REVIEW: ‘Marvel’s Avengers’ Has Assembled! (Xbox One)

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Marvel’s Avengers

Good isn’t something you are, it’s something you do. -Kamala Khan

Marvel’s Avengers is a third-person action RPG developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. Aboard the newly constructed hellicarrier Chimera, the Avengers invite some of their biggest fans to celebrate a bright future. But when the celebration is attacked, things go horribly wrong. As the world struggles with the aftermath, there is one person who still believes in the Avengers and knows they can still make a difference. Even if she has to assemble them herself.

It’s been a long, and often tumultuous road for Marvel’s Avengers. Since the first teaser trailer years ago hinting that something had broken the Avengers up, to an E3 2019 presentation that left the gaming community with mixed reactions, it’s been an interesting journey, to say the least.

But when fans finally got their hands on the Beta build last month, for many it was a sign of hope. But while it presented signs of life, there were still a lot of questions left unanswered. How would the story play out? Would progressing characters feel meaningful and interesting? Will the endgame play loop be enough to keep players coming back to Marvel’s Avengers? Now that I’ve seen what the game has to offer I can happily say in some areas it exceeds beyond my most optimistic hopes. Though it still isn’t perfect. Let’s start by talking about the campaign.

When disastrous events befall the Avengers Day celebration we find the team scattered, Captain America dead, and due to an unforeseen failure with the Chimera’s new terrigen drive core scores of humans have found themselves with newly developed superpowers. The high tech conglomerate Advanced Idea Mechanics(AIM) claims they can find a cure for what they call the “Inhuman Disease” that has given these individuals these superpowers. One such individual is young Avengers super fan Kamala Khan. Even though much of the rest of the world blames the Avengers for the events of Avengers Day, she refuses to. To her, they are still heroes. To her, they are still hope.

While the game is titled Marvel’s Avengers, the story is most centrally focused on Kamala. Voiced by Sandra Saad Kamala provides the perfect viewpoint for any Avengers fan. From the opening sequence where we watch her, giddy with excitement as she meets her heroes, to her struggle to bring them back together, her humor, hope, and indomitable will is nothing less than infectious. Faced with such an unyielding force, the Avengers couldn’t help but come back together. I don’t think anyone could look Kamala in the eyes and not move heaven and Earth for her.

While the writing and visual presentation of Kamala go a long way to helping her be the push the Avengers need to take on AIM, the character wouldn’t be able to deliver half her impact if not for Saad’s amazing voice work. Every giddy laugh, determined speech, and hopeful comment is delivered perfectly. If there is any justice in the media world we will be seeing a lot more of Kamala in future Avengers productions. And hopefully, Saad will become as synonymous with Kamala as Kevin Conroy is to Batman.

Marvel’s Avengers
During his special Iconic Mission Hulk squares off with one of his oldest foes.

While Kamala stands alone as the high point of Marvel’s Avengers cast, she is far from the only exceptional performance. With a star-studded cast full of video game voice talent veterans, virtually every character is given their proper service. From Banner’s guilt and self-doubt to Stark’s eternal hubris, every character feels instantly familiar. Having such a strong cast goes a long way toward creating an excellent story. With the moniker of “game as service” tacked onto Marvel’s Avengers early on, there were concerns about what the single-player campaign would entail. With a run time of 10-15 hours, the story delivers lots of great set piece moments, character-driven heart, and a great launch point for all the future content updates Crystal Dynamics has already begun to reveal. Even though these Avengers are neither the MCU versions nor the primary comic book continuity, I think fans of all stripes will find a lot to love in this adventure with them.

While acting and story are great, this is a game. And games are for playing. In order for a game to keep players coming back for untold hours, a game must present a gameplay experience that is addictive and fun. Happily, Marvel’s Avengers delivers just that. At the heart of each character are a few shared basics. All characters possess light, heavy and ranged attacks. These are a trio of special abilities that fall under the categories of support, assault, and ultimate powers. Even though each character in their basic form can feel fairly similar to each other, once the player begins to unlock skills and fully understand the nuances of the powers the differences become quite clear.

With every skill upgrade, each character can be molded to better play the way the player wants them to. Do you want to focus your Black Widow on range support? Unlocking her two additional gun options and all their upgrades make her a range force with an answer for any situation. Finding your team in need of healing? Upgrade Kamala’s support ability to keep the team on its feet. There are a ton of customization options among the numerous skill trees each character has access to. And it’s a good thing unlocking and learning to utilize these skills gives Marvel’s Avengers an addictive gameplay loop. Since it’s loot system, while important to gameplay, doesn’t deliver the rush of discovery other games as service do.

In most games like Marvel’s Avengers, what the developer hopes will keep players coming back is the hunt for the elusive piece of loot they want. A piece of gear that will power up their character, and imbue them with new advantages. And while the gear in this game is key to powering up your character, it doesn’t offer the kinds of abilities that make a player really get excited about.

Along with stat increases, the gear present in Marvel’s Avengers effects to gameplay mechanics and what generally go on behind the scenes. While an effect like giving the player a 25% chance of getting a healing boost after making a power attack is useful, it’s also the kind of effect you don’t notice even when it happens. In my time with Marvel’s Avengers, I haven’t come across any of the kinds of gear that stick with a player. No crazy explosion effects, or the addition of elements that turn Iron Man’s chest beam into a freeze ray. Because of this lack of pop, they are only really pursued to get your character’s stats up high enough so you can take on tougher enemies. This would be a problem if it weren’t for the aforementioned skills providing the gameplay drive I need to keep coming back.

The last core piece of Marvel’s Avengers is its graphical presentation. This is by far its the weakest area for me. While not bad from a technical standpoint, most of the game isn’t particularly memorable. With the exception of the Avengers themselves and a few key villains, everything else feels extremely generic. While part of this is undoubtedly due to the huge amount of content within the game, it still leaves a lot of the enemies and areas feeling a bit repetitive to see. Even if the styles of the enemy are enough to keep the gameplay varied, the look fails to keep up with that variety. The only other gameplay-related thing I need to talk about is bugs. While I encountered a few, none ever impacted gameplay and were always of a visual variety. The most frequent one was an inability to load previews of character skins I was considering applying to my Avengers. More often than not I had to apply them and leave the screen to see if I liked it. If not I had to go back in and swap. The only other recurring glitches I ran into were parts of characters failing to load during cut scenes. This led to moments like Kamala being bald, and Cap missing his face for a couple of shots.

Beyond the single-player campaign, there are a number of missions that open up for players to challenge once they have reassembled their team. These range in difficulty and objective. Fully playable for one to four players, I can say I have had fun with the ones I’ve played solo. The team at Crystal Dynamics has done a great job making AI companions that are proactive and always willing to revive the player character when down. While nothing could recreate the fun of playing with friends, I would say Marvel’s Avengers offers tons of potential for those who prefer a solo experience.

When all is said and done Marvel’s Avengers is a fun, heartfelt action RPG that is filled with promise. A few technical hiccups and bland enemies aside, this game delivers the wonderful moments and great gameplay these characters have always deserved from a video game title.

Marvel’s Avengers is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.

Marvel’s Avengers
8.5/10

TL;DR

Marvel’s Avengers is a fun, heartfelt action RPG that is filled with promise. A few technical hiccups and bland enemies aside, this game delivers the wonderful moments and great gameplay these characters have always deserved from a video game title.