(Reviewed on Xbox One by Games of DAYNE)
The Avengers are no strangers to video game appearances. Over the years we’ve seen Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in various incarnations including standalone and team-up titles. As the sun sets on the current generation of consoles, Marvel’s Avengers is finally here and poised for next gen with a free upgrade.
Featuring a highly cinematic single player campaign alongside a vast offering of co-operative missions, 6 heroes are available to bring the fight to A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) forces. With several more heroes set to join the playable roster post-launch, as well as new regions and missions all free of charge, there is a lot riding on Crystal Dynamics’ original take on Marvel’s iconic property. If Marvel’s Avengers is to be the foundation of a healthy, long lasting games-as-service title, it has hit the ground running.
“Fall from grace”
Marvel’s Avengers is essentially broken down into two components. “Reassemble” serves as the single-player campaign, which also has a generous range of missions that can be completed co-operatively with AI or up to 3 other players. “Avengers Initiative” is the meat of the game in terms of longevity and depth of content. Every mission here can be played co-operatively and features a large variety of mission types not found in “Reassemble”. Players can choose which one they would like to play immediately from the main menu and can be switched between as they please in-game. By playing through the “Reassemble” campaign the roster of 6 characters gradually unlock alongside their narrative re-introduction after the fallout of the thrilling opening set piece. Alternatively, diving right into the “Avengers Initiative” allows players to get into the co-operative chaos, with all 6 characters available immediately. Naturally, a slew of spoiler-filled missions are present as it takes place post-campaign.
It would be unwise to start detailing Marvel’s Avengers without first diving into the story as it provides not only context but the foundation of the universe that Crystal Dynamics have set out to establish. Kamala Khan is introduced as a teenage Avengers super-fan invited to the VIP area of a celebration of all things Avengers, known as A-Day. After submitting a piece of fan-fiction to secure her spot, Kamala explores this expo and meets the heroes she idolises. This playable introduction beautifully portrays the innocence of Kamala and sets her on a journey of self-discovery and emotional growth, transforming her over the course of the approximately 10 hour campaign from a star struck regular girl into an empowered woman, drawing strength not just from her new-found abilities but her convictions and experiences.
The attack on the Golden Gate Bridge, as heavily advertised and showcased, sees a simultaneous assault on the Avengers Helicarrier that is loaded with terrigen, a mutagenic mist that mutates the cellular structure of those it comes in contact with. This acts as a tutorial for each of the 5 main Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Captain America. A brief sampling of each character and their unique play styles culminates in the destruction of the Helicarrier, releasing the terrigen to infect the masses in attendance of the celebrations. Tragically, the patriotic Captain America goes down with the ship.
In the wake of these events and the testimonial of Hulk’s human counterpart Bruce Banner, the Avengers are condemned and disband, blamed for the tragedy and transformation of innocent civilians into super-powered anomalies referred to as Inhumans. Doctor George Tarleton managed to escape the Helicarrier before its destruction and over the course of the 5 years that followed the tragedy, has brought A.I.M. to strategic prominence, hunting down the Inhumans to keep the world “safe”.
Affected by the terrigen, Kamala too has become Inhuman, developing the ability to transform her body, stretching and enlarging her limbs. Suspecting foul play of Captain America’s demise, Kamala hacks into A.I.M. servers and in doing so asserts herself as their most wanted. On the run, Kamala follows a series of leads in an attempt to reassemble the Avengers and uncover the truth.
Bruce Banner accompanies Kamala on her quest and offers emotional depth to the story that drives home the fact that this man feels responsible for the events from 5 years ago, an inescapable guilt that torments him without relent. An emotional reunion with Tony Stark/Iron Man reignites hope for the Avengers and the potentially sinister truth behind what transpired on the helicarrier with the loss of Captain America. While Kamala is on the run trying to discover the truth, A.I.M. mastermind George Tarleton is slowly mutating as a result of his exposure to the terrigen and the regenerative serum he is regularly administered from biochemist Monica Rappiccini. His decent into unrecognisable disfiguration culminates with his inevitable transformation into M.O.D.O.K. (Mechanised Organism Designed Only for Killing).
Before all is said and done, as well as their iconic hero alter egos Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are playable in all their broken and, in Tony’s case, egotistical human glory. The ability to play as their humanity grounded personas brings depth to the men behind the masks so to speak in moments that feel more personal. After an emotional roller coaster of events and epic reunions, the Avengers take a final stand against M.O.D.O.K. in a dramatic finale that is as grand in scope as the highly cinematic journey that preceded it. Kamala’s growth in particular defines the adventure, inspiring hope in the Avengers that they ironically had done for her throughout her childhood.
Packing in platforming elements, stealth sequences and epic action set pieces, a lot of influences are clearly on display from the likes of the Uncharted and Tomb Raider series’ that keep the experience fresh and dynamic. The conclusion of the “Reassemble” campaign story is far from the end of the journey and the missions continue beyond the closing credits. As has become standard for the extensive series of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, known as the MCU, players keen for tidbits into the future of Marvel’s Avengers long term narrative expansion will want to stick around for a tantalising pair of mid and post credit scenes.
While it is encouraged to play through the “Reassemble” campaign to familiarise with the different Avengers and experience the main story, “Avengers Initiative” can be accessed as soon as the game is loaded up. As with the campaign, missions are presented in an assortment of different types such as War Zones, Drop Zones, Sabotage and Hives to name a few, with even more to be added post-launch. These each have different requirements for completion and are varied enough to remain interesting and engaging. With Faction Assignments and Iconic Mission Chains focused on specific Avengers as pleasant companion pieces, the missions themselves are in abundance and the War Table screen they are accessed from refreshes regularly, bringing new ones to complete.
Rearing it’s head however is a sense of repetition in the environments these missions take place in. While there are a number of regions, quite often the same specific areas are revisited but with alternate objectives. Remaining fun to play, it’s a shame there isn’t more variety in the playable environments within the different regions. Littered throughout the fairly sprawling environments, which are significantly more open than the campaign, are an array of points of interest that appear on the map. Accessible by using the Tactical waypoint system and audio cues from Iron Man’s AI Jarvis, these points have chests to open, high profile and better loot dropping targets to eliminate, Depots to raid for high tier resources and more.
While “Reassemble” offers an epic and big screen worthy narrative, Marvel’s Avengers bones exist in its gameplay. Unlike most superhero titles that have paved the way, the gameplay on offer feels far more unique and layered, due almost in its entirety to the incredibly diverse play styles of each of the 6 heroes. Each hero moves, attacks, defends and traverses the environment differently than each of the others.
Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel uses her ability to elongate her limbs that allow her to swing from horizontal objects such as light posts andtree branches as well as platforms and ledges. Able to increase the size of her limbs as well, enlarged hands and feet make for short work of A.I.M. forces.
Hulk may feel a little slower than one might expect but his strength is unrivaled, causing mass and widespread devastation on the battlefield. With an incredible vertical leap that increases with succession, Hulk can cover a lot of ground very quickly to bring some serious raw physicality to the combat.
Tony Stark/Iron Man is more than just a suit of armour but it’s his suit that brings the fight with a primary focus on ranged attacks. Armed with his trademark repulsors, lasers and rockets also bring a healthy dose of varied firepower. Able to hover and fly, Iron Man brings verticality to the combat and can bring a top down advantage to his companions fighting on the ground.
Natasha Romanova/Black Widow brings incredible agility to her fast paced melee combat, getting up close to her foes before lethally and swiftly disposing of them. Equipped with a grappling hook to provide a vertical edge, Widow is a swift pocket rocket of an assassin that can cause a lot of damage while seamlessly evading those who mean to cause her harm.
Thor Odinson, the god of thunder and self-proclaimed mightiest Avenger is a weapon in melee and ranged combat. With his trusty mjolnir in hand, Thor is able to summon lethal doses of lightning at range or to infuse with his melee combat to devastate the opposition. Like Iron Man, Thor can hover and fly, making him an undeniable asset in the sky or on the ground.
Steve Rogers/Captain America brings his iconic shield and superhuman physical conditioning to the battlefield. Able to wall-run and somersault jump, Cap can cover a lot of ground very quickly before punishing his foes with his shield up-close or at range.
“I can do this all day”
Missions are selected from the War Table and are spread over a handful of different regions. Each mission has a title, a default difficulty which can be changed and highlights the objective and rewards. Some missions are also part of a Mission Chain, meaning there are several missions that are required to complete in a small but connected narrative.
Missions are comprised of single or multiple objectives that include the likes of securing an area by defeating all enemies, destroying objects or holding an area in king of the hill like fashion to name just a few. Before a mission is even started, players are able to choose their Strike Team that is comprised of 4 Heroes. Aside from their chosen playable character, the other 3 Heroes can either be selected and controlled by AI or other players via online matchmaking. Matchmaking can be toggled to allow players to play alone with AI if they do not wish to play with others. The AI throughout either “Reassemble” or “Avengers Initiative” are actually smart and actively engage and assist in combat and the completion of objectives. They are more than competent in assisting a player that chooses not to play via online matchmaking.
Faction Missions become available via story progression with S.H.I.E.L.D and Inhumans, each offering Assignments which are essentially challenges to complete and earn Faction XP. This in turn increases Faction Rank and opens up the range of items that can be bought from Faction Vendors. There are 8 Assignments that can be simultaneously acquired from each Faction and completed throughout regular play and refresh daily. Each faction also offers a Villain Sector mission which refreshes every few days that offers high tier rewards for completion after a punishing boss battle.
The gameplay is excellent, feeling completely unique when switching between the different heroes. The diverse mechanics of each character screams replayability with the addition of new skills through the skill trees and playing as the different characters, injecting a positive amount of life into a title that has plans for extensive longevity. With melee and ranged attacks for each Avenger, as well as their unique trio of customisable and upgradeable Heroic abilities, each character brings a lot to the combat. When looking at defense, the way each character handles evasion, blocking and parries is unique too, with each feeling distinctly different.
“Where’s the H.A.R.M?”
A series of wave based combat challenges exist within the H.A.R.M. (Holographic Augmented Reality Machine) Room. Each hero has their own mission to complete here and there are 5 that can be completed with any hero. Priority H.A.R.M. Room challenges are available that will truly the test the strength of a Strike Team. As with all of the co-operative based missions, these can be completed alone with AI companions or actual players. The Priority missions in particular can be pretty unforgiving and unrelenting. Going in alone is manageable but it will take a powerful Strike Team to get the job done in this fashion.
“Not all heroes wear capes”
Each hero has extensive customisation options that range from cosmetic appearances, epic takedowns, unique nameplates, impressive skill trees and gear. All of these can be changed at any time in or out of a mission in the menu.
There are an impressive number of skins available at launch that can be unlocked by story progression, as rewards for their individual Hero Challenge Cards, purchasing from vendors as well as completely optional micro-transaction purchases, all of which will be covered in this review. These are purely cosmetic and do not alter any stats. Drawing inspiration from an overwhelming history of comic based material, Crystal Dynamics have proven their intent to allow us as players to have “our” Avengers “our” way. Any skin equipped to any Avenger, as well as skills and gear, will be present on these characters when they accompany the player as AI members of their Strike Team in the co-operative missions.
“Gear of war”
Loot is a heavy part of the core gameplay loop in Marvel’s Avengers, regardless of playing the “Reassemble” campaign or “Avengers Initiative” co-operative component. Frequently and generously rewarded from random enemy drops, hidden strongboxes or for completing missions, loot is present in common, uncommon, rare, epic, exotic and legendary tiers in the form of gear and artifacts. High tier items drop with regularity and assembling a full legendary loadout is achievable with ease.
Gear relates to one of four slots for each hero. The higher tiers of loot come with passive stats boosts and perks, further enhancing the strength of a hero. These range from increased chances of causing critical or elemental damage, enhancing the strength or duration of abilities, ability recharge rate and so much more. The variations of buffs is incredibly diverse and initially overwhelming.
In a move that is sure to be divisive, the equip-able gear provides its stats and buffs without altering the cosmetic appearance. Whatever skin the player has selected will not change based on the headgear or braces they may have equipped. Personally, I love this as far too often in other titles players are forced into having their characters look like a disconnected jigsaw puzzle of armour or clothing purely because of the stats each component increases. I would not be interested in my Thor having the head of an android with a fire covered glove and ice-laden boots purely to have an increase to attack and defence for instance. Player feedback on this subject is already loud and it remains to be seen what will happen here.
Artifacts provide additional buffs and perks that are also tiered, with higher tiers offering multiple effects or perks simultaneously. These come in Minor or Major variants, with two Minors able to be equipped and a single Major.
Cosmetic and gear vendors can be found in the two outposts in-game, one of them on the Helicarrier and another in a Resistance outpost led by a face familiar to Marvel fans. These are bought using the in-game Units currency and refresh regularly. Faction Vendors are an additional source of gear and cosmetics that are locked behind Faction levels for completing their unique Assignments.
“I am Mighty!”
There are 3 skill trees for each hero in the form of Primary, Specialty and Mastery. Primary offers a wealth of new techniques or enhancements to Light, Heavy and Ranged attacks as well as Intrinsic Ability branches, the latter of which is a recharge bar that affords each Hero unique attack and/or defensive capabilities. The Specialty skill tree offers sub-branches for each heroes Support, Assault and Ultimate Heroic abilities as well as Movement. Finally, Mastery contains branches for Melee, Ranged, Intrinsic Ability and Intrinsic Overcharge. Intrinsic Overcharge is achieved by filling the intrinsic meter through combat and activating it either passively or manually via unlocked skills or abilities.
These trees are locked behind Hero Levels, requiring the Hero to be of a specific level before new skills become available to unlock. Skills are unlocked by spending Skill points earned by gaining experience from missions and combat, awarded with every new level reached. Experience is gained at a very generous rate, allowing for a reasonably paced progression of the skill tree and its opening up of new ways to play as your favourite Avenger.
Each hero has such unique abilities and alternate attacks that these skill trees open up, truly empowering the player to focus their build towards Melee or Ranged or a healthy balance of both. By reaching the Hero Level cap of 50, all skills will be unlockable, resulting in a hero that is a powerful force to be reckoned with up close or at a distance.
“It’s over 9,000!”
There are 2 key leveling systems in Marvel’s Avengers that each play a different role:
Hero Level – This relates to each individual hero and only increases when experience is gained as a particular character. For instance, playing as Thor will only increase Thor’s Hero Level and having Thor as an AI member of the Strike Team will not earn him experience. The player must play as the Hero to earn experience. The Hero Level cap is currently 50.
Power Level – This rating applies to the gear equipped to a hero. Gear Power Levels can be increased by upgrading via the character gear hub in exchange for various resources found through progression, exploration and combat. The Power Level cap is currently 150.
Power Level acts as the difficulty measure. The higher it is, the more effective the character will be in combat. Missions are also balanced by difficulty levels which are changeable as mentioned. Taking on the higher difficulties with a low Power Level Avenger will be disastrous and borderline impossible. It is encouraged to alternate between Heroes during missions to ensure a balanced team. By gaining experience as each Avenger the player is able to effectively assemble a Strike Team comprised of any combination of characters that can be a force to be reckoned with.
Similar to the Battle Pass system adopted by other multiplayer titles, Marvel’s Avengers has a Hero Challenge Card for each hero. Comprised of 40 tiers and rewards such as crafting resources, in-game currency (Units) as well as micro-transaction currency (Credits), skins, takedown animations, nameplates and emotes. Players are able to complete daily and weekly Hero Challenges to progress through these Challenge Cards and unlock goodies for each hero with no time limit attached. Two daily challenges and two weekly challenges can be completed for each hero, awarding a total of 64 challenge points per week if all are completed. As each Hero Challenge Card maxes out at 200 points, it’s a rather reasonable rate of completion for those interested in getting the most out of their favourite Avengers.
Tiers are able to be skipped to unlock the rewards without putting in the time or work by using the Credits micro-transaction currency purchasable through the market place using real world currency. Credits can be bought in quantities of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000, with the higher tiers coming in at a discounted rate to provide more value. This currency can be used as mentioned for tier skips in the Hero Challenge Cards as well as in unique skins, emotes, takedown animations and nameplates that can only be found in the marketplace which is refreshed at regular intervals.
“Don’t judge a (comic) book by its cover”
The visuals are stunning with environments in particular feeling authentic and vast. Featuring canyons, snowy wastelands, high tech building interiors and sprawling cities to give you an idea, great attention to detail has been taken with their construction and the result is an often breathtaking wonder. Criticism has been drawn online to the character models, large in part due to the lack of resemblance to the high profile and beloved MCU while a vocal minority also simply do not like their designs. Online feedback aside, the models look great, feeling original and different enough to very clearly be a part of something new.
The sound design is impeccable with the score feeling truly epic when the stakes are high and hauntingly solemn to convey the emotion and drama of the narrative beats. The sound effects feel authentic and it is incredibly satisfying to hear Thor’s hammer and lightning or Iron Man’s repulsors firing. Boasting an incredibly talented and renowned voice artists, Marvel’s Avengers hosts names synonymous with epic video games and an assortment of Marvel animated projects. Troy Baker (Bruce Banner), Nolan North (Iron Man), Laura Bailey (Black Widow), Travis Willingham (Thor), Jeff Schine (Captain America) and Sandra Saad (Kamala) all deliver excellent performances but it is perhaps Baker’s Banner and Saad’s Kamala that steal the show with their brilliantly raw and emotional scenes.
“Earth’s Mightiest Hero Experience?”
Marvel’s Avengers is an incredibly ambitious project. With long term plans to rollout more heroes, regions, missions, cosmetics and more over the years, all completely free, a lot is riding on the success of this game. Bringing an excellent campaign and an ever expanding co-operative multiplayer service together is no small feat. Crystal Dynamics have have delivered a title that is fun, engaging and full of replayability due to its customisation offerings in terms of play style and character variety.
This incredible presentation of an iconic franchise is an absolute blast to play and it offers a foundation for an experience to become something far more grand than it has already established. Marvel die-hards and casual fans alike have a lot to sink their teeth into and Crystal Dynamics haven’t even scratched the surface with what’s to come. Marvel’s Avengers is a definitive Avengers video game experience. Catering to fans of highly cinematic and action packed single player storytelling as well as multiplayer games-as-service titles, there is something here for everyone.
+ Excellent gameplay variety within each Hero
+ Stunning environmental design
+ Epic story and potential of expansions
+ Incredibly deep customisation offerings
– Repetition in mission environments
Games of DAYNE Rating
Developed by: Crystal Dynamics
Published by: Square Enix
Release Date: September 4 2020 (Deluxe Edition September 1 2020)
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC