Marvel’s Avengers by Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix is a game that could have impressed back during the early days of this console generation. However, the title’s hodgepodge of mechanics seems tiring at this point. There are some bright spots in this game, but every aspect seems undercooked. And at worst, some even feel at odds with themselves.
The story is where the game shines the brightest. It focuses squarely on Kamala Khan, and her youthful enthusiasm really injects some much needed personality into the somewhat soulless gameplay. The story starts off with a younger Kamala as she witnessed the events of A-Day. As the events of the game play out, Kamala really grows as a person, figuratively and literally. It’s great to see her idolize the Avengers as a young girl and then find her place within the world as an Avenger. While the pacing isn’t perfect, you feel a real sense of character progression with her.
While I praise the game’s story, the actual campaign structure leaves a lot to be desired. There are some really great set pieces here and there, but in-between you have these dull open-world maps where you traverse between enemy outposts until you end up where your primary objective is, which is usually… a bigger base in the form of an enemy laboratory.
The entire enemy stronghold game design, popularized this generation by studios like Ubisoft, isn’t inherently a bad thing. Ghost of Tsushima had a similar structure, and I enjoyed that game very much. But while Sucker Punch’s game had stellar art direction and great fast travel functions, the open areas in Marvel’s Avengers just feel lifeless. At one point during the campaign, I stopped going to the outposts and went straight to the objective. The loot placed at these outposts wasn’t enough to incentivize me.
That’s a problem because Marvel’s Avengers’ hook is its loot and gear system. The gear comes in five ascending tiers, starting from Common all the way to Legendary, and each Avenger has four primary slots for gear. Different pieces of gear can come with different kinds of perks. You may have a piece of loot that decreases the amount of damage taken when at a certain percentage of health or another that can add damage to a specific type of attack.
While these effects can add nuance to the gameplay, they always feel quite underwhelming. This is because none of the hits you land really feel like they’re making an impact. Sure, stringing together combos is definitely possible, but many times you’re going to get hit by a rocket or laser off-screen, thus completely interrupting your attacks. Even as the Hulk, I feel as if I’m hitting with the force of a wet paper bag. Enemies take a while to go down, and there are usually a lot of enemies coming towards you at once.
It doesn’t help that these enemies seem to love using unblockable attacks as often as possible, which are indicated by a flashing red circle. Most of the time I try to hit them out of it, but they’re somehow impervious to any sort of hitstun.
I feel like Marvel’s Avengers’ mechanics are working against each other here and the game is confused on what it wants to be. The introduction scene of the game’s campaign, as well as the ending, features some really cool cinematic moments. But throughout the campaign, it’s burdened with all of the game-as-a-service elements.
Each Avenger has a skill tree that’s reminiscent of a single-player role-playing game and provides a sense of progression. The loot mechanics just don’t need to be there though and at times feel like a complete mismatch with the game. Additionally, there are only about three or four battles in the whole campaign that involve fighting actual Marvel supervillains, which is pretty disappointing for a superhero game.
Looking at Marvel’s Avengers as a multiplayer game, I’m not sure how the loot really compels me to keep grinding. The user interface takes heavy inspiration from Destiny’s, but unlike in that game, there are no cosmetic changes with new gear. Part of the draw of Destiny’s gear is that each has a distinctive look and players can form their own identity through how they appear. I just can’t see that here.
I believe that’s the consequence of working with one of the biggest IPs in entertainment. I wouldn’t be surprised if any outward cosmetic changes would have required Square Enix to get the approval of the corporate overlords at Disney. Given all the administrative complexity and the amount of time that would take, electing to go with just skins and non-cosmetic gear was probably the easiest route.
There are some smaller annoying details too. Marvel’s Avengers is pretty buggy. During a particular boss battle, if I chained together two specific attacking abilities, my game would always crash. Also during the campaign, if you fail a stealth section or fall during a set piece, the game has to load up the area again. The load times on my PlayStation 4 Pro are excruciatingly long and add insult to injury.
I will say, however, that the game can be fun when playing with friends. Coordinating strategies with human players is much more fulfilling than depending on the ally AI to help wipe out enemies. Your AI teammates are actually pretty dependable though. If you get downed during battle, you don’t have to worry all that much about whether or not they’ll be able to revive you: They will. They also do a good-enough job keeping enemies distracted and busy.
Square Enix heavily marketed the title as a games-as-a-service affair, so a long road is ahead. With a substantial amount of new content in the future, as well as some variety in mission objectives, Marvel’s Avengers could be worth a player’s time and effort. At the very least, the roughly 8-10 hour campaign is worth experiencing if only for the amazing portrayal of Kamala Khan. Right now, though, you may want to steer clear until more updates arrive.