Much to my surprise, my disc copy of Marvel’s Avengers went live yesterday, allowing me a full day of play when I thought that wasn’t going to be the case until “official” early launch today. I tweeted some impressions as I played, and yet I was saving most of my thoughts for the few thousand words you’ll see below you.
In short, Avengers is shaping up to be a good game, and not really in the way I expected.
The concept is kind of a bit at war with itself. Avengers has a main story campaign, which is what everyone will experience first and foremost, but it also wants to be an ongoing looter, meant for daily, weekly and monthly grinding and ongoing content releases, my area of expertise.
Story is usually an afterthought in games in this genre. The base stories of Destiny 1-2, The Division 1-2, Diablo 1-3 or Anthem are all generally pretty terrible or forgettable. The best looter story to date is probably Borderlands 2, and that’s not saying a whole lot. The excuse given at this point is that you simply don’t expect a good story out of this genre, and even BioWare, for all its Mass Effect prowess, couldn’t change that with Anthem.
But Crystal Dynamics has.
They seem to have conquered the dual challenges of crafting a coherent, impactful story in this genre, while also doing it when we have just finished up a decade of beloved MCU movies that have given us a ton of well-received Avengers movies starring almost all of these exact characters. That’s an incredibly tough position to be in, yet the game has pulled it off. How? Kamala Khan.
You’ll notice I said the Avengers movies star “almost” these exact characters, but the one exception is the main character of Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel. While she will get her own MCU Disney Plus show in a year or two, for now she is an entirely original creation, pulled straight from the comics and into this game, brought to life by the expert voicework of Sandra Saad.
Kamala is an Avengers fangirl, who gets to meet her heroes after winning a fan-fiction contest and explores a festival on the Chimera helicarrier that serves as both a tutorial and a charming Marvel love letter that sets the tone for the rest of the game.
After an attack that leaves Captain America dead (sure okay) and thousands of people turned into Inhumans with superpowers (including Kamala), she stumbles upon evidence of what really happened that day, and her travels reunite her with Bruce Banner first, then the pair seeks out Tony Stark and gradually, the Avengers start to reassemble as a result of her actions.
Kamala is incredibly endearing and what holds the story together. She brings a sense of awe to the game that kind of emulates how we as players are meant to feel as we finally have a game where we can wreck face as Black Widow or call down lighting as Thor. “Guys we are superheroes!” is the nature of the enthusiasm she brings to the story, and it’s infectious.
I also think that players will warm up to the rest of the existing cast in time, even though the meme of these being “store brand Avengers” has been circulating ahead of release here. While Nolan North sounds like he’s doing a Robert Downey Jr. impression with every bit of line delivery it…actually works? His character is a lot better than the quips from the beta would suggest. The same goes for Cap, Thor, Bruce and Black Widow too. Yes, we “know” these characters from the MCU, but you will get used to these versions quickly, and they come with no baggage attached (no Bruce and Natasha relationship, for one, thank god).
I am about 60% of the way through the campaign, stopping to play side missions and such, and the story is the best part of it so far. That’s a good thing, but it also highlights that maybe the rest of the game isn’t quite as rave-worthy.
The actual meat of the campaign itself alternates between quite good and a little off-putting. I am pretty impressed with the production value here, the little details put into a lot of the standalone campaign missions that make them stand out. There’s one sequence early on where Kamala finds Cap’s old shield and is chased through the downed helicarrier by Hulk, and there are all these little animations that have her deflecting debris with the shield that show how much care went into some of these sequences.
But some of the others? Not every campaign mission is as hand-crafted, that’s for sure. While I expected to see reused rooms and assets and sequences in some of the “standalone” grindy missions, in core campaign missions you can even end up in copies of the same enemy-filled room over and over again, and you have to wait for those more lovingly crafted missions to show up in between some filler.
In terms of how they play? That’s another story, and yet another thing I think Avengers gets right. I’ve been asked if I have a favorite character to play and it’s an almost impossible question to answer. They’re all so good! It is frankly amazing to me that with six heroes launching here, I am constantly torn because I want to play and level all of them. Each of them play so wildly differently than one another with zero copying and pasting between them that I would easily play an entire game as each of them. No, maybe they’re not quite as in-depth as Insomniac’s Spider-Man, but I can’t really think of what more you’d want from characters like Black Widow, Iron Man or Thor in combat. Even Kamala, with her weird stretchy powers and less of a history than these icons is still a blast. If I had to pick a least favorite it might be Hulk, just because he kind of has a smaller toolkit with just smashing in his arsenal, but even he’s not bad, and is getting better as I unlock, more for him.
The hidden “skill trees” from the beta are not alternate move sets, but trees that go really in depth to all of your moves, powers and intrinsic abilities, and it seems like there is a lot that can be leveled here to make your character feel truly superpowered at whatever max level ends up being.
But skill points and leveling is only half the ARPG puzzle here, and the other portion is loot. And that, for now, is not something I can really fully judge after a day of play.
As of right now, loot does not feel super impactful as I play. I change out things to make my stat numbers go up, I occasionally see bonuses work their way into combat from time to time, but I am not really thinking about loot or “builds” right now. And yet I can’t classify this as “loot sucks” either, because I have played enough of these games to know that you will always be swapping out your gear all the time as you level, and that you cannot judge say, Diablo or Destiny by the drops you’re getting on day one. I mean, imagine doing that with those games.
I got a few legendaries in the beta (none in the campaign yet), and it’s easy to see that yeah, maybe once you start stacking those then we really start getting into “true builds” territory with big influences on combat, combined with the elaborate skill trees. But on day one, no, I cannot comment on the endgame. I have worries about loot’s potential and the repetitiveness of future activities once the story ends, and yet I feel like the campaign alone is practically worth the price of admission. For me, the “worst case scenario” here now feels like I’ll beat the story, take all six characters to max and then wait for new ones to be released. And that’s what, easily 100 hours of gameplay right there, most likely, and I think any developer would consider that a win. It seems unlikely this will turn into a 1,000 hour a year game like Destiny but I mean, good, I don’t have another thousand hours a year to spare anyway.
I am impressed with Avengers so far. I do not know if it has long term legs and yet it has already achieved a lot with how solid the campaign is, and how fun these character kits are to play. I could beat the game today and move on and I would still be able to say I had a good time, but knowing me, this is going to keep me occupied for a long while to come. Ignore the memes, give it a chance. It will likely surprise you.