Marvel’s Avengers is a strange game to get your head around, even after months of teasers, previews, and War Table deep dives.
The good news is that it does exactly what it says on the tin, bringing together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. However, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have gone about this in a way that won’t appeal to a lot of gamers, despite the overwhelming allure of the Avengers name.
The best way to describe Marvel’s Avengers is as an ultra glossy action RPG brawler in which its six playable superheroes can inhabit the same spaces despite being markedly different in how they feel to play. You have up to four Avengers in your squad at a time, so one of you could be Iron Man soaring above the battle as Hulk bulldozes entire enemy waves, while Captain America and Black Widow weave in and out to take down high threat targets.
In trying to cater for every character (and without making some way more fun to play than others) Crystal Dynamics have pulled off a crazy balancing act here and one that is mostly great to watch in its execution. That said, the game’s story, repetitive mission designs, and live service model are all things to consider before enlisting into the Avengers Initiative yourself.
Let’s start with how Marvel’s Avengers plays. To create parity between the six launch heroes, each has a potent blend of melee and ranged attacks as well as a trio heroic abilities, such as Hulk’s Thunderclap, which recharge over time. Light and heavy combos, dodges, rolls, and counters all lend depth to the combat system, but you can certainly get away with button bashing on the lowest difficulty tier.
Each Avenger is easy to pick up and play initially, though you will be able to expand and customise their movesets over time as you rack up experience, unlocking new combos and traits. This isn’t the kind of skill tree you’d obsessively pore over in a hardcore RPG, yet there’s room to experiment, even if your gradual goal is to eventually fill out every branch.
The combat here feels crunchy, firing up the rumble motors inside your gamepad with each heroic leap, punch, or throw of Captain America’s vibranium shield. Damage numbers pop, status effects trigger, and although Marvel’s Avengers can seem a little chaotic at first, it slowly morphs into a more advanced action RPG as you progress.
Levels vary in shape and size, depending on whether you drop into a multiplayer session or explore the game’s tighter, more linear single player campaign. With more Avengers in tow, environments begin to open into small hubs with various points of interest to explore. Navigating them is simple enough, whether flying with Iron Man and Thor, or bounding across terrain as the rest of the game’s cast.
For some, the turn-off here is how Marvel’s Avengers treats progression. Make no mistake, this is a live service game and as such Crystal Dynamics expects players to grind away for gear and cosmetics by running the same missions over and over. Some may find themselves satisfied by wrapping the story campaign then dabbling with some multiplayer, but Avengers is designed to try and reel you in with daily challenges, battle passes, and other hooks that have become far too familiar.
On top of that we have the promise of more playable heroes coming soon with Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, and Spider-Man on the way, each of which will add a new narrative beat to the game world. With the core game now established, it’s easy to see Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics continuing to build on this foundation in the way Bungie built up Destiny over the years. The potential here is massive.
Let’s rewind a bit and talk about the story. Although spread across the entire game, its storytelling efforts have been mainly focused on the single player campaign. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have disbanded after the fallout of “A-Day” – a celebration event which goes terribly wrong when the Avengers’ helicarrier explodes, showering San Francisco with a “Terrigen” mist. Those who weren’t killed develop superpowers, these “inhumans” now outlawed by AIM, the world’s newly self-appointed protectors. Nothing shady about them, at all.
Overall, the story suffers from a weak antagonist, dull renditions of the Avengers themselves, and a disappointing lack of supervillains, though it’s still entertaining to play through. Having Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel) be the lead character instead of the characters the game shares with the MCU Avengers was a great choice. As an Avengers megafan herself, her giddy interactions with the main cast are cute, paving a very different kind of hero’s journey as she explores her stretchy new powers.
As for looks, there’s no questioning the graphical fidelity of Marvel’s Avengers. Characters are highly detailed and animate well (again, Kamala and her stretchiness is a real highlight) sporting large, open environments teeming with mobs of enemies and a barrage of visual effects.
It’s more the art direction that some will have issues with. Crystal Dynamics have leaned towards the recent MCU blockbusters for inspiration, though stopped short of having Disney’s film stars lend their likenesses. While this game’s version of the Avengers look absolutely fine, a bolder, more comic-inspired style for the game feels like it would have worked much better and felt more distinctive.