Image Credit: Crystal Dynamics, 2020
I am sat in a Batman dressing gown, nurturing a finely brewed cup of tea topped with bourbons laid in anticipation by its side to be dunked exactly three quarters into said tea. Here I am, as part of my process sat with the aforementioned soon to be bourbon dunked PG tips, almost completely unexcited to talk about the Marvel’s Avengers video game. If I could talk to you about the quality of my morning tea and set a stage of discourse over what makes the perfect hot British cliché, I would.
It’s not even my favourite drink, but I love to talk about it. There’s just so much variety in the kinds of tea you can enjoy. I have definitely had tea that did not give me those feelings, I have had tea that is more the perfumed knuckle of that annoying aunt that most – hmm – some of us have, but hey it’s still entertains me to talk about it with someone. There is no kind of tea bag; be they cubed, two dimensionally squared, pyramid, round or if you’re a supercilious hero, loose leaf tea, that is uninteresting. As clear as I’m fairly sure I’ve made it as far as where I am going with my indulgent and vitally necessary tangent – the worst crime Marvel’s Avengers makes as a video game is, arguably, being unsurprisingly uninteresting. This does not mean the game is bad, even that perfume flavoured knuckle tea has its fans. However, whether it’s got a flavour you like or not, that tea runs out quick. Usually games of prestige and objective quality can be refined in their definition as being akin to a finely aged wine. Marvel’s Avengers, however, fails at even being a good cup of tea.
So, what do I even mean by all of this? Unfortunately for me, I am about to tell you.
Spoiler note: I don’t hate it.
Is Marvel’s Avengers worthy enough to possess the power of Thor? In short, no. Ironically, this new game developed by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal, published by Square Enix – the same Square Enix that recently fulfilled a wish of many who thought there could only be a dream of a Final Fantasy 7 remake, looks to be having a similar journey to any of Marvel’s hero roster. Theirs was once an endearing thud of perseverance, frustration and determination towards a lesson learned and a day saved, as opposed to an immediate “Hero Landing”. They would take those lessons and turn them outward from themselves to a commitment of altruism for benefit of a world they love and seek above all, if not to protect, to at least avenge.
With that, have Crystal Dynamics really given us “The Avengers”? They sure did. They just charged us for the teams’ favourite outfits and grapple moves. The first wave of ire was directed with a gung-ho sensibility toward how the Avengers look. I can see two sides to this. The one where if it isn’t the cast from the movies, it isn’t the cast we want. The other is, can you imagine how much it would cost just to get Mark Ruffalo? Never mind Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans and Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L Jackson. The consensus was that Crystal Dynamics did not showcase an interesting enough take on the look of their version of the Avengers. I’m not entirely sure myself what the people want, and I’m fairly sure it’s safe to say on some level, the developers might have lost either way.
What do I think? I’d say they look like the Avengers. Some of the extra costumes are cool, some aren’t. One of Captain America’s outfits is so cool that at the time of writing it literally melts the entirety of his face.
Image Credit: Hippo Ready via Youtube, 2020
The casting and voice interpretations of this Juggernaut brand are executed well enough; I personally really enjoyed Captain America’s steely humbled demeaner by Jeff Schine. Thor’s larger than life, mightier than thou attitude made me laugh and cheer for him, so well done to Travis Willingham. That is when they decided to actually use Thor to any real effect in what minimal narrative we have for now. Big hitters from The Last of Us franchise Troy Baker and Laura Bailey have a go at Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff. Banner is awkward, tortured and clearly at a low point to be raised up by the star cast member who I’ll get to in a minute. Natasha, or Black Widow, is fine. For me it was just a little weird hearing her go from The Last of Us Part 2’s Abby, to then give a much more animated performance, but sure she still gets a thumbs up as a convincing Black Widow so far.
By the way, please don’t take much of what I’m saying to mean that I have some true fan level of knowledge of what makes a proper interpretation of these characters – I just think most of what they’ve done here is good.
So I ask you here, Mr Nolan North aka Iron Man, in the off chance that you will obviously seek out this article in search of my particular approval – what direction, could have caused one of Marvel’s most beloved characters, who is currently a cinematic icon, to be so very, very annoying 80 per cent of the time? Nolan North is fantastic and is one of the best in the business right now but hot damn, the developers didn’t want you to think so. For the first half of this
review I’ll focus on how that 20 per cent is used for some nice moments of character for Mr North to flex his chops in the story – same goes for the aforementioned team members. Which in fact brings us to the star of the show,
outstretched yet carrying the broken team through Crystal Dynamics’s attempt to show us that different is special. Pride in who you are can light up the world of others, and that good isn’t something you are, it’s something you do.
Kamala Khan is an Avengers superfan taking part in a competition to present the Avengers with her own fan fiction at an event called A Day. This is a celebration of the Avengers as earths mightiest protectors, and a chance for the team to showcase their newly discovered sustainable energy source to the world. An attack ensues to distract the Avengers from the eventual use of said source to cause a massive explosion that levels much of the events’ surrounding city and seemingly kills Captain America. Emerging from the event are citizens with newly attained mutations and superpowers dubbed “inhumans”. Blamed for the event, the Avengers disband and an organisation calling themselves A.I.M take over the protection of earth. Amidst a more oppressive approach by A.I.M, a
conspiracy is uncovered by Kamala Khan who her herself has newly obtained abilities caused by the explosion. With this information, she sets out to find and reassemble the avengers to get to the bottom of what really happened at A Day.
Right off the bat I will say this – the Marvel’s Avengers campaign is getting a lot more credit than it should. Do not buy this game for its current campaign. Do not buy this game for any of its current features or redeeming qualities you might have filtered through the wash of displeasure being flushed out of your speakers, from the Avengers hype binge. I did, and now dislike myself and have chosen to actually install Yolt, to better re-evaluate my spending choices. Wait for a sale, or a maybe a year when there’s content that justifies almost £60. If you’re kicking yourself after already doing what I did, lets wallow together and reminisce why we have made such a colossal mistake and prompt those that did not, to make better choices in their life. Thus, becoming the heroes that Marvel’s Avengers rarely asks you to be.
Lets watershed this cynical man’s commentary by saying Kamala Khan is great! She brings the perspective and heart that we never knew an Avengers game would need, despite the BETA really not giving off that impression at all. I’ve played only a couple of BETA’S in my time and I can confirm that doing this is like pouring the half boiled water atop unstrained tea leaves at the same time as only but half a splash of milk, to then sip at the rim of your mug immediately. If this doesn’t sound like a complete experience, you’d be right. I can see benefit to such opportunity to present feedback to the developers but guess who gets paid for that – play testers. There are a lot of people who paid up to £80 to get an early start on a broken build of a game that is still broken at launch. This isn’t much of a watershed from my earlier points is it – BETA BAD.
It was a display that really did not do justice to at least what Crystal Dynamics are trying to do with Marvels Avengers. Notice I say with italic force, “trying”. The campaigns backdrop and narrative make sense and work well enough for the events and emotional beats it’s going for, and it’s definitely the more admirable quality to the game. It provides a contextualised vertical slice of what the game currently has you doing for the majority of your time which is usually:
· Shouting at the third game-ending bug encountered within a 69-minute period.
A summary list compiled of the five S’s I commit to a resounding “SSSSSTOP” in a personal handwritten letter to the developers concerning feedback for future updates.
The fact that you can’t replay the campaigns’ initial story and set pieces show Marvel’s Avengers low regard for said story and set pieces. Rather than allow us to revel and consider their assessment of quality through replayability, Marvel’s Avengers is more content to push you forward and have you consider the promises of future content that the developers will install – that and to dunk yourself in the presently made tea for hours on end. But we all know how quick the biscuit breaks.
Outside of the more exciting on rails events tailored more specifically to each Avengers unique qualities (barring a couple of dull stealth sections as Kamala), you with your chosen team members on or offline will be executing drop zones, war zones, or searching for shield vaults. All of these missions position you across differing lengths to engage with the aforementioned:
· Shouting at the sixth game-ending bug encountered within an 80-minute period
The often remarkably handled synaesthesia within combat-driven team encounters are dulled by lackadaisical level and mission design. As my Captain America remoulds the battlefield around him with a shield slam sending enemies into the path of Mjolnir’s flight, catching them as it flies full speed over head of a Hulk smash finisher. All of this beneath a boss fight and swelling music; I can’t help but put my controller down and take notes on how yes, this is the Avengers. Then it takes you back to it’s average mission flow of Standing in a spot while Jarvis loads
something – to sprinting/swooping inside a facility to smash something, and if you haven’t already got a game ending bug, you might loot something.
Alongside its loot grind, the shameless imitation of Bungie’s Destiny could not have felt more misplaced. Nothing of true meaning or value was given to me as a player during any section where I waddled through either of the two base hubs in which you decide on your next mission. So, in the same way something I love would inspire praise, I can’t provide much scrutiny to something I personally don’t hate but simply feel nothing for. Others may differ.
So far we have linear, single player driven set pieces driving forward a narrative that, to it’s credit, is handled with varying degrees of enthusiasm and care but miasmic with a looming influence of greed that festoons Marvel Avengers character progression and microtransaction practices. Like I said, it’s charging you for their favourite costumes that you might get for free if you’ve got about 100 hours free this or any week.
Not all of the character progression is bad though. The kits of each Avenger eventually lead to an experimental and gratifying combat experience, making every member of the team feel fleshed out. You’re just not using that team to do anything that ever feels particularly heroic. There is of course an endgame here, in which you are expected to follow particular objective trails that take you from map to map completing the same tasks outlined across the five S’s over and over and over again. You will also unlock “Hives” which are layered gauntlets of – yes – the five
S’s. By doing this you will level up your hero to a level cap of 50 and increase your power level by collecting the best loot, which give particular buffs, until you make the heroes numbers and stats go high enough to take on a
raid of some kind. There is no true marrying of compelling context to game mechanics, you are simply making the numbers go up. Those numbers resulting on whether you’ll do more damage at range, or up close. Much of the loot that contributes feedback to the player action just feels passive in such a way that never really warrants the effort it took to unlock them. This is a genre, this is something widely adored and done to intuitive and powerful effect across games like Warframe, Destiny, Path of Exile and Torchlight. Marvel’s Avengers must hold the worst iteration of that genres core design, or at least as far as I can gather since I’ve only spent limited time on the games from which it wants to mimic. At the least the loot in those games weren’t invisible and looked awesome. I want my Thor to look awesome.
I’ve been laying down a very particular trail of thought that maybe doesn’t do justice to a lot of things that perhaps the Avengers is doing, or at least trying to do well. These however are just the disinterested feelings it gives me whenever I play it. The combat as fun, but it’s in a game that just doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me given what the source material stands for.
So, with some time to wrap it up…
Marvel’s Avengers is something deeply, thematically broken at this time and it may or may not have a bright future as a member of its genre. The shoehorning of a loot system so pointless you can just press a button that auto equips your best gear, makes me consider from many angles that Crystal Dynamics did not want to put this in. Prove me wrong and make it good, because like you said in your game Crystal, being good isn’t something you are, its something you do.
A live service game using this brand could be a much more inspired notion than what has been put on show for this game, and that is the biggest hit for me. I climbed on board the hype train; I neglected the hate upon initial release. Slowly but surely, I felt myself become a bitter husk in yearning for something more from an idea for which I previously had such boyish glee. For those who do enjoy this game, believe it or not I see why, and for some reason I too take hold of Thor’s hammer for a quick smash now and again. I’m just mad I paid so much for it in its current state. Though I wish it well in the coming years for which it will be updated, picked apart and perhaps made into something a little more worthy of its name.
My next cup of tea is ready. I wish I had time to talk to you in greater depth and appreciation for its combat and core gameplay loop for which I have rigorous notes – but it is benign to me to allow any discourse toward the notion that this game is ready and worth the money it wants from you.
This could all change, and when that day comes, I will tell you… Assemble.