Marvel’s Avengers Review — Almost Assembled
Earth's Mightiest Heroes gather for a well-crafted single-player adventure but a middling multiplayer experience in Marvel's Avengers.
Coming over a year after the events of Avengers: Endgame and its epic conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now feels like both the best and worst time that Marvel’s Avengers could have arrived. What’s working in its favor is the fact that the Marvel Universe has never been more popular. Characters like Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy are now as ubiquitous as Iron Man and Captain America, with the MCU arguably being at the height of its cultural zeitgeist. However, this also works against Marvel’s Avengers, given that the MCU has been the definition of these characters for over a decade, and the comparisons of these characters against how they’ve been portrayed in nearly two dozen movies is only inevitable.
Despite those uphill struggles, Marvel’s Avengers aims to deliver its own take on the classic group of superheroes, and to that end, it’s almost there. Crystal Dynamics’ title tries to straddle the line between the type of single-player campaign that the studio has been known for from the Tomb Raider series, while also attempting to bridge that narrative into an ongoing multiplayer experience. In this way, if Endgame was stuffed to the brim with fan service and satisfying character moments, Marvel’s Avengers feels the opposite: stuffed with repetitive missions and lackluster gameplay, but with moments of greatness that deliver the type of comic book action we’ve been waiting for.
Though Marvel’s Avengers had a bit of a rough reception when it was finally unveiled last year, the final product that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have assembled definitely shows some improvements, and in a lot of ways, might be a bit surprising. Initially, the game was pitched as “Destiny meets the Avengers,” with the game’s multiplayer components taking most of the spotlight. In a way though, I wish Marvel’s Avengers—or at least its marketing–honed in more on what the title really manages to nail: the love and enthusiasm for these iconic characters that shines through its single-player campaign.
The campaign of Marvel’s Avengers has the action and spectacle that a lot of us would expect from an MCU film, but what really sets the single-player storyline apart is the fact that really, it’s a Ms. Marvel game featuring the Avengers. As the story follows Kamala Khan (played by Sandra Saad) trying to bring the Avengers back together after the perilous events of “A-Day”–where an attack left San Francisco devastated and Captain America dead–she pieces together the true motivations behind what happened. Instigated by the organization known as AIM, Kamala and the rest of the Avengers that she gathers band together to try and thwart AIM from completing their mission of eradicating Inhumans from the rest of the world.
Though the overall storyline would feel right at home in a Marvel comic book or the latest MCU movie, Marvel’s Avengers packs a surprising amount of heart, and that is channeled directly through Kamala Khan. From the opening segment of the game at A-Day where she is geeking out about the Avengers reading her fan fiction, to her standing alongside Hulk and Iron Man to fight off enemies, Kamala Khan proves to be a fantastic protagonist and a reflection of the endearing love that comic fans everywhere have for these characters. Given that she is a character that has yet to be introduced into the MCU, Kamala’s introduction in Marvel’s Avengers made me immediately want to know where I can start to read more about her origins in the comics.
While Kamala is my personal highlight among the cast, the rest of the Avengers also get their moment in the spotlight throughout the campaign. Bruce Banner/Hulk especially has some wonderful scenes alongside Kamala by acting as her mentor, while Troy Baker manages to bring out Banner’s vulnerabilities in a compelling way. Though he straddles the line a bit between Robert Downey Jr’s performance and Nathan Drake, Iron Man (played by Nolan North) gets a memorable introduction that sees him blasting away foes with nothing more than a helmet and some rocket boots. Thor (Travis Willingham) channels the brawny yet powerful ego of his comic book and movie counterpart well, and Black Widow (Laura Bailey) is the badass spy that I’ve expected her to be. Given his limited time in the campaign, Captain America (Jeff Schine) was perhaps the character I wish that had a bit more dimension to him, but gets his own moments of heroism and bravery.
Most importantly, what Marvel’s Avengers gets right with the portrayals of these characters are how they play and feel. By design, each of the heroes in Marvel’s Avengers are meant to play entirely different from one another, and for the most part, Crystal Dynamics succeeded in making each character feel distinct in gameplay style and ability.
Whether you decide to go for up-close combat with Captain America, fly in the air and blast foes as Iron Man, or devastate groups of enemies as Hulk, no matter which character I played as, I found something to enjoy from each of the heroes in Marvel’s Avengers. Combined with the various ways that you can expand their abilities through its skill tree or equip new gear and perks, there is a lot of room to work with making each hero feel specific to your playstyle, whether you want to main one or two specific characters or customize each and every Avenger.
As a whole, Marvel’s Avengers shines the brightest in its campaign, and over the course of around 10 hours, proves that it can craft a solid single-player adventure with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Though it doesn’t have the same level of polish that we saw in 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, its storyline features a hefty amount of Marvel fan service, exciting set pieces, and surprising story moments that kept me engaged until the very end. More or less, the campaign is what I would have wanted from an Avengers game, and Crystal Dynamics delivered incredibly well in that regard.
However, once that campaign reaches its credits (and its obligatory post-credits scene), Marvel’s Avengers enters its multiplayer components and loses a bit of its luster. While you can jump into the multiplayer aspects of the game from the start, the “Avengers Initiative” is intended as a post-campaign experience that ties into the ending of the narrative. The campaign itself serves as a solid entry point to understanding how the post-game of Marvel’s Avengers works, and more importantly, if it’s an experience that you’ll want to find yourself coming back to for the long haul.
The multiplayer components of Marvel’s Avengers take a large amount of inspiration from Destiny in structure and design. Once you enter the Avengers Initiative, you’ll find yourself onboard the Chimera with access to the War Table, where you can venture out to different locations around the world to take on missions. You’ll also have the opportunity to take on Assignments and build up your reputation with two factions, SHIELD and the Inhumans, while also completing Challenge Cards for specific heroes that can unlock new rewards and gear.
The foundations are there for Marvel’s Avengers to craft a multiplayer experience that will likely keep players coming back, especially once new content is introduced like AIM Secret Labs, which sound like its equivalent of raids. However, from the time that I’ve spent with the multiplayer aspects of Marvel’s Avengers, I don’t know if it has its hooks in me just yet in the same way that Destiny has over the past several years.
The biggest issues that come to mind for Avengers‘ post-game so far are its lack of varied mission types, combined with its repetitive environments and locations. By and large, the War Zone missions that you’ll take on through different locations in the Avengers Initiative will fall into a couple different standard categories, such as having to capture a set of different control points, defending a zone, or working together to take down a more challenging boss. Likewise, the environments you explore are fairly open and offer opportunities to find hidden areas and loot caches, which will sometimes require teamwork to uncover and reap their rewards.
Though the multiplayer has the added perspective of being able to complete these objectives alongside friends, compared to the structure of the single-player missions, the objectives of the multiplayer missions in Marvel’s Avengers often feel bland and uninteresting. After the initial novelty of working together as a fully-kitted-out team of heroes for a few missions, it’s not too long before the multiplayer’s repetitive cycle kicks in and puts players on the treadmill of its loot grind. This is combined with the fact that if you grow tired of seeing the same AIM laboratories or desert environments a few times through, unfortunately, you’ll likely be seeing them a lot as you continue to grind and build up your characters.
For players that have put in countless hours into games like Destiny, The Division, or Borderlands, obviously Marvel’s Avengers will scratch the same sort of itch if you’re looking for a simple loot-based multiplayer experience. But in its current form, the loot chase feels like the only real reward for continuing to play Marvel’s Avengers for the longterm. There is a huge variety of different cosmetics and unlockable skins for each hero, but you’ll need to put in a significant amount of time to work your way towards unlocking them. Additionally, while there is a loot system designed to have you chasing better, more powerful gear, the fact that it purely alters your stats and doesn’t have an impact on how your character looks feels more like busywork than meaningful character progression.
While I enjoyed my time with the single-player campaign in Marvel’s Avengers–which surprised me with its warmth, fun, and energy–its multiplayer components haven’t quite come together just yet. As a game that revolves around assembling its team of iconic heroes, Marvel’s Avengers at this time still feels a bit at odds with itself. Granted, Crystal Dynamics clearly is planning to make this experience evolve over time with the introduction of new heroes and storylines into its online modes, so the Marvel’s Avengers a year from now may look very different than today. For now, we’ll have to see if these heroes can find a way to regroup to face the challenges ahead.