After enduring through numerous garbage movie-tie in games across generations of consoles and handhelds, the core members of the Avengers have finally assembled together into a quality video game. For the longest time it only seemed like Spider-Man and Batman would ever receive such an honour, but Crystal Dynamics, known for their work on the latest Tomb Raider trilogy, have managed to develop an action-RPG Avengers title they believe the ever-growing Marvel fanbase will deem worthy of representing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Marvel’s Avengers primarily tells the story of Kamala Khan, a massive fan of the Avengers who gained superhuman abilities after the tragic events of A-day, which caused the team to disband and created the birth of the inhuman race. With the Avengers gone, Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), takes their place as the new protectors of Earth. While AIM says their primary purpose is to search for a cure for the inhuman disease, their true goal is to create an army of superpowered robots and rid the world of anyone who possesses super powers or poses a threat to their leader, MODOK, and his vile plans. Kamala sets out on her quest to reassemble Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and take down AIM before it’s too late.
While the story can be boiled down into a simple story of these infamous heroes getting the band back together one more time to defeat an evil villain, I loved the interactions, quips, and banter between the cast, which carried the story on its shoulders. All the voice actors delivered some great performances, but Troy Baker as Bruce Banner and Sandra Saad as Kamala Khan led the pack with their interlocked character arcs. Kamala not only served as a great protagonist to the story, but she was easy to attach too and brought me back to my childhood, flooding my mind with memories of going to my first comic book convention with my dad.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the campaign, but in the grander scheme of what Crystal dynamics is trying to accomplish with Marvel’s Avengers, it really only served as a 10-hour long tutorial that spent all of its most endearing and charming moments in the opening chapter. Some characters, Thor in particular, feel very underutilized in the story as the campaign rushed to completion. I would’ve loved to see the main story spaced out more in between levelling up my Avengers in the game’s multiplayer modes because it would’ve softened the uphill grind that follows when players unlock the Avenger’s initiative and begin their journey to reach the endgame level cap.
The team at Crystal Dynamics has done a fantastic job capturing the personality and fighting styles of each Avenger, drawing inspiration from every member’s appearances in the comics, movies and cartoons to develop in-depth movesets that feel distinct from one another in gameplay. Just to showcase a few, Iron Man is able to adapt to any situation on the fly with his arsenal of repulsors, lasers, and missiles, playing as Captain America is focused all around comboing strings of attacks together with his shield, using it to bludgeon his enemies away or throwing it into a crowd as a constantly ricocheting projectile, while Hulk is a literal walking weapon of mass destruction, constantly tearing into swarms of enemies with powerful AOE attacks and building his rage meter up to amplify his moves even further.
One of my disappointments is that is takes a considerable amount of time to level each hero up to their level cap of 50 and unlock all the tools in their kit. To put this into perspective, after the campaign was finished I had only leveled each member of the Avengers to around level 10. Kamala only had enough points to access the beginning moves of her best combos, I had only unlocked two of Black Widow’s ranged options, and Thor could only imbue lightning into a couple of his hammer attacks. Effectively each character felt crippled during the campaign, which is a shame because when a hero’s primary skill tree is maxed out that’s when players really get to start to have fun experimenting with different combo strings and using their favourite Hero to their utmost potential in combat.
Post-campaign there is still more inklings of fun story content to go through in the form of character specific Iconic missions and Faction objectives, but the primary gameplay loop players will be experiencing is dropping into various forms of Warzones and looting for gear to power up their heroes either solo with AI teammates, or with up to three other players online. This is where many players are either going to get hooked on Marvel’s Avengers or fall off quickly. Crystal Dynamics has essentially taken the Destiny-style gameplay formula of planets and looting, but applied it to a character-action game. For the most part, it works. I enjoy that the missions are varied in length, so players can decide if they want to go for brief five minute engagements in dropzones, or up to hour long trials in the game’s most challenging content in the form of Mega Hives and the yet to be revealed weekly event, AIM’s Secret Lab.
As players progress through content in the Avenger’s Initiative, they will begin to accumulate different rarities of gear and artifacts that impact the build and strategy of their character’s gameplay. While unlocking moves and upgrading hero abilities in each of the heroes three available skill trees will develop your character’s toolkit, gear is all about applying buffs, gaining access to status ailments or elements, and potentially affecting your heroic skills with new properties. My Captain America is currently built around inflicting Gamma radiation damage every time I use a ranged attack, Iron Man can shrink enemies with his pym-particle infused lasers, and my Hulk now gains short bursts of invincibility if I deal enough critical hits in a combo. As always, the catch with loot is that because buffs and stats are randomized on every piece, players who hit the soft power cap of 130 will definitely invest their time continuously rolling for legendary gear, searching for the best synergies for their build.
As of writing this review, I’ve leveled up Iron Man to his max character level of 50 and have a power level of 92. Now I’m strictly focused on grinding gear and upgrade materials to reach the game’s current power cap of 150, but the grind is definitely starting to burn me out due to the repetition of objectives in Warzones. I’ve blown up eight sets of turbines in the same AIM laboratory, saved close to 30 Shield operatives out in the field, taken out Abomination and Taskmaster twice each as daily challenges, and have broken into the same Shield Vault nearly 10 times in the search for legendary loot. The engagement of the content in Marvel’s Avengers is starting to wear thin, as is the case with most base game looters at launch when you speed though them, but I believe that’s primarily due to the current power level cap being too bloated for the amount of activities in the game to participate in.
There’s just not enough incentive or reward to grind out endgame currently from what I’ve experienced, especially when I know I’m going to have to repeat the cycle all over again with the rest of the heroes I want to play as. I would’ve preferred the cap to be lowered to 100 at launch and expanded out overtime as more heroes are released in the future, along with more story content and better rewards to keep the grind feeling fresh. Not only would this make reaching endgame a faster trek, but it would also get players to experience different heroes faster once they have maxed out their initial main character.
Outside of Warzones and the Avenger’s Initiative, players can spend their time in the two current social hubs at launch in Marvel’s Avengers, The Chimera Heli carrier, and the Ant Hill, run by Ant-Man himself. It’s here in these locations that players can accept daily challenges from faction leaders, purchase gear or cosmetics from vendors with in-game currency, and decipher blueprints you’ve found in the field to unlock a random costume for one of the six available launch heroes. The social hubs are a cool idea in that players can navigate the halls and interact with fellow Avengers for some dialogue between their favourite members, or even search the locations for hidden easter eggs and references. However, from a gameplay point of view I wish there were faster ways to interact with vendors and factions, instead of having to tediously navigate the ship or the ant-hill from one end to the next just to cash in my daily rewards or see what items are currently in stock.
Instead of charging players for expansions for future characters and story content, Crystal Dynamics has decided to go the live service model with Marvel’s Avengers. All future heroes and campaigns post-launch will be free to all players, but optional purchases, including character exclusive battle passes and premium cosmetics, are the primary way the devs will fund the development of future content for the game. At first, I was against this model, especially after seeing exclusive skins announced for Verizon and Virgin made me think this game could go down some predatory paths, but it’s not nearly as bad as I initially perceived. Some costumes and cosmetics will be locked to the marketplace, but many can still be obtained free of charge through grinding out the free in-game currency or deciphering blueprints players find in the field, which act like random lootboxes. Also, players can obtain upwards of 6000 credits of premium currency for free by investing the time to completing tiers of each of the available six-character battle passes at launch.
Moving on to performance, Marvel’s Avengers is definitely pushing my PS4 slim to its dated limits. The game very rarely sticks to 30 FPS, and it would no doubt dip even further down into the low 12-15 range if it weren’t for the adaptive resolution blurring the image quality to try to retain a playable framerate. For a character-action game this performance can definitely impact gameplay and I’ve been caught by a number of attacks from enemies because it’s been hard to decipher what exactly is happening on the screen between the fireworks display of visual effects and poorly implemented motion blur. Crystal Dynamics may have followed Bungie’s formula a little too closely as well, because the lengthy load times of Destiny are still ever present in all the playable content across Marvel’s Avengers.
Besides the performance issues I’ve experienced, Marvel’s Avengers isn’t without its share of bugs as well. While I have yet to experience any mission ending bugs that others have come across, I did have textures fail to load in completely during some scenes, Cap somehow lost half his head because his helmet didn’t want to appear during a couple cutscenes, a few of my unlocked outfits from story progression have been locked out after I switched my costumes, and a few of my blueprints didn’t actually give me any costumes or units when they were deciphered at the fabrication machine. All of these kinks will no doubt be fixed in upcoming patches, but the game is lacking some polish at launch.
While I’ve spent a lot of time during this review airing a fair share of grievances, I’m looking forward to seeing how Crystal Dynamics builds out Marvel’s Avengers further with a large cast of characters across Marvel’s 80-year-long history of super hero content. I’ve definitely been burned by live service games before, from the likes of Anthem and Battlefield V respectively, but I remain optimistic Crystal Dynamics can pull off their vision. While the devs stumbled out the gate when it came to communication and clarity when the game was first announced, the War Table online briefings have been a great tool to inform players of current and upcoming content so far and the premium marketplace doesn’t appear nearly as predatory as I initially perceived when the cosmetic systems were originally announced.
Marvel’s Avengers at launch is a solid-foundation for Crystal Dynamics to build upon and develop into a fantastic live-service title that joins the ranks of Warframe and Destiny 2. Besides seeing new heroes and story chapters come down the pipeline, what Crystal Dynamics needs to focus on full-heartedly is giving players reasons to engage more with the gameplay loop, building out a stronger set of Warzone objectives, and rewarding players with more than just loot for all their hard fought efforts to reach and conquer the game’s most challenging content.