Crystal Dynamics faced an uphill battle developing a gaming experience for a pack of die-hard fans. The Avengers franchise hasn’t seen a mainline title since the 2016 release of Lego Marvel Avengers, so expectations were riding high. High expectations can be delivered upon; take Marvel’s Spider-Man as a prime example. Marvel’s Avengers strives to follow suit. Nick Fury’s dream team is brought to life in several ways but also botches the mission at the same time. The game feels like it’s in a constant tug of war with itself. It struggles to put the pieces together, settling for an experience that feels oddly similar to a bait and switch.
Story – Avengers Reassemble
The story begins with the Avengers on top of the world. They’re modern-day superheroes and are often protectors and role models for adults and children alike. The game opens up with you playing as one of those impressionable children. The main protagonist, Kamala Kahn, is a pre-teen superfan of everything on the Avengers. Invited to an event meant to honor the Avengers, Kamala and many others bear witness to a catastrophic disaster. Causing the death of innocents and the creation of Inhumans. These Inhumans house powers that rival the abilities of the Avengers themselves, causing them to be cast out and villainized by the rest of society. The Avengers then become scapegoats, leaving the once-beloved elite group of superheroes disbanded and hated across the world.
This serves as Kamala’s origin story in a sense. 5 years after the opening catastrophe, Kamala exhibits the inhuman ability to polymorph her body to great lengths. From here Kamala begins an adventure to find a cure for her inhuman disease. While also attempting to bring the Avengers back to power in the process. When Kamala was first announced, I was convinced that she would be my least favorite character. Even with my premeditated contempt, she became my favorite heroine and I found her character arc to be extremely charming. Kamala goes from being a starstruck, cringy, and awkward adolescent to well… a less starstruck, cringy, and awkward adolescent. She remains true to what makes her uniquely herself but evolves as the game progresses. Growing into the most valuable asset that the story has to offer.
Although Kamala is a great protagonist, the campaign has an issue with proper pacing. Largely due to the addition of fetch quests that barely carry any momentum. Fetch quests are never fun, so it was surprising to see these mission types in the main campaign. While the execution of the storytelling isn’t perfect, it remains well-written and has real enjoyment to be found within it.
Gameplay – Back To The Assembly Line
There are influences from other titles that dictate the approach to gameplay here. There’s no surprise that Marvel’s Avengers drew so many comparisons to the Destiny franchise. It’s a fair comparison in several ways. The game prioritizes grindy dedication with repetitious mission structures, all in the name of obtaining increasingly powerful gear. This insatiable pursuit of loot isn’t for everyone but there was an allure to plant hours into building specific heroes. Those plans quickly changed.
Before we get into the negatives, however, what does the game get right? For starters the amount of content is enormous. There are tons of missions to complete, vendors to purchase gear from, daily and weekly challenges, deep skill trees, and battle pass-Esque unlockables for each character just to name a few. Although there is a ton to earn, the quality of these items is severely lacking. It’s a classic case of quantity over quality. Leading the game into a pitfall that I could not mentally allow it to climb out of.
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
Games like Destiny, Warframe, and Diablo succeed because you truly reap the benefits of your success. The loot is worth the chase due to nailing at least 2 of the 3 main allures of great gear. Appearance, Mechanics, and Stats. For Marvel’s Avengers, the loot is all about stats. The perk system in rare gear has almost a non-existent effect on gameplay mechanics. What’s truly saddening is the lack of cosmetic upgrades. For one reason or another, gamers love to see a character’s appearance update when new gear is equipped. Marvel’s Avengers fails at appeasing to that visual stimuli.
Granted, there are outfits available for each character. Though these cosmetics are unlocked through challenges and not included in the surprise factor of a loot drop. In a nutshell, the loot neither changed how my character played nor changed my appearance in any way. Only rewarding my grind with small stat increases. This pushed the entire gear system to the back of my mind. It’s reminiscent of the excitement you get wondering what toy is in your happy meal. Not as an 8-year-old kid, however, but instead as a 30-year-old man. It’s meh.
A Glimmer Of Hope
Here’s a valid question: If the loot drops aren’t exciting, why should we continue to play? That’s a very good question and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Taking the gear out of the equation still leaves you with deep skill trees to indulge in. You’ll put time into finding your favorite character and working toward mastering them. The combat is fierce, challenging, and rewarding when the game is firing on all cylinders. Although the combat isn’t as smooth as other action games, you do feel in the exciting shoes of a hero.
How long the excitement lasts is where things can get a bit murky. With a roster of only 6 playable characters, your options are pretty slim. It’s also unlikely you’ll enjoy all of the characters in the game equally. In terms of playability, my favorites to control were Thor and Iron Man. Captain America and Hulk being my least likely to play with. Once Iron Man and Thor’s skill trees were maxed, the remaining heroes lacked appeal. Without a fun loot system to continue my grind, my playtime began to come to a halt. Thankfully, there are confirmed DLC characters incoming, and a handful of others rumored to be joining the team as well. Turning this small kickback into a much needed full-blown house party.
Graphics and Sound – Someone Pass The Bug Spray
In terms of audio, Marvel’s Avengers is a pleasant mix of great voice acting, music, and effects. Except for Iron Man, who can come off as a bit too whimsical at times, even for him. The rest of the main cast does a great job of bringing the heroes to life. The music sets the stage nicely as well, with each character having themes to fit their playstyle. When using Iron Man or Thor you’ll be headbanging with hard rock. Compared to the sweet classical orchestras that serenade players controlling Captain America. It’s a nice touch from composer Bobby Tahouri and sound designer Jack Grillo. Allowing players to immerse themselves into battle with musical notes tailored to different styles of combat.
While the sound design adds depth for players, the graphics and performance are consistently unstable throughout the entire experience. You never really know what you’re going to get. Essentially it’s a game of Russian Roulette. With the chambers loaded with bugs, frustrating frame rate issues, and slow to no texture rendering, making characters and surfaces appear like horrid water paintings. The issues aren’t game-breaking but it does represent a lack of polish, as these faults are constant throughout the game. It’s hard to maintain a stable level of immersion while playing with a headless Thor. Or worse, dealing with a framerate that just can’t keep up. The number of bugs is on par with deep woods off spray levels of intensity and needs serious quality control.
Marvel’s Avengers was reviewed on PS4