Marvel’s Avengers Game Review
The main story campaign in Marvel’s Avengers, the new game from former Tomb Raider studio Crystal Dynamics, is excellent. Sure, it doesn’t have any of the likeness rights for the actors from the movie universe that it’s kinda-sorta aesthetically based on, but it still tells a thrilling comic book narrative with more polish and care than I was expecting. It even gives several of the characters room to have well-developed emotional arcs, with long cutscenes featuring surprisingly good performances. There’s an excellent turn by Sandra Saad as Kamala Khan, and Troy Baker puts in amazing work to fully embody Bruce Banner.
As you may have seen in the many other reviews that went up sooner than mine, Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel takes center stage in the plot line here, as the circumstances of the story push her into a world-spanning adventure to reunite Marvel’s legendary superhero team after things have Gone Very Wrong. So yes, it’s the millionth story about superheroes learning to work together as a team to fight evil, but Kamala’s earnest enthusiasm and teenager-into-adulthood character arc give it exactly the right emotional heft to make it feel new and interesting all over again.
When you’re not watching the lavishly-produced and lengthy story sequences, (rendered with some of the best graphics that have appeared on current platforms), you’ll be playing a competent third-person action RPG that borrows plenty of gameplay tropes from Crystal’s Tomb Raider games and throws in a handful of Warframe for good measure. All of the characters play the way you’d want them to, although I didn’t have as much fun with Iron Man as with the rest. He relies mostly on fiddly flying abilities which are cumbersome to use inside the tight corridors of the various interiors present across the game’s expansive world. They also allow him to skip all of the exterior environments entirely and miss important gear and leveling opportunities.
You’ll have the chance to play as every character throughout the campaign, and each one has a little bit of story attached to introduce their unique moves. There’s also a big old map table full of side missions that also serves as your gateway into the multiplayer/endgame portion of the adventure, which I’ll get to in a minute. Each character has a large skill tree of varied abilities spread across several categories, and they all feel genuinely different to play, so leveling-up a character does make them feel much more powerful.
Unfortunately, the loot progression isn’t that great at all. While there are some cool cosmetic costume options to unlock for the grinders or real-money-spenders among you, the actual loot items don’t have a dramatic effect on gameplay. Instead, they contribute to a universal Power Level a la Destiny and present no cosmetic changes whatsoever. Your Power Level helps determine game difficulty, with each mission being at a fixed level and your individual Power determining how much you’ll have to wail on bad guys before they explode. Ninety percent of the game’s enemies are robots, so they’re always exploding.
As a system, it’s not nearly as interesting as the layers of difficulty or loot options in something like Diablo III, and you’ll quickly stop looking at what unique power bonuses each gear item grants in favor of just picking the one that makes your power numbers go up the most.
The campaign is mostly devoid of distractions, so if you just want to blast through the wonderful story, you can. The second-to-last mission requires a little grinding for items to build new suits for the heroes, and the last boss fight requires you to use every hero to complete a different objective. This was unduly difficult for me because I spent most of the game playing as Ms. Marvel and Black Widow and everyone else was under-leveled, so you might want to do some grinding before heading into the final encounter.
After you’ve finished the campaign, the “Avengers Initiative” mode fully opens, and this is the real meat of the game. It presents a massive map full of different zones where you can take on missions with up to three other players or challenge them on your own alongside harebrained AI teammates. These missions have very minimal story trappings, and although this mode does have a few additional cutscenes to unlock that round out things from the main story…it’s mostly an excuse to make you endlessly play the game and grind out new content in the hopes you’ll spend some money in the cash shop.
The lack of enemy and objective variety stands out more once you unlock the endgame, and you’ll realize that most of this game is just fighting the same eight soldiers and robots and then occasionally opening a door or defending a terminal. Sometimes you’ll even blow up the same four turbines in a generator room. The lack of new objectives in the endgame really hurts the mode, though the promised new content packs that are supposed to slowly drip out over the next year or so might help this.
The worst design mistake in Avengers is that you can’t replay its excellent main story. That’s right, once you’re done with the campaign, that wonderful content is locked away forever unless you decide to completely delete your save file or Crystal Dynamics decides to patch in a new game plus. There’s also no option to have multiple save files, so if someone else in your house wants to play the game they’ll need their own online account on your system of choice.
I played the game on both an Xbox One S and One X. The One X version is breathtakingly gorgeous through most of its runtime, with options for both 30 and 60 frames per second and resolutions that scale accordingly. On the One S, you’re limited to a slightly blurry picture at 30 frames per second, and every other cutscene had glitching shadows and flickering ambient occlusion artifacts. Still, it performed fine on the weaker console right up until the last two missions and the endgame…where it then dips continuously into the low twenties and upper teens. Yikes.
I loved the main story in Avengers enough that I’d happily recommend paying sixty dollars to see it for any Marvel fans out there…except I’ll never be able to play it again unless I destroy all my progress or buy the game again on a different platform. That’s so mindbogglingly stupid given the quality of the work here. I urge you to avoid this game until they patch in an option to see that content again.
I’ve spent over 1500 hours playing Diablo III, and a big chunk of that was running through the campaign before they added adventure mode. Even now I’ll still revisit that story from time to time. I would have loved to make Avengers my next Diablo III, but the endgame pales in comparison to most other loot games on the market and to its own story that gets locked away in purgatory upon completion.