Marvel comics continue to entice viewers and fans with crazy and whacky latex-wearing femme fatales, shield-touting badassery, techy billionaire inventors, thunder-wielding gods, web-slinging angsty teens, and so much more. Of course, the superheroes alluded to make up the brunt of Marvel’s Avengers. This titular bunch might be more well-known amongst younger generations thanks to their incredible big-screen adaptations. Many of the Avengers have featured in all sorts of games over the years. Of the bunch, Spider-Man has arguably enjoyed the most success, with a series of titles based on the character and his likeness. Now, however, the titular band of heroes have received a triple-A video game adaptation that puts the power struggles and stressed relationships of all superheroes at the front and centre of the experience.
Good games based on superheroes are often few and far between. The reason developers and publishers often shy away from the superhero genre as a whole usually comes down to how players expect to feel when playing games based on their favourite comic book counterparts. A game about Iron Man, for instance, will have players who expect Anthem-like gameplay where the character is able to fly freely using his thrusters. Captain America might channel some Arkham styled combat via a super-powered mucho man, and The Hulk is pretty much Cap, but on steroids with Roid Rage to boot… and these are just three of the entire Avengers roster! As a result, the very existence of Marvel’s Avengers generates a high level of natural hype. After all, it is a game promising players the ability to play as several of the world’s most popular comic book heroes. I was certainly excited when I first saw the announcement. Fortunately, Marvel’s Avengers largely delivers on the hype thanks to an incredibly satisfying single-player campaign. Unfortunately, its multiplayer aspect feels so tacked on that I have no idea why it even exists… beyond making Square Enix some money.
Marvel’s Avengers starts by placing players squarely in the shoes of Kamala Khan. It shines the spotlight on her super fandom, and does a wonderful job of illustrating the importance, relevance and popularity of the Avengers and encompassing superhero culture. The game begins at the onset of Avenger’s Day, an annual celebration of all the good deeds the Avengers have done. It celebrates humans and superheroes alike in one big event that shines a bright light on new technologies; spearheaded by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and their crack teams of scientists and business people. Seeing as this is also where the game begins, things — predicably — do not go as planned. One thing leads to another, and the proverbial faeces hits the shiny metallic helicarrier rotors.
As the events of A-Day unfold, Marvel’s Avengers cycles through scenes where every Avenger gets to shine. The game treats this part as a mini tutorial and sneak peek of what is to come. Starting with Thor, players are taught how heavy attacks, throws, and light attacks differ from one another. Iron Man‘s part lets players fly and missile baddies to bits. Next up, players are treated to The Hulk and his incredibly satisfying smashing while the game teaches you how ledge grabs and vaults work, followed by Black Widow, who teaches players about super moves and abilities. Captain America then gets centre stage when the entire attack is revealed to be a ruse. While Cap’s scene does not teach anything, it is a nice amalgamation of everything taught thus far, as the harrowing events come to a close and the plot for the rest of the game is incited.
As much as the game is called Marvel’s Avengers, it predominantly revolves around Kamala Khan and her journey to become Ms Marvel. It shows players everything from her superfan origins, all the way through to her accepting her powers and becoming one of the more iconic Avengers. What makes her incredibly special is how much of a superfan she of all of these heroes who are part of the Avengers. Her intimate knowledge of all the Avengers plays a massive role in the events following A-Day – After Captain America’s apparent demise, the Avengers disbanded, and hundreds of newly-formed Inhumans go missing by the day. Miss Khan then takes it upon herself to try and find some sort of Resistance. Her efforts see her bringing the Avengers back together, which sets the stage for some of the most incredible superhero stories featured in a video game.
While the plot itself is nothing new, it is crafted in a way that makes it feel extremely relatable and personable. The Avengers, while super, are all just human, with very personal issues following the apparent death of one of their closest compatriots. Throughout the campaign, Kamala Khan learns to work with each of these heroes as the game appropriately cycles through them and gives each their own time to shine. There are a handful of extremely touching moments strewn throughout the campaign, with a whole lot of action to back it up. When not in a narrative based mission, Kamala can always return to the hub area, where she will continue to geek out at the very sight of any Avenger and their relevant memorabilia. During the betas of the game, I worried that her superfan geekgasms would get old, really fast. However, having them staggered and stretched out over the course of the narrative, all while also being subjected to her psyche a lot more in the final release, does make her grow exponentially on you as a character. There is a certain charm to how she reacts whenever she sees Captain America’s shield, or when she explores the hangar bay and accidentally finds herself in the augmented reality training chamber. She is incredibly relatable in this regard, and makes you, as the player, feel like you are part of this world.
Similarly, Square Enix has done a whole lot of research when it comes to every character. Early on in the game, players get to play as Tony Stark. These early scenes act as incredible deep dives into the character of Iron Man, and what he has gone through since A-Day. Similarly, players also get a good glimpse into the minds of Bruce Banner and “the big guy”, Thor and his hilarious recent stint as a retail clerk, and even what the rest of the Superheroes have gone through since being apart. It is an exceptional experience, which slowly culminates in a grand show-off with MODOK – truly one of the most under-represented yet badass Marvel villains in all of video gaming.
One of the greatest facets of Marvel’s Avengers comes by way of just how well every one of the iconic Avengers is represented in the campaign. As the campaign matures, players slowly unlock more side quests that shine a light on their issues. These ‘Iconic Chains’ are unique story specific missions for each of the relevant characters. In terms of Bruce Banner, his Iconic Chain involves figuring out something about himself and coming to grips “with the big guy”; while Tony Stark slowly rebuilds his empire and ties up all the loose ends he had before A-Day. While Kamala Khan also has her own Iconic Chain missions, it is safe to point out how she is the main protagonist for most of the campaign. By the end, she adopts being Ms Marvel and finally joins the Avengers. In this sense, Marvel’s Avengers is both an origin story, without feeling anything like one, and an epic adventure to bring the Avengers together once more.
The research Square Enix has done goes much deeper than just the stories being told too. Combat in the game is unique to each Avenger. Much like how the A-Day prelude acts as a tutorial, it also acts as a way to see what each character is all about. Thor is a damage dealer of note who specialises in the area of effect combat. His attacks feel weighty and truly impactful. Iron Man, on the other hand, feels nimble and light. This reflects in the way his character works. He is long-range support, meant to jump in and out of combat. The Hulk, however, needs to be front and centre at all times. He has a special ability that essentially makes him indestructible, and his movement is meant to bring you into the action as fast as humanly possible. Conversely, Black Widow is a stealthy assassin type who can go invisible at the touch of a button, keep enemies incapacitated, and attach all sorts of explosives to enemy bodies. She also has a unique third-person shooter moveset that makes her the best option for people who like Gears of War or Uncharted styled gameplay. With all of the above in mind, combat in Marvel’s Avengers can be quite fun once you find your preferred hero.
What is not as enjoyable, however, is how saturated some levels tend to be with enemies. While an abundance of enemy units is pretty much the norm in looter/shooters, going through the motions for an entire ten to fifteen minutes in a single mission can be tiring. Thankfully, there is usually a cutscene or cool exploration in-between fighting segments to break up the monotony. It is also nice that the game is not afraid to reward progress, exploration, or combat. New pieces of stat-increasing gear pop out of fallen enemies like free sweets on Halloween! Similarly, the game also features collectables like amazing-looking comic book covers, massive diary entries for iconic characters, and recorded broadcasts of television and radio interviews. All these collectables result in cool cosmetic unlocks like nameplates and finishing moves, as well as fantastic outfits based on iconic comic book variants. Ultimately, going through the loop of combat and exploration in Marvel’s Avengers can be rewarding and worth the effort – despite the grind.
As impressive as the single-player campaign is, and how complete it feels, it must be noted how Marvel’s Avengers has features that are, simply put, not at all enjoyable. The premise of being a superhero and being a part of the Avengers is intriguing enough to keep someone playing. After all, suiting up and saving the day with friends just make sense! Unfortunately, multiplayer is the weakest link in this abnormally bloated mix pot.
As with all multiplayer modes, Marvel’s Avengers lets you load into an end-game state where all Avengers are unlocked. Here, players are tasked to choose one of the seemingly unending mission chains involving some form of objective capturing, or free-for-all enemy clearing. Sometimes the missions have very basic plots that serve to push players from one point to another. Unfortunately, these missions feel like nothing more than tacked on fan-service – with lacking narratives to boot. Enemies are already incredibly abundant in the single player campaign, but their numbers take the cake in multiplayer! There are often so many enemies that clearing a single wave quickly becomes incredibly tiring, to say the least. When all waves are cleared, players are usually treated to some spectacle of a boss fight. While these are interesting the first few times you encounter them, their uniqueness quickly falls by the wayside as you encounter the same kinds of bosses over and over again.
Due to the looter/shooter nature of the game, Marvel’s Avengers features quite a bit of character progression. As players progress through the campaign and subsequent multiplayer missions, the experience will build up allowing for accrued skill points to be spent on new skills and moves. Similarly, gear features stats that are directly tied to power levels much in the same way as Destiny and The Division. There are no inherent issues with this system. The loot cadence and gameplay loop featured in the single-player campaign continually serve a good enough balance between finding new gear to keep power levels on par with new enemies, while featuring just enough of a challenge to keep things interesting. In Multiplayer, however, the game tends to force you to replay older missions to grind for new gear — which drop randomly — in a bid to get power levels high enough for newer and more interesting missions. Sadly, the repetition players are subject to is not enjoyable in the slightest. The “grind” feels like a chore and the fun and interesting quips from the characters become old quite fast.
On the subject of things that offer a sense of dread, I must bring light to the elephant in the room: microtransactions. There are a fair number in Marvel’s Avengers. While the promise of it being tied to “cosmetics only” serves as a half-truth, it is worth mentioning how they are not at all intrusive. However, once players are through the single-player campaign and over the entire grind, the game allows additional suits to be purchased. Other microtransactions include Nameplates, emotes, and resources – the last of which are used to upgrade and/or craft new gear with better stats. As I said before, Half-truths.
Given how Marvel’s Avengers is marketed as a live service looter/shooter, players have been promised a plethora of additional characters that will arrive in future updates. The first two are both Hawkeyes (Clint Barton and Kate Bishop), and are slated to release by late 2020 or early 2021. Sadly this also means the game has fallen to the dark side: while being a multiplatform game with unique characters offering exponential value, Square Enix has opted to make future character, Spider-Man, a Sony PlayStation exclusive. Spider-Man is slated to arrive on the platform by the end of 2021. The major issue with this is how unique each of the characters feel in the game. Therefore, Spider-Man’s exclusion from other platforms is more than just a ‘cosmetic difference’; it is legitimate content being excluded from other platform’s – and is a practice that everyone should frown upon. While this is an indication of the current game state, it does sour the experience for anyone buying the game on any platform other than PlayStation. In essence, owning the game anywhere else will always mean players will have a lesser experience. On that merit alone, I already know the Xbox One review copy we received will never be complete.
Beyond the horrible repetition and seemingly tacked-on multiplayer, Marvel’s Avengers genuinely features a golden single-player narrative. Kamala Khan is one of the best and most surprising additions to the game. Her highly relatable personality is exceptionally geeky, and pushes the campaign in wonderful, albeit cliched, directions. Character progression can be a bit tedious outside of single player, with a handful of missions, bosses, and enemies that tick the necessary boxes at first. Sadly, the very same aspects that work exceptionally well in single-player serve as nothing more than unnecessary effort and filler in multiplayer. At its core, Marvel’s Avengers has a serious identity crisis. It absolutely is worth picking up for any comic book fan to enjoy the super narrative, but ultimately has very little replay value for anyone who dislikes monotonous grinding.
|Time played||15 Hours|
|Acquisition||Review code courtesy of Square Enix|