Writing the review for Marvel’s Avengers proved to be a challenge when it arrived in my inbox last year. Going into it knowing that it was a live-service game, it was hard to put a ‘permanent’ score on it when my top question was “So what is this going to be a year from now?” Welp, it’s officially a year from then, and with the recent War For Wakanda expansion released, I wanted to see for myself how much Marvel’s Avengers has changed, while also seeing how my original review holds up.
I reviewed Avengers on PS4 when it released in September 2020, and deleted it shortly after the review ran. Since then I’ve acquired a PS5 and wanted to take advantage of the next-gen upgrade released in March.
As you may have heard, the process of transferring character data was more obtuse than necessary. Doing so requires having both the PS4 & PS5 versions installed at the same time, which are 85GB and 97GB respectively. Considering my relatively mediocre rural internet, that meant it was gonna be a couple of days before I could play. Once both games are installed, one must then select the ‘save migration’ tab in the PS4 version, which will then send your save to the cloud before magically reappearring when the PS5 version is launched. This was also significantly more annoying due to the relatively smooth save transfer process I had experienced while upgrading to the PS5 version of Ghost of Tsushima just a few days before.
This is even weirder considering that a player’s progress is stored in the cloud and not on local hard drives. Why did I have to tell the cloud from the PS4 version that I would like to send the data to the PS5 version? These files have been a bit of a bugaboo it seems, as there are numerous reports online of save data simply getting lost in the cloud with players having no means to regain lost progress. I’m aware it’s a live-service title so the rules of engagement are a bit different, but this implementation could be much better.
The Playstation 5 version does solve the biggest issue I had with the previous release thanks to quick load times, except for the long load at the start while the game pulls the damn save data from the cloud.
Players on next-gen hardware have the option of a “highest quality” mode which maximizes the graphics with 4K resolution at 30FPS while “highest performance” mode features occasional drops in resolution and image quality to maintain a rock-solid 60FPS. I recommend the highest performance mode, as the graphical enhancements aren’t enough to pull me away from the smoother framerate. Marvel’s Avengers was a slick-looking game on last-gen hardware, and it looks even better at a higher resolution and with double the FPS. That said, don’t expect a full-on graphical upgrade with fancy-schmancy ray-tracing or unlocked framerates for 120hz displays.
So, going back to my original review, it was clear that at the time of launch that Marvel’s Avengers was buggy, had bad menus, long load times, not enough content, and the multiplayer that was to be the foundation of the experience was lacking.
How much of that has changed? Well, I can report that it does seem noticeably less buggy. It didn’t freeze on me like it did before, so that’s a win. Hit detection can still be spotty, which can also be said of the physics.
The menus, while still featuring a Destiny-style cursor interface that is hit-and-miss, do seem a bit snappier. However, this could potentially be due to playing through SSD on PS5. From the main menu it’s easy to choose singleplayer or multiplayer content, and since launch they’ve added the ability to reset progress. So, if a player wants to go through the main campaign again, they now can — and really, this was a rather shocking omission considering the main campaign was the only part of Marvel’s Avengers I thought was worth doing twice.
While the timing of the expansions was a bit out-of-sync from the original plans due to more pressing matters with the core game, it’s hard to argue that there’s quite a bit more content now than at launch.
On top of the free War for Wakanda expansion, the game has seen a couple of other free “Operations” that serve as mini expansions to the core narrative. Project AIM introduces Hawkeye protégé Kate Bishop, while Future Imperfect focuses on Hawkeye himself. They’re both ranged characters and the new bow-based playstyle does mix up the formula. With that said, they both play similarly, so going through these new operations back-to-back may prove monotonous, exacerbated by the fact that the content that accompanies them quickly starts to repeat.
Every mission in Kate’s campaign involves landing in the middle of nowhere and following markers to a string of identical elevators going to a string of nearly identical AIM laboratories to do a thing. Then the final mission starts in the AIM lab, then players take an elevator outside to do a thing, followed by players running to another AIM elevator to go down to an AIM lab to do a thing. Did AIM buy these secret underground bases in bulk out of a Sears catalogue?
Hawkeye’s operation is more interesting because it features an entirely new area to explore and it takes the story in some crazy directions, but if I could pick one type of location to never see in a videogame again, it would be post-apocalypse. Unfortunately, that’s what they went with and the drab, brown wreckage that makes up most of Future Imperfect’s campaign is a total slog to run through while ignoring the meaningless side content.
War for Wakanda delivers what Marvel’s Avengers needed most — a new zone to explore that one would actually wanna hang out in. The titular Wakanda is pretty distinct from the rest of the game, and that’s helped by the fact that you’re goddamn Black Panther, which makes any situation better. Voice actor Christopher “Kratos” Judge does an exceptional job portraying King T’challa, and his battle against Ulysses Klaue is a more substantial and satisfying experience compared to the previous two operations.
Unfortunately, despite ample work on the technical end as well as substantial content additions, these efforts do nothing to negate the most pressing issue I had with Marvel’s Avengers at launch — it is simply not a game I want to spend dozens of hours and multiple months playing.
The core brawling has breadth due to the wide variety of characters, but it’s not as satisfying as other, more detailed games in the genre. This style of play has a shelf life, even under the best circumstances. On top of that, the online infrastructure is lacking. There are way too many currencies and material types, how to use them is poorly explained, and I never felt the need to use any of it anyway. Furthermore, the weapon locker system is overtly obtuse, and equipping new gear is clunky and, yes, there is such a thing as ‘too much loot’.
And the cherry on top of this sundae? It’s just not a particularly interesting rendition of the Marvel Universe. It’s very much in the Marvel Cinematic Universe style, but lacks the rights to the actual actors’ faces or voices. I can’t help but feel taking it in a more daring artistic direction would’ve been beneficial after they learned how much Robert Downey Jr. charged for use of his likeness. The writing apes the MCU’s style as well, and I was already quite tired of the universe being on the line while they zing funny quips at each other on the big screen. A second-rate copy of that is even more grating.
I commend Crystal Dynamics & Square-Enix for not throwing in the towel after the game’s initial reception and sales numbers. This could have easily been an Anthem-level disaster, but the team has done a lot to clean up the experience while expanding on what was good about it. I generally enjoyed the single-player campaign at launch, and now there’s significantly more of that, at least. Given it’s now also cheaper than at launch, I’d recommend it based on the strength of the solo adventure alone. However, it still fails at its own stated goal of being a live-service title that people will play online with friends for “multiple years”.
I mentioned this in my review, but it bears repeating — what if this was “only” a movie game? What if, instead of spending $100 million and five years developing this live-service monstrosity, they had spent $60 million and 3.5 years refining the core single-player game and released it alongside Avengers: Endgame? What if their main inspiration wasn’t something that’s managed to survive for multiple years like Destiny, but rather something like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay that capitalizes on the film experience and allows players to roll credits and walk away satisfied? I could easily see a game like the latter being better received and more profitable. You don’t think they could’ve sold five million copies riding the coattails of the second biggest box office release in history?
Instead, Marvel’s Avengers launched eighteen months too late while still chasing a dream achieved by few. One year later, Square-Enix’s dream of turning things around and re-igniting the experience shows little hope of success.