Unlike other superhero games, like the Batman Arkham games or the new Spiderman, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have set about using the Avengers intellectual property (IP) to create a game-as-a-service business and only that. In a way, it’s the same business model as the movies — get gamers hooked and then count your money as they return for new ones.
The problem though is that the movies actually had good content. The Avengers game is marred by an overly simplistic and boring single-player campaign, confusing user interface, and repetitive and unimaginative gameplay.
From the very start, the game fails to make you feel like you’re actually an all-powerful superhero. And that’s by design because the developers want the focus to be on the multiplayer part — which is probably where they think the money is — where you grind endlessly to build up your heroes’ powers. However, that’s not for everyone and it makes the beginning of this game unimpressive, thanks to lackluster storytelling.
For instance, Hulk can smash through things, but only once you’ve unlocked those skills. Till you do, he feels more like an oversized doll that can be hurt by literally any little robot around him. He never quite feels like the “incredible” Hulk. Similarly, Iron Man won’t fly into a fight and blast away a robot until you unlock that skill. And even when he does, that tiny robot will run back to attack him. The Asgardian god Thor, who can’t contract any of Earth’s diseases and can survive in space is somehow hurt by clouds of poison gas and fire sprayed by robots built by puny humans.
The only hero who feels like her comic book/movie self from the get-go is Black Widow, who only appears about halfway through the game. The Arkham games become button-mashing really fast, but you’re constantly hooked by the fact that you actually feel like you’re Batman. Here, you don’t want to use Hulk’s trademark roar, because it drives enemies towards him and he’s too weak to take them on.
As a comic book fan, I’m happy to invest in superhero tales. The game’s initial proclamation that this is the developers’ take on Avengers had me expecting a fresh new storyline, or perhaps one that hasn’t been explored. Instead, it turned out to be a take on the Inhumans storyline that is worse than the now-canceled TV series.
A good story to invest in could have set this game up for the future, but it seems the developers thought the Avengers IP is enough to do that anyway. There are no missions meant for Iron Man’s skill set, even though there are a few missions for Tony Stark. Black Widow infiltrates AIM like the super-spy she is, and then fights robots and abandons all stealth tactics.
You’re supposed to assume stealth from the cutscene that introduces her, and the fact that she’s running through some pipelines. She can become invisible, but she uses that to fight amidst a crowd of robots, instead of slipping past enemies, etc. You fight Taskmaster as part of the opening tutorial-like mission, but there are no other supervillain battles, except the big bad for the campaign whom I shall not name to avoid spoilers.
You start as wide-eyed Avengers fan Kamala Khan and play through her growth into the Inhuman superhero Miss Marvel. In a short tutorial mission, things go haywire and you fast forward a few years where the Avengers have been framed into disbanding, the world hates them and Khan is a superhero who will eventually “reassemble” the old gods while dealing with the fact that the Inhumans are treated as diseased individuals needing a cure. No points for imagination, thanks.
It starts off great to be honest. Khan stretches across rooftops to find what seems to be a secret society fighting the power. But the story is all downhill after the first 10-15 minutes. It’s, a) extremely generic, and b) lacks even a tiny effort at depth, whatsoever. Heck, when Miss Marvel finally embraces her ability and actually becomes giant-sized, most of it happens in a cutscene.
Things just sort of happen and the sub-10 hour campaign turns into a slog where you’re just waiting for the end. It took Thanos and the fate of the universe to bring Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Captain America together after Civil War, but apparently a clash between Stark and Banner can be solved by a little girl telling them this whole thing was a setup.
What’s worse is that once the campaign ends, the only story you have for each mission is a short write-up that shows up as the mission brief. You ride in on a Quinjet (in a cutscene), run around and fight robots and move on to the next one. I don’t know why I’m saving the same scientists multiple times, in the same mission but with heightened difficulty level(s). The game is designed to be never-ending, so you get no sense of accomplishment for putting your life on the line as a superhero.
To be fair, there’s an intricate skill tree for each hero — six at launch. As you unlock new skills for your heroes, they really come into their own in terms of fighting styles. But the problem is that as a gamer, you have nearly no motivation to grind away for it. Especially because over time, everyone else around the world has the same heroes, with the same powers and skillsets. I haven’t fought with any hero since I unlocked Black Widow, because she’s the only one who’s somewhat fun to build up.
You get items to pick up during missions or from rewards, but they do nothing to change the hero’s appearance, just adds numbers to their power levels. Why? Because the developers plan to sell cosmetic items as part of an in-app purchase system. In multiplayer, the cosmetics will basically help you stand out. You can even buy animations for how heroes take down enemies.
To their credit, the developers have said that there will be no loot boxes and you can’t buy your way to a more powerful hero. Which is great, but it also means grinding is the only way to get your heroes to actually amount to something, and if I haven’t said it enough already, I just don’t enjoy doing that.
There’s a matchmaking element to the campaign, where you can form a team with friends or others to take on a mission. You and your friends will walk into missions, break some robots, and well…that’s it.
The developers will likely be adding more content to this over time, but if the first campaign is anything to go by, don’t hold your breath for good stories. Avengers as a game-as-a-service makes business sense — it’s like buying a new comic book, but instead of reading it, you play through it. Maybe the developers will introduce more interesting storylines later, but this initial launch ensures this game will be in my Xbox’s “ready to install” list forever. The Avengers game even has a mid-credits scene setting you up for the multiplayer campaign, but by the time I got to it, I was too bored to care.