When Square Enix dropped the first trailer for the highly anticipated Avengers game at last year’s E3, I was one of those critics who called foul. The insipid cinematics did absolutely nothing for me, and the character models looked like ugly tanks in barely recognizable outfits. It’s amazing what’s changed in one year, as Marvel’s Avengers is a triumph in almost every way, borrowing key elements from the popular MCU films and almost 60 years of comic book history, as well other game franchises to create a superhero game that others will be striving to achieve for years to come.
Developer Crystal Dynamics, the studio behind the recent Tomb Raider titles, brought their “A-Game” here, assembling a Marvel Comics adventure worthy of the name. There have been some great superhero games, like the Batman: Arkham series and Marvel’s Spider-Man, but those titles are single-player affairs focusing primarily on one character’s journey. For a true team-based adventure, all gamers had was last year’s Switch exclusive, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, which fell a bit short of the mark.
On the surface, Marvel’s Avengers is broken into two modes; a 10-15 hour campaign and the multiplayer mode, called Avengers Initiative. But as players dig deeper into the game, they’ll find a cornucopia of things to do – and thankfully, not all of it centers around collecting rare gear.
The story in Marvel’s Avengers focuses on an event known as A-Day, a multi-pronged attack that the core Avengers – Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, and The Hulk – were unable to stop. The attack caused Terrigen mists to be released in the San Francisco bay area, causing normal citizens to develop superpowers. These “inhumans” (see what they did there?) are then monitored closely by Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), with nefarious machinations in mind.
The aftermath of A-Day sees the Avengers disbanded, and one Inhuman girl, Kamala Khan, is forced to use her new powers to reassemble the team and thwart the mastermind behind the original attack. The story does a great job of allowing you to play as each of the characters, learning their ins and outs, all while moving the story forward. There are some fun twists and turns in the narrative, and it serves its purpose for getting players ready for the post-game content, which is (and will continue to be) staggering.
Here’s where Marvel’s Avengers begins to borrow more from other franchises, like Destiny. Grinding for cool new upgrades and completing daily, weekly, community, and character-specific missions yields gear, outfits, emotes, nameplates, and more. Players select various missions from war tables, and based on the difficulty and how well you do in the mission, you and your teams can win high-level rewards.
It’s a completionist’s dream – or nightmare – as there is constantly something to unlock. Each character has their own individual gear, powers, and levelling system, meaning that even after the short campaign is over, there’s still plenty to do. Each hero has an individual “battle pass”-like series of goals to achieve, too, as they climb to the level 40 max. Hitting these goals unlocks credits, emotes, outfits, and more.
The various characters also power up differently, giving the player a choice in how they want to play. There are a staggering amount of power ups to spend skill points on, so you can create a stable of Avengers that’s intrinsically yours. That being said, characters still have their base skills, which are woven into their own backstory and history.
Hulk is a rampaging beast who destroys everything in his path. Iron Man is a flyer, who uses range attacks. Captain America is a tank, who can soak damage and dish it out with his fists or his vibranium shield. Black Widow relies on guns and martial arts to deal damage. Thor, well, Thor is the God of Thunder, and playing with him hits all the hallmarks one would expect of a god-like being. It’s a blast throwing Mjolnir around the map and calling down lightning at will.
But the biggest surprise is Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel. She’s a polymorph, and her body can stretch and grow as needed, giving her a full range of moves and attacks. Her traversal methods are reminiscent of Spider-Man, and when she’s fully powered up, she can unleash power moves that will devastate even the biggest enemies.
It also helps that Kamala is the best written and arguably the best-performed character in Marvel’s Avengers, with actress Sandra Saad knocking it out of the park. Kamala serves as the audience’s guide through this superhero-filled world – her social naïveté is matched by her in-depth knowledge of these heroes, and in many ways, she even outsmarts geniuses Tony Stark and Bruce Banner as she brings the team back together to save the world.
The multiplayer Avengers Initiative modes allow for players to team up with up to four friends to run missions and collect additional loot. It runs concurrent to everything else, so taking a break from the story to play through some multiplayer missions benefits you in the long run, even as this mode begins to show the game’s flaws.
Playing and replaying maps quickly highlights how similar they are, with strongbox placements and locked door puzzles repeating over and over. The main menu warns players to not try Avengers Initiative until they’ve finished the campaign, but that’s less for story spoilers and more to hide the fact that the maps are almost identical, no matter where in the world you’re fighting crime.
This sense of repetition doesn’t ruin the experience by any means. I’ve still had a blast running the same maps with friends, each of us playing a character with a different power set. The social aspect of playing, chatting, calling out hidden strongbox locations, and teaming up to take down the bigger foes is fun – and will continue to be fun – well after the campaign is an afterthought.
Square Enix has also promised free DLC updates that’ll introduce additional characters, missions, maps, and gear. Hawkeye is coming soon, and PlayStation players will be able to fight as Spider-Man, who’s set to arrive in early 2021. Since the Avengers have such a robust roster, the sky is the limit on who we will see join the game, an exciting prospect for Marvel fans all over.
Character models look much better than in that original trailer, and the graphics and lighting effects are sharp all around, even with a few dropouts here and there. This is the same team that made the stunning Tomb Raider reboots, and they’ve brought that level of artistry to the comic book realm. It’s worth mentioning, too, that I’ve played Marvel’s The Avengers with headphones on for the majority of my run, and the sound design is incredible. There are subtle effects and nuances that can’t be picked up even on high-end sound systems, but with headphones, you can really hear the differences in Thor’s hammer as compared to Cap’s shield when it hits an enemy. Admittedly, the score is a bit generic when compared to other games in the genre, but in the heat of battle, I’m not listening for background music, I want to hear carnage.
Marvel’s Avengers does so many things right that it’s very easy to overlook where it stumbles. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch, but it’s incredibly fun to play, either solo or with friends. Much can be said about the real-money marketplace, where players can spend real cash for a new costume, but those are optional cosmetics that don’t affect gameplay.
The grind for high-powered gear can also begin to wear on you, but with the various in-game factions, tons of loot and collectibles to find – not to mention challenges that change daily and weekly – Crystal Dynamics hopes to keep Marvel’s Avengers fresh for as long as possible. I’ve been playing non-stop for almost a week, and I can’t wait to get back to it, even as I’m writing this review. This is the team-based superhero game I’ve been waiting for now for decades, and I’m beyond eager to assemble with my friends to play again and again.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Square Enix.
Marvel's Avengers is a triumph of a superhero team-up game, with tight gameplay, tons to do and collect and the promise of more to come in the future.