I just wanted to feel like a hero. That’s it. I wanted Marvel’s Avengers to make me feel the way Spider-Man (2018) and the Batman: Arkham games did while playing as their titular characters. Unfortunately, a mediocre single-player campaign, lackluster multiplayer and a litany of technical issues make this a not so heroic affair.
Marvel’s Avengers is a third-person beat ‘em up developed by Crystal Dynamics, the studio behind the most recent Tomb Raider reboots. Given how much fun those games were, combining an interesting story, great gameplay and fun level design, I was hoping this would follow a similar path. While strong performances and solid writing keep you engaged with the main characters, unfortunately, this is one of those games where the multiplayer design overshadows everything else.
The story of the single-player campaign opens on “A-Day.” It’s both a celebration of the Avengers and the reveal of a new technology called the Terrigen Reactor, created in conjunction with the totally not evil company, Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). A pre-teen Kamala Khan was invited to this celebration after winning a fanfiction contest and the opening level has you exploring a helicarrier and meeting Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.
Obviously this goes horribly wrong, with the reactor exploding, killing Captain America and spreading Terrigen Mist all over the Bay Area. The mist results in certain people becoming gravely ill and others developing powers and becoming Inhumans. The public is big mad at the Avengers for the accident which results in the group disbanding and AIM taking over public safety duties in the country.
Years later, Kamala, who has now developed embiggening powers, discovers a conspiracy involving AIM and sets about trying to reassemble the Avengers and stopping AIM from unleashing its vaguely villainous plans upon the world? City? Country?
One of the core problems with the narrative is that the stakes aren’t made terribly clear from the outset. This is compounded with the fact that, from my experience, AIM tends to be a B-tier villain.
I mean, Iron Man took them on by himself in his third movie.
While the eventual big bad is cool, you spend most of the game in generic locations, punching generic robots. While you occasionally do battle with a supervillain or two, there’s maybe only a handful of notable Marvel characters you encounter during the campaign.
In a game that ostensibly takes place in the Marvel universe, it’s striking how little it attempts to engage with it. This is a world that features dynamic locations such as Wakanda, Latveria and Asgard, as well as iconic villains like Doctor Doom, Thanos and Ultron. So you can imagine my surprise that I spent a good chunk of the game fighting the same five enemy types in the Utah desert. Of the multiple items you collect to level up your gear, only one is an element connected to the Marvel universe. The rest are just generically named “gears” and “upgrade modules.”
The lack of variety in both locations, enemies and gear make the campaign a chore to play through and significantly hampers the multiplayer, which is clearly the focal point of the game. The game is a live service in the vein of Destiny and Destiny 2. You fight bad guys to acquire loot that levels up your character.
While it takes the core gameplay tenets from Destiny, it completely forgets the things that make that game addictive: gameplay that goes hard as fuck, fascinating worlds and levels to explore, and loot that is actually enticing.
A friend and I ran some of the multiplayer missions together over the weekend and decided to take on a vault. In Destiny, vaults are complex labyrinths requiring teamwork, precise platforming and effective shooting. In Marvel’s Avengers, me and the homie just wandered around a canyon, opening crates and punching some robots until we found the vault. Once inside, we had to punch more robots while occasionally entering in a passcode. When the vault opened I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment or achievement, I just sat there like “Oh, neat.”
One of the more disappointing aspects of multiplayer was the fact that it never made me feel like I was, well, avenging. There was never any moment in this game that could rival any of the high points seen in the MCU or Marvel Comics, and it doesn’t really give you the ability to create one. I was so disappointed when I couldn’t fire Iron Man’s repulsor off Cap’s shield or use Thor’s hammer on the shield to create a shockwave.
These are signature Avengers moves that are just not there. The best I’ve done so far is my friend launching a robot into the air as Kamala and flying into sock the shit out of it as Iron Man. Which, I mean, I guess that’s a team-up move.
One of the biggest problems I ran into while playing the game was the numerous technical and performance issues. I encountered multiple glitches such as hair phasing in and out of a cutscene, muddy textures and outright game crashes. Right before the final mission, after a rousing cutscene, the game loaded up to Cap falling through the level. Yesterday, my multiplayer session ended after the game froze and then completely crashed.
Glitches are, sadly, commonplace in the early days of live service games such as this and hopefully, over time the team at Crystal Dynamics will address them.
While I sound incredibly down on the game, the fact it’s a live service gives me some glimmer of hope. The aforementioned Destiny was a boring slog at launch but with gradual improvements and some stellar expansions, the game eventually came into its own.
Characters such as Black Panther, Kate Bishop and Clint Barton are already slated to be added to the game, with story missions being added alongside them. I hope that as they expand the roster of characters, they also expand the scope of the game to truly encompass the Marvel universe.
One day, Marvel’s Avengers might truly assemble into something great. As it stands now though, you’re better off waiting for this to hit the bargain bin and getting your superhero fix someplace else.