The Marvel’s Avengers next-gen update has offered a shot of redemption for the scrappy superhero fighter. After a rough launch - from the negative reaction to Spider-Man being a PlayStation exclusive character to the swift dip in active players - the chance to showcase the game at its technical peak on PS5 and Xbox Series X gives developer Crystal Dynamics a rare opportunity to make a second impression.
It’s a well-taken one for the most part, with plenty of new flourishes that help make a much better case for the popcorn beat-em-up. From the 60fps frame rate that gives the action a smoother flow, to the way the DualSense has been tightly integrated into play, there’s a lot the Marvel's Avengers next-gen version does to considerably up the wow factor.
But does it do enough to convince us that it has the legs that Square-Enix clearly wants it to have? Well, that’s a trickier question, and one that is clearly at the heart of everything the game gets right and wrong...
That issue lies in the foundations of Marvel's Avengers from the start, and its unnecessary overcomplication of the superhero power fantasy. Because while our heroes might look like their big-screen counterparts, the game itself has seemingly learned nothing from the MCU. Despite taking place within a universe that spans years of films and TV shows, each individual story manages to keep things simple, with anyone able to dip in and follow the broad strokes of what’s going on.
Marvel’s Avengers, simply, does not. I’ve played for roughly 30 hours, polished off the main campaign and dipped into both add-on packs, and there are still currencies I’m picking up which I don’t know what to do with. In trying to create a Destiny-style persistent world, Marvel’s Avengers bogs you down with loot, skill points, upgrade materials, and other tiresome trinkets. While it’s clear that the endgame stuff will come into focus the further on I get, it still distracts from the game’s core strengths.
Because when you’re roaming around battering robots or tackling the game’s main story missions, it finds a relaxed groove that makes you feel like the characters you play as. From Kamala Khan’s youthful exuberance to Hulk’s ground-shattering power, there’s an undeniable appeal to orchestrating a fight straight from a comic book page. And this is where the next-gen update brings that charm into focus.
The improved framerate goes a huge way to making these fights feel as spectacular as they look, while the resolution mode adds in a load of extra effects to really play up the technicolor action. Meanwhile, the PS5’s Dualsense controller brilliantly communicates the power at your fingertips, from Iron Man’s Repulsers charging up to Hulk tearing out huge chunks of rubble from the ground. With some straightforward upgrades, Marvel’s Avengers has found a way to add a bit of cinematic dazzle to the action. It’s a blueprint that should act as a path forward for the game.
Aiming for better
Of course, I don’t mean that every few months the game should get a next-gen overhaul, and I’m not expecting 8K graphics and my own Hulkbuster suit delivered to my doorstep by the time summer ends. But this is the first time that I’ve felt the urge to keep coming back to Marvel’s Avengers because its breezy new story expansions give me a place to enjoy the flashy new bells and whistles. What stops me from truly committing, though, is the micro-management that is seemingly baked into the game.
And this is where we circle back to my point about simplicity. Marvel’s Avengers has more loot, currencies, skill trees, and collectibles than it knows what to do with. Not only am I constantly hoovering up improved rib cages for Hulk or better arrows for Kate Bishop, but I then need to find nanotubes, plasma, and other-items-I’m-too-lazy-to-namecheck to then upgrade them. Add on an entirely separate leveling up system that lets you unlock new combos, and it feels like the game is 50% Hulk smashing and 50% Bruce Banner admin.
Now, following the debut of Marvel’s Avengers' 2021 roadmap, we have a good idea of what’s coming this year, with Black Panther as the headline attraction. But in many ways, what I’d rather see is a roadmap of how the game can take things back to basics. With the War for Wakanda add-on giving us a new story, my ideal set-up would be discovering T’Challa doesn’t actually need any loot maintenance, and I can just enjoy slashing through his story without worrying about my Power Level.
Now, this isn’t me making a case for Marvel’s Avengers being a misunderstood masterpiece - it’s an engaging beat-em-up with a collection of fun characters that has made an ill-advised attempt to be the only game you ever play again. Like The Division, Anthem, Outriders, and any number of titles that saw the money Destiny made and thought they’d like a slice of that, the attempts to keep you locked into its orbit are understandable from a business point of view, if not entirely suited to this style of action. But now that I’ve seen what the game can be at its best, I'd love to watch it strip away the unnecessary baggage and make good on this promising second impression.