Marvel’s Avengers Review: Is this a superhero journey worth taking?

Marvel’s Avengers is a new live service experience that lets you step into the shoes of the series’ iconic heroes each with their own distinct skills and abilities. From here, you’ll work together to bring down an evil organisation and save the world. 

The Avengers believe that it’s our differences which make us stronger, allowing us to stand out in a society that will do anything to stifle those who don’t conform to normality. This message is somewhat ironic given that Marvel’s Avengers is obsessed with nailing a tried and tested formula. 

Throughout this superhero caper you’ll be collecting loot and powering up a number of characters before advancing towards the inevitable endgame. Crystal Dynamics has created a third-person equivalent of Destiny with a supremely expensive license slapped on top of it. It’s hard to ignore the similarities, especially when they hinder what is an otherwise compelling campaign with trappings that slow the pacing to a crawl. 

It’s a hypocritical, soulless observation, but I’m happy to report that after pouring hours into it, Marvel’s Avengers manages to overcome its limited aspirations. It’s still in need of refinement, but the foundations established here tease an exciting future filled with wondrous heroes and world-saving adventures I’m eager to see unfold. 

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Marvel's Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers begins with superhero fan Kamala Khan attending A-Day, a celebration of the iconic team and all of the benefits they’ve brought to society. It’s an occasion filled with gaudy sideshows, eccentric air displays and even the heroes themselves, who have stepped down from their thrones to mingle with the common people. 

It’s adorable, and the enthusiasm felt by Kamala as she ran about the place collecting comics was infectious. Sadly, the picturesque nature of her heroes is shattered once disaster strikes. A mysterious terrorist cell has unleashed havoc on San Francisco, hijacking the Avenger’s Helicarrier, causing its reactor to overload and unleash devastation on the city. 

It’s left in ruins, with its inhabitants contracting powers after coming in contact with a new form of energy known as Terrigen. In the wake of this disaster, our heroes are branded as traitors and forced into hiding. In their absence emerges AIM, a sinister organisation obsessed with ridding the world of superpowers and installing a robotic, authoritarian rule in its place.

George Tarleton, who fans will recognise as MODOK, sits at the helm of this tyrannical new cause, and he makes for a worthwhile villain in the main campaign. At times his motivations are unclear, and he isn’t given nearly enough development, but similar criticisms can be levelled at nearly every character in Marvel’s Avengers. 

While it’s emotionally resonant to witness the once fractured superhero staple put aside their differences and bond together for the greater good, beyond a few excellent moments, this journey feels woefully underbaked and the eventual reunion simply doesn’t ring true. Kamala Khan’s status as a fish out of water fan also grates after a while, fawning over her idols instead of realistically reacting to the dilemma around her. 

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Marvel's Avengers

The story isn’t given enough room to breathe and feels buried under the mechanical bloat you’ll need to push through during the opening hours. It’s a shame, because The Avengers are provided with enough narrative nuance that I would have loved to delve into their backstories with distinct questlines that really take advantage of the universe’s history.

Sadly, you’ll instead need to settle with cookie cutter missions and minimal interactions aboard The Chimera. I’m able to take control of so many iconic characters, although Crystal Dynamics seldom uses this privilege to tell fascinating stories outside of the main ensemble. Praise needs to be heaped upon Kamala Khan though, a young Pakistani girl who frequently embraces her muslim heritage throughout the campaign. It’s representation that really matters, and she earns her place as the story’s emotional core. 

All of these heroes have so much history, and if you want us to care about this live service for years to come, tapping into that is the best route forward. Which is why it’s a shame the game, in its current form, doesn’t go beyond unlockable cosmetics which only hint at the characters’ past adventures. 

Outside of its inconsistent story, Marvel’s Avengers is a sharp, responsive third-person brawler where you take on the role of heroes each with their own distinct selection of powers and abilities. Captain America is a speedy fighter capable of bouncing his shield between countless enemies, while Iron Man can take to the skies and rain chaos down from above. 

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Marvel's Avengers

Hulk is a surprisingly swift melee combatant, able to wipe out waves of foes with a wide reach and devastating area of effect abilities. Black Widow was my personal favourite, echoing Crystal Dynamic’s past experience with the Tomb Raider franchise, she wields dual pistols and zips about the place with an agile grappling hook. 

Every hero feels excellent, and learning how they operate is genuinely rewarding. They all have their own progression system in the form of skill trees. Diving into the menu to hone your loadout became a common occurrence, and I welcomed the endorphin rush that came with enhancing my team with an endless array of exotic gear while grinding through the endgame. 

It is certainly daunting at first, but treat it like Destiny or The Division and you’ll fall into an accessible groove after a few short hours. While the game is initially awash with incomprehensible resources, the majority are used to either upgrade equipment or waste at a number of vendors located across the hub area. I took time to collect materials during the majority of missions and was seldom left in short supply. 

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Marvel's Avengers

Throughout the campaign, missions range from linear efforts focusing on individual heroes that advance the story, and larger affairs known as War Zones. The latter allows you to matchmake with other players and explore sprawling areas filled with optional objectives such as saving civilians or defeating a high-level enemy in exchange for rare rewards.

I honestly found it easier to play alongside automated allies, so I could take my time hoovering up optional activities instead of worrying about some strangers rushing ahead and triggering the main objective, which became a frequent frustration. To be blunt, Marvel’s Avengers seldom throws you into situations which require teamwork beyond reviving one another. 

There’s never any puzzles or boss encounters that can’t be triumphed without keen reflexes and a basic understanding of logic, so unless you’re playing with friends over voice chat, co-operative play feels like a notable hindrance. Fortunately, loot and other collectibles are instanced so you’ll never be fighting over spoils with your teammates, although you can’t have two identical heroes occupying the field at once. 

Such a restriction didn’t stop me from experiencing a few hilarious bugs where two Hulks occupied the field simultaneously, staring at one another in existential confusion. But these are teething issues I’d expect from a newly launched live service. However, it can be difficult to forgive how immediately repetitive some of the dungeon layouts and mission designs are.

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Marvel's Avengers

The majority of missions will have you hop into an elevator before emerging into an underground lab. Here, the objective normally involves defending a trio of select points on the map or destroying specific reactors to complete the mission. I did this countless times during the campaign, and it only really transcends this repetition once you’re deep into the post-game content. 

Marvel’s Avengers highlights come in the solo campaign where Crystal Dynamics has curated setpieces where each character truly shines, and you’re able to witness their chemistry in the midst of battle as they work together in methodical ways. Such moments can’t be recreated in multiplayer, with the heroes remaining voiceless as you rush to objectives being thrust upon you by Shield’s Maria Hill. 

The final confrontation with MODOK is one of the finest action experiences I’ve seen this generation as you seamlessly switch between heroes throughout a long, ambitious mission. Watching so many iconic characters work together to eventually overcome insurmountable odds felt amazing, and the dialogue is strong enough that these don’t feel like carbon copies of their cinematic counterparts. 

They stand on their own, which is perhaps this game’s greatest achievement. So it’s a crying shame that they’re given so few moments to shine. Boss battles and set pieces are few and far between, and even then you’re often doing battle with generic robots and middling villains like Abomination and Taskmaster. All this aside, the excellent combat and rewarding loot system kept me invested as dozens of hours passed me by. 

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Avengers

Once you’ve completed the campaign, Marvel’s Avengers really comes alive. You’ll be encouraged to pursue a new campaign which involves locating a quartet of vaults spread across the world, all of which contain valuable resources. However, this otherwise generic quest is complicated by a plot involving Taskmaster and Abomination. 

It’s a fun evolution of the campaign, with additional modes of progression and challenging combat encounters helping the overall loop feel infinitely more engaging. But the repetitious mission design remains beyond a handful of new ideas, so it’s easy to feel like you’re becoming bogged down in pursuit of higher level loot and characters. 

Marvel’s Avengers is far more comprehensive than Anthem or the vanilla rendition of Destiny, but it still leaves something to be desired, and future updates will heavily dictate whether this is an experience worth sticking with. New heroes and story campaigns will be completely free, with Hawkeye and Spider-Man being a couple of new faces set to debut in the coming months. 

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How these new heroes are introduced and the missions they inhabit remain a mystery, but I sincerely hope they are curated much like the main campaign, otherwise we’ll simply be grinding through the same content with a new hero.

Verdict

Marvel’s Avengers has proven to be a pleasant surprise, even if its live service identity arguably hinders the true potential of its world, story and characters. Engaging combat and rewarding progression have established a solid foundation for Crystal Dynamics to build upon with new heroes and scenarios in the months and years to come. 

How such new additions are executed will decide the future of this outing, as will further changes to a core experience that is still in welcome need of refinement. But right now, this is a journey I’d say is worth taking for fans, though casual gamers will likely be better off looking elsewhere for now. 

 

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