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access_time September 4, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Reviews by David Poole

Review | Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel fans can finally see the fruition of Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers Project. A game that would utilize over 80 years of Marvel history in one package, it’s quite a daunting task. After playing Marvel’s Avengers and experiencing what it has to offer, it’s clear that this team has the passion and drive to deliver on this experience. Despite the mixed reception from the beta, the final game overcomes all odds and proves it has what it takes to stand among Marvel’s best. How does it do this? By providing a solid story, of course.

Marvel’s Avengers tells an original story that takes inspiration from dozens of comics, films, and more Marvel media than most know what to do with it. We start with the young Kamala Khan, who represents the perspective in the game. While we will play as other Avengers, this is Kamala’s story, and that fact is made clear from start to finish. It’s important that we experience the story through Kamala’s perspective, as she represents the fan of these heroes, ideally us, and allows us to interact with them in ways we’ve only dreamed of.

Kamala wins a fan-fiction contest that grants her a trip to San Francisco for A-Day, a special event hosted by the Avengers. The event is meant to showcase a new form of energy known as Terrigen, and the Avengers are there to give good publicity. After experiencing what’s like the super hero version of a Disneyland celebration, and of course meeting many of our heroes, disaster rears its ugly head. The Golden Gate Bridge is under attack and a SHIELD helicarrier takes off on its own, forcing the Avengers to take action. Unfortunately, this catastrophic event proves too much, as hundreds of civilians are exposed to Terrigen mist and the Avengers suffer a devastating loss.

With Kamala at the center of it all, she gets a full dose of the mist and develops polymorph powers. With the failure of the Avengers at hand, the public begins to doubt them, which eventually makes them disband. Five years pass and a new company known as Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M., takes the position as the new protector of humanity. Not satisfied with A.I.M.’s narrative, Kamala keeps searching for answers, only to stumble on a revelation of a lifetime. With new information, she does what she can to try and reassemble the Avengers and prove their worth to the world.

We won’t spoil anything beyond that, but it’s worth noting that the story of Marvel’s Avengers has a very human aspect to it. Despite being a game where you play as powerful heroes, it maintains that Marvel spirit of making our heroes relatable. Sure, we might not have their special abilities or their assets, but we just might have their flaws. The Avengers aren’t perfect, and while they often strive for it, it’s something they can’t avoid. Seeing them from the eyes of a fan-girl amplifies this, and it takes someone that loves these heroes to bring them together. The story has the strength of a hero, and it’s the clear highlight of this project.

Part of the reason this story works so well is due to the fantastic writing. There’s plenty of pop culture references, drama, humor, and more, and it’s delivered with powerful emotions. This is all thanks to the incredible voice cast, with a mix of new and old favorites for these characters. Sandra Saad does phenomenal as Kamala Khan, bringing plenty of charm and heart to the character to make her endearing. We not only get a character with emotional depth, but we have a lively teenage spirit that brings a sense of awe to the game. There’s even a good use of Kamala’s Muslim heritage that naturally adds the right amount of culture to her character.

Saad is joined by a list of heavy hitters in the voice acting industry, some brand new to their roles, others reprising them. Troy Baker takes a shot at Bruce Banner, perfectly capturing the performance of a broken man. Suffering defeat takes a toll on the man, and you can really feel the guilt in Baker’s depiction. Of course, this all changes when Darin De Paul takes the reigns as the Hulk himself, making for a believable monster. The transition from Banner to Hulk is made even better when Troy demonstrates his range when he gets angry.

In an interesting choice, we get Nolan North as Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man himself. Despite being new to the role, North does a fantastic job. With that in mind, we still can’t ignore the moments where all we hear is Deadpool. Even so, North expresses himself with a great sense of humor and enough emotion to do the character justice. Jeff Schine also does great as Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America. It’s almost as if he’s portrayed the character before, perfectly capturing his calm demeanor. Finally, we have Laura Bailey and Travis Willingham, both of whom reprise their roles as Black Widow and Thor respectively. They have plenty of experience with the characters, and it’s no surprise that it shows.

As much as the story and characters represents the core of the game, of course there’s the gameplay aspect. Marvel’s Avengers works like a “game as a service”, which means it’s constantly updating in an online ecosystem. It takes action gameplay and adds Destiny-like roleplaying elements to bring power to the characters. Each hero plays drastically different, both in traversal and in combat. Swing from tree branches using Kamala’s stretching arms or fly through the air as Thor. Use mixed martial arts and guns with Black Widow or simply smash away using the Hulk. You’ll likely find a favorite to play as, but the game really encourages trying different heroes for different situations.

Combat gives players a set of standard moves like light and heavy attacks, a dodge ability, and ranged attacks. They’ll also have access to Heroic and Ultimate abilities that utilize their individual skills. Even if they share common gameplay options, they still play completely different. Black Widow can rack up impressive combos and use her grappling hook to keep them going. Meanwhile, Iron Man makes a great range character that can fly in and out while also taking down aerial foes. Kamala has a large range of sweeping attacks from her combos, making her great crowd control. The variety of the characters is great, but it gets even deeper when you add gear.

Each character can equip gear that the player will find throughout the game, whether from enemies, chests, or merchants. This gear includes four pieces of equipment and up to three artifacts. Each character has unique gear, so they can’t be swapped or traded between others. While the main purpose of gear is to power up our heroes, it also serves up different stats and even combat effects. A piece of gear can add the ability to shrink a foe, or it can even increase drops. If you particularly like a piece of gear, you can even boost the power using in-game resources. Unfortunately, there will come a time where you’ll likely replace it, so it may be best to reserve resources. At least you can break it down and use the remains to help boost new gear.

Characters also have a pretty extensive skill tree set up in three categories. One category focuses on combat moves while another focuses on Heroic and Ultimate attacks. The Mastery category will unlock at level 15, allowing players to add a bit of variety to their abilities. Some of the abilities even offer three variations to personalize your skills (which players can switch from at any time). On top of this, the game goes even further in customization by giving each character dozens of cosmetics. The most notable of these are the skins, though like the rest of these custom cosmetics, they’re only aesthetic.

While players will do various missions for the campaign, many missions will offer multiplayer in the Avengers Initiative. These missions can take place in linear drop zones, wide open war zones, or more story focused missions like villain sectors. This is the other aspect of Marvel’s Avengers, allowing players to do four-player co-op missions together. If you prefer to go solo, you can have your team be AI controlled, though the game definitely encourages multiplayer. Some missions will offer hidden areas that require a certain type of character to access them. If you’re playing on your own, there’s a good chance you might miss something. This is because you don’t have the ability to direct your AI companions, which is an unfortunate downside here.

On the plus side, the multiplayer is pretty thrilling and enjoyable. Players can either matchmake during missions or form a strike team during the Avengers Initiative. Strike teams allow for you to roam around the Chimera helicarrier hub and plan your missions with your friends. Missions can be of varying challenge, and of course, the higher the challenge, the better the rewards. The multiplayer is what ultimately encourages your cosmetic changes, and that in turn encourages you to fulfill your challenge card. Challenges will change every day and offer new ways to earn more rewards on each character. Some of these rewards are in-game currency to even make purchases at the shop. Of course, it’s entirely optional and has no bearing on the gameplay.

Being that this is a live service game, the team is devoted to constant updates. This includes addressing feedback and making adjustments to fix bugs and other issues. During my time with Marvel’s Avengers, I did encounter a few glitches here and there, but nothing that ultimately ruined my enjoyment. I’m confident that the team at Crystal Dynamics will make fixes to most of the issues as they get to them. Just in the time from the beta to launch, we’ve already seen a significant improvement in the final game. This is a game that proves feedback goes a long way, and the team has the dedication to make this one last. Even then, we’ll also get additional free characters and story content for the game, so that alleviates some of the issues.

When it comes to presentation, Marvel’s Avengers is pretty solid. On top of the amazing voice work, we get a pretty gorgeous game filled with detailed spectacle. Of course, due to a lot of the effects on screen, sometimes the game can take a hit in performance. There are ways to help with that at least, but the game still looks great regardless of potential slow down. The developers took some of the feedback and even adjusted things like screen shaking and motion blur, which makes the game easier to follow. Character models are have plenty of detail and animate well too, helping to make a cinematic feel.

The music has a range of softer tones and then more heroic hymns. There’s even a few licensed tracks thrown in for good measure. The overall sound design is also pretty good as well, though it’s not perfect. While Iron Man’s repulsors sound fantastic and Thor’s crackling thunder is great, some of the melee attack hits sound a bit off. It’s a small complaint, but it was something that we took notice of. Finally, the game is full of Easter eggs to discover. This ranges from lots of intel and audio logs to real life comic books (that give you bonus stats). You’ll even see a lot of references in the various environments, as even numbers can be more than a coincidence. You can tell the team was passionate about implementing a lot of Marvel love into this project.

Even though some fans weren’t happy with the beta, the full game shows that there’s more than meets the eye. With an endearing story and much deeper multiplayer experiences, Marvel’s Avengers is well worth another look. It’s clear that this game is a passion project for fans, by fans. Even if you think the developers didn’t have the fans in mind, the game asks you to think again. This is a mighty game through and through, and while it has some bugs, we doubt they’ll be there long. I can tell that I’ll continue playing this one now, and well into the next console generation.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

GotGame is on OpenCritic, check out our reviews here.

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