Editor’s Note: We have updated the review for clarity on how the game handles microtransactions.
Existing somewhere between a soulless corporate, focus-group tested online action-RPG, and story-driven, AAA brawler; Marvel’s Avengers is a game that tries to please everyone. Every big-budget game checkbox gets ticked to ensure maximum appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Square Enix put all their eggs into this title and tasked their biggest western developers to burn an enormous budget to bring Disney’s acquisition to life. Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, and a few newly formed studios aim to make an Avengers game that is a live service that uses the MCU as inspiration.
With something that is seemingly designed to have the broadest appeal imaginable, it is shocking how off-putting the experience can be. Rife with repugnant micro-transactions, an endless rabbit-hole of in-game currencies, and a soul-destroying grind; Marvel’s Avenger‘s proves to be a hellscape of Square Enix’s greed.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Google Stadia
Release Date: September 4, 2020 (Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One), November 10, 2020 (Xbox Series X), Holiday 2020 (PlayStation 5
Marvel’s Avengers looks like it might have promise in its earliest moments. There are impressive scripted set-pieces with outrageous action scenes, with tons of characters on screen and effects flying in all directions. There is an attempt at crafting a protagonist origin story that feels organic and does not come off as cheap.
Then it turns out that this experience is restricted to the campaign, and that the online features represents the absolute worst aspects of video games. An awesome wave of dread and regret washes over you, and you are inundated with endless menus and sub menus that are veiled advertisements for buying in-game currency.
While there is no message popping up to demand you buy currency, you are almost always shy of the components or money needed to craft new gear, or buy cosmetics. Constantly being reminded of this factor only helps incentivize the temptation to buy your way to “success.”
Even though this is mostly reserved for cosmetic skins and alternate animation take-downs, it is depressing to think that fans of Marvel are being exploited like this. It used to be that displaying a high level of skill in a game would earn features. Now publishers balance the game to utterly disrespect the player’s time, and expects them to grind for hours to earn the points to buy a cosmetic costume.
It is fitting that Avengers is filthy with the grubby prints of cynical greed. This is set in a universe where the heroes openly market themselves as celebrities and as product. The protagonist is a blind and blithering fan girl who lives to consume their merchandise. She is so incapable of original thought, that she takes her super hero name from an existing crime fighter in her world.
Kamala Khan is a very poorly conceived character. She is the very lame super hero known as “Ms. Marvel.” and is like Reed Richards but without the intellect or originality. She can morph and stretch her body, and yet the best she can come up with is to make her hands laughably bigger.
Kamala is very sloppily written, and is constantly talking to herself for no reason other than to spell things out to really stupid players who can’t understand what is happening. When she isn’t spouting off clumsy exposition to herself, she babbles the typical snarky Joss Whedon-esque dialogue that has become the trend in all super hero media.
In the single player story mode, Kamala’s origin is the backbone to Avengers. She gains her abilities from an event called “A-Day”, when the unveiling of a new Avengers HQ goes awry due to an experimental reactor overload. The Avengers unassembled due to the deaths that their event caused, which gave way to the rise of mutants- I mean inhumans.
The plot evokes some memories of the X-Men movie from 2000. The main difference being that Magneto was an awesome villain and MODOK is a hilarious idiot. Of all the endless choices for a main bad guy for a AAA Avengers video game, the developers went with the C-grade villain who is normally a punchline.
The developers have expressed that this is not connected with the MCU, but it is constantly lifting imagery and visuals from the MCU. They likely couldn’t choose a threat like Thanos because everyone has already seen him in the films. This highlights a major issue with the gameplay; since the heroes are already established, yet have to scrounge for loot and work their way up from level one.
It makes absolutely no sense why Thor or Hulk would need to find gear to get more powerful. Even more confusing is that basic enemies can potentially beat Hulk if he is under leveled and not wearing the best gear. This is exacerbated in the Avengers Initiative post-game content that is designed to be nigh endless.
The core gameplay is a 3D brawler with each character serving as a certain class, with all heroes having the same basic move-set. Ms. Marvel is all-around and uh… Flexible to fit most needs. Captain America is effective at tanking, provides support for other heroes, and his shield is devastating. Hulk does high damage and can take damage.
Thor and Iron Man are both flight classes; but with Iron Man focusing more on ranged attacks, and Thor emphasizing on melee. Black Widow is an advanced melee fighter, has guns, and can close in on enemies with a hook-shot. No matter who you choose to play as, everyone has a very similar set of moves with only the animations setting them apart.
Getting into battles with robots and AIM agents is admittedly satisfying with how much spectacle happens. The combat proper is very similar to most of the Arkham games. There is no rhythm, but paying attention to telegraphed attacks from on screen markers from off-screen enemies is crucial to dodging and countering strikes.
This is not a technical action game like Devil May Cry V, it is more about making you feel skilled than it demanding the player be skilled. It is very simplistic and obviously aimed for a casual player who just wants to grind with their friends. There is hardly any punishment, since health pools are generous and regaining it is easy since life-drops are plentiful.
“Quick”-time events have been completely redefined in Marvel’s Avengers. Instead of the player requiring any reflexes at all, you can take your time to press that button prompt and not face any consequence at all. You don’t even need a pulse to land these. Why are there pointless QTEs in this?
In some instances, not bothering to do a QTE sampling freezes the action and all audio cuts out. This makes the sequence look like a game crash. Is this supposed to make the player feel more engaged? All this does is distract me during cutscenes and makes me question the designer’s intent.
Marvel’s Avengers is ambitious and very expensive looking, but it is also rough around the edges with its presentation. The frame rate is rarely stable at 60hz, and is under constant fluctuation on a PlayStation 4 Pro. There are also frequent glitches during cutscenes where character’s faces won’t animate or the sound with be missing.
The PlayStation 4 Pro will be brought to its knees during many of the battles in the large environments. The console’s fan becomes so loud that it can drown out the game’s audio, which will be typically the sound of an explosive war. It is impressive how far the developers managed to bottleneck Sony’s most powerful current console.
The campaign is a mixture of Uncharted style linear action levels, and slices of what the online is like. There is about 10-12 hours worth of content in the campaign alone, and this is easily the most substantial piece to the package. Most of the effort was put into this and it shows with the big budget production values.
The rotational daily missions and online multi-player is intended to be post-game content that continues the story after the campaign. This is the endless grind that is designed to keep suckers playing for that cheap dopamine high that they crave.
Square Enix intends to keep this post-game going as a live service experience. The issue is that it is devoid of variety and any meaning. It is playing for the sake of playing. All the areas get recycled, and the goals have a limited permutation; severely limiting the gameplay. There are no major story beats; just an endless battle with a science lady that MODOK was a simp for, who never gets her comeuppance.
Most of the voice cast are excellent in their roles. Even the lady who voiced Kamala Khan does the best with the material given to her. The bland and boring Troy Baker is fine as depressed Bruce Banner. Laura Bailey is a fitting choice for Black Widow’s deep and breathy sexy lady voice.
There is some enjoyment to get out of Marvel’s Avengers. The single player campaign has some enjoyable sequences. Unfortunately, the constant barrage of cues to grind or buy in-game currency is extremely alienating and off-putting. At its highest highs, Avengers is generic.
Fans of Destiny will likely enjoy this for the similar online experience. This is not connected to the MCU despite how close it tries to imitate it; therefore fans won’t have attachment to this iteration of the Avengers. If the developers imitated one quality perfectly from the MCU, it would be its empty homogeneity.
Marvel’s Avengers was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.