Marvel’s Avengers is a game at war with itself. From the moment you drop into the game’s main menu, you’re presented with two main options: Campaign and Avengers Initiative. Campaign is where you’ll get the cutscene-fueled and setpiece-filled Avengers main storyline, featuring Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel reuniting the Avengers to take on the threat the AIM poses to society. Avengers Initiative is the loot-centered multiplayer mode, focused on grinding up character levels and replaying a variety of missions in order to turn your post-campaign team of superheroes into an all-powerful squad that can take on any challenge. Yet it’s weird to me that these options are separated when they are the same game.
There are numerous examples of loot games both good and bad, ongoing and evolving online experiences designed around repeatable gameplay loops that have had their share of growing pains. The Destiny franchise has been a rollercoaster ride of potential, The Division famously made a military third-person shooter into a Diablo-like loot-based co-op game, and BioWare’s Anthem is perhaps one of the highest profile failures for a game in this category. Marvel’s Avengers evokes the three of these games and more, for better and worse. But as Kamala Khan’s father tells her, “Good isn’t a thing you are, it’s a thing you do.”
The Marvel’s Avengers campaign weaves its story somewhat awkwardly with the loot-based gameplay, but its 10 hours or so are thrilling. Focusing on Kamala as an Avengers superfan who becomes one of them is the ultimate player fantasy. She is quite literally us, a vehicle for the player where we don’t have to cast aside disbelief to become a billionaire genius, super spy, or literal god from another realm. That process of onboarding casts this superheroic team in a whole new light as she gathers the battered and broken team back together. Her comments during fights about how cool it is to be fighting with the Avengers is just what all of us want to be saying. It balances a level of cheesiness that could have been and manages to be quite endearing instead.
It’s also great to see a character like Kamala front and center in the story. Her Muslim roots aren’t shuffled to the side either, becoming a key part of her costume design and mentioned multiple times in conversations with other Avengers. And yet it also never felt like Crystal Dynamics was just trying to check a box. Who Kamala is became a natural part of the Marvel’s Avengers story in a way that’s quite rare for games to balance so well these days.
Exciting setpieces accent critical parts of the campaign, and the game world evolves around you to show the progress you are making. From the main menu adding to the roster of heroes you bring together (and showing what cosmetics you’ve customized them with) to the main base of operations going from flightless to fully functional Helicarrier, it seems to be a small glimpse into the way Avengers wants to grow. The story isn’t particularly surprising or full of unexpected twists. One main beat is pretty obvious if you know what you are looking for—though arguably done in a way that did end up surprising me at least a little.
The campaign acts a bit as a “tour of heroes,” as well as an introduction to many of Marvel’s Avengers’ main concepts, though some heroes play a much more main role while others don’t get much attention in the main story at all (looking at you Thor). The story does continue post-campaign though, with iconic mission chains specific to each hero and another set of storylines that starts setting up the world of Avengers to be, but these missions focus much less on overt story via cutscenes and setpieces, instead tasking players with starting to engage with the long-term aspects of the game in a bigger way.
Marvel’s Avengers Review – We’re in the Endgame Now
Though Marvel’s Avengers came out about two weeks ago, this is a game meant to last for the long term. We wanted to give it ample time to settle in before coming to a “final” verdict, or as final as any verdict can be for a game that will be different just months from now. And that meant really engaging with the endgame loop, loot grind, and myriad systems that Marvel’s Avengers has in place.
In the campaign, Avengers is something of a typical brawler. Each character feels moderately different, but for the most part they have largely the same abilities based on light, heavy, and ranged attacks, with support and assault-centered special moves and a super attack, each on a cooldown. Post-campaign, however, these characters really start to come into their own as you level them up and fully unlock each of their kits. Every five to ten levels makes the character feel fundamentally different to play as, ramping up their capabilities and providing options for players to tailor each of their play styles. By the time you hit level 50, you’ll barely recognize the character, so different are they to the underleveled heroes we used in the campaign. It’s this process of hitting 50 and spending a good amount of time with each Avenger that makes them feel unique, empowering the fantasy that each specific hero entails. It’s an element poorly communicated up front.
Then comes grinding for gear and building your Power level, something I am all too familiar with from games like Destiny 2 and The Division 2. The biggest issue withe Marvel’s Avengers for me so far is that loot has yet to feel really special. There’s no gear that stands out to me as a must-have piece. Despite appearing on your character as a holographic image on the equip screen, none of the loot actually makes any difference at all to each character’s aesthetics, something that’s a huge draw for other loot based games. I understand this limitation may have come from Marvel. Cosmetics are relegated to full outfit changes that can be unlocked, purchased, and equipped. But it makes loot feel largely meaningless without a visual reflection of the gear you are earning. I’m not sure what the optimal solution looks like here; how to combine the current outfit based cosmetic system and make loot have a visual impact, but I think Crystal Dynamics needs to provide a bigger incentive for people to grind for cool stuff rather than just to make the numbers go up.
The other issue is that Marvel’s Avengers is currently lacking any kind of true endgame challenge for players to even gear up for. It’s missing the equivalent of Destiny or The Division 2’s Raids. Its current set of mission offerings is a smattering of disorganized nodes on a world map that probably mean nothing to the average player. Each of these loads you into samey environments without the notable setpieces from the story to brawl against a bunch of AIM baddies. Objectives here and there may change, but I really wish these felt less like procedurally generated forests and generic high-tech facilities and more like curated experiences. The overall endgame loop is fun enough, but the “why” of it all has yet to present itself.
To be fair, The Division didn’t start out with Raids (and its first one was a bad grind against a bullet-sponge boss) and Destiny was initially a letdown for a lot of players before the Vault of Glass Raid opened up a world of possibilities for the franchise, but Marvel’s Avengers needs to lean into its longterm loot-based plans and start defining the challenges that players will undertake. The alternative is what we saw happen to Anthem, which lacked any real kind of endgame challenge or chase for players to enjoy. New characters, story, and locations being added down the line is great, but you have to give players a reason and a place to use these characters at their full power in a way that challenges everything they’ve learned and grinded gear for. Perhaps that’s coming, but it’s something the needs to be communicated soon.
Marvel’s Avengers Review – Growing Pains
In fact, the entire post-campaign Avengers Initiative side of the game feels a little bit undercooked, a series of great concepts based on other loot-based games that makes it clear Crystal Dynamics has some lessons to learn. Games like The Division and Destiny have had years of growth and evolution and development. By comparison, it’s clear that Marvel’s Avengers is just starting out down this path. It’s a canvas of possibility, but the real test will be seeing what they end up doing with it. The community is already issuing tons of feedback about quality of life issues that need fixed. Crystal Dynamics has already addressed a number of them through updates since the launch of the game. And there is at least a future roadmap of support in place, right now focused primarily on adding characters with new story missions and locations.
What really saves the whole thing is that Marvel’s Avengers is so much damn fun to play. Yes, I smirk and sigh a little as I descend into yet another mapping of high-tech hallways that mirrors the last mission I played. And sure, I’m getting tired of seeing the same forested areas that hide another AIM facility, but I forget all about that when I call in the lightning as Thor, wallop enemies with giant fists as Kamala, or chuck enormous chunks of the ground as Hulk. Again, particularly as these characters level up, the game arguably gets immensely more fun to play even as there’s less to actually do and see.
Monetization is also present in Marvel’s Avengers, but it hardly feels like a focus at all. Yeah, there’s a marketplace of cool stuff you can buy for real money, including emotes, nameplates, outfits, and finishers, but it’s presence feels firmly relagated to the background. You almost need to actively seek it out in order to find it. This comes along with individual heroes’ battle-pass-like challenge cards, which can be finished by completing challenges or paying money, offering a series of hero-specific cosmetics, but again, the whole system feels supplementary in total. It’s never in your face, and if you want to ignore the whole monetization and cosmetics side of Marvel’s Avengers, you easily can. Which is probably a good thing, given how expensive some of the hero outfits are.
One of the biggest things I can’t help but wonder about as I play on PS4 is what the PS5 version will offer in comparison. It feels a bit like the current generation of consoles also holds Marvel’s Avengers back, to some extent. I’m certain Marvel wanted a broad install base here, but the game could have really benefited from another delay to launch alongside next-gen consoles. Playing on a standard launch PS4, I’ve encountered numerous performance issues and bugs, though consensus among the community seems to indicate it’s not just limited to playing on a launch PS4. I’m extremely curious to know how the next-gen version of the game will perform. And remembering that we’re just two weeks into a game meant for the long haul, I’m curious what Marvel’s Avengers will look like by next-gen launch, by six months out, or by this time next year.
For all of my criticisms, Marvel’s Avengers is still a game I can’t wait to get back to playing. While there’s a lot of work to do, it gets one main thing right: it’s fun to be an Avenger. Crystal Dynamics captured this incredible feeling of being a superhero and distilled it into a digital environment. Combat is deep and nuanced, with far more complexities and character than your traditional superhero brawler. Right now, Marvel’s Avengers is a bit rough around the edges, but “good isn’t a thing you are. It’s a thing you do.” If Crystal Dynamics can smooth performance and squash bugs, as well as build out a more compelling endgame experience, it has a lot of potential to be one of the most memorable and replayable loot brawlers of this generation and next.
Marvel’s Avengers review code provided by publisher. Latest version as of publication date reviewed on a standard launch PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.