Marvel's Avengers has been on a relatively rough ride since it was fully unveiled in Square Enix's E3 2019 conference. It seems like most players were expecting and hoping for a story-focused single-player game in the vein of Spider-Man or Batman: Arkham Knight, but the presentation put the spotlight on multiplayer, microtransactions, post-launch content and other elements that made the "games as a service" radar go off for many. These are not exactly the kinds of games that are known for, with all due respect to the developers and writers of titles that fall under that category, great stories. Anticipation was turned into scepticism for a large portion of the population. Fortunately, the beta, which I really enjoyed despite its flaws, ended up being a very positive surprise for many, as both the story and gameplay showed great potential. I'm glad to say that some aspects of Marvel's Avengers manages to live up to and even exceed some of this potential, but boy does it squander it in a few things as well.
Let's start with one of the marvellous aspects though: the story. Focusing on Kamala Khan is a brilliant move, as her relatively blank slate and endearing personality make it easy to identify with and enjoy this astonishing roller coaster of a story. It doesn't matter if you're a hardcore fan or a newcomer to the universe, this is one of the best Marvel stories I've ever experienced across any medium so please don't sleep on this. The character-building, action, drama, humour, intrigue and some surprisingly complex set-pieces are best-in-class, crushing many games with a sole focus on story. I finally understand why Sandra Saad, Troy Baker and the other world-class actors had to do be brought in to give the script its justice; every single one of them nails it across both cinematics and gameplay.
You see, this isn't a walking simulator where you're just watching the action. The Avengers aren't saving the world by talking, rather they're doing it by punching, kicking, smashing and shooting. Definitely a good choice, as I adore the combat. Sure, some of you might find it a bit brawler-like where button-mashing might actually get you out of trouble a few times. That won't be the case in all fights, however. The Marvel universe isn't just filled with an impressive array of heroes, it has a ton of different enemy types as well, which is something Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal take full advantage of here. You'll go up against regular foot-soldiers, goons with jet-packs, teleporting cowards, humanoid robots, drones, synthoids, adeptoids, mercenaries in big exo-suits, massive spider-like machines, and some other neat ones that I won't spoil here. All of them come sporting different weapons that will both hurt and affect you in some way. That being the case, it's a good thing that you have a wide variety of options as well.
Yes, I went on and on about this in my beta impressions, but there's a reason why I keep praising the combat system, and there's also a reason why the introduction of each character includes a section where you get to take full advantage of their abilities. I simply don't understand how some can say that Ms Marvel, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor and Captain America feel the same. Do they have the same core button-mapping? Yes, because it makes changing characters a lot easier. Does that mean you'll have to play them the same way? Not a chance. Each of them has three unique abilities with different functions and benefits for both you and your teammates or AI partners. Most of them even have a special meter that builds up as you use regular attacks and can be used to deal some real damage. Where Ms Marvel can enlarge her arms and feet to do extra damage and reach further, Thor imbues his attacks with lightning and Hulk goes into a healing yet devastating rage mode. Even the feel of combat is distinct and you can almost feel the bones break after each Hulk-punch, while Black Widow's agile kicks, punches and grapples are a bit weaker yet faster. Thor and Iron Man being able to fly, the added range Black Widow gets from her grappling hook, Hulk's lengthening jumps, and
impressive skill-trees that give you a nice range of options for each character - it's all icing on the cake.
With both the story and combat being pretty much flawless the fundamentals of the game would make me say it's a must-buy for anyone remotely interested, but then we have what I consider to be unpolished fluff, starting with the disappointing loot system. Don't get me wrong, even the fundamentals are pretty good. I have yet to find anything close to a duplicate thanks to the wide variety of stats and enhancements every piece of gear can have, and each of them suits different play styles, which allows you to make your favourite characters your own. The two problems are that you're only making them your own in terms of stats and the enormous loot pool means that special finds are few and far between. While there are rare exceptions, not seeing any visual changes on your character becomes all the more ludicrous when the menu even highlights a specific part of the body with a semi-transparent outline when selecting gear. You might spend a lot of time in these menus if you're looking to have the strongest character at all times, which makes this all the more apparent. There's little indication whether something is better than the gear you're already using outside of the menus, so pretty much every encounter ends with you ruining your flow by pausing the action to see whether your current equipment is better and, if not, breaking the new gear into resources.
That's not just a shame because it makes the gear and the hunt for loot less impactful than it actually is at its core, but also because it has made a completionist/min-maxer like me actually consider not searching for the hidden loot chests and side-missions in areas. I spent the first ten hours exploring every corner of an area and was thrilled to see that some of them actually had some nice surprises for me. Locking them behind a simple puzzle made it all the more rewarding... until it was clear that the reward rarely matched up to the effort. Getting a tiny bit of in-game currency, a few resources and a piece of gear isn't much motivation when the chances of getting something truly special that won't be replaced two minutes later are as slim as this, especially when there's so much recycling of environments and objectives.
The amount of times I've been through the exact same AIM base, research facility and forest area is ridiculous. I've played lots of The Division, Diablo, and Borderlands, so it's safe to say I'm used to recycled environments and modes, but at least most are kind enough to spice things up in the endgame by offering new mechanics or tweaks to the formula. Marvel's Avengers knows its combat system is fantastic, so it mostly just rests on that, hoping that enemy variety in repeat locations is enough to distract you from the fact that you're going through the exact same area and doing the exact same thing. A vault requiring you to find the combination to get the goodies inside sounds amazing on paper, but not as much when you're "punching it in" by just protecting a terminal with the right number on it, and simply making sure that I controlled areas in sequence when I've already spent 20+ hours protecting unnumbered terminals during the story and in regular missions doesn't feel new or fresh. I hate comparing games in a review, but I hope the developers take a look at how the Destiny games spice things up by making you really use your brain or tweak the gameplay in fascinating ways during endgame content. Controlling clearly marked zones, fighting through waves of enemies, and most "secrets" being clearly marked on the map gets stale after a while.
I've seen some claim that this is "obviously because Square Enix wants us to spend real money in the game", but I do as usual disagree. Every single piece of gear can be earned by playing, and the large majority of iconic costumes can be rewarded to you if the random number generator is on your side, doing the daily and weekly missions to work your way through the battle pass-like Hero Challenge Cards or bought with in-game currency. Will some of the cosmetics be exclusive to a marketplace where you can only use the currency awarded in a limited quantity via the battle pass or bought with real-world money? Yes, but I don't see the problem when each hero has a whole bunch of other really cool ones that are available without spending a dime in a game that will offer more story, new heroes, new modes and other things completely free for the foreseeable future.
Maybe I made that part about monotonous gameplay sound worse than it is. This would have been a very strong eight for me on the all-important score scale if it wasn't for the fact that I've experienced a plethora of technical issues. For once, these have almost nothing to do with framerate and such, as both the graphics and framerate while playing in the PS4 Pro's 4K mode are great. Lessening the fun was missing dialogue, menus that are slow or don't update at times, long load times, set-pieces that'll kill you for not doing exactly what was required, a few examples of AI partners getting stuck in the environment just before they're about to revive you, and objects going crazy because of weird physics (with the accompanying annoying sound).
Scores are a tricky thing. Where my head says seven, my heart says an eight or even a nine. That's because Marvel's Avengers delivers one of the best stories of this generation, one that can keep up with the most iconic storylines in the Marvel universe. The characters, lore and collectables ensure that I will keep playing for months to come as new content gets added. The astonishingly good combat system means that I can live with the technical issues that will hopefully get fixed as time moves on. I fear that the loot system won't ever live up to its potential though, as making the gear affect how your characters look would require massive effort, but maybe I can dream that it'll at least be tweaked to be a bit more rewarding and that the post-launch modes and areas will alleviate some of my disappointment regarding recycled assets. Even without those changes, however, Marvel's Avengers was and is a great game I can't wait to dive back into as soon as I'm done here. So, if you're willing to live with a few shortcomings and you're looking for a thrilling and characterful story with top-notch combat built around some amazing characters: Assemble!