The release of Kate Bishop, the first post-launch character in Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers, feels like a pivotal moment. A rocky launch and underwhelming sales numbers have left the future of Square Enix’s ambitious shared-world superhero adventure unknown. However, I’m happy to say that Kate is an absolute blast to play as, and her story feels like a breath of fresh air thanks to great writing and a fantastic lead performance. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of how Marvel’s Avengers is actually constructed, this new micro adventure still suffers from some of the same core problems that plagued our original heroes.
Kate Bishop, along with all planned future characters, comes at no cost. This includes her Taking AIM campaign, which clocks in at about four hours or so. Real money comes into play if you want to unlock her Challenge Card, which is the pathway to cosmetics like new costumes, emotes, and banner images. This costs 1,000 credits, which comes out to $10. However, if you’re like me, played a fair amount at launch, and didn’t spend the credits you earned on individual outfits, then you probably had enough squirrelled away to be able to unlock it.
Kate’s campaign introduces her wonderfully as you play through a level trailing behind her and observing the damage she’s able to do along the way. Wrecked robots are scattered about the environment, arrows puncturing their armor. Before you even meet her, it’s clear that she can hold her own in battle.
Once you finally confront her following a very cool cutscene, it’s immediately clear that Kate is oozing charisma, sarcasm, and the kind of energetic banter that makes for a lot of memorable back-and-forths with Tony Stark. Her strong characterization continues throughout her entire campaign, thanks in part to some really great writing, as well as a simply stellar performance by Ashly Burch, best known as Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn, Chloe Price in Life is Strange, and Tiny Tina in the Borderlands series.
Part of the reason Kate Bishop shines so brightly might be that we don’t have a preconceived notion of who this character is from the MCU yet. While she’ll be making her debut next year in the Hawkeye series for Disney+, she doesn’t have the shadow of Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans looming over her. Because of this, Burch is able to take the character and truly make it her own in Marvel’s Avengers.
The core of Kate’s story, as seen in the trailers that Crystal Dynamics has already released, involves her tracking down Clint Barton’s Hawkeye. Following the events of A-Day and the disassembling of the Avengers, the two of them went into hiding, with Clint eventually going missing in some mysterious events somehow related to Nick Fury. The story moves along at an energetic clip and has a really effective cliffhanger ending that opens up the possibilities for where the future of the game’s story will take us.
Fortunately, Kate Bishop is as fun to control as she is fun to watch and listen to. Her move sets, abilities, and locomotion all feel distinct from those of the original six Avengers. Melee attacks come in the form of her blade, which she swings with balletic grace as she cartwheels and flips around the battlefield. This evolves with increasingly intricate combos as you flesh out her skill tree. Of course, her iconic bow and arrow is a centerpiece of her attacks, and you can toggle among piercing, explosive, and a trio of arrows that fire off in a line horizontally. While each arrow isn’t as strong as a thrown hit from Thor’s Mjolnir, her rate of fire is much faster and makes for some great distanced crowd control.
Her heroic abilities straddle a nice line between support and DPS. Decoy creates a hologram projection of Kate that not only draws enemy attention, but also fires off energy arrows itself. This is helpful when you’re overwhelmed and need to escape from the center of battle, or you need to defend a point in a vault mission and could use a bit of extra firepower. And her Quantum Overdrive feels a bit like Black Widow’s special, with an extra focus spent on dealing as much ranged damage as possible while it’s engaged.
Rounding out her whole package is her Blink teleportation ability. This uses up the intrinsic energy you gain from landing successful attacks, and can be overloaded if you go long enough without taking any damage. Blink allows Kate to channel her inner Nightcralwer and bamf a short distance forward or straight up into the air. This is how she reaches high ledges, crosses large gaps, and initiates some pretty cool aerial attacks. And once you really start to kick the tires on her skill tree, you can create portals that your teammates can hop through as well.
Sadly, a lot of the core problems that plagued the Marvel’s Avengers post-game grind at launch still persist across Kate Bishop’s campaign and the road to reaching her level cap. Most of the mission locales feel reused and totally bland — the snowy Siberian tundra and antiseptic AIM laboratories that outwore their welcome back in September make their not-so-triumphant return. Kate even jokes about having to keep going back to Siberia, which is kind of exactly how I felt playing through the missions. Likewise, the enemies you encounter are largely the same or slightly modified versions of the robots and grunts that you’ve already dispatched by the thousands.
This “sameness” that creeps in as you reach each character’s post-game grind is ultimately the core problem that exists in Marvel’s Avengers at this time. And this problem is so deeply rooted in the game loop that I’m not sure how Crystal Dynamics would go about fixing it without a complete overhaul.
That said, playing through Kate’s campaign was the first time I’d revisited the game in a few months, as well as the first time I had played it on PlayStation 5. While the true next-gen update isn’t coming along until next year, I was pleased with how many small improvements have been made since I put dozens of hours into it back in September. The ping system allows you to have your AI companions use their unique abilities to open doors that you might not be equipped to open. Acquiring daily challenges has been streamlined, attack warnings from offscreen give you time to dodge, and the load times have improved significantly. Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.
Kate Bishop is an excellent addition to Marvel’s Avengers and makes it worth jumping back into for anyone who already owns the game. Her character is wonderful, her story is compelling, and she’s an absolute blast to play as. While she’s hampered by some of the deep-rooted problems of the game itself, she’s a sign that the game is moving in the right direction, even if it might be taking a while.