If anything, Marvel's Avengers has become the victim of its own marketing cycle. Pitched under the Games as a Service banner, loot to grind for, repeatable missions, bounties, daily and weekly tasks, and microtransactions are all very much a part of this superhero undertaking. However, it is also so much more than that. Crystal Dynamics has shied away from showing off its latest single player campaign prior to launch and that's a real shame. It is far and away the best thing about Marvel's Avengers.
Yes, pre-release marketing might not have made it clear, but what the California-based studio decided to do after Rise of the Tomb Raider does indeed feature a narrative-driven campaign. You do not need to team up with other players online, you do not need to invest any extra cash beyond the initial $60 price point, and you do not need to grind for better gear to see the story through to its conclusion. This is a traditional experience that lets you ignore its online trappings completely until the credits roll.
And the star of the show is Kamala Khan. It might be a story about the Avengers, but Ms. Marvel is the protagonist. After the superhero task force is framed for a devastating attack on San Francisco, the Inhuman of Pakistani American origin takes it upon herself to reassemble the Avengers and take the fight to AIM — the corporation who benefited from the downfall of Marvel’s larger-than-life characters. Khan believes she has found a piece of evidence that proves the Avengers were not complicit in the destruction of SF and will stop at nothing to get it in the right hands.
What follows is a 15-hour, globe-trotting campaign packed full of the sort of action, set-pieces, and quips you would expect out of any typical Marvel movie. Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, and Captain America (of course he isn't dead) all have their moment in the limelight, but the narrative keeps on coming back to Kamala Khan. Despite one too many convenient coincidences, the instantly lovable character becomes the driving force behind nearly every story beat and the high-octane battles in-between. Much like her comic book debut, Ms. Marvel stakes her claim for the lead role and never looks back. She's an absolute triumph of a superhero.
Better yet, there's a star-studded cast of voice actors on board to support the newcomer. Troy Baker is at the point where any of the characters he plays sound exactly like him, but he does a good job of fulfilling the bumbling role of Bruce Banner. Nolan North, meanwhile, captures the witty, stuck-up persona of Tony Stark to a tee.
And although these personalities might be the reason you were on board with Marvel's Avengers from the very beginning, it's the combat that will have you coming back for more. Each of the six characters play differently from one another, and along with three different skill trees for each, you can customise them to fulfil a variety of different roles. Everyone covers the basic light, heavy, and ranged attacks to quickly turn this into a third-person brawler, but there's hardly any button mashing to be had. Combos can be struck up at a moment's notice, takedowns leave most enemies for dead, and both support and damage-minded abilities leave behind a wasteland of destruction.
There's a genuinely deep set of mechanics to explore here — both on a surface level in the pursuit of quick-fire action and the ability to personalise your chosen superhero's build. It was never going to beat the Leviathan Axe from God of War, but there's a distinct level of satisfaction to be gained from throwing Captain America's shield and watching it bounce between enemies, dealing damage as it goes. In full motion, it's outstanding to watch.
What might be even more impressive, though, is that Crystal Dynamics really has managed to make the six superheroes feel and play differently from one another. Iron Man can take to the skies and reign terror down from above with Repulsors, Black Widow is a silent assassin with the Veil of Shadows ability that turns her and anyone nearby invisible, and Hulk plays the classic role of the tank. Kamala Khan, Thor, and Captain America all feel like they fit somewhere in-between these three extremes, but there's enough nuance to ensure they don't all play the same.
Enemy variety isn't so up to par, however. The forces of AIM largely consist of robots that lack the brainpower to do much more than run at your mighty fists and meet their untimely demise. Some come equipped with shields while others pin their hopes of safety on jet packs, but their attacks remain much the same. It can make combat feel a little mindless sometimes, relying on the player to bring about some creativity. Even the boss fights are few and far between. Those that are there are particularly impressive, especially in the final few hours of the campaign. However, given the comic book universe Crystal Dynamics has at its fingertips, it is surprising to see so few of its villains realised in video game form.
Outside of brawling, Marvel's Avengers even channels its developer's previous efforts with set-pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise. You will find yourself making great leaps as Kamala Khan, wall running as Captain America, and kicking Iron Man's suit into overdrive to beat an in-game timer. These moments are a welcome break from combat, despite how enjoyable it may be.
And then the credits roll. This is the point where many players will lose interest in Marvel's Avengers, but even those looking for a replacement to Destiny 2 might not find what they're looking for. The endgame content is lacking beyond belief at launch, simply put. A couple of new mission chains do open up, some even with their own unique cutscenes, except they simply serve to reinforce the fact that you will essentially be repeating content from here on out.
Clones of previous boss fights serve as daily quests, War Zone missions use the exact same interiors and environments from mainline assignments, and objectives become staler than ever before. Even the more open-ended levels with optional tasks to complete are recycled over and over again. It gets to the point where quests send you to the exact same place multiple times, but try to disguise it as a different location entirely despite re-used assets and environments.
Now, this is nothing new for these types of experiences — Destiny did it and so too does The Division 2 right now to some extent. However, never has it been so blatantly obvious. Stripped of its narrative stakes and engaging dialogue, the gameplay of Marvel's Avengers relies on its combat so heavily that you start to see it crack under the pressure. As good as those fights are, the game is going to need something more if it hopes to retain a player base months after launch. It feels like the world has moved on from repeating the same levels over and over again for an insignificant statistical upgrade to your character.
We mention stats because the loot you are picking up has absolutely no affect on the look of your chosen superhero. It's a baffling decision because it strips the loot system of any creativity, instead limiting it to the minor boosts items come with. As such, equipping a new exotic piece is completely unexciting as it claims to affect what's under the hood rather than decals visible to the human eye.
It doesn't have anything even remotely close to Destiny's Gjallahorn moment, and the only ways you can unlock new skins revolve around luck, grinding, and microtransactions. The game's equivalent of a Battle Pass hands out outfits for free, but you're limited by how much progress you can make each day. Meanwhile, the in-game marketplace sells legendary skins for roughly $15 apiece. That's a pricey proposition indeed, but it's up to you decide if that is particularly egregious or not. What we can say is that cosmetic customisation is not one of the title's strong points.
And so we find ourselves in the same position that so many Games as a Service have been in before — the endgame of Marvel's Avengers is lacking at launch, but with the promise of long-term support, it could look completely different in a year's time. Multiple superheroes have already been confirmed to be free additions down the line with even more expected after that. We don't know what the Crystal Dynamics project will look like this time next year, but at the point where you are being asked to make a $60 investment, it doesn't live up to expectations.
One thing the developer will absolutely have to address, however, is the game's shocking framerate. It targets 30 frames-per-second but rarely achieves it in combat scenarios as the screen becomes littered with action, enemies, and debris. The PS4 Pro doesn't seem to be able to keep up with what Marvel's Avengers is putting out, forcing the frame rate to plummet into the teens on a worryingly regular basis. If anything, the upcoming PlayStation 5 version should do wonders for the title.
That doesn't excuse the copious amount of bugs and glitches present at launch, though. From hard crashes that force you into restarting the game through to comedic flaws which see Thor glitch all over the place as he attempts to fly, it has the lot. Enemies become suspended in mid-air, weekly challenges don't actually reset, a game-breaking bug ruins any enjoyment in HARM Rooms, and jarring transitions between gameplay and cutscenes can ruin any immersion. It's definitely not the best state to release in, that's for sure.
Marvel's Avengers' least advertised aspect turns out to be its greatest asset, and it's exactly what hardcore fans were craving the most. The story and everything that comes with it is a real highlight, allowing the exceptional Kamala Khan to take the lead and bring with her enjoyable combat systems and fun parkour. The shocking framerate, along with bugs and glitches, should be fixed in the near future, but it's what the game has you do after the credits roll that quickly becomes its biggest downfall. Marvel's Avengers has a single player campaign that thoroughly excites, surprises, and delights. What follows brings it crashing back down to Earth.