These Avengers are Worthy
Marvel’s Avengers is a game that, in theory, is a slam dunk no-brainer, but after multiple tepid reveals expectations were low to the point of being non-existent. With a genuinely touching and well-crafted story through developer Crystal Dynamics is able to deliver a Single Player campaign that succeeds on all fronts, and a Multiplayer mode that is a blast with friends, thought longevity is a real concern.
Marketing Gone Awry
In the initial reveal, it was clear that publisher Square Enix had market-tested the game extensively. From the character models to the music, the trailer felt like it was caught between the MCU movie franchise and the nearly 6-decade old comic book series. Shown were Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Iron Man, and The Hulk. Each looking more like a model hired to attend Comic-Con by a marketing firm than either their movie or comic book inspirations. Thankfully, their final models are much better looking, though still a bit generic.
Oddly enough, Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, was nowhere to be seen in the game’s initial reveal. Yet in the 10-15 hour long campaign she is the heart of the story. Titled “Re-Assemble” it follows her journey from fangirl to superhero in an adventure full of solid writing, excellent voice acting, and genuine character growth. Kamala is a true rarity in the mainstream comic book world as a Muslim born to Pakistani-American parents. Her powers are known as Poly-Morphism, allowing her to stretch and grow her body at will.
Without getting into spoilers, I feel it is safe to say that keeping her role in the story so small in the initial and overall marketing has done a great disservice to what many were expecting out of the title. Showcasing the game as a loot focused Destiny/Diablo-style combat heavy action RPG set expectations incorrectly and I wish Kamala and her campaign had been there right from the start. Yes, there is loot, and there is a multiplayer mode that allows up to 4 people to continue the fight after the campaign ends. Though you can choose to play MP right away with the knowledge that there are major story spoilers. This focus on the Games as a Service aspect set the wrong expectations. The campaign is the best part of the game at launch.
A Lovingly Crafted World
World building was a high priority for the developers, as they had to try teach their audience just how their version of this popular IP works. It is clear that a lot of time and effort were put into making this their take on the Marvel Universe. There is a deep lore woven into everything here, and they nail teaching it to you in an organic way more often than not. Character models are of a high quality, environments are richly detailed with a genuine lived-in feel. Easter eggs are frequent during the story, laying the foundation for potential characters who seem likely to join the roster down the line. Hawkeye and Kate Bishop are already confirmed to be joining as DLC characters post launch.
Throughout both the campaign and the multiplayer, you never linger too long in any one location and there is a good variety in the biomes used. Dense cityscapes, lush forests, and a snow-filled Siberian wilderness are just a few along with much more exotic and comic book worthy locales.
I played on an Xbox One X and switched between the quality and performance modes depending on if I was watching a cut scene or in control of the gameplay. Performance was better than the beta, but by no means perfect. The Jaguar CPU struggled to keep up with the particle and destruction heavy combat in multiple areas. The campaign fairs better than the 4 player mode, where dips into the single digits occurred multiple times. This is a beautiful game, but it was clearly crafted with the next-generation of hardware in mind.
Next-Gen for the Masses
Thankfully, whether you are on Xbox or Playstation, you will get a free upgrade to the next-gen version when it is available. I have a lot more faith in those versions being able to hit their performance targets. Performance on the base consoles is abysmal. My short period of testing on the Xbox One S was not enjoyable. I hope it can be improved post launch, but frame rates in the teens on most fights is the norm.
A photo mode with a fair number of options is included and easy to access. Anytime you pause, you can access it at the press of a button and navigate around your characters to get some truly stunning shots with a mix of filters, depth of field choices, and camera tilt to get exactly the shot you want.
Deep and Engaging Combat
Any action RPG lives and dies with its combat systems and thankfully Marvel’s Avengers comes up aces in that regard with a system that is both easy to pick up and have fun with, but deep enough to take real effort to master. Your 6 heroes (so far) all play differently enough that things felt fresh for me even after 20+ hours.
Ms. Marvel’s Stretch Armstrong-style attacks are the type of fun you can only get with the absurdity that exists in comic books. Iron Man has a plethora of weaponry that keeps his combat system diverse—a welcome change from the more limited Beta version of the character. The Hulk feels snappy now as well, the sluggishness of his initial beta appearance is replaced by a much faster and smashier take on The Hulk. Black Widow uses a variety of gadgets and guns to be a more fantastical version of Crystal Dynamic’s own Lara Croft, complete with scrambling up flat walls to reach ledges during platforming. Thor is exactly what you expect, a bruiser with a big hammer and a whole lotta lightning. Captain America and his shield are ready to defy the laws of physics and bounce off of as many enemy skulls as your skill tree will allow.
Skill Trees and Abilities
Speaking of the skill tree, it is chock full of a wide variety of new combo attacks and skill moves that make leveling and your choices really matter. Enemies have a wide variety of moves that you must account for or you will be facing a world of hurt. Standard shield type enemies require you to use moves with a longer wind-up to take them down, blue and yellow circles appear above enemy heads when they are able to be countered, and red circles indicate an unblockable attack that you must dodge or you will take major damage. Combat feels like a deeper take on the Batman Arkham system with focus on cooldowns being key.
Each hero has three hero moves. These are based on iconic traits of each character like Iron Man’s giant chest laser, or Thor charging himself up with some serious God power and raining lighting on everything around him. Each character also has an Intrinsic Energy meter which is used to power things like the Hulk’s rage which boosts his power and causes attacks he makes to heal him, or Kamala’s Poly-Morph ability, allowing her longer reach and harder hits. Finally, each Avenger has an ultimate ability on a much longer cool down that can turn a bad situation into one far more manageable.
Gear is limited to non-cosmetic items in 7 different slots. Each character has items that correspond to either their physiology or costume. It’s a decent system given the lack of appearance change, and it can lead to some unique and fun builds in the endgame of the MP mode.
An All-Star Cast
Solid writing is matched by stellar voice acting. Sandra Saad shines in her role as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel. She brings an honest performance full of a hope that permeates throughout. Industry veterans Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Laura Bailey all make appearances as well playing Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Natasha Romanov respectively. Occasionally I heard a little Nathan Drake in Tony’s lines, but overall they all do a solid job of making the characters their own. Quips during combat however can veer into the far too cheesy territory, especially for Iron Man and Black Widow. The music moves away from the movies and while never quite as memorable, it does the job necessary to heighten the tension or allow scenes to breathe.
Bugs Bugs and More Bugs
Unfortunately, I did run into a number of technical issues. Most could be solved by hitting A and reloading to the previous checkpoint, but this occurred too often for my liking. The most common bug I faced was when a combat encounter simply would not end. Whether it was an enemy disappearing or falling through the environment, the scripted sequence to end combat would never occur. This happened to me a half a dozen times in my 20 hours and was frustrating each time. Another bug (that thankfully only happened once) was when my character became stuck in a wall in the environment and all I could do was stare at pitch blackness. Right as this happened, an auto-save occurred which meant I needed to completely abandon the mission to be able to fix things, and was also a major bummer.
Games as a Service and Monetization
While the campaign dips its toes into the cosmetic side of things, the multiplayer mode is where Marvel’s Avengers will look to build itself into a sustainable franchise. There was a kerfuffle recently when it was revealed that each launch character had a battle pass style character card system. Fears of a $10 per character pass thankfully were unfounded, as the initial 6 characters cards are all included with the base game. The grind to fill out each one with the per-character daily and weekly quests does appear to be a bit lengthy but there is no end date to worry about as far as can be seen. Completing each pass will give you 1300 in the premium in-game currency.
If Square Enix is following the formula of games before it, when a new DLC character is introduced (for free, no paid characters), then their battle pass should cost 1000 of this currency. If you play the game a fair amount and love showing off various character skins, emotes, and the like, then you will enjoy the grind. It is a seemingly fair system and hopefully it works out that way in practice.
No Spider-Man for You!
There is one negative if you are on Xbox or PC that is unavoidable, and that is the exclusivity tied to Spider-Man. He is confirmed to be joining the roster at some point in 2021 but only for the PlayStation 4 and 5 versions of the game. It is tough to recommend a game when you are spending the same money as everyone else but getting less out of it.
Mission variety in the multiplayer mode is severely lacking right now as well. Most missions can be completed in as short as 4-5 minutes with none taking me longer than 30 minutes unless I forced the exploration for more collectibles and gear boxes. Larger missions are promised as post-launch content and the game will need it to have the type of longevity the publisher and developers are hoping for.
Despite a rocky reveal Marvel’s Avengers is a fun, and gorgeous game that is a blast to play both solo and with friends. Featuring a campaign with emotional heft and multiplayer that is built to last, it is an easy recommendation for any fan of either the genre or the source material. The game released for Deluxe Edition owners on Tuesday September 1st, and releases to Standard Edition owners on Friday, September 4th on Xbox One, PS4, and Windows PC.