Thanks to the MCU, the Avengers have gone from being a really cool comic book team to one of the most beloved properties in the pop culture pantheon. With the rise in prominence of these characters, so have fan expectations risen when it comes to new adaptations. Developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix, Marvel’s Avengers looks to take everything that fans love about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and assemble it into something special.
Never meet your heroes
The story in Marvel’s Avengers is entirely new and unique, not deriving from any past films or graphic novels. Centering around Kamala Khan, Avengers superfan, we get an outside look at the beloved superhero team. Visiting the Avengers Helicarrier for A-Day, an event celebrating the opening of the Avengers’ west coast HQ, Kamala gets to meet the heroes that she idolizes dearly. In true comic book fashion, things quickly go awry. An attack on the city sees several structures destroyed, as well as a large loss of civilian life, including that of a certain hero.
During the attack, the Terrigen Crystal is destroyed, spreading an Inhuman infection across the population. Five years later, and the Avengers are now defunct. After being blamed for the tragic events of A-Day, the groups’ activities are outlawed. Many civilians across America have been infected with the Inhuman disease, granting them undesired powers. And the mysterious AIM organization has stepped forward, promising to develop a cure for the Terrigen mist disease.
Getting the band back together
Five years older, we jump back into the life of Kamala Khan. A bit more mature and with some newly acquired powers (thanks to the events of A-Day), Kamala is obsessed with clearing the Avengers name. She goes on a journey to reassemble Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and uncovers some dark secrets along the way.
The campaign in Marvel’s Avengers is a terrific adaptation of a beloved property. It’s packed with emotion, drama, and twists, without ever feeling like a ripoff of the MCU or one of many classic comic book runs. One of my greatest concerns going in was that Crystal Dynamics would nervously follow in the footsteps of something we’ve already seen, but they instead tell their own new and unique story.
Kamala Khan is what really anchors the narrative in Marvel’s Avengers. Choosing Kamala as a protagonist, rather than Iron Man or Captain America, allows players to experience an Avengers story from a fresh perspective. In the game, Kamala is so filled with hope and determination in a world that’s completely given up on itself, which rings so true to the character. The role is taken to the next level thanks to an excellent performance from Sandra Saad.
Kamala’s journey finding and recruiting members of the Avengers is a fun ride. The character interactions feel so accurately portrayed. Many of the Avengers are cold and standoffish to one another, but are considerably kinder and more understanding of Kamala. Working to clear the Avengers’ name while also discovering the truth behind the events of A-Day makes for a worthy addition to a long list of Avengers stories.
The combat in Marvel’s Avengers feels like a highly-polished brawler. I often found myself spamming attacks and plunging into crowds of enemies and just wrecking shop. This would be a pretty standard, serviceable combat system, but the heroes themselves is what takes it above and beyond.
Just like the story accurately adapts and represents the personalities of the Avengers, the combat is pinpoint accurate in depicting each of their independent fighting styles. Fighting 20 enemies as the Hulk is entirely different than battling the same group as Black Widow. Hulk can pick up enemies and repeatedly slam them into the ground, or use them as projectiles to stun and damage others. Black Widow, on the other hand, lights things up with dual-wielded pistols, able to quickly jump in and out of the action with her grappling hook.
A personal favorite of mine was Thor. Swinging Mjölnir around and nailing enemies feels weighted, and incredibly satisfying. Thor also has the ability to throw and recall Mjölnir as he pleases. The combat in Marvel’s Avengers is able to work because each hero feels uniquely defined, with their own independent skills and abilities.
Once the campaign is complete, players are urged to take their skills online and battle alongside others. Titled “Avengers Initiative,” this is where Marvel’s Avengers is meant to live on as a live service. Players can engage in a variety of missions that range in difficulty, rewarding the player with gear that they can equip and upgrade their heroes with. While the mode is alright in its current state, there is some work to do in order to make Avengers Initiative a must-play experience.
Upon completing missions in both the campaign and multiplayer modes, players will receive gear that they can equip to their heroes. Gear provides statistical bonuses to attack and defense as well as other specific traits, such as increased damage for signature attacks. Gear comes in six qualities: common, uncommon, rare, epic, legendary, and exotic. A character’s gear loadout will increase their power level, allowing them to properly take on tougher missions.
The process of completing missions, earning gear, and leveling up is a satisfying gameplay loop, but it lacks that wow-factor of the campaign and combat. The UI feels extremely convoluted, with a seemingly countless number of menus and submenus to dig through. You’ll often realize that you’ve got gear that you didn’t know about, because it's over in an entirely different inventory menu because your current slots are filled. Or, that you haven’t upgraded your ultimate ability because you’ve got to flip through pages to find that skill tree. There’s a solid, much easier to understand experience in there, but it feels like Crystal Dynamics isn’t quite there yet.
I also experienced issues trying to queue into matches and play with friends, as we would freeze standing around the War Table, or the game would tell players that a character is locked, that isn’t. Luckily for Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, most of my issues with Avengers Initiative are entirely fixable.
Once you’re actually in a mission, working alongside friends, you see the charm of Marvel’s Avengers’ multiplayer. Charging into a massive wave of enemies and dealing some damage as a unit just feels epic. It’s the exact level of over-the-top action that you want from an Avengers game. I did experience some framerate drops when playing on PS4, but luckily nothing that made the game feel unplayable. What really impressed me when playing online was the way that you can organically combine the unique abilities of a character with other heroes to work together.
For example, when playing as Thor, I threw Mjölnir at an enemy flying around in a jetpack. He was immediately slammed to the ground, unable to move from beneath the godly hammer. My friend, who was playing as Captain America ran over and began to attack the defenseless enemy with his shield, making for an easy kill. When playing as Iron Man, you can call down the iconic Hulkbuster suit. However, Iron Man doesn’t necessarily have to be the one to enter the suit. In one instance, Iron Man called down the suit, and the Hulk jumped into the Hulkbuster, letting him take advantage of all the suit’s bonuses. It’s moments like these that will sell you the multiplayer in Marvel’s Avengers, as it did with me.
Marvel’s Avengers impresses with a well-written, dramatic campaign. From a gameplay standpoint, the combat is as fun and satisfying as one could hope for in a title based on the superhero team. Though the online live service aspect is bogged down by overly complicated menus, systems, and matchmaking woes, there’s still a fun experience underneath. Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix deliver a perfectly adequate adaptation of an iconic property with Marvel’s Avengers.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Marvel's Avengers is available now for $59.99 USD on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
- A dramatic, well-written campaign
- Each character feels and plays uniquely from the others
- Combat is frenetic and satisfying
- Playing with friends and combining abilities keeps gameplay fresh
- Gear and ability menus feels convoluted and uninspired
- Matchmaking issues
- Minor framerate drops
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Marvel's Avengers review: Excelsior!
I’m hoping now that reviews are coming in rather positive, that people will give the game a fair chance
I have to be honest, I went into this game for review expecting it to be meh, but really enjoyed it!