The Marvel's Avengers marketing campaign and its multi-weekend beta buried the lede, guys. At the core of this loot-based, cosmetic-heavy, live-service game is a fantastic, roughly 12-hour campaign full of pathos, personality, and yes, a lot of punching. If you're surprised by that, you're not alone - I was shocked to complete the now all-too-familiar opening scene and dive into a captivating campaign centered around the perfect protagonist. So shocked, I didn't want it to end.
If Marvel's Avengers is an Iron Man suit, Kamala Khan is its arc reactor, propelling the story forward and providing necessary emotional torque. She should have been featured in the marketing materials far more than she was, because she really is *the* Avenger in this game. Her story and the simultaneous story of the Avengers we know and love overcoming failure and crippling self-doubt in order to reassemble is a rock-solid one (and I dare say better than one or two of the Avengers films).
Check out our review video below:
But it's what comes after the campaign that causes Marvel's Avengers to stretch at the seams until it bursts. There’s simply just too much - too much insignificant gear and confusing numbers, too many rinse-and-repeat multiplayer missions that are full of too much punching and kicking enveloped in too many pulsing, over-saturated colors. Each side mission is like a souped-up Honda street racer that went overboard with extras - neon lights, glowing gauges, explosions, reflective metal, and pithy catchphrases slapping against your ears like a surplus of bumper stickers on a rear window.
With Marvel's Avengers, there's a tight, emotionally resonant campaign… and then there's everything else. Like Kamala Khan struggling with her new Inhuman identity after exposure to Terrigen mist, this game can't figure out what the hell it is.
The Marvelous Ms. Marvel
In Kamala Khan, Marvel's Avengers gives us a beloved character not yet seen outside of the comics - that she's a Pakistani-American teenage girl dealing with social ostracization because of her Inhuman status only makes her story more relevant and poignant. Using her as the hub from which the plot spokes extend works well.
Kamala opens the game at an Avengers event, where she takes a stand against some gatekeeping assholes, meets a few Avengers In the flesh, and shows off her pure and plucky nature. It's immediately after this warm, tingly opening that you're thrust into the A-Day tragedy - the same part from the beta. Once the "Test Drive the Avengers" portion is over, you're back in Kamala's world - let it wrap around you like a warm blanket that will be abruptly ripped off of you in your sleep.
It's a shame that this isn't a standalone Kamala Khan game with fun (playable) cameos from other Avengers. While the rest of the team is played to uncanny valley perfection by a veritable who's-who of iconic VO actors, it's their interactions with Kamala that humanize them and make them unique characters outside of - but still tangential to - the MCU. Bruce Banner (Troy Baker) sees Kamala (Sandra Saad) as a problem to offload on someone else before seeing her as a peer with more courage than him. Tony (Nolan North) relishes her willingness to laugh at his one-liners, and gives her an early superhero costume pep talk that involves a promise to jazz up her burkini. Natasha (Laura Bailey) openly hates kids, but ends up giving Kamala her own version of a stunted, broken approval speech. And Thor (Travis Willingham), well, he remembers her from A-Day, which is honestly quite touching.
Each one of these heroes has a moment where they need reassurance and validation, and Kamala rises to the occasion, reassembling the Avengers both physically and emotionally in a surprisingly good campaign - surprising not only because it's great, but because no one really knew it existed in the first place.
Once you wrap up the core campaign, Marvel's Avengers' cracks begin to show - and those cracks become chasms faster than you can say "assemble". As someone who doesn't play live-service loot games or min-max until I’m blue in the face, I chose to focus on the initial story first before returning to the myriad side missions, HARM room training options, and the daunting task of navigating menus with bad UI. This proved to be an issue, as my endgame was a confusing one.
Marvel's Avengers' post-game content is convoluted, to say the least. After completing the story, I couldn’t figure out how to get back to the Avengers’ ship because of the confusing UI and was stuck at the War Table until I reset the game. But upon getting back to the War Table, I'm greeted with (brace yourself) a few locations from which to choose, within which several mission options pop up for various types of missions for me to select (including faction quests, Drop Zones, Iconic Missions, Villain Sectors, and more). Then I'm thrust into a pre-match menu with various heroes and their various gear to pick from, upon which I'm dropped into a mission and immediately told that I have unequipped higher-level gear available. Are you exhausted? I am.
And while Marvel's Avengers was certainly marketed as comic book Destiny, it wrongfully assumes half of its player base understands the myriad numbers thrust at them, or cares to pick through the heaps of gear trash they discover during the samey post-game missions. There's no justifiable reason for making an Avengers game centered around gear, except that the live-service, battle-pass friendly game with legs beyond its launch date is trendy right now. Which Avengers other than Iron Man and Black Widow are known for being sluts for gadgets? The fact that you craft in order to level up Hulk's muscle fibers to make an insignificant upgrade to his power level (which, BTW, is different from his hero level) means nothing to me, and I'm sure it means nothing to his angry green ass.
Even when I tried to get on the loot treadmill and tediously break down my lower-level gear to make one of nine different crafting currencies that would enhance my higher-level gear, there was no discernible difference between the old gear I broke down and the gear I had just tinkered with. There's not even any aesthetic change (that's saved for cosmetics only), so you're just squinting at slightly different Black Widow belt buckles that each have convoluted cards touting their abilities. These are then presumably equipped under her existing uniform. What is the point?
Playing the hero
But what is it actually like to step into the Lycra of your favorite superheroes? Marvel's Avengers' button-mashing combat can feel fun and sometimes it can even feel like you can master that button-mashing to make certain heroes OP - with other heroes, however, it's an unenjoyable beat-em-up.
Black Widow and Iron Man are two standouts, with extensive skill trees that let you stack cool new moves as you progress. Iron Man's flight feels just as good - if not better than - the Javelins in Anthem, and as I levelled him further I was able to add some seriously sick moves to his arsenal, including one where holding triangle while flying sends him shooting forward, criss-crossing lasers out of his hands. Black Widow is especially fun and fast and her skill tree evolves to a point that you feel like you're playing her in an MCU scene: Widow dashes forward and drop-kicks a mech, quickly gets to her feet and fires a grappling hook at a hovering droid that sends her careening towards it, whereupon she lands a front flip kick on the droid, drops to the ground, and fires a pistol at a mounted turret. Sick.
Both Widow and Iron Man's ranged abilities make the endless mounted turrets that Crystal Dynamics jams into every mission a bit less irritating - if you're playing Hulk during a turret section, you'll be forced to rip up concrete from the ground and huck it at them individually, which gets old when there are six or so mounted to a damn building. Speaking of Hulk - his lumbering gameplay style doesn't jive well with the game's combat speed or its noticeably floaty physics. He feels nailed to the ground in almost every mission, and is largely unfun. Thor has a similar problem for me, in which his weightiness doesn't feel properly ironed out, while Kamala Khan is light and fun to play as, even though her moves do get stale.
With the promise of DLC heroes down the pipe, it's easy to imagine how characters like Spider-Man and Kate Bishop will keep the combat feeling somewhat fresh - even if the post-campaign missions are staler than day-old shawarma pita. Does the promise of new heroes on the horizon mean this game has long-term legs? Unless there are some serious changes made to jazz up the post-game missions, it's hard to imagine anyone except for the gear-obsessed playing this in six months.
There are also quite a few bugs skittering about Marvel's Avengers that Crystal Dynamics can and should address in future updates. Hulk seems perpetually buggy whenever he's an AI teammate - he froze while hanging from a wall in the HARM room twice, and there were several times when he flat-out refused to be revived no matter how long I stood in the little ring around him. I encountered several audio bugs, including one that had Kamala loudly shouting "WOO" in perpetuum until I triggered a cutscene, and one in which the Gear menu remained glued to my screen during a SHIELD faction mission. Sometimes it feels like the game is struggling to keep up with itself, like a Terrigen reactor on the brink of exploding.
Marvel's Avengers has a glittery and joyous core campaign that manages to stack up to modern-day Avengers stories. Its gameplay is varied enough between heroes that there are shining stand-outs and ones that belong in the bin. But its chintzy game-as-service portion takes up too much time and bandwidth, ultimately crippling its chances of being a great game.
Reviewed on PS4, code provided by the publisher.