Spawnback Review: Marvel’s Avengers
Games as a service generally have a solid start, and are usually judged by how the endgame is handled. Bungie’s space shooter Destiny and its sequel have been examples to follow, despite the vocal outcry of its many fans, and many have tried to walk the same, hallowed path. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers certainly starts off with a bang, with a robust single-player action role-playing campaign that carries it further than it really should. Yet, it is ultimately brought down by a repetitive and uninspired multiplayer endgame grind that can take down even the mightiest of heroes.
While players can certainly jump straight into the multiplayer-centric Avengers Initiative portion, there are plenty of campaign spoilers involved. That, and the fact you will need to progress nearly to the end of the single-player portion to have access to all the heroes should make it blatantly obvious where players should head to first.
By sheer luck or clever design, any newcomer trying out Marvel’s Avengers should theoretically start with the much superior campaign, and have the opportunity to avoid the less impressive second half of this package.
There is little doubt, based on the quality shown in the game’s Reassemble campaign, that a focused and narrative-driven Marvel’s Avengers game will do really well. Throughout the 10 hours or so of superhero beatdowns, players can look forward to taking the different Avengers through their paces. Unique moves and mechanics help differentiate between the heroes, and it will not be too long before you find your favourite.
Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel and her stretchy limbs rank high on the list, and her Embiggen ability is a showstopping display of power and fun rolled into one.
Hulk’s brute force and tankiness will appeal to the guardians amongst us, while Iron Man’s ranged superiority is only limited by his energy levels. Black Widow is also a competent fighter, dishing out the hurt with martial arts and devastating at range as well.
Thor definitely hits hard with Mjölnir, and his lightning abilities are always a spectacle. Last but not least, Captain America’s brand of brawling and the use of his trusty shield is always a dependable combination. Movement is different for the Avengers as well, with both Thor and Iron Man capable of flight, while the others are able to grapple, swing, and even double jump.
As you gain more experience and level up your characters, you will get to tailor them to your liking via the various skill trees for each of the heroes. While it may seem overwhelming at the start, much of it can be categorised as statistical upgrades. The more significant upgrades can add modifiers to existing abilities, allowing you to truly enjoy your favourite Avenger.
The base three Heroic abilities of each hero are already powerful in their own right. Just witness Kamala Khan growing in size and smacking foes around, or Iron Man in the powerful Hulkbuster suit. However, you can do more than just that.
A player can outfit his Thor to have the power of God Blast with multiple charges, supplement that with constant Takedowns that generate more heroic energy, and keep the electricity flowing. Another might go another route of Thor becoming a ranged hero with powerful hammer throws and raining lightning down as Mjölnir flies into the fray.
The possibilities are there to be found, although it may be hard for every character to reach their potential. The level cap of 50 will give you access to all the skills to pick and choose, but not everyone will be doing so for all the Avengers.
Outside of those Heroics, the way the Avengers are controlled is similar. You have light and heavy attacks, dodges, and a defensive manoeuvre. Combos are strikingly similar in button inputs as well. So even if a new hero is introduced, chances are you already know how they will work in a general context. While this can make it easy for players to jump around characters, it can also come off as lacking any true differences outside of the Heroics.
The fights against the Advanced Idea Mechanics/A.I.M’s army of soldiers and robots can be enjoyable affairs to a certain degree. Outside of a few troublesome foes, players will likely find a trusted formula of light and heavy attacks that works well in any situation. Add in some of the more advanced moves and you should usually be safe. Do be careful of the more advanced foes like the Adaptoids, they require a little more cunning to overcome.
It all works pretty well into the ebb and flow of the main bulk of Marvel’s Avengers gameplay. In between corridors and rooms of baddies, you will get amazing set pieces that put the super in superheroes. Moreover, players will slowly learn more about the various motivations of the disassembled heroes in the more intimate storytelling moments.
The writing and acting in Marvel’s Avengers have to be commended. The way the characters interact with each other, especially in scenes involving Kamala Khan, is believable and engaging. From Kamala’s struggle to embrace her heroism, to the likes of Bruce Banner and Tony Stark picking up the pieces of their failures, players can understand why they did what they did. It is pure popcorn action movie with a healthy dose of drama.
Kamala Khan definitely stands out, as her story and rise to prominence is the stuff of dreams for many a Marvel fan. If superheroes were real, every one of us would wish to be in Kamala’s shoes, even if that means fighting a seemingly lost battle against AIM. The dynamics between every character is well presented, with Thor being the only exception, as he is usually just there with little exposition as explanation.
Even though the characters were derided ahead of launch for not being their cinematic counterparts, it is safe to say that these Avengers can stand on their own two feet as heroes of their own.
It all sounds like a perfect Marvel’s Avengers game, and it comes tantalisingly close. Certain campaign missions focus on one hero, and these are the stars of the show. The level of action, drama, and more importantly, fun on display is on par with some of the best AAA action games like Uncharted or even Crystal Dynamics’ own Tomb Raider series.
Yet, outside of these hero-specific missions and moments of character development, we have sprinklings of generic missions that revolve around defeating enough enemies, destroying or holding objectives, or other generic nonsense. This is what you would expect as filler content in the multiplayer portion, and have no business being in the campaign.
There are also plenty of gear items to pore over, and those would likely make more sense in the multiplayer endgame than in a story campaign. Speaking of which, the Avengers Initiative is where you will spend more time in Marvel’s Avengers – that is if you are not sick of its repetitive nature.
Sure, there are more reasons to continue the fight against A.I.M, gear to unlock, experience to earn, objectives from both the Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D to complete, and more. However, they cannot make up for the fact that multiplayer encounters are anything but recycled missions.
Matchmaking has been a constant issue with Marvel’s Avengers, and unless you have friends around, you might just want to do everything on your own despite the questionable AI. Without a doubt, that is the nail in the coffin for what is presumably a multiplayer affair.
Even with a full team of friends, it can be utterly boring doing the same things over and over again, and the lack of any in-game communication system is unforgivable. Voice-chat solves that problem, but once more, it is detrimental to the experience to the extent that sometimes playing solo is more preferable.
It will not take long before you can recognise every A.I.M facility, buildings, or even the external layouts of levels. Although you may have different objectives, they are all things you have done before. Even the more unique missions are largely made up of recycled content. Boss fights in Villain Sectors against the likes of Abomination and Taskmaster are supposed to be exciting, but reusing levels and the premise just kills the vibe immediately.
The Hive and Vault levels, which are the higher tier activities in the Avengers Inititative, also flatter to deceive. For the latter, you fight your way across the map before confronting a puzzle door that requires a randomised combination. That would have been a decent section of gameplay, if not for the often disappointing loot at the end.
The former, meanwhile, are just elongated versions of familiar missions put together for some semblance of a structure. They may be tougher, but the rewards are seldom on par with the challenge, and that is not how endgame content should feel like. There are also Elite versions of these missions, where you will find increased resistance alongside frustration.
Iconic mission chains sadly follows the same structure, but at least they provide small snippets of story for specific characters that would be more at home in the campaign. The fact that both Iron Man and Ms. Marvel do not even get the courtesy of those missions just sees the disappointment mount.
Another major issue in Marvel’s Avengers is the entire idea of loot in the game. In your chase to get stronger and powerful enough for endgame missions, you will have to invest your time into the convoluted and messy loot systems. Just like other games before, it is an unnecessarily Byzantine system of multiple resources, a spreadsheet of numbers, and marginal gains.
Each hero gets four gear slots, one for melee, ranged, defence, and a slot for your Heroic abilities. There are also three slots for Artifacts. Gear items may come with certain bonuses, and their Power level will help determine each heroes’ overall Power level. If you are not interested in min-maxing, you can generally depend on the changing numbers of your melee, ranged, defense, and Heroic scores.
It also bears repeating that the gear items do not really matter until you have hit the cap of Power level 150. After all, up until then, all you want is to increase your Power level, and that means constantly switching out gear for newer loot. Although you can upgrade an item’s Power level to a certain degree, it is more worth it to save it for the maxed out gear.
At max level, only then will players truly embrace the different special effects that can come with gear. The Pym particles effect is extremely useful, shrinking down enemies and opening them up to more damage. The other status elements of gamma radiation, frost, and more are also useful, it just depends on your luck of the draw.
Even with Legendary and the ridiculously hard to find Exotic gear items, Marvel’s Avengers still feels inadequate for a loot-based game. As missions usually scale to your Power level, taking your maxed out gear into an earlier mission will see no discernable change, outside of the status effects.
Gear items also do not change the look of your heroes, that is left to the cosmetics department. When the game just descends into a pure numbers game, Marvel’s Avengers loses one of the aspects that would have kept players engaged, and that is making things truly your own.
Of course, you cannot run away from the fact that Marvel’s Avengers features microtransactions. The premium currency known as Credits can be bought for real money, and is spent on cosmetic items such as outfits and emotes.
You can certainly earn everything if you got the time and luck, and a rotating selection is always available if you wish to spend another currency called Units that is doled out slowly by the game.
Thankfully, there are some truly unique and superior looks for sale. Even though you may not want to spend money, it gives you a glimpse of a future that could be yours. Every hero also comes with a Challenge Card, which houses daily and weekly challenges that reward you with cosmetics the more you play.
Even if you are not intentionally chasing them, it is likely you will find yourself with several skins for your Avengers. Players can rest easy knowing that there is no pay-to-win model in Marvel’s Avengers.
Despite all the misgivings of Marvel’s Avengers, there is something special beneath it all. The tremendous work done in the single-player portion of the game cannot be ignored, and there is a solid foundation in the combat systems. As for the rest, it lies on Crystal Dynamics to find a balance with more tweaks and updates for its missions and loot.
Bug fixes definitely need to be at the top of the list, and we already have some evidence of the developers taking note. The less we see of hard crashes, missing characters, and disappearing textures, the better.
With more heroes on the way, such as Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye and Spider-Man, the hope is that they will get the same tender loving care shown in the single-player portion of Marvel’s Avengers.
Marvel’s Avengers has an extremely enjoyable front portion, chocked full of satisfying combat and Heroics, but has been held back by a repetitive, and disappointingly boring endgame that relies heavily on meaningless loot. This game has a shot at keeping the golden age of heroes going, but it will require more than just a comic book MacGuffin to solve its problems.