Nearly one year after its initial launch, Marvel’s Avengers finally feels like it’s stepping out of the gigantic and looming shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and becoming its own distinct entity, thanks to the Blank Panther-centric War for Wakanda expansion. By taking us to an exciting new location, filling it with engaging character moments, and adding a genuinely great new character to the roster, War for Wakanda has set a new benchmark for what these updates should look like going forward.
Like the previous Kate Bishop and Clint Barton additions that came before it, Black Panther and the War for Wakanda campaign are free updates to the core game, with his cosmetic battle pass coming in at $10. With this new four-hour campaign, I finally feel like I can recommend Marvel’s Avengers as a single-player game for anyone who loves these characters and the world they inhabit, even if you have zero interest in putting in the dozens upon dozens of hours needed to hit the post-game level cap for each hero.
It’s impossible to fill the shoes left behind by the iconic Chadwick Boseman, especially coming right off the heels of his excellent turn in What If…?. But Christopher Judge, best known in gaming for his role as Kratos in 2018’s God of War, brings his own flavor of gravitas to the Wakandan leader that felt gripping from the very first cutscene. Same goes for Erica Luttrell as Shuri, who’s just as central to the story as her brother, and Steve Blum as Ulysses Klaue, who’s even more evil and interesting than his MCU counterpart. This is the first time in my 100+ hours with Marvel’s Avengers that I wasn’t constantly comparing it to its cinematic counterpart, instead getting lost in the story and world that Crystal Dynamics had created.
T’Challa himself is a blast to play as, really coming into his own as an aggressive character that builds up kinetic energy by absorbing light attacks and parrying heavier ones. This pent-up energy can then be released through his acrobatic combos, debuff daggers, and AOE finishers. If there’s one thing the developers have nailed throughout the game, it’s making each hero feel unique and interesting, and Black Panther is no exception.
Wakanda itself is a much-appreciated change from bland futurescapes and reused biomes that we’ve seen over the past few updates. The juxtaposition between the untouched natural beauty of the jungle and the advanced technology of the Wakandan people keeps things dynamic at every turn. A deep network of caves and ancient ruins is filled with neat little puzzles that highlight Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider roots — if anything, I wish there were more of these satisfying brain-teasers peppered throughout the campaign. Apart from this, exploring the central palace adds a new social space that stands apart from the SHIELD bases that have come before it, and it is the home of some genuinely great character moments.
Despite the Avengers being present throughout the campaign, War for Wakanda is clearly not about them. They’re not the most welcome of guests in Wakanda, uncomfortably standing on the peripheries of the palace as the locals stare daggers through them. Overhearing a conversation between Clint and Kamala where he says he now finally knows what it’s like to be an outsider, or Bruce Banner admitting that he’s suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome when standing near the next-level genius of the nation’s scientific advancements, shows that the Avengers need the Wakandans much more so than the other way around.
This paragraph has spoilers for the end of the campaign (proceed with caution), but having T’Challa step down from his throne, giving the seat to his sister Shuri as he goes off galavanting across the globe with his superhero pals, was a delightfully surprising moment that served as a satisfying conclusion to the arc that Crystal Dynamics had created over the course of the campaign. It made it feel like a wholly unique entity from its cinematic counterpart. It may be brief, but it makes the most of that time and ultimately feels fleshed out.
Sadly, some problems endemic to the core game still persist over this new War for Wakanda expansion. Far too many encounters culminate with a handful of bullet-sponge enemies that are less a tense and exciting showcase of your abilities, and more a war of attrition as you slowly chip away at their never-ending health bars. Playing alongside three pals mitigates some of the frustration, but that’s mostly in a “we’re all miserable together” kind of way.
I know it’s not economical to create a brand new biome with a unique tone, challenges, and enemies every time there’s a new character, but it really feels like this is what Marvel’s Avengers needs going forward. Clint and Kate’s AIM-centric stories felt far too familiar to what had come before them, which makes War for Wakanda such a welcome addition, wrinkles aside. But at this point in time, we don’t know what the future holds for the game as a whole going forward. Crystal Dynamics recently reaffirmed that Spider-Man would be coming by the end of the year as a PlayStation-exclusive character, which I still attest is a bad move that leaves those on PC and Xbox high and dry.
All that aside, Spider-Man might be the toughest addition for the team yet. Not only do we have three separate cinematic versions of the character alongside countless animated ones, but Insomniac’s incredible video game take on the hero set the bar unfathomably high for what an interactive version of the web slinger should feel like. Plus, given his penchant for bumming around New York City, I’m worried that the next expansion will take us back to a place we’ve already spent hours upon hours with in the base game.
Only time will tell if War for Wakanda is the start of something special or a temporary high-water mark before the tide begins to recede. But as of right now, Marvel’s Avengers could be on its redemption path towards becoming the superhero shared universe I had envisioned when the game was first announced, and that’s something to truly get excited for.