Marvel’s Avengers review: A game at odds with itself

Have you ever had a boss that was adamant about some scheme or business plan that they claimed was a sure way to make money, but you knew was bunk? Then they dump all the work to pull off the scheme on your desk, so you put in a half-ass job that looks good on the surface but, if you read deeper, it’s not that great?

Well we didn’t just describe the drudgery of corporate life, we just described Marvel’s Avengers, or at least part of it. This a game that is lovingly made as a tribute to the Avengers in some places, but is a complete mess made to generate revenue in others.

Let’s reverse a bit. Marvel’s Avengers is a third person action title which, at launch, features six playable Avengers: Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Thor and Kamala Khan AKA Ms. Marvel.

More characters will be added post-launch with Hawkeye, Kate Bishop and Spider-Man (a PlayStation exclusive) announced so far. In the base game, however, the story follows Kamala Khan as she works to reassemble the Avengers after an event known as A-Day.

A-Day sees the Avengers fail to stop some villains, many civilians gaining superpowers to become Inhumans (Kamala Khan included) and the big bad organisation AIM grabbing power in the aftermath to become a private global superpower that needs to be stopped.

The game can be played competently solo with AI Avengers backing you up, or with friends.

That all sounds great and, in many ways, it is. Every single Avenger feels completely unique and fun to play. Hulk is a giant brute so he is played like a tank with viscous melee combat, but also a way to aggro enemies and buff his health. Iron Man on the other hand is more subtle and can take out enemies at a distance with rockets, repulsors or lasers, but can also get into the thick of things himself.

The design and detail of this game can be impressive.

We’ve heard people call the combat here a button masher and, while we don’t disagree, there’s so much nuisance here. Crystal Dynamics really put a lot of thought and effort into how these characters play and the differences between them.

For example both Black Widow and Kamala Khan can swing on certain poles and branches as a way to traverse the levels. Widow uses a grapple line and Khan uses her stretchy arms. The way that they move using these similar locomotion methods is different enough to make each a joy and it’s a little aspect done right to make the Avengers act like superheroes.

We’ve also heard all manner of talk about the look of the characters here and the immense dislike towards them. We don’t really understand this because we’re used to main characters getting redesigned every so often in comics anyway. We think this is just because the cast of the MCU wasn’t used, and some of the skins used in promotional material just kind of look bad.

This skin with Black Widow’s weird goggles is funny looking. So is Captain America’s “hockey pads” outfit. It doesn’t help that those two skins are used in much of the marketing material.

Thankfully these are the minority as there are dozens of other skins in the game but now we get to the monetisation part.

This game has purchasable currency which can be used to fast track certain unlocks which includes skins. While this sounds fairly innocuous, the rate at which you gain resources to get those skins is extremely slow. As an example we mainlined the singleplayer first before playing the rest of the content. It took us 13 hours to do so and at the end of it we only had half the amount of currency needed to buy one of the more expensive skins.

Half a skin. For 13 hours of play.

It really feels like there’s an incentive to break out the credit card to get those nicer outfits, even when the campaign does grant you certain special skins for completing key missions.

This bleeds into collectables while playing too. Every few minutes an enemy will drop a piece of loot or you’ll find a box containing some equipment.

Each Avenger can have multiple pieces of equipment assigned to them. And then there are what feels like dozens of currency and resources to collect and micro manage, and it’s all a massive headache.

Instead of getting into a flow state of defeating enemies and progressing missions, you’re nagged every few seconds to return to the inventory screen to equip the newest shiny stuff. While that may be great an a real RPG or any game where gear is important, it really isn’t here.

The dirty secret of this game is that the loot is infuriatingly inconsequential and – maybe the biggest sin of all – it’s downright boring. All the equipment you find just moves around numbers in the background and very rarely has an appreciable impact when actually playing. The fact that so much of the game revolves around it, and tempting you to pay for more, is an utter failure.

The absolute best example of this is a button in the menu which automatically equips your best gear. How enjoyable or important can a feature of your game be if you want people to gloss over it with one button press?

Remember the spiel in the beginning about the boss’ money-making plans? It feels like the core developers of this game plastered it with these loot mechanics to push microtransactions and entice players to boot up the game every day to collect daily missions and other nonsense, in an effort to please some higher ups wanting more money.

Nothing says “impactful story moment” like a tooltip.

Sure those things have been added, but you can also just ignore them too because they matter so little.

All of this is compounded by a mountain of technical problems. We played through Avengers on PC where the performance was dreadful. While we were on a modest desktop (Ryzen 5 3600 and RX 580 8GB both at stock, plus 16GB of 3200MHz RAM), we exceeded the recommended specs and still struggled at medium settings. Right now Avengers mostly ran for us at about 45 FPS at the best of times, with massive drops in combat.

On top of this there’s sequence breaking in missions, broken animations and character models, and even some quest lines which you can’t complete without hard restarting the game. We’ve been documenting these throughout our time with the game and we’ll have a full story on it soon.

The performance and technical problems in this game are unacceptable for a finished product. Most of the time this feels like an Early Access title which needs more time in the oven.

The one shining light here to redeem things at the end, aside from the combat, is the story. It’s engaging and we found ourselves putting in an extra few hours of play now and again to learn more, not just to play. It helps that Kamala Khan is written and voice acted so well, because she’s the heart of this story. We truly hope any upcoming content expands on the story instead of more loot and live service gubbins.

Marvel’s Avengers is the latest, best example of “wait a year”. Hopefully by the time late 2021 comes around all the technical problems and bugs will be fixed, there will be more playable characters, and maybe the games as a service (GAAS) mechanics will be adjusted.

Unfortunately right now, we just can’t recommend this game. All the fun we had and genuine enjoyment is absolutely poisoned by the live service guff and the vast technical issues.


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