Throughout last week, I’ve bounced back and forth on whether I published my review for Marvel’s Avengers too early or if I was too harsh on it. Even though I felt disappointed with the finished product, I still found myself logging in every day to play for an hour or two, maybe even more. At the same time however, I would also proclaim to my roommate who’s playing on Xbox One that I was done after every session. But, 2:30 PM local time when the new daily missions came up, I was there or close to it. I sought to understand what people were seeing in the game that I wasn’t, and maybe if I played enough, something would magically click. People I respect like Andrew Reiner from Game Informer and Adam Leonhardt from Mega Dads were having a great time, so maybe I could to. The conclusion that I’ve come to though is that there are hurdles in Marvel’s Avengers that I can’t quite get over, mostly based around the loot based progression system, but I feel that this can be fixed in the short term.
For all its faults, Marvel’s Avengers certainly gets a lot of things right. I still find myself with a giddy smile on my face as I hurl Captain America’s shield, watch it pinball between a few robots, and then launch it back with a mighty kick while I hear the clanging of metal on metal. Crystal Dynamics and their partners understand these characters and what makes them cool. I may not like using characters like Thor and Hulk, but I’ve leveled up both Black Widow and Captain America to the present cap of fifty. There are perhaps those who couldn’t be bothered with either of those characters, but they feel for lack of a better term right to me. With a small cast of six, and still more to come, Marvel’s Avengers already has someone for everyone.
The issue, at least for me, comes with how progression works in Marvel’s Avengers. Defeating enemies and completing quests in Marvel’s Avengers nets you experience, and just like every other video game that has done this, after you get enough you level up. Marvel’s Avengers though is like Whose Line is it Anyway? where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. You can max out your character of choice rather quickly – at least compared to the other meters you have to work on – but your character level doesn’t matter as much as the level of the gear that you’re wearing for the most part. Spending skill points will certainly make your chances of survival better, but your stats and mission requirements are all linked to gear. You can have a level fifty Hulk, but if what he’s equipped with doesn’t come close the power level of the mission you need to do, it either won’t let you start it and if it does, it’s hilarious how quickly you’ll die.
For a clear example of how obnoxious this can be, I’ll use examples from my own game. As part of the quest line “Reigning Supreme”, I had to complete two missions as seen below:
Now, in order to do this, I had to equip enough gear such that I my power level would match. Again, my actual character level means little.
So, after filling up the meters of my daily quest logs, I finally reached the carrot at the end of the stick and completed both tasks. My brain had released the chemicals associated with getting a reward. But then the quest line continued onward.
Suddenly my level fifty, power level one-hundred-and-one Captain America wasn’t good enough because…
…the next mission had jumped another ten points. This is also I might add with the challenge level set to the lowest it can possibly be.
I’ve jokingly begun referring to Marvel’s Avengers as “Heroine Heroes”. This is reference to an episode of South Park where Stan’s dad, Randy Marsh, was addicted to a Guitar Hero spoof called Heroine Hero where the goal is to chase a dragon that you’ll never catch. That’s what playing Marvel’s Avengers feels like and why I had to put my foot down and say enough is enough more than once.
What makes all this worse is that the act of obtaining gear in Marvel’s Avengers is far too tedious. You can buy high level gear from vendors in the game’s two hub areas, but gaining access to the best stuff means raising your faction levels with two groups: S.H.I.E.L.D and the Inhumans. You do this by completing daily missions that you pick up from quest givers, but the process couldn’t be more annoying. After you collect your daily tasks from one person, you then have to travel to the other location to pick up the others and there’s a loading screen separating both areas. Now if you want to collect your daily rewards, there’s another step involved as you have to talk to another two people. This game doesn’t need two hub worlds, and it would make it so much easier, as well as enjoyable, if they just merged everything together into one location. Maybe even start a poll with #SavetheChimera or #SavetheAnthill.
Gear can be found within levels but getting it there brings with a new set of problems. There are maps in Marvel’s Avengers that are frankly too big and your character movement, whether flying as Iron Man and Thor or running with everyone else, is much too slow. Making the journey across the map to collect everything is a long process, and then there’s the issue where depending on your character, you might not even be able to claim your reward at all.
You can play this game with a team of up to four or by yourself, which is something I commend the developers for doing because not everyone wants to play online or simply can’t find the time to group up. There can be chests hidden behind barriers that can only be opened by heavy characters like Kamala Khan and Hulk. If, like myself, you’re using Captain America, you won’t be able to break through specific doors and claim your reward. So, in instances like these, not only did I travel all the way to get to a chest, but now I can’t open in. I should have the feeling of accomplishment of getting a reward, but instead all I’ve done is waste my time. Meanwhile the AI controlled character who could remedy this for you stands there and offers no assistance. This too is something that needs to be addressed going further. Doors can also be gated behind terminals that Cap’s man out of time brain can’t process, and thus my new main is further handicapped for solo play.
When you take away the hunt for loot, all that’s left is bashing the same few robots, and while fighting helps with your faction goals and a character’s daily and weekly challenges, it begins to feel like you’re spinning your wheels. I actually tried to play through the next level in my quest which is a Hive mission. For those unfamiliar with the game, they essentially combine multiple missions into one, separating them by floors. In order to beat them, you must accomplish all the goals on each floor. I managed to make it to the fifth level where I had to destroy four generators, a task I mostly had to do on my own because my fellow Avengers were not helping me. When I did that, I had to clean out the rest of the enemies and wound up losing. I had done what the game asked me I thought. What purpose does it serve fighting these robots? I’m not getting stronger by beating them, and only really collecting random pieces of junk to possibly power up my gear, but I’m not getting anymore powerful by fighting so what’s the point?
Marvel’s Avengers biggest flaws surrounds how progression works, but it desperately needs a new game plus function also. If you let yourself think about it too much, you can start to feel how cynical Marvel’s Avengers comes across, and allowing players to replay the campaign that’s packed with a lot of heart could serve as a reminder as to why they’re sticking with it. Then there’s also a more mechanical function. Those who need to capture footage for the campaign for one reason or another can only replay it by setting up a guest account on their consoles. The only other option is to erase your save completely which means losing access to hours of progression.
Marvel’s Avengers continues to be a frustrating experience because you want to play as these superheroes. The way in which the true bulk of the game works right now though makes you question whether you’re having fun or if you have an addiction. No word to a lie, I have removed the disc from my console and told my partner that I considered having her hide it from me. I really hate to throw out the caveat that “it will get better over time” because while I’m sure it will, first impressions are important and Marvel’s Avengers, at least how I feel, was not ready for prime time. Crystal Dynamics and their partners have a lot of work ahead of them to turn this around – it’s presently the worst scoring Marvel’s title for PlayStation 4 on Metacritic behind both Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Iron Man VR – but if they address in the short term the issues with how their loot works, it could make it a lot more palatable.