DEVELOPERS: Crystal Dynamics/Eidos-Montréal/Nixxes
PUBLISHER: Square Enix
REVIEWED ON: PlayStation 4 (Slim) from a copy purchased by the author.
It’s hard to believe it, but it will soon be one year since the launch of Marvel’s Avengers. Though its debut and first few months did the game very little favors, 2021 has been a good year for an offering that once upon a time just couldn’t catch a break. This is largely due to new characters, the release of the next-generation version, free weekends, and a string of steady content drops and patches.
Of all its updates, however, none have been as large or important as War for Wakanda. Not only does it introduce Black Panther into the fold, it also brings in new enemies, villains to battle, not to mention the region of Wakanda itself to explore. While War for Wakanda is an excellent showcase of how far Marvel’s Avengers has come recently, its rapidly paced story does little to expand the lore of the game, even as Black Panther himself shines, both in how he is portrayed and feels to control.
Ever since the fall of Captain America, Wakanda has cut itself off from the outside world. But as a new threat in the form of Ulysses Klaue comes knocking on Wakanda’s gates alongside the global rise of corrupted vibranium, T’Challa, the Black Panther, finds his interests once realigned with the outside world. In particular the Avengers, who have discovered that Wakanda’s problem may have something to do with their ongoing battle against A.I.M.
War for Wakanda is at its best when it’s divorced from the overarching story of Marvel’s Avengers. In its opening moments, it feels like the Black Panther game the world truly deserves as you explore the character of T’Challa and the history of the land he rules over. Once the Avengers enter the fray, they mostly feel shoehorned in, and not only that, developments that have recently occurred in the story are contradicted here. The conclusion is mostly satisfying, but it speeds so fast towards it that it doesn’t exactly feel earned, nor does it generate the emotions you think it should.
The star here, of course, is T’Challa, expertly voiced by Christopher Judge who many will know as Kratos from the most recent God of War. Through a combination of vocal coaching and pure talent, you wouldn’t even know the two characters were voiced by the same person. Black Panther is expertly handled here, and far from the young King that audiences have recently come to know as played by the gone too soon Chadwick Boseman. T’Challa is a leader who feels the weight of his crown, trying to show strength even as it sometimes costs him the trust of those he cherishes closest.
Characters from this corner of the Marvel Universe like Shuri and Okoye also appear in War for Wakanda, but they don’t exactly have a lot to do. You rarely if at all see Okoye, and her Dora Milaje don’t get the chance to shine next to the Avengers. Shuri plays a much larger role, but her time to truly shine feels more like it’s coming in the future.
Since launch, Marvel’s Avengers has added two new characters, both of which went by the codename Hawkeye. While the developers put in the work to make each feel unique from one another, at the end of the day, they were still two characters built around using a bow and arrow. Black Panther, both in how he navigates the environment and fights, is what a game like Marvel’s Avengers has desperately been in need of.
Some of the highlights of War for Wakanda are not actually found battling robotic spiders and sonic weapon equipped bad guys, but rather using double jumps and wall runs to navigate the world. That’s not to say that T’Challa isn’t a slouch on the battlefield, far from it. Holding the heavy attack button will make him pounce on enemies like a certain six-clawed canuck from X-Men Origins, and he comes equipped with vibranium daggers that can be upgraded to home in on attackers.
For those who simply want to run up and stylish slash at enemies, they certainly can, but you’ll get most of your mileage out of Black Panther by playing smartly and defensively. As seen in his cinematic debut, T’Challa’s vibranium infused outfit can absorb hits, done here by parrying effectively, and when his intrinsic meter is filled up, it can be used to unleash a devastating concussive wave of energy.
Maybe even more so than the character of Black Panther, Wakanda itself hogs a lot of the spotlight. Its lush jungles mixed with ancient temples and technological marvels are a welcome addition to Marvel’s Avengers after a year of mostly the same few environments. What’s perhaps most challenging about War for Wakanda is relearning the language of this game, as something as simple as a turret and a switch has its own Wakandian flair you have to reacclimate to.
This is still Marvel’s Avengers after all, so even as War for Wakanda refreshes the game, it’s not quite the game changer it may have been hyped to up to be. You get two new villain characters, but they’re still mostly the same damage sponges that Taskmaster and Abomination have been, and a drilling machine is not unlike the Warbot. A new mission type involves protecting three unique points that is more than likely a blast with a team of coordinated heroes, but it’s an absolute chore to play in single player mode.
If you haven’t booted up Marvel’s Avengers for quite some time, Marvel’s Avengers is a clever way to market just how clean the game’s interface has become. What was once presented across multiple menus is now condensed down to one page that you can even navigate without the use of the faux cursor. You also have the ability to crush multiple pieces of gear at the same time too. There’s a new hub area here, and in it you can interface with the streamlined Resistance computer to pick up all of your daily faction quests. It really goes to show just how much the development team has taken in feedback to really make this a better experience for its users.
As a free upgrade to anyone who owns Marvel’s Avengers, it’s tough to argue about the price of War for Wakanda. For those who still have their copy and are looking for an excuse to hop back in, this one is well worth it, just provided you keep your expectations in check. Black Panther and his homeland add much to Marvel’s Avengers, along with the rebuilt systems, but this also stays tried and true to the game’s established formula. At a handful or so hours long, it’s over before it truly begins, but that disappointment mostly comes from simply just wanting to spend more time in Wakanda with its King.
Marvel’s Avengers is available now on the PlayStation and Xbox family of consoles, Google Stadia and PC. War for Wakanda is a free upgrade to all users.