Licensed games have been notoriously varied in quality over the lifetime of video games. It used to be that a game based on a movie, comic book or other IP was almost guaranteed to stink to high heaven, but over the years games like the Batman: Arkham series have done a lot to change that perception. Unfortunately, they can’t all be winners.
Marvel’s Avengers, an action-RPG set inside the Marvel Universe (but not necessarily Disney’s more recognizable Marvel Cinematic Universe) is here to show us just how true that is. You’ll sorta-kinda recognize these characters and you’ll definitely recognize most of the gameplay. The only question is whether that’s a recipe for a good time, or monotony.
When the Avengers hold A-Day, a fan convention and public reveal event for their new helicarrier, everything seems like sunshine and rainbows. It’s the world’s greatest heroes showing off their latest tool for keeping the planet safe! What could go wrong? Well, turns out that a lot can go wrong, including the helicarrier’s new experimental power source rupturing after an attack from an unknown villainous group. This releases mutagenic Terrigen mists which transform many of the attendees into superpowered Inhumans, resulting in mass casualties and the eventual breakup of the Avengers.
One of the new Inhumans, Kamala Khan, doesn’t believe that this was the Avengers’ fault, though, and it turns out that over time she discovers an evil scheme to destroy the team from within. It’s up to Kamala to help the Avengers reform to seek justice over the events of A-Day.
This is a bombastic, cinematic action game with some RPG elements stapled on top. It’s at its best when you’re going through the campaign’s narrative, allowing the game to gently take control from you in order to make the heroes and villains look suitably impressive. When you’re actually controlling it, though, Marvel’s Avengers struggles to keep up with both its source material in the never-ending Marvel canon and the standard it sets in its impressive story segments.
That’s really what it boils down to, by the way. Characters have a light attack, heavy attack, varying ranged options, two Heroic abilities – basically special moves on long cooldowns – and an Ultimate ability, a more powerful special move on a massive cooldown. Combat does its best to be appropriately impressive, particularly when using characters like Hulk to send enemies flying. On the other hand, the more “gamey” aspects of the game tends to get in the way. Mashing away while numbers fly out of enemies doesn’t really suit the dynamic villain-smashing that the Avengers are known for, especially when combined with a faux-Arkham dodging system that ends up feeling a little superfluous thanks to all the chaos occurring constantly.
The way your moves play out changes based on the character you’re using, as you might imagine. Kamala’s power to shapeshift makes her great against crowds, for instance, while Iron Man does poorly in melee combat and would prefer to blast away from a distance. One thing that can be said for Marvel’s Avengers is that the characters play differently enough from one another that each feels unique, but the relatively small six-character launch roster makes it hard to determine if that’s going to be the case going forward as more heroes are added.
The amount of enjoyment you have is directly related to the character you’re using, as well; going back to Iron Man again, he’s a lot of fun when he can play to his strengths, like flying around quickly and blasting away. Those situations are rare, though, and in Avengers’ all-too-common point-defense scenarios he feels a little lackluster.
“Lackluster” is also a great descriptive term for…well, basically everything about the way Marvel’s Avengers implements RPG mechanics. It’s everything you’ve come to hate about these mechanics all at once. Loot comes in massive amounts, with most of it being pretty much worthless, and you don’t unlock item storage for a few hours so you’ll start getting nag messages about running out of space pretty quickly. Avengers is happy to nag you about that! Fortunately, the game encourages you to think about it even less than you normally would thanks to an auto-equip system that ends up feeling like an apology more than anything.
Avengers is happy to nag you about that as you find new items too! Naturally, characters end up feeling pretty weak much of the time unless you grind for better gear or resources to improve that gear, so don’t expect Hulk to be quite the mega-tank you’d hope without a solid few hours spent on searching for treasure chests. Oh, and the game nags you about that too, just to make sure you don’t miss any.
The first few hours of Marvel’s Avengers are pretty solid, if not exactly groundbreaking. If you’re a fan of the movies or comic books and are willing to be open-minded regarding the more hamfisted aspects of the game’s dialogue, you’ll have an okay enough time. However, eventually these RPG mechanics are going to come to the forefront. You’ll have Destiny-style daily missions, team missions, mission missions…basically a bunch of chores that this game’s combat isn’t interesting enough to carry on its own. There’s currencies, of course, so many currencies, and a gearscore level to keep track of, and really I just wanted to be Cap and throw my shield at baddies without having to worry about percentage buffs and cooldowns and yadda yadda yadda.
There had to be a better way to make a game like this – but why worry about whether or not the mechanics work? The cash shop sure does work. Of course there’s a cash shop, of course it’s expensive, and of course it’s on a rotating cooldown timer to spark that FOMO without necessarily having lootboxes that might risk regulation or a nasty ESRB comment. You probably don’t need these costumes in the first place. You definitely don’t need them at $14 a pop in some cases, to say nothing of the finishing blows, emotes, character placards and on and on and on.
It’s all just a bit much. You might want them for Avengers’ multiplayer, but that’s realy just more of the same sort of brawling you get in the singleplayer and I don’t know how many people are going to be here for it long enough to buy cosmetics.
Avengers’ graphics are also a bit much for modern consoles. Upgraded hardware like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X manage to keep up during the carefully-curated campaign segments, but when it comes down to actually playing the game and brawling huge numbers of baddies, it struggles. That’s a big problem given how frail your characters tend to be, since it’s hard to dodge at 15FPS and a few stray shots are enough to take out even the mighty Thor if he hasn’t spent hours increasing his numbers. It’s possible to switch a setting to prioritize performance at the cost of resolution, but this doesn’t seem to make the game run noticeably better or perform noticeably worse, so…shrug. I’ve yet to play the PC version, but I can’t imagine it’s any worse.
The bottom line is that hardcore fans of Marvel’s more isolated Avengers universe – and that version of Marvel specifically (don’t expect any X-Men here) might have a good time with Marvel’s Avengers for the ten hours or so it takes for the brutal reality of the game to set in. This is peak Games as a Service, a title that wants you to grind forever because the money you don’t spend on other games can be spent on costumes. As a game, it’s fine. You can play it. We exist in a world where you can pay $10/month for access to a near-unlimited library of games that give you more than that, to say nothing of the endless cheap-as-free options that are released every week. Wait until this one shows up on Game Pass or PS Plus.