Available On: Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia, Xbox Series X, PS5
Release: September 4th, 2020
Since the very first gameplay reveal trailer waaaaay back when E3 still existed in 2019, I have been on both sides of the Marvel Avengers coin. For every positive feeling, like being able to play as my favorite Avenger (Thor) and the promise of hopping online with friends to punch the s**t out of bad guys there has been an equal and opposite negative feeling. I have been both excited and skeptical of the quality of the game and its lofty "games-as-a-service" model, a Destiny for comic book nerds. After playing through the campaign and giving some time to the post game shenanigans I've come to some conclusions and would like to share these with you fine fellow casuals.
I have put roughly 25 hours into the game as a whole, a chunk of which was spent on the campaign and the rest running H.A.R.M challenge rooms, character specific iconic missions and faction missions as well. While I haven't hit the ceiling in terms of power level, nor dabbled much with matchmaking, for reasons that will become apparent, I feel I've played enough to make a fair assessment and at the very least for those who just want an Avengers experience, tell them what they'll get for their monies worth.
The Uncanny Avengers Valley
To boil everything down to just one bite size comment, I’d have to go with bittersweet on this one. Look, Avenger’s is not going to set the world on fire, one cursory glance at any review will say as much. What I was interested in was how, in a post Avengers: Endgame MCU world, developer Crystal Dynamics could build something that honored Avengers 57 year history and breakaway from the distinct flavor of the MCU model and chart its own course.
I was dubious of the “as a service” model and their terribly worded explanation of how microtransactions work. And finally I was worried that after three beta weekends of playing that it only started clicking with me much farther down the character specific skill tree then it should. That despite all the promises being made and my own penchant for cutting my favorite brands some slack, it still just felt off. During my time with the campaign that feeling has mostly went away but is more a sigh of relief than breath of fresh air. I haven’t felt so trepidatious going into a game in a long while so when things start to finally click it feels good and that’s what this game SHOULD be doing.
To address the elephant in the room, the Avengers realistic look is nowhere near as big a deal as is made out. While it's more than a little funny to point out the off-brand Robert Downey Jr Iron Man look and how these characters ape their movie counterparts, you have to remember that there are literally hundreds of versions of the same Avengers cast spanning 60 years and multiple different mediums. I don't begrudge anyone for comparing to the MCU but this game is not that (for better and worse) and for me personally, I adjusted quite nicely to CD's own interpretation. Look if DC can have three different versions of Batman running around their cinematic multiverse why is a new version of the Avengers such a thing? I digress.
Once an Avenger
I don't have anything funny to say here honestly...we're going to need a bigger...plot?
The campaign is where this game truly shines in my opinion. Even after my third run through of the A-Day opening, now with much better context, when CD gives you a set piece they really give it to you. The story itself, while nothing earth shattering, is interesting throughout. It has been said many times but newcomer (at least to me) Sandra Saad's performance as Kamala Kahn/Ms.Marvel cannot be understated. Generally, I hate the gushing, out-of-their-depth-but-still-a-hero archetype, that is meant to be the in for the audience as they see how "cool" everything is, it's eye rolling. I really went into this already condemning the character but I really grew to appreciate her own story.
I found her struggle with becoming an inhuman, seeing the Avengers as people and not just superheroes and her mentor like relationship with Bruce Banner (Troy Baker's best post Last of Us performance to date) was the real star. There is a certain level of...certainty to expect when it comes to a comic book super hero tale, especially one that's intended to expand for "years to come" and its nice to see character moments being given more time to breathe along with the bigger flourishes and spectacle. Each character, barring Thor who's just kind of...there, has their moment but Ms.Marvel steals the show here.
Oh and special shout out to one specific sequence that, while I will not spoil made excellent use of an Iron Maiden classic, something I truly never thought I'd hear it. Whoever thought of that THANK YOU.
What happens in between these moments however, is disappointing or not all that interesting. While it's cool to see the Chimera, your own personal S.H.I.E.L.D carrier and main hub evolve over time, there's a slightly fabricated feeling to the experience. The locations where missions take place sometimes feel lifeless, like they had to take into account the multiplayer aspect at every stage and needed to balance the level design so each character could navigate the world and not feel outdated by another. It doesn't feel like a natural environment and goes against the otherwise real world aesthetic at play here.
The 'Nuff Said the Better
Luckily the combat and how each playable character feels is much more impressive than the "eh" looking environments. As you first get introduced to each character, there's a certain feeling of whiplash if you just barrel through the story like I did. At first it feels like there is little distinction between Black Widow and Ms.Marvel but as you develop them during play, upgrade their skills and get a feel for their move sets things really start to open up.
In the latter half of my campaign time, after spending some of it just practicing the challenge rooms with each hero, fights started opening up. Suddenly caps shield can be used in a variety of different waves, I can bat away projectiles and fling my shield at the assailant, then as it returns to me, kick it back into another AIM bots stupid face, it's ultra satisfying and feels appropriate to my image of cap. Skills are acquired at a brisk pace for the most part and you are free to unlock as you see fit really. I went for a more jack of all trades - master of none - approach but even so felt like I had a good handle on things and could approach encounters differently depending on the mob size and the selected hero but not feel like they were all the same person with a different hairdo.
Gear (Systems) of War
Pictured: Another Chest plate for Thor (left), Me having to reorganize my inventory again (right)
What is far less appealing though, or all that interesting even, is the gear system at play here. There are easily a half dozen types of gear, none of which are visible on the character but all of which become meaningless within the same mission that you earn them in. You see, like other loot based live service games, Avengers is all about that loot and power level meta. You'll regularly come across loot boxes and resources in the world as you move through it, the problem is that, that lvl 25 Epic Apex gauntlets you picked up for Black Widow is almost guaranteed to become redundant by the next pick up or enemy drop. It makes the drop rates confusing as they are so frequent it ceases being rewarding and becomes a little bit of a chore as you go through menus to remove lower tier gear pretty regularly.
The funny thing is, as someone who never cared about this kind of stuff much before, I now find myself digging into menus (as I'm here removing stuff anyway) and reading the stats on these things. Just to see what all the fuss is about so maybe it is working? All that being said, it feels a little bloated here, I understand the idea behind a constant reward for any kind of progress made but it manages to dilute the fun of the combat when you are constantly showered with gifts, it's like the game is too afraid to let you just enjoy the spectacle of being an Avenger.
HULK CRASH....Wait no...
Which bring us nicely into the biggest issues facing this game currently, the bugs. As of this writing I am on patch 1.06 and since completing the campaign, the game has steadily become less stable and borderline unplayable. On any given mission you will experience massive framerate dips when there are large numbers of enemies and particle effects happening onscreen and since that is the whole point it happens frequently. I've been booted from the war table menu without reason, stuck in the terrain, there was even one instance, during what was meant to be a big story moment that iron mans head was replaced with the icon for the war table as he happened to be standing right in front of it. Admittedly that was funny but it was also shocking to see something like that in a big AAA blockbuster videogame based on one of the hottest franchises right now.
Oh and currently, I can't actually complete a mission chain for Captain America because I need to gain XP with one of the factions in the game and if I take on one of their assignments the game will crash without fail mid mission. I've reported the issue of course but it boggles the mind that the game was released in this state. This seems to by systemic of live service games, literally every one I've played at or around launch is broken in some fashion and you'd think someone would have gotten it right by now, but that is a tale for another article! To bring it home, this game needed more time in the oven, I know you can't account for everything but my enjoyment has degraded overtime because of these issues. Taken separately they could be brushed off as teething issues but since they pile on each other it feels like an unfinished product.
Despite everything single issue I've had with this game, ignoring the bloated gear system and "eh" mission design I am still playing almost daily. Partly because I wanted to write this but also because I do actually enjoy this game. There is a solid foundation here and while I might not say it's a diamond in the rough just yet it's close. The combat is a lot of fun, there is a clear love of the source material on display and while it smacks of corporate shenanigans with it's "live service" roots it still feels like a game that has more to offer. I know I'll be diving in and out as the upcoming raid gets released and new heroes are added to continue the story so if they can provide the same kind of moments they gave us in the original campaign, I believe we are in for a treat. But, and here's that coin again, I don't know if I could recommend this game right now to anyone who is still on the fence about it. It's not finished and everything needs another pass through balancing and fine tuning and while the updates are steady now, I'm not sure if that will still be the case a few weeks/months down the line.
Play this game if....
You love all things Marvel and want to experience a solid few hours of story
You are looking for that Marvel itch to scratch in any shape or form
The myriad of issues don't phase you and you simply must play it
You already bought it but haven't taken it out of the shrink wrap yet...
All images taken from press kit available here
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