Anthem feels out of place here, resulting in convoluted systems that end up hindering the experience.
What’s confusing is that there are also separate outfits that are purely cosmetic. In a perfect world where microtransactions haven’t influenced gameplay and overall player enjoyment, it would be these outfits that have different effects tied to them. Gear wouldn’t be a thing that players needed to worry about, as they could instead just equip Iron Man’s freeze-protection suit or Black Widow’s super stealth suit, or whatever. Then your teammates could identify your playstyle and skills by seeing what you’re wearing for a simpler, more streamlined experience.
What did it cost?
$60 gets you the base game. Then there’s a Marketplace where you can spend real money on expensive cosmetic items. Frankly, most of them look pretty generic and boring to me, to the point where it suggests a lack of creative freedom in regards to how developer Crystal Dynamics was able to use the Marvel license. Considering the number of different looks each character has had over the years, there are some incredibly plain additions here that don’t have fun with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
There are some interesting skins and nameplates locked behind each character’s “Challenge Card,” which acts like a Battle Pass. These are free for the included six heroes, but future characters’ Challenge Cards will be $10 each. Then there are vendors that you can buy Gear and cosmetic items from, but their prices seem extortionate and I’ve mostly avoided them. Gear vendors are a waste until the very end when you’re more desperate for certain Gear types, while cosmetic vendors just seem to be waiting for whales with money to burn.
At the time of writing, a week after launch, the promise of new characters just means an even bigger grind to me. Thanks to Reddit and YouTube, and certainly not the actual game itself, I’ve worked out how to level up quickly. This endgame gameplay loop is unfortunately just a case of replaying the same short missions over and over. Once you’re at the soft cap of 130 Gear score, you’ll then need to use vast amounts of resources earned from missions and dismantling to boost that Gear further. This is all to prepare yourself for content that isn’t out yet.
Midway through this grind, I found myself wanting to revisit some of the more linear, story missions and grab some collectibles. I was surprised and saddened to find that you can’t do that. (Collectible hunters will still be able to find missed collectibles in boxes during co-op missions.)
Marvel’s Avengers Review | The final verdict
Marvel’s Avengers is an identity crisis of a game. Moving from some excellent linear missions that capture Marvel fandom from the point of view of the fantastic Ms. Marvel, to a sudden smattering of seriously generic co-op missions featuring the most boring of enemies defending the most tedious of objectives, made me feel like I was moving between two entirely different games. Throw in the ultimately forgettable story populated by a handful of B-tier named supervillains, and this superhero game quickly descends into monotonous mission grinding for lackluster loot.
In another timeline, this would have been a wholly linear experience, tightly paced with a fun narrative that focused entirely on Ms. Marvel’s growth as she sought out the different Avengers in exciting locations, both on Earth and off-world. This could have been complemented with an entirely separate co-op experience.
Despite my criticisms, I do feel that there is at least a foundation for something better here. The heroes themselves become much more fun to play as you level them up and you do feel superpowered as you land a bunch of combos. So the combat is solid enough, and if the developer can use post-launch patches and content drops to add a wider variety of multiplayer missions, with more interesting objectives to complete, as well as more enjoyable enemies to fight, and more exciting rewards to earn through less of a grind or offensively high price tags, then I think Marvel’s Avengers has a shot at being a “Games as a Service” title that I’d like to eventually revisit. That seems like a monumental, get-all-six-Infinity-Stones-and-defeat-Thanos size of a task, though.
Marvel’s Avengers was reviewed on PS4 Pro with code provided by the publisher.