This is not the Avengers game we’ve all been waiting for.
My time with Marvel’s Avengers has been one of ups and downs. My impressions after playing the beta weren’t the most positive, and when I jumped into the full game for the purposes of this review, I did so with healthy skepticism. My first few hours with the game were a pleasant shock to me though, with its campaign starting off strong and exhibiting the sort of character-focused storytelling I had hoped it would. But my initial jubilation at the game seemingly being better than I had expected it to be eventually turned into disappointment once again. As I played more of the game, its issues started becoming clearer. Now, after having put several dozen hours into its single player and multiplayer offerings, I would still say that Marvel’s Avengers is better than its beta suggested it would be- but not significantly so. By and large, it’s still held back by a number of major issues, and what it ultimately is is a disappointing waste of what initially seemed like impressive potential.
My biggest issue with the game is one you’ll no doubt see being brought up by countless people over the coming weeks and months- the game that the developers wanted to make has been crippled by the game that the publisher wanted it to be. Marvel’s Avengers’ live service loot-driven action-RPG approach has been a major point of contention amongst its prospective community for as long as we’ve known about it, and while many – myself included – had hoped that a strong execution of overdone ideas would have allowed the game to stick the landing even in the face of overwhelming skepticism from audiences, what’s instead happened is exactly what most had feared. Those contentious elements have all come together to turn Marvel’s Avengers into a largely soulless affair that wastes the incredible potential of the characters it portrays and the property it adapts.
"Several contentious elements have all come together to turn Marvel’s Avengers into a largely soulless affair that wastes the incredible potential of the characters it portrays and the property it adapts."
One of the biggest problems that leads to is its repetitive and bland multiplayer missions. As far as pure quantity is concerned, Marvel’s Avengers isn’t lacking in content- but this is a classic case of quantity over quality. There are just a handful of mission objectives that the game cycles through on a constant basis, none of which are going to win any awards for innovation. A couple of these, in fact, are just poorly designed- like objectives that task you with defending a certain area, which you have to do by staying within a small blue circle on the ground. The problem arises when you take hits or when you dole them out, because both of these things entail movements that take you out of that designated circle. It’s just frustrating to see the game at odds with itself, like it’s not quite sure itself what it wants the player to do. Do you want me to stay still? Do you want me to dodge this barrage of incoming attacks? Do you want me to defeat these waves of enemies? Pick one, game.
And yes, that’s another issue- all of these missions more often than not boil down to the same thing- fighting waves of enemies and damage sponges, which doesn’t help with the whole “lacking in variety” issue in the slightest. It doesn’t help that there’s not much environmental variety either, especially with the indoor locations, which are reused excessively. Those enemies that you fight are not the most exciting to fight against either, and all of them are largely just slight variations of 4 or 5 archetypes that actually differ from each other in meaningful ways. Within those larger archetypes, there’s variation in things like what kinds of shields they equip or what kind of ammo they fire and so on, but in the heat of the combat, those differences feel negligible- not least because their visual design hardly varies in any meaningful way.
Repetitive missions and bullet sponge enemies go hand-in-hand with loot-driven live service games though, so why exactly is that such an issue in Marvel’s Avengers? Well, because it’s not like the game does much else to stave off those problems. Outside of the campaign, the paltry narrative flavour and context it provides feels bland and uninteresting, but more disappointingly, so, too, does the gear that you acquire. For the most part, the perks and advantages that the gear bestows on you feels way too granular, and when you actually do get a piece of gear with the kind of perk that actually feels like it makes a difference for your character, it doesn’t stick around for too long. Marvel’s Avengers gives you new gear at a brisk pace, which means that even if you do finally find a gear piece that you like, it’s not long before you find something that might not be quite so interesting, but still arbitrary makes your Power level go up.
"Outside of the campaign, the paltry narrative flavour and context the multiplayer provides feels bland and uninteresting, but more disappointingly, so, too, does the gear that you acquire."
Games that hand out stronger gear at a steady drip can feel great and empowering, but when that only leads to the numbers going up and doesn’t actually reward you with actual consequences in gameplay, it just feels meaningless- and that’s definitely the case here. And so, with the gear system being the way that it is and with the mission structure being consistently bland and repetitive, Marvel’s Avengers’ meat and potatoes – the gear-driven multiplayer content – ends up feeling like a lifeless slog.
I do want to give credit where it’s due though- the combat can be a lot of fun (when the game isn’t tripping over itself; more on this in a bit). When the game starts out, the combat feels like a monotonous button-mashing affair, but it gets better as you go. As you start levelling up and start unlocking more abilities from each of the characters’ skill trees, combat starts getting more varied. There’s a decent amount of depth to these skill trees, with quite a few options to upgrade or unlock ranged attacks, melee attacks, your special Heroic abilities, and more. Unlocking new attacks and powering up some of the existing ones lends some much-needed depth to combat, and when you’re chaining multiple different moves together in perfect sync across both aerial and grounded combat, Marvel’s Avengers feels like the game it should have been.
Something else that deserves a lot of praise is how different all of the six playable characters feel to play as, and how well the game manages to nail the unique feeling of playing as each of these superheroes in spite of being bound to a single standardized control scheme. They each move differently, have different attacks, different skill trees, different Heroic abilities- they really do feel like unique characters. My absolute favourites to play as were Ms. Marvel, Captain America, and Black Widow- Kamala, especially, was a joy to beat enemies to a pulp with, and was my main in all of the non-campaign content I tackled (so basically in most missions where I was allowed to pick the character I wanted to play as). Thor can also be a lot of fun, especially once you’re a little deeper into his skill trees- but his primary light and heavy attacks don’t quite have the oomph to them that they should. The feedback that you get upon each hit, combined with the limp sound effect that accompanies them, feels like the exact opposite of what a blow from Mjolnir should feel like.
"Unlocking new attacks and powering up some of the existing ones lends some much-needed depth to combat, and when you’re chaining multiple different moves together in perfect sync across both aerial and grounded combat, Marvel’s Avengers feels like the game it should have been."
Flight controls are also not the best, and though I eventually found them to be much more tolerable (once I had gotten used to them) than the horrible first impression they made on me, things just never felt as smooth and slick as they should have. Thankfully, Thor’s melee capabilities meant that I was able to mostly use him as a grounded fighter. Flight controls were a much bigger issue with Iron Man though- in melee combat, he doesn’t stand up to punishment very well. It’s almost like he’s made of glass. Attacking from range whenever possible is usually the best way to play as him then, especially when you’re playing solo. That, as you would expect, involves a lot of flight- which means Iron Man, disappointingly enough, is one of the least fun characters to play as in the game. Then there’s the Hulk, who was my least favourite, owing to his lumbering and sluggish movement.
As fun as the combat is, it’s not enough to carry the whole game by itself- which is exactly what it’s been tasked with doing. I know I’ve already talked about the repetitive missions, but even fun combat cannot tip the scales in the game’s favour here. The missions just feel that procedural, that repetitive, that bland. That, disappointingly enough, is an issue with the campaign as well. Though not quite as frustrating as the multiplayer missions – there are several missions that take place in distinct, hand-crafted locations, and that certainly does help alleviate the feeling of repetition – the campaign, too, relies on combat way too much. I understand the need of designing all multiplayer missions in a more homogenized fashion, given the fact that they have to accommodate six possible different characters, four of them at the same time, but I don’t see why the campaign couldn’t have had more inventive mission design.
The characters themselves, in fact, are almost begging for some variety. Captain America, with his double jumping and wall-running abilities, could have been the focus of some platforming-centric missions. Iron Man could have starred in some dogfighting aerial combat set-pieces. Black Widow’s abilities would have felt right at home in stealth sections. All of this is either woefully underutilized (Iron Man does have one short flight-specific mission, and there are some small platforming sections with Cap sprinkled here and there), or just flat-out ignored. It feels like such a wasted opportunity. What’s the point of having all these characters who feel so unique to play and even move as, if all you’re going to do as them – regardless of who you’re playing as – is beat waves of enemies to a pulp?
"It feels like such a wasted opportunity. What’s the point of having all these characters who feel so unique to play and even move as, if all you’re going to do as them – regardless of who you’re playing as – is beat waves of enemies to a pulp?"
The story in the campaign has a lot more going for it- in that instead of being completely unappealing or flat-out broken, it’s merely inconsistent. Kamala Khan is an excellent protagonist. She serves as a surrogate for the player, and her wide-eyed reverence of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and her unerring optimism even in the face of overwhelming odds make for a very relatable character that’s easy to root for. Her interactions with the Avengers are also always heart-warming, and the father-daughter relationship she forms with Bruce Banner is easily the highlight of the campaign. Something else I appreciate about the campaign is that it takes its time with things. Rather than rushing to the big blockbuster moment of the Avengers all fighting together, this story of bringing the band back together takes its time to lay down its foundations and bring the main players into the fold one-by-one at a steady pace that allows (mostly) all of them to breathe and have their time in the sun.
But there are issues here as well. For starters, Thor has no real role in the story, other than just… being there for no reason in particular. All the other characters are integrated into the larger narrative pretty well, and either through their personal stakes or conflicts with each other, they all leave their mark on the story. Thor, on the other hand, feels like a pointless bystander who’s woefully underutilized. And he’s not the only Avenger the game doesn’t do justice to. Iron Man’s characterization hues far too closely to the MCU films- or tries to, at any rate. He ends up feeling like an off-brand knockoff. It doesn’t help that he’s voiced by Nolan North. Don’t get me wrong, North is an incredibly talented and prolific actor, and his track record speaks for itself- but here he’s using his normal voice, and constantly rattling off quips and sarcastic comebacks- which means that every time he talked, I just heard Nathan Drake. There’s also a disappointing lack of villains, which feels like a major missed opportunity, given the ridiculously deep and rich source material this game was working with, and it doesn’t help that MODOK and AIM as a whole are far from the most threatening big bads an Avengers story could hope to have.
And there’s another major problem that serves as a big blow to Marvel’s Avengers, to the extent that it even hurts the game’s combat, which otherwise is probably one of its best aspects- a laundry list of technical issue. The frame rate here is absolutely horrible. When there are multiple heroes in a single mission and you’re fighting against large numbers of enemies (both of these things happen a lot), the frame rate tanks to ridiculously low levels, to the point where the game becomes almost unplayable. Hell, frame rate even drops regularly during cutscenes.
"The frame rate here is absolutely horrible. When there are multiple heroes in a single mission and you’re fighting against large numbers of enemies (both of these things happen a lot), the frame rate tanks to ridiculously low levels, to the point where the game becomes almost unplayable."
There are also major texture pop-in issues, multiplayer bugs that have forced me to quit out of missions on more than one occasion, numerous lip syncing issues, and I know this one is a nitpick, but many instances of subtitles not even being close to matching what’s happening on-screen. The audio is also completely borked. During my playthrough of the campaign, for the entirety of the penultimate mission (which is quite long), the sound effects for hits landing on enemies, explosions, and collisions were completely missing, and were instead replaced by a loud and obnoxious droning noise in the background. Dialog also often gets cut off when it’s not supposed to, and at times it isn’t said at all. All in all, I haven’t seen a game launching in such a poor technical state in a long, long time. This is yet another example of a game using its ongoing live service nature as an excuse to launch in a state it had no right to launch in.
I wanted to like this game. I really did. I still do. When it’s not getting in its own way, the combat is a ton of fun, and the character-specific moments in the campaign – especially those that put the spotlight on Kamala – are legitimately good bits of comic book superhero storytelling. There have been plenty of moments during my time with the game where I’ve genuinely had a great time. But Marvel’s Avengers keeps finding ways to drag itself down- at times it almost feels like it goes out of its way to do so. There’s just so much here that I can’t overlook, no matter how hard I may try. An unnecessary and broken loot system, a litany of horrible technical issues, uninspired and one-note mission design, and a story that fails just as much as it succeeds- it doesn’t matter how mindlessly fun the combat is, it isn’t enough to overcome such a heavy list of problems.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Combat can be a lot of fun; Each character feels unique to control and play as; Skill trees add some depth to the combat; Kamala Khan is an excellent protagonist; Some great character-specific moments in the campaign.
Gear system is poorly executed and ends up feeling meaningless; Very little real variety in enemies; Bland and repetitive mission design, especially in the multiplayer component; Excessive focus on combat feels misguided, especially given the unique abilities of the playable characters; A veritable pile of technical issues, with the frame rate in particular being unforgivable; Thor is underutilized in the story, and Iron Man comes across as an off-brand MCU knockoff; Not a lot of villains; AIM and MODOK are not great antagonists.
There have been plenty of moments during my time with Marvel's Avengers where I’ve genuinely had a great time. But this game keeps finding ways to drag itself down- at times it almost feels like it goes out of its way to do so. There’s just so much here that I can’t overlook, no matter how hard I may try. An unnecessary and broken loot system, a litany of horrible technical issues, uninspired and one-note mission design, and a story that fails just as much as it succeeds- it doesn’t matter how mindlessly fun the combat is, it isn't enough to overcome such a heavy list of problems.