Marvel's Avengers review: Super Single-Player Let Down By Muddled Multiplayer

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Marvel's Avengers next-gen

You know that scene in the first Avengers movie from 2012, where Captain America leaps into the New York bank building without a second’s thought to save a huddle of innocent civilians? Now picture that exact same sequence, except on the way there he stops to open a trio of glowing crates, dips into his inventory and then spends 10 minutes weighing up which chest plate will give him the best stat boost. Congratulations: You now have a decent idea about the type of game Marvel’s Avengers is – or at least the one it wants to be.

Much has been said about the direction of Marvel’s Avengers in the lead up to launch. It’s primarily a live-service game, but there’s also single-player campaign? The characters look like budget MCU rip-offs, but are in fact unique interpretations? The road getting here has been long, with players left scratching their heads, despite Square Enix’s best efforts to clarify. Well, the full experience is now here, and the truth is that Marvel’s Avengers isn’t the disaster it was made out to be. It can even be fun. If only it would stop getting in the way of itself.

The standout portion of the package is the one not much talked about. The single-player(ish) story is a blockbuster-style comic book adventure through and through, with Kamala Kahn’s enthusiastic Ms. Marvel taking centre stage as she slowly must reassemble the Avengers. It all begins during that infamous San Francisco A-Day sequence the marketing kept hammering us with, where Taskmaster is up to no good and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must fend off a surprise attack on all sides. Annoyingly, it’s by far one of the most cinematic sections of the campaign, unabashedly hinting at the spectacle we may have gotten from a Crystal Dynamics superhero game without any live-service trimmings.

Surprisingly, all cast members do an excellent job at voicing these iconic characters, bringing them to life while finding just enough wiggle room to provide a distinct spin. I was particularly impressed by Troy Baker’s softer take on Bruce Banner; rather than echo Mark Ruffalo’s everyman scientist, there’s always this underlying sense of guilt to his character as he still feels the weight from a failure five years ago. Sandra Saad, as a relative newcomer to voice acting, also wonderfully embodies Kamala Kahn’s child-like wonder. She’s very much the hero of this story and conduit for the player, always idolising our heroes as they are slowly introduced over the campaign’s 10 or so hours.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the narrative that avid Marvel fans should appreciate, even if it all wraps up in perhaps too neat of a bow. It is, of course, a glorified tutorial for Marvel’s Avengers’ co-op multiplayer, letting you take each superhero for a spin before unleashing you onto the perpetual hunt for loot. Rest easy, though, because any skills, gear and cosmetics you acquire here successfully transfers over to the much meatier online focus officially dubbed the ‘Avengers Initiative’.

Marvel’s Avengers has a habit of bombarding you with menus upon menus when first loading it up, with so many explainers as to what different gear types do, how you can upgrade them and best practices to find better ones. It essentially boils down to this: each hero has four equippable gear slots, all of which contribute to their overall power level. The higher your power level, the more difficult missions you can take on and the better gear you will find. Problem is, I’ve summed this up far simpler than Marvel’s Avengers ever does, and this trend only continues when concepts like vendors, factions and hero challenge cards are introduced.

The Chimera helicarrier serves as your main base of operations (similar to Destiny’s Tower) in the Avengers Initiative. It’s here where you can take on daily and weekly quests from all the various factions, only unlike Destiny you’re never locked into one as in the Marvel world everyone works together. Again, anyone who’s played other live-service games like Destiny or The Division 2 will constantly see shades of the familiar, yet this does nothing to aid the broad audience Square Enix is likely wanting to attract with this licence.

I haven’t even mentioned how power level sits separately from your skill level, the latter of which directly affects how effective each character’s three unique superhero abilities can be in battle. It’s in no way impacted by the gear you have equipped either, instead being an arbitrary number that raises when you gain more XP. Truth is, a lot of this you’ll discover and begin to acclimatise to on your own, but even as someone who sank around 150 hours into the original Destiny, it took me quite a while to get used to how all the game’s systems are interlinked.

But what about the multiplayer missions themselves? After all, this is what all the micro-management is for, right? The majority function as you’d expect, with you and a team of up to three others descending into reformed versions of locations you visited previously in the campaign, each now littered with plenty more chests to open and random optional objectives to complete that sit alongside your main goal. Some objectives might have you take on an AIM squad in the hopes that they drop good gear, others have you rescue Shield operatives being held hostage.

The issue is that almost all follow the same template, with your squad roaming one of a handful of sprawling maps, mashing buttons against hordes of enemies to get that next shiny thing. Each of the six avengers available at launch go some way to offer up slight variety, but not every player will find the same satisfaction in propelling each one to level 150. I must have played 30 or so online co-op missions for this review, in addition to the single-player campaign, and while experimenting with different avengers is fun, it eventually grew monotonous.

No doubt a lot of this will be fixed by the time Crystal Dynamics begin to release heroes – each with their own iconic mission chains to complete (don’t ask) – and more raid-like operations are added to further shake up the endgame. This still doesn’t help the fact that, due to the nature of the live-service template, each Avenger must adhere to the same ‘one-size-fits-all’ control set-up. Light and heavy attacks, ranged attacks and three superhero manoeuvres – that’s how they all work. Major variations are instead reserved to cosmetics, of which there is only a finite number because any gear you equip isn’t represented visually.

I give Marvel’s Avengers credit for providing a lot of incentive to undertake co-op missions at launch. Name cards, alternate costumes, takedown animations and emotes… It’s all here on day one to keep players who enjoy grinding hooked until that next big content drop. Where I don’t give credit, however, is in the embedded economy.

While not explicitly forced upon you, micro-transactions are indeed here, with every hero boasting a suite of exclusive rewards purchasable with real money. 500 heroic credits costs £4 here in the UK, meaning that it currently costs £12 to buy a legendary outfit with some change left over. They’re purely cosmetic, luckily, but I still cringe at the thought of a young Avengers fan, not too different from Kamala herself, begging their parents for the chance to use Iron Man’s Void Eater armour.

Marvel’s Avengers isn’t by any means a bad game, it’s just not the particularly exceptional one we’ve come to expect from this juggernaut IP. It’s an experience that aims to be everything to everyone with only mildly successful results; a far cry from the focused singular vision PS4 players were treated to in 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man. The single-player campaign is a highlight and the makings are here for an enjoyable live-service platform, but only time will tell if sketchy economics and unnecessarily complex systems don’t eventually steer people away.

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