Marvel’s Avengers is in a unique predicament. Crystal Dynamics, the developer behind the game, faces Infinity War level odds at delivering a premiere, iconic experience, that resonates with fans, and engages gamers, with an intellectual property that is widely beloved, harshly judged, and ever changing. Fans can be a game’s greatest champions, or their harshest critics, but as this review will attest, sometimes a fan can be both.
The strange mixture of hype and disappointment over the past several months leading up to the release of Marvel’s Avengers has been at cosmic proportions. As Crystal Dynamics volleyed information pre-release, it seemed each morsel of news came with a caveat, some confusion, or in the case of the Playstation Spider-Man exclusivity, an unbridled repulsor beam to the groin.
Now with launch firmly in the rearview mirror and an ample amount of time with the 6 launch characters, one thing hasn’t changed from the pre-launch escapades, for everything that seems to be right with Marvel’s Avengers, something else is inexplicably wrong. As Crystal Dynamics scrambles to fix new issues that seem to arise daily, there is little in the way of astonishment when comparisons are made to Anthem’s release.
The shining light of Marvel’s Avengers comes in the form of the story mode, which follows Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), from a frightful child, to reassembling the Avengers. The growing popularity of her character through the years is only expounded on by how brilliantly the team crafted this story, utilizing her as a focal point, but also as an added hype-generator. Kamala Khan, as I’ve been known to say, is all of us. She’s the kind of person that geeks out over meeting Thor, or expresses her disbelief when she finds herself inside the Chimera.
As the story holds your hand through the reassemble campaign, the missions are fairly diverse, and the locales are beautiful. For the most part, each character manages to hold you within the narrative with solid representations of their personalities. Despite his hardships, Tony Stark still has an air of self-importance. Black Widow is still the closed off, secretive spy we’ve come to know and love in the comics, and the Hulk, with his brash, grumpy demeanor, transitions to a melancholy Bruce Banner, with overly emotional undertones. The interplay between the characters creates a movie-worthy story that will resonate with, not just the MCU crowd, but with comic book fans respectively, even if the campaign is only 10 to 12 hours of your time.
Whether players choose to complete the campaign, or move directly into the Avengers Initiative portion of the game, which is essentially their end-game treadmill, it is completely up to the players. The most unfortunate aspect of this method is that the best part of the game, the story, is entirely optional, so it’s completely possible to miss the diamond in the rough, the rough - which is otherwise known as the multiplayer aspects of the game.
A lot of the missions in the Avengers Initiative multiplayer will detail a storyline, but with much less of a story focus, and more along the lines of a mission-based approach. You aren’t getting an overarching narrative, but a play-by-play, “here’s what’s happening” dialog, that transitions into one of several possible scenarios. The content rolls out on an ever-growing difficulty scale, that is disconnected from even the inherent difficulty challenge scale, that sits on an Easy to Brutal spectrum. Most players will probably opt to play on the “normal” difficulty, known as Challenge 2, but once you reach Elite level missions, even those can be considered quite challenging. There are some story arcs that you can complete for rewards, but as a narrative, they are largely forgettable.
There are a few detriments to the Avengers Initiative. While, yes, the level designs are largely rehashed by region, and there are only a handful of missions that bear repeating, that isn’t the fundamental issue with multiplayer as a whole. Repetitiveness in end game activities are nothing new to the MOG genre, but a multiplayer game with severely broken multiplayer is problematic to say the least. At the time of this review, multiplayer has several issues. In some cases, you could queue to play a mission in multiplayer, and wait endlessly before anyone joins, if anyone joins at all. In one particular case, I waited a full 30 minutes before giving up. In other cases, quick join matches will often match you with players who may be nowhere close to your level. Even if they manage to match you with someone who has gotten their character level to 50, you may find that their gear power level is far below yours. None of those issues even touch on some of the other problems I’ve encountered such as complete system crashes on PS4, or the lingering bugs and stuttering on even high-end PC’s that have been plaguing the discord and reddit since launch.
Leveling in Marvel’s Avengers isn’t difficult to manage. Character levels come naturally as you complete the content, while Power Level, which directly correlates to gear, comes more slowly as you obtain stronger gear pieces. You can choose to either boost them to level faster, or earn more gear naturally as the gameplay progresses. Boosting your gear thereby boosts your power level, up to 10 levels for epic or legendary gear, and in the event that Oden shines brightly on you, it’s completely possible to increase your power level consistently with each mission. Several different materials are earned through exploration, and defeating enemies, all of which are required to level up your gear, with a single time-gated specialty resource, polychoron, left at the top as the main focus for players to return daily and complete faction-specific quests if they ever hope to get to the maximum power level of 150.
In addition to simply leveling and gearing your character, you can also unlock new character skins and nameplates by either finding patterns, completing your challenge card, which is free for all 6 starting characters, but will cost players about 10 dollars for new characters, or buying them with in-game currency you get from opening chests and completing tasks. Most of the skins at this time, sit as just different variations of the same three or four skins in different variant colors.
On the Marketplace, you can purchase not just skins and nameplates, but some new takedowns, which are special moves that each character can do once an enemy has reached their stun bar limit. Some of these takedowns are cool, and in a few cases, much preferred over the default takedowns. For example, Ms. Marvel has a few default takedowns that throw enemies clear across the level, forcing you to chase them down, but you can purchase a new takedown that finishes them right there at your feet, which is by far the preferred style if you plan on continuing your assault. Gearing your character through RNG drops won't change anything visually, save for a few status perks that can change the color of your powers, but nothing is visually appealing. Gearing your character heavily defines your characters stats, based on the perks and attributes you choose, which leads directly to the end-game gear grind.
The entire treadmill process can seem tedious, but the major redeeming aspect of the game resides in the characters themselves. As you unlock more skills and skill trees, during the level up process, you come to round out characters that fit your play style more. Each character has a set of iconic moves, all of which seem to ring true. In some cases, like Hulk for example, I feel like they’ve overplayed his iconic “Loki smash” from the first Avengers film, opting for an entire skill line dedicated to grab attacks, as if he were some large, green, angry Zangief with a complete disregard for personal space. Some characters, such as Iron Man and Black Widow, opt for multiple weaponry changes that you can switch on the fly, though the skill trees effectively attempt to pigeonhole you into one option.
Even after some personal perceived missteps in skill trees or potential design flaws, the feel of each character is what makes this game so Thor-damned enticing. Never before, not even in Marvel Heroes itself, may it rest in peace, have we been able to experience the raw unrestrained Hulk rage, or the satisfying thud of Mjolnir against the side of an enemy’s head. Marvel’s Avengers does that in ways that we’ve never encountered before. Inasmuch as the game has its fair share of problems, and an end game that works better as a single player affair in its current state, there is something that Marvel’s Avengers does that can only be rivaled by only one game in recent memory, Marvel’s Spiderman by Insomniac - possibly the pinnacle of Marvel’s superhero titles.
Multiplayer online games rarely, if ever, emerge from the developmental womb spit shined and bug-free. That doesn’t mean that Marvel’s Avengers gets a pass for releasing a multiplayer game with poor multiplayer, but it does mean that, as with most MOG’s, the game will only get better. Right now, Marvel’s Avengers is in its baby Hulk infancy, but it has a bright future as a World Breaker.