I want it on record that I take no pleasure in writing this feature. In the past, I’ve waxed lyrical about the comic book realm within which I’ve planted my cape-adorned, spandex-wearing flag. I’ve consumed those stories of mighty heroes saving the day and proving that truth and justice will always prevail since I was a wee lad, so the opportunity to virtually embody those characters, take an active role in the mythos I’ve admired and appreciated for so long was… well, exciting to say the least.
Even when all the, to put it kindly, less graceful aspects of Marvel’s Avengers game were announced, I was still willing to give it a chance. A gear-focused live service model wasn’t what I wanted for these characters but I could bite the bullet. It would be worth it to smash things as Hulk, blast baddies out the sky as Iron Man and stand against all things evil as good ol’ Cap, right?
If only it were so simple and satisfying. Truth be told, I’ve been holding off on writing this feature for a few weeks now. The beta for Marvel’s Avengers has been going on for the past three weekends now, with the most recent weekend marking the game’s last public test before launching on 4 September. I could have written this a few weeks ago, after that first closed beta exclusive to PS4 users but I held off hoping that patches and improvements would come. They did in the following weeks but whatever tweaks were made couldn’t fix what is a fundamentally unsatisfying experience.
See, Marvel’s Avengers is a decent game. It looks decent, controls fine enough and features those iconic characters many have fallen in love with in recent years. Yet that’s about all it has going for it. The game is plagued by bizarre design choices that don’t break the game but create an experience that’s just not meaningful in any way. I want to touch on a few things that really irked me about the beta, some of the issues I think sat with me more than I expected them to because the sad fact is that I think there’s a genuinely good game underneath all the bullshit.
Gear we go again
Perhaps the issue most brought up in discussions about Marvel’s Avengers is the implementation of a gear system, akin to something seen games in like Destiny 2 or Ubisoft’s The Division. Frankly, I have no issue with a system like this in the game. As much as I don’t enjoy the idea of having to grind out endlessly recycled missions with the chance of finding better loot to improve your character, it’s something that can be rather addictive and satisfying when done well enough. That’s not the case with Avengers as the gear system in the game feels horrifically under-baked and unnecessary to the overall experience.
Maybe it’s a superficial complaint but the fact that loot doesn’t show up on your selected character is painful, with every pick up really only having a stat increase or percentage improvements behind it. One of the most undeniably important aspects of a loot-based game is to make gear that’s worthwhile yet when the only thing you have to show for your grinding efforts, which could, in theory, consume hours of your time, is a slightly higher stat bar, that feels both like a dramatic waste of time and stupidly underwhelming.
The thing is, I understand the decision to make the loot “invisible” and it’s not a strategy I find myself enjoying. I don’t want to assume developer intentions, but if you could customise the appearance of characters however you wanted then you’d be less incentivised to grind, or worse pay for, alternate skins. Again, for a game that’s dead set on allowing players to build characters however they want, forcing a set group of skins on everyone just feels lazy, disingenuous and undermines the supposed emphasis on “player choice”.
Yet I could overlook all that if Marvel’s Avengers had anything in the way of a decent story, arguably the reason most people would want to play a superhero game, rather than grinding for pointless loot (shocking, I know). Yet out of the handful of missions included in the game’s beta, the story-driven quests left much to be desired. Some eye-rollingly bad writing, disinterested voice acting and just a general lack of dramatic weight or urgency rob the story of any kind of emotional impact. Which is a real shame because there are some excellent story beats shown off in the beta.
Having Bruce Banner reassure Kamala Khan, who’s recently been turned into a super-human, that it’s okay to have powers, reminding her that she’s not a freak is a really clever and meaningfully ironic conversation, not least of all because you know Bruce might be the only person who doesn’t actually believe what he’s saying.
Maybe I’m speaking prematurely here. There’s still a lot of story to tell and if it can continue along that kind of character-driven approach then maybe there really will be something worthwhile in there. It’s just such a pity that in order to see that scene I was forced to slog through ages of monotonous combat that was exceptionally unbecoming for a game about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Com-battling to care
Why does “man with gun” take five punches from The Hulk, of all characters, to knock down? Why does “man with gun’s” standard bullet knock Iron Man backwards? Why are all the cool abilities locked behind cooldowns of a minute or more? Why does the sound of punching enemies sound like it was FOLEYed from a pillow fight? Why are all the enemies just bland robots or goons that look almost identical? How are the attacks of an Asgardian God interrupted by a man with a shocking stick?
I know that’s a paragraph of rhetorical questions but quite frankly, I don’t have the enthusiasm to really discuss a bland combat system that’s meant to take up 80% of the video game. You’re making a game about The Avengers. If your combat is tedious, repetitive, unimpactful and, most unforgivably, boring I just don’t know what else there really is to offer.
Look, there’s probably a lot more to this game than the beta has shown. At least, I really hope that’s the case. There’s so much potential here, so much that could be tweaked or adjusted to make for a game that’s at least fun. Yet if the beta is any indication, Marvel’s Avengers is going to be disappointing to more than just a few people. It’s a game that’s trying to saddle the line between compelling, narrative-driven experience and exciting (-ly lucrative) multi-player action and if the last few weekends have been anything to go by, it’s struggling to hit that sweet spot.
Marvel’s Avengers is launching next week Friday, 4 September. Check back with us then for a full review of the complete game.