Any good team is comprised of members that bring varied skills and unique assets together for the betterment of the whole. The greatest teams use their differences as individuals to create the ultimate unified force, balancing out each members strengths and weaknesses to assemble something greater than the sum of its parts. Marvel’s Avengers is a game that certainly has a lot of different elements that try to come together to create the ultimate superhero experience. But does it rise to the occasion? Or should this game be snapped out of existence?
In order to wrap your head around what Crystal Dynamics is trying to do with Avengers you have to look at it kind of like a puzzle. There are many different pieces that sometimes don’t seem to fit together at all and it can be frustrating to try and see the image before it’s complete. It can be confusing trying to explain what kind of a game this is, and I worry that many players will see the pieces that they don’t like and turn away rather than playing the game on their own terms, which is exactly how I approached it.
Avengers begins as a standard single player 3rd person action adventure game. You have a single controllable character, Kamala Khan that gets you comfortable with the controls, the world and the story presented. In the game Khan is a young girl infatuated with her favorite super hero team and before long she finds herself swept up in a grand adventure alongside her idols and fighting beside them in a war for the fate of the world. It’s a smart move for Crystal Dynamics to open the game with you playing as a fish out of water because you as the player will be thrown into the deep end of this game before too long. Avengers wants to be a lot of things at once and the game introduces you to these elements in rapid fire succession. There are vendors to buy gear and cosmetics, factions who will want you to complete tasks for them, War Table missions that can have you going online with your friends, Hero Challenge Cards that want you to spend real money for customization perks… There is a lot to take in here and you’ll find yourself feeling just as lost as Kamala Khan feels on the deck of the Chimera as you grapple with the many facets of this game. My advice to you? Ignore it.
While it’s true that there are a lot of flashing lights trying to get your attention to explore and deep dive all the systems and options available to you, the good thing about Avengers is that it is all completely optional and in no way impedes your primary directive of reuniting the Avengers and saving the world. This is exactly what I did. My time spent on the narrative through-line of the Avengers campaign took me about 8 hours and I never once revisited a merchant booth, never once went online to play with my friends and in fact I never once deviated from the main course whatsoever, and boy what an experience it is. The story of Avengers has the team scattered to the corners of the globe at odds with each other and hiding in the shadows from the rest of the world who now view them as threats. But once the real threat to the world is exposed in the form of the nefarious AIM organization, you must one-by-one find these broken heroes and bring them together not just as a team, but as a family. There is some really great storytelling at play here, particularly between Bruce Banner and Tony Stark portrayed by Troy Baker and Nolan North respectively. The brotherly connection between them serves to both exacerbate the rift that exists in their relationship as well as show the true love these two have for each other when they unite to save the world.
We also are treated to some truly fantastic set pieces which unfortunately do feel a little too few and far between for my personal preferences. But when they happen they really illustrate how amazing it feels to be suited up as your favorite characters as they spring into action. Iron Man in particular has several moments where Jarvis kicks up the heavy metal in your helmet and you rocket through a field of enemies at breakneck speed that had me feeling much more like like Tony Stark than this Summer’s underwhelming Iron Man VR ever did.
All of this provided me a single player story-based experience which is really what I was coming to this game for, and once the credits rolled I was so invested in the combat and mission structure that I felt more than equipped to dive into the War Table for the “End Game” experience. This is probably where most people are going to find fault with Avengers. The War Table has you selecting a series of missions all across the globe to push forward in the fight against AIM. These are broken up into several different mission types to offer varying experiences of flying to familiar locations and battling familiar enemies. These missions can start to feel repetitive before long as you’ll be doing a lot of the same things as you work towards leveling up your hero of choice and acquiring loot for them to enhance their performance. It all feels very arcadey as you execute combos and smash through waves of robots and AIM agents along the way. It ultimately offers a decidedly different feel from the main campaign as the story progression fades away to offer a more gameplay focused incentive to continue.
Unfortunately Avengers is leaning so hard into the interwoven War Table experience that I think a lot of people will judge it based on this part of the game rather than balancing it with the awesome story experience provided in the package as well. I don’t blame people for seeing the cup half empty but I do encourage them to try to see the balance at work in this game. Crystal Dynamics has part awesome adventure story, part adequate beat-em-up, plenty of incredible fan service and super-hero immersion at work, and a game that offers a lot of replay for those who want to extend their time with it. It’s also impossible to talk about Avengers and replayability without discussing the road ahead. Crystal Dynamics has made their intentions clear to continue rolling out more story content as well as playable characters which really goes a long way to giving this game legs. The first such expansions focus on Kate Bishop and Hawkeye and the continuing investigation into what happened to Nick Fury after the events of “A Day”.
What makes this roadmap all the more exciting is that every additional character made available down the road will be free of charge, an exciting and hard-to-beat value to the consumer, and a welcome olive branch considering the multitude of other ways Crystal Dynamics sneaks in to entice the player to spend their DLC dollars throughout the game. While many of the games cosmetic and customization options are made available through in game currency and loot collecting, each playable character has their own Battle Pass system to unlock exclusive skins, emotes and name plates for you to equip. It’s a spendy proposition but I find it very easy to steer away from as many of the skins are not very distinguishable from each other. Unlike Insomniac’s Spider-Man, I didn’t see any Thor Ragnorak armor or Captain America suits from any of the MCU films which makes it very easy for me to pass on just another coat of paint for Iron Man or a different helmet for Thor. It’s a completionist perk and it’s one I have no issue avoiding. In fact for as many ways as Crystal Dynamics wants me to spend more money on this game, there’s so much content made available for free with more rolling out down the road I find the monetization systems to be a minor irritant, but definitely one worth mentioning.
In the end Marvel’s Avengers is a game of many different parts trying to work together. Ultimately these parts feel more disjointed than they do in sync with each other which keeps this experience from soaring to the heights I had hoped it would. However the highs for me definitely stand out more than the lows with Avengers and I find myself more committed to sticking with this game post launch than any games of service I’ve played before. Most of that is owed to the IP this game is attached to, but I’m fine with that. Marvel’s Avengers gives me that super hero feel, it delivers great story moments, exhilarating action sequences, characters I love, and an outlook of more promising adventures to come.