Marvel’s Avengers has a lot of potential. If I had to pick a Game as a Service (GaaS) game, I would pick one with an already existing infinite pool of heroes, villains, settings, and stories. If I had to play repeatable daily missions, I would rather unlock that Planet Hulk skin which I have always loved. If I had to wait for a DLC, I would rather wait for one which adds Spiderman and Hawkeye rather than a generic class that I can pick. On the other hand, making a game like Marvel’s Avengers comes with its own pitfalls. It can feel like an easy cash grab, a lazy re-skin of a tiring gameplay loop, and a mockery of a decade of hard work. So what is it? I’m glad you asked!
I can do this all day
Let’s start with what Square Enix does right – the story, the characters and the protagonist. Marvel’s Avengers nails the trifecta of a good video game narrative. There is enough on the internet already and there is nothing that I can add to how the game starts (You can probably picture that Golden Bridge Mission in your head as you read this). But I did appreciate how the Avengers are already an established entity at the beginning of the game. There are no pesky little origin stories to suffer through, in fact, this game could have very well taken place a few years after their own version of Endgame, and still be considered canon.
But Square Enix has tried really hard to steer away from the shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, it reinvents each of the characters on the main roster visually and lets the single-player aspect of the game focus on soon to be christened Ms. Marvel, and how a young optimistic teenager brings a bunch of disgruntled, dysfunctional, and cynical group of superheroes together against an authoritarian regime.
AIM (and not Hydra) is the regime in question here, with MODOK playing the big baddy and with Monica <Insert Illegible Second Name> acting as the overarching mastermind. The single-player campaign is well thought out, with meaningful cutscenes and enjoyable interactions between characters. It’s a story worthy of being a limited edition comic book arc by itself, with a fair twist, and a satisfying ending, replete with screen popping moments, sprinkled with signature inspirational monologues, and topped up with generous loads of button mashing.
Hulk go smash
Marvel’s Avengers can be called a lot of things, but the most accurate way to describe its gameplay is that its a button masher. Most of the game is melee focused and while each character does have ranged attacks, they are not as satisfactory or visceral (except for Cap, but we will get to him), plus there are loads of enemies on the screen at any time, so there is no time for finesse. You press the heavy attack, then follow it up with a light attack, then dodge or parry (whichever your twitchy finger gets to first), until you power up your superpowers which are mostly for crowd control. RINSE AND REPEAT. It’s not hard work, its not deep, but its fun.
And it’s fun because even this button-mashing feels different with different characters. That’s probably the best part of this game. No two characters play the same, they might play similarly, but not the same. Let’s take Captain America for example, playing ranged with any other character is a chore (even with Iron Man and Black Widow), but Mr. Rogers has an entire arsenal of Shield throws that are not just effective but extremely cool. It’s so much fun to see that Shield ricochet around, that you find yourself rarely using the melee attacks. The reverse is true for Hulk, where ranged attacks are not only slow but difficult to execute. But to witness the Hulk just rampaging through hordes and explosions is just cathartic in its own way. Of course, your initial favorite will surprisingly be Kamala Khan, the little stretchy girl has some quick traversal, and some really snappy combos that would make it hard for you to switch characters, especially since she has been given such a lovable personality and a central role in the story.
Of course, the downside of telling a tale with so many characters means that not all of them get the screen-time and the justice they deserve. While each Avenger gets their own specialized story missions, some of them (read Thor) are no more than a cameo in the main story. The same can be said about the various bosses that you encounter. For a game that has this amazing stash of super-villains to pick from, there are too many generic robots to fight. Sure I don’t mind defeating a Spider War Drone in my first story mission, but fighting a slightly different version of it in the climax of each mission is kind of disappointing, to be honest. I would give the game a 3/10 in the villain department, one for each supervillain that I recognized.
This problem of being generic permeates into the rest of the game too and is visible as soon as the single-player campaign ends. Once you are done with the story, you are left with an endless supply of generic missions, which have a generic power rating, for which you need to equip generic items – buying them or acquiring them from generic vendors or strongboxes. It’s a little too generic if you ask me.
It even suffers from the same problems that other always-online GaaS games suffer from. There are frame drops, lag in cutscenes, and downright latency issues when things get crowded on the screen. The subtitles and the audio cues can become irritatingly repetitive if you play for long hours. Returning to base after a mission is needlessly convoluted (I actually had to Google that), and I once got stuck on a loading screen for a flat 5 minutes 42 seconds, on a PS4 Pro with a 500 MBps connection. And that’s speaking nothing of the mindless grind.
100 percent, yeah, pure grindin’
And it’s around this time when you start asking yourself the hard questions. What is this game trying to be? Why are you here? Is it a grinder-looter, if so then why doesn’t the loot have the bare minimum requirement of a visual effect on the character it’s equipped on. If it’s supposed to be a search for the perfect armor, then why is loot so common and its perks so irrelevant that I am changing them frequently, in pursuit of a higher power rating. What am I supposed to do with these Faction ranks? Why should I care about the daily missions? Why should I grind through a season pass for each one of my heroes? (even Destiny 2 does not do that).
From the looks of things, the grind is mostly for cosmetic items. Costumes, nameplates, emotes and such. But if that’s the case, then what does this grind offer to players who are not here for the costumes? That is perhaps the biggest question that Marvel’s Avengers needs to answer. If they find a reasonable answer to that, the game can thrive, if not well there is always the Spiderman DLC to look forward to.
Marvel’s Avengers has a surprisingly good story for an always-online Games as a Service offering. It also has the potential to become a popular alternative to Destiny 2 and The Division 2. But it finds itself burdened with the same problems of its contemporaries like repetitive mission structures and unsatisfying rewards. If Marvel’s Avengers has to stick, it needs to lean more into its rich lore and find ways to create a unique identity for itself instead of becoming just another wannabe online-only multiplayer game.