I'm so conflicted about Marvel's Avengers. There are aspects I genuinely adore about the game but every time I started thinking I was having fun, some asinine design decision slapped me in the face, almost like it was trying to prevent me from enjoying it. Despite telling a compelling superhero story with some excellent production values, characters, set pieces and the occasional combat scenario that wasn't disappointing, there's so much unnecessary garbage that weighs the experience down. A poorly justified loot system, unsatisfying combat and wonky design choices around mission structure and pacing keep Marvel's Avengers from ever becoming Mightiest Heroes we actually deserved.
There’s a part of me that feels bad writing this review. See, I wrote up a first impressions piece of Marvel’s Avengers, wherein I spoke about my time with the beta version of the game and how much I genuinely disliked the experience. I suppose you could throw out the expression, “You can’t judge a game by its beta”.
Yet I stand by what I said a couple of weeks ago: The beta for Marvel’s Avengers painted a dire picture of what the final release would be like, making me especially sceptical that I would enjoy the game in its entirety. I suppose that’s the risk of an early, limited beta: You miss out on a great deal of context that would otherwise work to enhance the picture globally.
I’m very pleased to say that after spending nearly a week playing Marvel’s Avengers I enjoyed it far more than I ever thought I would. There are some severe caveats to that enjoyment, I must warn you, but I don’t regret putting time into the game. Marvel’s Avengers is game that feels like it was designed to provide a fantastic, well-written single-player campaign that was then forced into a multiplayer-player shaped corner so as to cash in on the current trend on loot-based grind fiestas and the experience as a whole suffers for that.
Kahn’t get enough
So let’s start with the best part of the game: Kamala Khan and her rise as a superhero. The story being told here is nothing original by Marvel standards. In fact, one could it accuse it of being derivative if it weren’t so damn well told. After a horrific terrorist event that causes Terrigen energy, that same power source that creates the Inhumans, to spread throughout San Francisco, The Avengers part ways as they’re ruled to be a menace rather than humanity’s saviours. We’ve seen it all before, if you’ve read any kind of Avengers comic book in the last ten years the core team has broken up and reformed so many times they may as well by The Jonas Brothers.
Yet what’s fresh about this take is Kamala Khan, a character who’s only recently becoming more mainstream in her appearances outside of the comic’s core continuity. Changed by the Terrigen energy, Kamala makes it her mission to bring The Avengers back together as she discovers all kinds of shady evil taking place inside of Advanced Idea Mechanics, a super corporation that’s risen up as an industrial replacement for The Avengers.
It’s rote stuff but it’s sold by some excellent production value and a (handful) of fantastic performances. Sandra Saad as Kamala brings a passion and joy to the character, making her someone you just instantly want to root for while Troy Baker actually pulls off a really convincing soft-spoken, awkward Bruce Banner. It’s the best dynamic in the game, which fortunately takes centre stage because everyone else really phoned in their performances. Nolan North’s Iron Man feels like Nathan Drake but less charismatic, Laura Bailey as Black Widow sounds like she’s half asleep and Travis Willingham just needed some better direction as Thor because his cheese levels are way too high for the tone the story is going for.
I feel like I’m not doing this story justice in my explanation. All you need to know, while not going into spoilers, is that there’s a genuine heart at the core of Marvel’s Avengers narrative. It feels like the aspect of the game the developers enjoyed making most and it shows in the final product. There’s passion, love and respect for the iconic characters upon which the game is based and I adored watching the action-packed events and quieter, character-focused moments unfold. Of course, then I had to actually play the game and was torn straight out of the experience.
See, no matter how well told the game’s story is the actual structure of the game undermined any fun I got out of it. Marvel’s Avengers is a game that feels as if some greedy accountant just wanted a live-service model attached to a highly recognisable franchise, turning what would have been an excellent single-player game into an unnecessary exercise in tedium.
The loot system feels utterly pointless, providing arbitrary numbers that do little to justify themselves outside of padding the game’s length and gatekeeping certain missions until you manage to make the numbers go higher with “gear” found within levels and by completing specific missions. You know what kills the pacing of a story? Being told your “power level” is too weak for the next campaign mission and being forced to grind out a meaningless combat situation just to earn some pointless loot and proceed.
The loot system and the multiplayer mission grinding it encourages brings with it obviously makes combat one of the core pillars of the gameplay and that’s something Marvel’s Avengers also, unfortunately, fumbles over. With the over-reliance on gear and loot, combat often feels like a painful session of mashing buttons until everything around you is destroyed. Sure, once you start unlocking new moves in the admittedly robust skill trees there’s more fun to be had but the combat never gets to a place that feels nuanced or cathartic. There are occasions when it does click into place and everything feels fantastic…but then a man with a taser someone knocks down The Incredible Hulk and all sense of fun quickly evaporates.
Maybe that’s me not being fair but I detest when the combat of a game is based less on my personal skill and some arbitrary power level number next to the character’s name, a situation which isn’t helped by the fact that Marvel’s Avengers is terrible at telling you when to avoid damage. There’s often so much chaos happening on the screen that the very minor warnings of incoming attacks go by unnoticed entirely, meaning you’ll often die without even knowing you were close to death. It sucks and it’s made worse by the fact that you’ll need to control the camera in the heat of battle, an issue I thought we solved with Batman: Arkham Asylum but I guess some lessons aren’t learnt as easily as you’d expect.
I’m so conflicted about Marvel’s Avengers. There are aspects I genuinely adore about the game but every time I started thinking I was having fun, some asinine design decision slapped me in the face, almost like it was trying to prevent me from enjoying it. Despite telling a compelling superhero story with some excellent production values, characters, set pieces and the occasional combat scenario that wasn’t disappointing, there’s so much unnecessary garbage that weighs the experience down. A poorly justified loot system, unsatisfying combat and wonky design choices around mission structure and pacing keep Marvel’s Avengers from ever becoming Mightiest Heroes we actually deserved.