From the early rumblings that Crystal Dynamics was working on a new Avengers title, I knew it would be an uphill battle. If you ask me, the Marvel Cinematic Universe spoiled us with perfect casting, good scripts, and the budget to deliver these massive spectacles only capable on a big screen. Those things, in turn, made the task of creating an Avengers game all the more difficult and as I finished my time with the campaign of the long-awaited (and equally rag on) I walked away far more pleased than I did when I was in the beta last month.
Games as a Service is a hard sell to many consumers these days. A lot of the makings in the beta chaffed me and left me on the fence. My biggest takeaway is why didn’t the beta introduce us to Kamala Khan to ease us into the experience, because Ms. Marvel is the biggest star in the game. Her introduction sequence is one of those experiences that stuck with me as credits rolled. Watching Kamala fangirl over the Avengers proves to be heartwarming and hilarious and the events that kickstart her journey are infinitely better than the beta’s teaser.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Marvel’s Avengers in a few ways. First, the Reassemble campaign is a wholly unique experience that captures the essence of a good Marvel film and runs with it. Set within its own universe, Marvel’s Avengers aims to tell a personal story about Kamala and another about the infamous heroes tasked with protecting the Earth. Crystal Dynamics manages the balance between the two arcs perfectly, leaning into Kamala growing into the hero she is destined to be while gathering Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to overcome their failure on A-Day.
Speaking of A-Day, let’s start at the beginning. A group of children are invited to the Chimera helicarrier on Avengers Day as a prize for having their fan-fiction stories chosen by the Avengers. Starting as the young Kamala, you’ll explore sections of the Chimera to earn a shot at watching the ceremony from the VIP section. It’s a perfect start to the game and one of my favourite bits about the game. A lot of the early moments are missing in the beta and by skipping so many of the crucial details from the start, I felt this hurt my chances of liking the game. I was wrong and I am sorry Crystal Dynamics.
The opening sequence helps the player humanize the heroes we’ve come to know through the films, television and comics. To be frank, the campaign is the best piece of Marvel’s Avengers. You’ll play through the dozen hours or so of the story through the eyes of several Avengers, each one of them offering a varying experience. It’s a marvel how poorly marketed the campaign was to the players because so much of what we saw focused on the wrong pieces of the opening hour when the writing and characters are much better than I’d expected them to be. Kamala is unabashedly the star of the game and the glue that puts the Avengers back together.
However, all this comes with a downside: you never choose who to play with, it’s all pre-determined by the story beats that do take some time to ramp up. A lot of what we see in the campaign feels like it is seemingly tied to guiding principles from Marvel that remind me of the films. I found it hard not to compare the story to any of the films because of their similarities.
The plus side of the campaign includes the wealth of human moments you’ll find sprinkled throughout the campaign. About 40% into the campaign, Kamala meets another Inhuman for the first time and her reactions are infectious or when Bruce meets another hero and they riff off each other like old friends. It is here, in these moments, that Crystal Dynamics delivers thanks to a hearty campaign. A lot of the interactions feel authentic like there is history between the characters and Marvel’s Avengers is all the better for it.
I can do this all day
Crystal Dynamics wonderfully balances disparate character’s play styles skillfully, too. Kamala starts off slow but evolves into one of the most enjoyable Avengers in the game. Iron Man, a character I found to be a nuisance to control becomes a powerhouse once his skill trees open up. The Hulk is big and powerful and handles like a bulldozer and is clearly designed to absorb damage from enemies while the other players quickly take down the threat.
And while each Avenger may not be your ideal choice to main, Crystal Dynamic has permanency in mind with their new game. Thanks to the various builds you can create for each Avenger, you can upgrade and create the perfect character for your playstyle. Iron Man offers an offensive build that can handle crowds and deliver mean melee damage. Black Widow is not only excellent at hand to hand combat but her ranged build is able to a character that thrives when using her various grenades.
Overall, I noticed the AI is good in battle. AI companions will utilize the skills and abilities they have at their disposal and switch up their skill set when necessary. For example, I was playing as Iron Man and I noticed Black Widow using her ranged skills to tackle drones without me having to worry about them too much. When it came to deal with melee and close quarter combat, I was free to focus on my enemies while having the AI handle the others. As you near the end of a mission, you won’t be able to respawn, which is similar to how Destiny does things when dealing with particularly difficult bosses.
There’s also quite a bit to do post-campaign thanks to two factions you’ll encounter in the game: SHIELD and the Inhuman Resistance. Each faction offers a wealth of daily login assignments that you’ll venture out and complete (a la Destiny 2) and you’ll earn Faction XP that offers new gear. A lot of the basic challenges focus on combat so you’ll be completing many of these just by playing the game, however, many of these basic challenges become repetitious.
On your left
While I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign presented in Marvel’s Avengers, multiplayer left me second-guessing the longevity if things don’t change. I can’t say it is all bad though, I did have fun with online. Playing with either your friends or randomly selected partners via matchmaking, you’re able to join in either campaign missions (where applicable) and through Hero and War Zone missions.
Playing with a group of friends is always going to be better than playing with strangers. Teaming up and clashing with AIM against AIM robots, soldiers, and drones and watching the Avengers work together is straight-up impressive. However, many of the side missions are uninspired and underwhelming and often times brief encounters. I’ve spent some time attempting to finish character story chains and tackle War Zone missions, and I’m so done and feel like I’m already looking to put down the game.
Don’t Gimme the Loot
A lot of the incentive in Destiny 2 or even Diablo 3 is the way loot works. Loot is the least engaging aspect in Marvel’s Avengers. Anything you do feels inconsequential to your chosen character. It needs to be addressed or adjusted because as it is, the rate in which you earn is far too frequent, making gear often irrelevant. Gear can be broken down into various resources to boost newer gear. Each piece of gear can be levelled up a number of times before being maxed out, so the idea is to continually recycle gear.
The grind for this system becomes cumbersome as your level climbs and becomes tiresome far sooner than I’d had hoped it would. Gear feels like an addendum to the multiplayer experience that never really fits as well as something in Destiny 2.
A lot of the messaging for Marvel’s Avengers focused on the multiplayer, this was a huge setback for Crystal Dynamics. Instead of leading with a strong narrative core as good as anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, those monthly War Tables focused on multiplayer. Without a doubt, Kamala Khan is the star of the game and welcome addition to the medium and her arc is one of my favourite things about this game.
I get that the plan for Marvel’s Avengers is to be around for years, but the content that exists right now isn’t enough incentive to play this past the Fall. Even with new Avengers being added, that’ll be for nothing if I’m repeating the same uninspired missions over and over for gear that doesn’t even show on my character. Hopefully, new and exciting content comes along and changes my mind.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]