In just about a week and a half, I’ve already put over 40 hours into Marvel’s Avengers on PlayStation 4, and I’m not entirely sure why. Well, I know why — I love this world and these characters, the combat system is a blast once it opens up, and wrecking robots with a crew of buddies can be a ton of fun. But I’m also fully aware that once you make it past the game’s great single-player campaign, what you’re left with is a gigantic mess of systems and ideas that have a lot of potential — but are also clearly not ready for mass consumption.
Leading up to launch, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics seemed to undersell just how fun and interesting the actual single-player campaign would be. Aside from the introductory San Francisco mission that we’ve seen a hundred times featuring each of the Avengers as they unsuccessfully try to stop what becomes known as A-Day, a bulk of the game is centered firmly around Kamala Khan.
Having this newcomer, who’s an avid consumer of all things superhero, as our entry point into this world provides a unique voice from the film adaptations. It also allows us to avoid getting bogged down with bland origin stories and instead jump straight into a world where superheroes exist and have existed for quite some time. Her quieter scenes with Bruce Banner are particularly well written and wonderfully performed.
For the most part, the story missions themselves oscillate among Uncharted-esque cinematic set pieces filled with all sorts of fantastic danger and destruction, small open-world areas that teach us about some of the game’s exploration flow, and the occasional boss battle. The mixture of these three works well for the 12-hour campaign, especially bolstered by occasional point-of-view shifts with new heroes as you reassemble the team. However, the ratio of this cocktail really starts to fall apart once the credits roll and you enter the post-game content.
If you want to continue building up your heroes and raise their power level high enough to tackle the elite challenges like this game’s version of raids, you’d better get comfortable for a Groundhog Day-esque grind through the same small handful of areas and missions. From barren forests and canyons, to bland AIM laboratories and hallways, there’s nothing about these settings that feel like they add to the story or atmosphere of this world. That’s a shame, considering what a rich, 81-year history of content they have to pull from. Honestly, if you told me that the AIM facilities were actually Umbrella laboratories from one of the lesser Resident Evil offshoots, I would 100% believe you.
The same goes for your objectives, which generally ask you to destroy something, defeat some bullet-sponge enemies, or occupy an area for a given amount of time. And then there are the bosses, of which you’ll be fighting the same giant crab robots, flying battleships, and clones of Taskmaster and Abomination. The first few times are thrilling, but these encounters quickly become routine as you press through the grind. When I’m playing solo, Marvel’s Avengers has become a podcast game — meaning that I pretty much zone out while playing and just use it as a means of occupying my thumbs as I catch up on podcasts.
The problem continues as you’re managing an assembly line of newly acquired gear that incrementally raises your power level but makes no visual difference on your character. No matter which new hilt you find for Thor’s Mjolnir, bracers for Black Widow, power core for Iron Man, or literal human ribcage for the Hulk, their appearances only change when you unlock new costumes.
This completely removes the cosmetic fashion and character customization component of a game like Destiny or Warframe, and it instead makes it feel like you’re just moving around values in an Excel spreadsheet. Thankfully, at higher levels your gear begins to come with perks that tangibly impact how you play, such as heavy combos delivering a dose of Pym Particles that have a chance to shrink down your enemies mid-combat, and it’s here that Marvel’s Avengers begins to show its promise.
Once you start to flesh out each character’s skill trees and really begin to understand the passive and active effects of their unique abilities and how they gel with the other heroes, the combat becomes fairly deep and entertaining. This is especially true if you manage to squad up with three other players and are able to communicate incoming threats, plans for exploring the side-objectives, and the cooldown status of your various heroic abilities. Sadly, if you don’t have three dedicated pals to avenge with, the matchmaking at launch has been anywhere from subpar to completely broken. I consider it a minor victory if I’m able to find two other random humans to play with, let alone build a full squad of four.
And the finicky nature of the servers isn’t the only technical problem with Marvel’s Avengers. While some of the known bugs have been relatively comical, like the face model for Captain America’s WW2 outfit looking like Popeye or duplicates of hero characters spawning in the game’s social spaces, (I blame the Skrull.) others involving the game’s various forms of economy are harder to laugh at.
The game’s subreddit is filled with complaints that people have spent both in-game currency as well as actual money on costumes that simply did not unlock, despite the funds being taken away. This happened for me — luckily with in-game currency and not real money — when I spent 7000 credits to unlock the ‘40s gangster-inspired Joe Fixit outfit for the Hulk, which I guess taught me the lesson that no one should force the Hulk to wear a pinstripe suit.
And yet, despite being cognizant of all of these major and minor problems, I keep playing. I still like checking in every day and chipping away at the various challenge cards, anxiously awaiting the day when I can unlock the costumes I’ve had my eye on since launch. When our schedules line up, I’m still having a good time hanging out with pals and showing off our characters, even if the missions feel like we’re stuck in a time loop.
But above all, I’m holding out hope that Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix will continue to build on this foundation, listen to player feedback, and help the game evolve in the same way Destiny has over the past six years and less like what’s happened with Anthem. Hopefully this launch is just the first step towards Marvel’s Avengers becoming a world fit for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.