Review: Marvel’s Avengers (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Google Stadia
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Marvel’s Avengers
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (57.89 GB)
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes; however, the reviewer purchased a copy of the game for their personal use and used that copy for review.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
I, like many, am a pretty big fan of Marvel; or at least the movie/TV side of it. I loved the first Iron Man movie and starting with the first Avengers, I’ve seen every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie at a midnight (or earlier) premiere. I adore Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, and most of the Netflix stuff. I haven’t really gotten too much into the comics, though I have bought a few and I’ve watched enough theory/explanation videos about the movies/TV shows that I’m familiar with some of the adjacent storylines.

So naturally, I was beyond excited when Marvel’s Avengers was announced. Crystal Dynamics does solid work, and while the game was clearly leaning on being recognizable to movie fans, I love the movies. When they started to talk more about live services, post game roadmaps, and all the modern gaming buzzwords though, my excitement was dampened. But, I still enjoyed the demo/beta, and decided to buy the full game.

So now that I’ve spent good amount of time with the game? It definitely didn’t hit quite as high as I would have hoped, as someone who kind of prefers a solid campaign and a contained story. While Avengers does have a good campaign, there definitely seems to be a number of concessions made to the almighty live service. There’s a fine game in here, but the tacked on aspects meant to chase current industry trends only hold it back.

The story sees the Avengers already assembled and celebrating A-Day, a big event for Avengers fans, as well as an avenue to introduce a reactor powered by a new type of energy source based on Terrigen crystals. After an attack on the nearby Golden Gate Bridge draws most of the Avengers away, the Avengers’ Helicarrier is also attacked and ultimately destroyed with Captain America still on board.

In the ensuing five years, the aftermath of A-Day caused mass distrust of the remaining Avengers, to the point where they disbanded. A company called AIM rose from the ashes to not only take over Stark Industries, but also to assist in curing Inhumans, a name given to those who became powered individuals after breathing Terrigen gas. One Inhuman (who has kept her identity hidden), Kamala Khan, manages to find evidence that Captain America may have been purposely locked in with the exploding reactor by the head of AIM, and she begins to seek out a way to give this information to the remaining Avengers.

Overall, I did enjoy the story. There are some great individual story beats, and the idea of reassembling a fractured Avengers team does feel like it fits better in this post-MCU world than doing a retelling or origin. And the game feels like it assumes that most players are at least familiar with the characters, as it never really delves into any specific back story, glossing over any real explanation of Cap being frozen, or the powers of Hulk.

That is actually just fine, as most of that stuff doesn’t matter too much, and the few times they reference anything like that, it’s just for a throwaway joke or quip (the game feels very influenced by the quippy nature of the MCU). Plus, I imagine most people are pretty familiar with these characters, outside maybe Kamala/Ms. Marvel, who is a POV character, so her back story is more explained. The one thing that maybe could have been explained a little more was the Terrigen and Inhumans, as those haven’t been touched on in the movies (only in a pretty bad Inhumans show and a couple of seasons of Agents of Shield).

The characterization of the cast is pretty good though, specifically Bruce Banner. They do a great job at showing his tortured psyche, especially in relation to his role in the downfall of the Avengers. Outside of him, most of the characters don’t get much character growth (this is just an action focused plot), but I still liked how they had the characters bounce off one another for pre-mission banter or the aforementioned little quips.

The bigger problems with the story come in the form of fitting the game around it. The campaign is an okay length, maybe ten to twelve hours depending on how much you stop to smell the roses. However it ends with a pretty clear setup to a new villain, and then says “okay, now grind a bunch of multiplayer missions and maybe we’ll occasionally touch on some story.”

I guess we’ve been conditioned by now to expect MCU films to tease far off stories, but the game’s story feels relatively short for a AAA game and ends too quickly after finally building the Avengers back up, as evidenced by a few characters only getting a couple of playable missions in the story. I guess the point of the story is the Avengers reassembling, but for a game called Marvel’s Avengers, I think I would have liked to have seen more story involving the whole team.

After the story comes the pretty typical live-service grind. This is a smattering of somewhat repetitive missions that serve as a way to level characters and grind out loot, with an emphasis on logging in daily/weekly for certain tasks or rewards. Unlike Destiny, there’s at least a clear narrative reason why you’re constantly fighting the same boss over and over (they’re clones), but it doesn’t make it any less monotonous.

Multiplayer missions (for lack of a better name) start to become rote pretty quickly. There’s a smattering available when you finish the story, or earlier if you choose to jump straight into that mode, and more unlock over time as you complete mission chains. Some of these chains are pretty lengthy; as of this writing, I’ve been playing the game pretty regularly for two and a half weeks, and I still have a fair number of mission chains available.

But there’s not a ton of variety in the missions within those chains. Combined with a pretty low variety of enemies and even worse a general lack of bosses (there are really only two villains to speak of in the post-game multiplayer missions, both of which you face early on in the campaign, yet the other couple villains in the campaign don’t appear in multiplayer missions), it makes for an experience that can start to feel stale pretty quick. A few mission types, like Vaults and Hives, are held off until further into the post-game, and I was hopeful they would feel fresh, but even those don’t mix things up all that much.

To make matters even worse, the current pinnacle of endgame content is just a harder version of the Hive mode…that you can only play solo. The idea is cool: if you die, you have to switch to another character and the challenge is to try to make it through the level with just your Avengers. But it requires leveling all of your characters very high (a daunting and time-consuming task), and it seems at odds with the otherwise multiplayer friendly post-game.

Even the locales are pretty limited, with only a few different outside areas, and then a lot of corridor areas that end in an elevator so the devs can mimic more variety by simply changing the order of the areas. Yet, they still get familiar very quick. Some missions drop you into an open-ish area where there are side objectives like finding gear or freeing allies, but oddly there’s no way to just drop into an area and fool around like with patrols in Destiny.

So then the draw should probably be loot, right? After all, that’s why most players continue to log in to games like Destiny. But, I really don’t feel like Avengers does too well on that front. The loot in Avengers is just so unexciting. Sure, it was cool the first few times I got some yellow legendary items. But, the power (the main stat on equipment drops) cap in the game is currently 150 and the story ended with my characters all in the 10-20 range. So most of the good drops I got were very quickly outclassed by new drops.

To make matters worse, gear can only be upgraded ten times, adding one power each time and maybe unlocking a grayed out perk. So even if I get a cool legendary item that I like, I can only upgrade it so far before I need to ditch it for something new, or else stop raising my power level. Perhaps there is some other way to use or upgrade nice drops when I get closer to the cap. But, the loot doesn’t feel impactful when the current course of action seems to be equip highest number stuff at end of mission then dismantle the other dozen drops you got during that mission, rinse and repeat.

Power level does raise pretty quickly, to a point. I got to the soft cap of 130 without too much issue, but then things slow down. To progress past there requires a ton of upgrade materials, some of which are even time-gated through daily/weekly activities. Of course, with six characters to upgrade, there’s a lot to grind if you want to max everything. It just feels like they’ve done all this just as filler to try to entice players to stay until the next story update.

On the plus side, I will say that I like the way the game plays. The heroes move and attack with the finesse and weight one might expect of each of them. Everything is smooth and fluid with plenty to learn as you play. There’s a lot of fun in exploring each Avenger’s moveset and by the time you’ve reached level 50 with a character and unlocked all of their abilities, each one feels like a proper superhero. There’s some nice branching choice abilities that allow players to customize the hero to their liking, focusing on different aspects of the game. On my Ms. Marvel, for example, I’ve focused her into generating tons of health drops and being a solid support hero.

Obviously, the game does offer a challenge, even to fully kitted heroes, though I’ll admit it didn’t always feel warranted. Sometimes it was clear I got downed by my own fault: eating an attack I should have avoided or whatnot. But far too often I felt like I was getting hit by cheap shots from offscreen, or just generally getting mobbed by a gang of foes. Sometimes it felt like the developers couldn’t come up with a good challenge, and just tossed as many high-level enemies in an area as they could, which barely gives you time to focus on comboing one before you’re getting attacked by another. They’ve already scaled down the aggressiveness of some enemies in a post-release patch.

Speaking of patches, Avengers could still use a bit of TLC. We’ve unfortunately become accustomed to games releasing with bugs and issues that they plan to fix in post and Avengers clearly planned on fixing in post. I’ve run the gamut, from relatively innocuous bugs like dialogue being repeated, to worse ones like a boss glitching or enemies getting pushed out of a level, to even having the game completely freeze on me a few times. Sure, I’ve managed to sink dozens of hours into the game, but there’s still nothing worse than spending half an hour on a level, only to have to force-quit the game because it froze in the last area.

Visuals:
Avengers is, on the whole, a pretty good looking game. The campaign especially does a great job at providing spectacle, whether it’s a prolonged fight across a collapsing Golden Gate Bridge, or an escape from an exploding space station. The set pieces have the pizzazz one would come to expect from a superhero movie, but even most of the smaller scale battles and missions are awash with visually distinct allies and baddies, even if they are the same baddies you’ve fought in a dozen other missions.

One small criticism of the look is that the heroes themselves do sometimes feel like knock-off versions of the movie versions. Like the designers had to change just enough to not have to pay for RDJ’s likeness, but still wanted to capitalize off the movie popularity. I don’t think it’s always a bad thing, because the character movements and actions still sell them as superheroes, it just sometimes creates an uncanny valley when looking at not-Chris Hemsworth.

Outside that, the other criticism, tied in with previous points, is how same-y the environments can feel after a while. So many indoor sections are reused endlessly, and even outdoor areas are repurposed often (though at least large enough to not be noticeable until deep into the game). Repeating actual missions over and over certainly doesn’t help.

Performance is overall solid, at least it was for me on a PS4 Pro. I mostly played in the 4K mode, as there was something slightly off-putting about the performance mode. Maybe I had just gotten used to the 30 FPS feeling. Both modes had my PS4 sounding like a jet engine though, as this is definitely a demanding game.

Audio:
Like with the look, some of the voice performances sound like they’re actors trying to mimic the movie actors. The individual performances obviously vary in “mimic-ness” and quality, but the overall product is solid regardless. As with many live service games though, expect to start to get sick of some lines in oft-repeated missions.

Outside of the voices, Avengers is solid if unexciting. The music is decent and appropriately “superhero-y”, and the rest of the sound design fits well. Nothing stood out as obviously offensive, but likewise nothing stood out as exemplary either.

Online/Multiplayer:
Clearly, as a live service game, Avengers is banking on a good degree of multiplayer play. Interestingly, the game can actually be played offline, though you’ll only have access to the campaign mode and not the post game stuff (even though all of it can be played solo). The campaign is mostly single-player, though you’ll get a few opportunities to squad-up during it.

Multiplayer play allows up to four players to tackle missions together via either matchmaking or through player-invited groups. Unlike Destiny and other games, there isn’t an online “social space”, and instead the couple of social areas are strictly solo. Squad or no, the game will also fill out any empty slots with AI controlled heroes, so you’ll always have four for multiplayer missions.

As an experience, the multiplayer is…fine? Like it was relatively unexciting for the most part. There are a few hidden ways to interact with fellow players (like Thor being able to charge up Iron Man’s abilities with lightning) but they’re minimal. I actually played a lot more of the game by myself because then I wasn’t getting pulled off to do side objectives when I wanted to finish a mission quickly or vice versa. It also didn’t help that, at least as of this writing, matchmaking is a very slow affair, sometimes taking several minutes just to find me a single other person to play with.

Conclusion:
I was pretty skeptical of dropping Avengers as a live service game. On one hand, I can see how a live service could mimic the month-to-month stories of comic books, but on the other, getting high-quality movie-level missions is a daunting task. Live service games don’t drop tons of new stories each month, instead hoping that the grind and FOMO will hold players over until they can finish more content.

As it stands right now, around three weeks after release, it feels more like a detriment than anything else. Avengers starts with a decent campaign, but ends with a whimper of repetitive missions and dull loot grinding, meaning a player’s last memories of the game are likely to be quitting due to boredom rather than ending on a high.

I am interested in seeing where the game ends up in a few months or more. The current roadmap calls for some more heroes, with accompanying stories, to be added over the coming months and maybe Avengers can turn things around as they catch their footing and get the content up to a better quantity. I certainly enjoyed the gameplay enough that I’ll check in from time to time, assuming the game lasts a while.

But ultimately I find it hard to recommend Marvel’sAvengers much at the moment. It’s not a bad game, just one that ends in an uninteresting loot-athon. It might work best waiting to see how things shape up, or maybe just playing until a little past the end of the campaign, when things still feel new and fresh. I wouldn’t fault anyone for wanting to try the game now; the campaign is fun enough. It’s just disappointing the way things fall off, leaving it with just a “fine” game.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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