Marvel’s Avengers: A Superhero Game With No Identity

How often does a good superhero game come around? We had Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018. The Batman Arkham games over the past decade. I suppose you could even count the Injustice games. Deadpool was a fun one. If you really want to dig deep, you can also include games like Infamous and Prototype. Games that feature characters with incredible powers are tricky to get right. You either risk making the character too overpowered and make the game too easy, or nerf them too much and the game might not feel very ‘super’ at all. Marvel’s Avengers is a curious mix of an MMORPG and a melee-style character-action game that attempts to be challenging. It’s all wrapped up in a superhero package. The concept is intriguing, but balancing out all of these elements is no small feat. Handling an intellectual property, especially one based around superheroes, isn’t without its risks though.

Campaign

Marvel’s Avengers’ campaign focuses on Kamala Khan and the reassembling of the titular band of superheroes after the events of A-Day. The plot of the game isn’t anything special. In the five years after the Avengers disbanded, a new enemy in the name of AIM rises. The Avengers get back together to stop this new threat. A simple story that’s more about the interactions of the characters in question than the complexity of the plot.

I’m happy to say that I believe the game does at least treat these iconic characters with respect. Heroic clichés aside, the most enjoyable parts about the campaign is watching the characters interact with each other. The writing captures each Avenger’s personality quite well. From Bruce Banner’s soft-spoken nature to Kamala’s plucky teenage attitude and belief in the heroes she idolizes. I think the writers had a good understanding of who these characters are and it shows.

It can be very entertaining to just walk around the environment, interacting with other characters on the Chimera as well as different items that your character will give their opinion on. The sense of atmosphere can be very immersive as well. NPC chatter will reinforce the fact that the Chimera is a place of work for many people in this universe. It’s not strictly just a playhouse for the Avengers. I really do appreciate the detail put into the hub space. It makes them feel like living, breathing environments.

Marvel's Avengers
Photo Credit: James Robinson

Marvel’s Avengers portrays and represents its characters and hub spaces well. It’s just a shame the pacing of the campaign itself can feel so fast at times. The protagonists just seem to solve every problem they encountered in no time. The progression of the entire campaign just felt a little rushed. Some things just didn’t get as much development as they could have.

In fact, the whole campaign itself felt more like a tutorial for the multiplayer instead of its own separate experience. Tool-tips, cinematic QTEs, and action prompts routinely appear during the main campaign missions. It makes the entire experience feel very hand-hold-ish. Every time the player takes control of a new character, the game will run them through how the character’s superpowers work. The game will even sometimes wall-off heroic abilities until it specifically tells you to use them. Then, before you know it, that character’s section of gameplay is over. This is especially apparent for characters that didn’t get as much gameplay attention in the campaign such as Hulk and Thor.

All of this is combined with some missions being structured like the multiplayer missions. They’re even complete with the option to play them with other players. It makes the campaign feel like an afterthought to the multiplayer. It doesn’t feel like a true singleplayer experience. It’s essentially just a loose set-up to contextualize the multiplayer.

Gameplay/Combat

That’s just the campaign structure though. As for the gameplay, Marvel’s Avengers is largely a 3rd-person character action game with RPG-stat-style elements. The player controls one of six currently available Avengers. Each Avenger has its own unique set of abilities and styles of play. The combat system is your standard two-button system. One button for light attacks and another for heavy attacks. Each character has a ranged option as well as a dodge and a parry mechanic.

To round things off, each character has three special abilities; an offensive heroic, a supportive heroic, and an ultimate, all of which charge up over time. They’re also equipped with an intrinsic ability meter to manage which works differently for every hero. A good number of enemies can be put into juggle states and all of them have a stun meter. Juggling enemies leaves them completely defenseless. Filling their stun meter allows you to do an invincible takedown maneuver on them.

Photo Credit: James Robinson

Combat is a combination of these elements depending on what character you’re playing as. As a result, combat can feel like a mixed bag. At times, it can be fun, if a little repetitive, mash-fest. At other times, it can become a frustrating sweat-fest. The difficulty is mostly determined by the game’s RPG-like elements and the types of enemies thrown at you. Some enemies require the execution of certain maneuvers to break their defenses. Others you can mash on freely. While others require explicit attention from the player to avoid their moves and counterattack.

Managing all of this can be a bit difficult, especially if you’re a solo player. If you’re attentive and understand how each enemy functions, encounters that mostly feature melee-oriented opposition will be easily manageable. I wouldn’t say the game’s combat is without depth completely, at least for some characters. You can break most enemy defenses in similar fashions, but engaging enemies efficiently still takes some thought. Your mileage on any particular character may vary though, especially if you’re a player that doesn’t value how enemies react to different attacks. Regardless, all of this isn’t really the issue. It’s when the game throws in a ton of enemies with ranged options that things can get a little sweaty.

The game has a huge problem with layering as well as an overuse of super armor. In a multiplayer setting, this isn’t as much of a problem. If you’re a solo player though, it can be a frustrating experience.

The campaign features a couple of missions where only one character is playable. This is where I think the combat is at its best in Marvel’s Avengers. When the game sends a controlled number of enemies at the player in a more linear and scripted section of the campaign, the combat is a fun little test of priority and threat management. Understanding how each enemy behaves is also a lot more rewarding. Black Widow’s section of the campaign is a great highlight of this. The problem is that these sections are few and far between. Most combat encounters take place in huge arenas or cramped corridors filled with an absurd number of enemies. Either that or you fight in open-world maps against enemies sprinkled around an environment that sometimes makes them cumbersome to fight when considering how the open-world maps are designed.

In these situations, it can be hard to focus on one specific enemy. It makes the lock-on feature pretty useless, especially when you’re, again, playing solo. As a solo player, doing any particular mission will have almost every enemy in the area exclusively focusing the player even though the game forces you to take AI-controlled heroes on every mission with you. This makes it way too easy for the player to be swarmed and overwhelmed by a large number of enemies in the area.

AI companions only draw so much aggro and usually only focus on one enemy. The player basically has to do most, if not all, of the work in taking out every enemy in the area. This is in addition to combat encounters that feature ranged enemies that constantly attack you off-screen with all kinds of tracking projectiles and homing missiles. Capped off with the absurd amount of hit-stagger some of these attacks do which can cause situations where the player is layered to death by attacks. It results in an unsatisfying and frustrating solo combat experience.

Photo Credit: James Robinson

Off-screen attacks have on-screen visual indicators, but they are very weak indicators. They basically amount to a symbol inside of a circle that fills up with a meter. When the meter fully fills the circle, that’s when the off-screen enemy is firing their weapon. The problem is that not every projectile is created equal and the indicator doesn’t convey this very well. It doesn’t tell you if it’s a laser or a regular projectile. Some projectiles travel faster than others. Some are just acid grenades that explode on-contact and cause no hit-stun. This means that the player may not need to directly react to it at all. All of these factors make a world of difference in player reaction times. Telling the player when the enemy is firing doesn’t tell them how close the projectile is from hitting them.

Not to mention that sometimes the indicator will show up, but then a projectile will never actually come close to the player afterward. There’s even an enemy in the game that has an up-sweeping laser attack. The game considers this attack to be a melee attack. So, when this enemy does this attack off-screen, the on-screen indicator will have a fist symbol. As far as I’m concerned, this is incredibly misleading. The attack covers way too much space for it to be strictly classified as a melee attack. Also, the way it comes out makes it much harder to react to than it needs to be whether or not the indicator is even there.

All of this compounded with the chaotic nature of most combat encounters—where you sometimes don’t have time to pay attention to a little symbol in a circle—can lead to a level of paranoia from the player when the on-screen indicator for off-screen attacks shows up. It just further contributes to the sweat-fest nature of combat. Plus, it just fills the screen with even more visual nonsense. There can be so much crap cluttering the screen sometimes in these chaotic fights that it can be hard to tell what’s happening.

In short, damage can often feel unavoidable in Marvel’s Avengers. This is a cardinal sin for a melee-focused action game as far as I’m concerned. It’s too punishing for any character that’s not basically built like a tank, can fly, or have consistent self-healing in most situations. It’s no wonder the game just tries to supplement all of this with health pack drops, automatic self-healing when not taking damage—the effectiveness of which is determined by your stats—and health regeneration when doing takedowns.

Again, these issues aren’t as apparent when taking on missions with other players. That’s still no excuse for the fact that the game isn’t properly balanced for players that want to play solo. Why even have the option to play any mission solo then? Perhaps leveling up and putting your AI companions in better gear will possibly make them more capable. Though, if the player has to do that for at least three other characters just to have a better solo experience with one particular character, then you’ve already screwed up.

Photo Credit: James Robinson

Missions themselves have very simple and repetitive structures. Players are either tossed into an open and rather lifeless sandbox that usually leads to more corridor-driven sections or are dropped into the corridor-driven section right from the beginning. Mission objectives are usually your standard ‘destroy this’, ‘eliminate that’, ‘defend this’ or ‘control that’. Environments are usually pretty bland and assets in any given region/location are repeated ad nauseam. Side objectives are usually sprinkled around the map. They range from defeating a specific enemy to unlocking a door to save a hostage or access a strongbox by activating one to four switches that you either step on, shoot or hit. It all feels lazily slapped together for the sake of having over eighty missions for players to complete.

Missions have four levels of difficulty: Challenge I, Challenge II, Challenge III, or Challenge IIII. This basically translates to easy, normal, hard, or extra hard. Certain parameters are tweaked on each level of difficulty, but the main one is the power level. This basically determines how much damage enemies can take and how much they dish out. I find this to be a pretty shallow method of difficulty scaling. Simply put; Marvel’s Avengers is built to overwhelm players. Enemies doing more damage and taking more punishment doesn’t change the fact that most attacks are easily avoidable when you see them coming or know how to bait out. It just makes getting hit by attacks from off-screen or by attacks that have an absurd amount of tracking and AOE even more annoying.

The whole point of the missions is to grind for gear, collectibles, and cosmetics as well as level up your character.

Gear System

Four main gear slots as well as three artifact slots; one major, two minor, comprise the gear system in Marvel’s Avengers. Gear affects your hero’s overall power level. Power level is defined by four statistical ratings: melee, ranged, defense, and heroic. Each piece of gear in the four main slots affects the base rating of the corresponding category. Artifacts essentially give boosts to categories depending on the artifact. In addition, six sub-categories affect specific stats in each rating directly like critical rate, heroic effectiveness, and willpower. Willpower is basically your HP.

Each piece of gear can come with up to three of these sub-category modifiers. They also have perks. Perks give specific combat modifiers such as damage buffs or status effects. Some automatically activate when meeting certain conditions. Others are chance-based. On top of that, you can upgrade the power of gear with resources. You earn resources by defeating enemies, destroying containers in the game world, opening strongboxes, dismantling gear, or by progressing through any hero’s battle pass as a reward.

If all of this sounds complicated, it’s because it can be at first. It’s easy enough to figure out once you’ve experimented with it, but it still seems a lot more complicated than it should be. Essentially, the sub-categories allow you to focus specific builds for your heroes such as the high critical rate or buffed up defenses. A fine concept, but the execution is a little lacking.

The major problem I have with the gear system is just how abundant gear drops can be. If you’re a player that doesn’t care about your stats, there’s an option to just let the game equip what it thinks are the best pieces of gear you’re currently carrying in your inventory. All that really does though is just equip the piece of gear with the highest power level. It doesn’t account for perks, sub-categories, or even the maximum power level you can upgrade the piece of gear to.

Marvel's Avengers
Photo Credit: James Robinson

You can buy gear from vendors with certain resources, but higher-level gear from faction vendors require certain ranks with the faction that corresponds with the vendor. If you’re an explorative player though, it won’t matter that much. You’ll be receiving gear drops constantly during any particular mission as a mission reward, from strongboxes, and from enemies. This makes it hard to commit to a certain piece of gear if you’re the type of player that likes to min/max. You’ll get a gear drop that you might really like during one mission. Then, five missions later, you might get a drop that makes the piece of gear you received five missions ago obsolete.

What’s worse is that if you do choose to stick to a piece of gear you really like, you’re essentially handicapping your overall power level. This may end up gatekeeping you from doing missions that have power levels much higher than your own. At that point, what’s the significance of even having a difficulty selection?

I’m honestly not even sure how Marvel’s Avengers scales individual mission power levels. When playing solo, some mission power levels were always getting scaled by the gear I had equipped and the gear I had in my inventory. So, if I had a piece of gear in my inventory that would raise my overall power level by a few points, or by a lot of points, missions on normal difficultly would scale to that power level. Thus, the game would keep telling me that my current power level is ‘X’ amount of points lower than the mission’s power level. This is frankly idiotic and misleading. You shouldn’t be forced to put on a piece of gear you don’t want to or stow it away in your inventory locker just to get a more accurate mission power level rating when selecting missions.

When playing with a group though, the mission power level would average out around the combined power levels of each individual player. And who knows if this even factors in gear that players are carrying in their inventory as well. This meant that sometimes one person would be playing against enemies with power levels 10 points higher than their own. Maybe even more. Naturally, this made it a little harder for that one person simply because they won’t be doing as much damage and they can’t take as much damage.

All of this really makes me question what the point of a power level even is. What is this? Dragon Ball Z? Is there really even a point to min/maxing? The game seems to just reward having the highest power level possible at all times anyway. Focusing on a specific build or gear perks seems like a useless endeavor if you want to keep up with the mission power scaling. All of it just feels very thoughtless.

Photo Credit: James Robinson

And yes, there is an inventory locker. Marvel’s Avengers gives limited inventory space to each gear slot. Though, I’m unsure how much this matters to players that don’t care about stats and just equip whatever piece of gear the game says is the best. For players that like to min/max, it can be a pain trying to decide which pieces of gear you want to be put away/save and what you want to dismantle for resources when you’re getting so many gear pieces all of the time.

You also only have access to the inventory locker when you’re on the Chimera or before/after completing a mission. This can make things even more of a chore when managing your inventory. If your inventory is full, the game will automatically send picked-up pieces of gear to your locker. You can easily forget about this at the end of a mission and potentially miss out on gear that you might have wanted if you don’t check your locker. Possibly, by that point, you will have already moved on to a better piece of gear anyway.

Leveling Up/Skill Tree System/Collectibles

Gaining experience and leveling up your character is a bit more rewarding. Every level increases your base stats a little as well as gives a skill point that you can use on the game’s skill tree. The skill tree has three categories: primary, specialty, and mastery. Primary essentially adds more options to basic combat actions. Specialty and mastery are mostly a selection of three options that you can choose between and change at any time. Once unlocked, they give your hero’s abilities unique modifiers like more damage or special properties.

Photo Credit: James Robinson

I honestly like the system. Unlocking these additional options really makes it feel like you’re getting more powerful with every level-up. The selectable modifiers give the player room to experiment with a playstyle of their choosing. You can always mix and match options at any time if you don’t like the combination that you’re playing with. I think this system has more positive impacts on the gameplay than the gear system. Overall, I don’t have any major problems with it at all.

There are also various collectibles to obtain. Codex entries that tell you about all of the enemy types and regions/locations. Just defeat an enemy for the first time or visit a location for the first time. It then unlocks the corresponding entry. Intelligence files that flesh out the lore/universe a bit more. And comics, which give you stat bonuses.

Cosmetics/Grind

Then there’s the cosmetics. Now, I have to say, the one thing that always bothers me about games with microtransactions is how invasive the reminders of them can be. In my 100+ hours of playing Marvel’s Avengers, I haven’t really encountered any egregiously obtrusive notifications about buying stuff in the in-game marketplace. In fact, I found the constant pop-ups notifying me that I have higher power gear in my inventory and Jarvis constantly telling me where to go all of the time during missions more annoying.

There are a couple of ways you can earn cosmetic items in Marvel’s Avengers. You can unlock skins by completing a character’s iconic mission chain as well as achieving level 50 with them. Some are exclusive to the cosmetics vendor aboard the Chimera which you can buy with units, the game’s basic currency. You can unlock skins via patterns you obtain as mission rewards and from factions by ranking up that faction. You rank up factions by completing simple assignments for them or by doing specific missions that are related to that faction. Patterns give you random character skins for any available character. So, you roll the dice with them, essentially.

You can also earn skins and other things by leveling up your character’s battle pass. You can do that by completing daily and weekly challenges with the designated character. Challenges are mostly combat-oriented. Completing some of them won’t take much effort. Others might though. It depends on the character. The current characters’ battle passes also give you credits which are the game’s premium currency. The stuff you’d normally pay real money for. You can use them to buy cosmetics from the marketplace. You can also use them to skip levels in the battle pass.

Marvel's Avengers
Photo Credit: James Robinson

It, more or less, comes down to the player in assessing how reasonable this kind of grind is. I main Black Widow. After a little more than a week with this game almost exclusively playing her, I’m at around level 12 of 40 in her battle pass. I also have a little more than 8,000 units. Currently, this allows me to buy one expensive item from the cosmetic vendor, or maybe a couple of emotes.

You can also forget about buying items from the marketplace with credits you earn from battle passes in a timely fashion. All of the more notable items are currently between 700-1400 credits. Credit payouts via the battle passes are pretty paltry. The max is 500 at the end of the battle pass and you get five payouts for the entire battle pass. The other four payouts range from 100-300. So, make of all that what you will.

Personally, all I really care about are the skins. Overall, they’re okay. Some put characters in completely different outfits. Some are just slightly different designs. Others are just alternate colors of the character’s basic outfit. I appreciate that the majority of them aren’t completely outlandish concepts. The outfits at least make sense to the characters. But as a result, I don’t think they’re worth paying any amount of money for, really.

They feel like outfits that should come as rewards for completing goals in a more focused singleplayer game. Not as dice-roll rewards or buying them from an in-game shop. And that goes double for any of the other types of cosmetic items. The only way I see anyone buying any of these cosmetics with real money is because of social pressure. Seeing someone with a skin that you want, not because they’re actually worth the money. Either that or you’re just really tired of your character wearing the same outfits all of the time.

Conclusion

Marvel’s Avengers is a live service title through and through. It feels very shallow and tries to do way too many different things that it isn’t particularly great at any of them. The campaign feels like an excuse to get you to play the multiplayer. The combat is very unbalanced. Both in singleplayer and multiplayer settings to various degrees. And it relies on very cheap-feeling design in order to overwhelm players. Missions and locales are very repetitive and start to get old rather fast. The gear system doesn’t really have a lot of depth to it. At least not any depth that really matters. And overall, the game is just very grindy and currently has little worthwhile content to really grind for.

I didn’t even mention the jankiness of the game either. Bugs, glitches, and just the overall unpolished feel of the game continued to take me out of the experience. It seems the obligatory day one patch did little to fix any of this stuff. You can experience just some of the unpolished moments I experienced with this game via this video. It’s only a small portion of what I put up with.

Photo Credit: James Robinson

Marvel’s Avengers is a superhero game that sacrifices way too much for the sake of being a multiplayer game. The combat is the way it is because it has to be a multiplayer game. The campaign is the way it is because it has to be a multiplayer game. It has a gear system because most popular multiplayer games have gear systems with RPG-stat elements. At least the actual pieces of gear themselves don’t at all change the look of these iconic characters. That isn’t saying much though. And of course, it’s complete with cosmetics to try to entice you to buy microtransactions.

If you’re at all into Marvel and its IPs, this game might give you a couple of hours of enjoyment. The game at least has the decency to respect who these characters are. That’s something to be appreciated, especially in a time where IPs are often being handled by people who don’t understand or don’t respect the IP they’re adapting. But if you’re someone who’s looking for a competent action game, RPG experience or multiplayer experience, don’t even bother with this game. Either way, no matter what type of experience you’re looking for, I do not think Marvel’s Avengers is worth your time or money.

Marvel’s Avengers is out now for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

What do you think of Marvel’s Avengers? Leave your comments below! And while you’re at it, check out my last review on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order!

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