There are many unanswered questions in the Marvel universe. Where did Loki go with the Tesseract? Why does the Hulk’s shirt rip but not his pants? How did they manage to make a solid single player mode out of a multiplayer game? Luckily the answer to most of these questions don’t matter, as long as the game is good and the Hulk has his pants on.
There is far more of a single player focus than one might expect from Marvel’s Avengers, and it’s all the better for it. Whilst you can play as a multitude of mainline Avengers throughout the single player story, the main focus is on Kamala Khan – the 2013 reincarnation of Ms. Marvel. The story itself isn’t excellent but the characters are warm and exuberant, and Kamala’s depth and development kept me interested in the more monotonous parts. Whilst there is a big bad, the centre of most of Kamala’s story isn’t quite as focused on them. Rather than pitting motives to single actions, it places weight behind systems and movements. After a freak accident leaves many common civilians with superpowers and abilities, a mixture of inaction, fearmongering and general misinformation has left them outlawed, persecuted and unsupported. In this sense, the story is about righting the wrongs of a bad guy, but also dealing with systemic abuse and the prejudice that comes with it.
This is all an important preamble as it leaves room for Kamala to develop into Ms. Marvel organically and with some level of depth. The story opens with Kamala looking up to the Avengers and rushing around to find important comics to get herself a VIP seat to an Avengers event. After experiencing life through her eyes for a moment, all hell breaks loose and you must control Thor and Iron Man as they ascertain the whereabouts of a villain responsible for an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. This mission ends fatally, causing the aforementioned freak accident. You are then moved to the future where it shows Kamala’s room, her father and her life. She accesses her computer and makes her way into Tony Stark’s files to find out some more information about the accident. This sets up a rather important thing about her character: she is strong-willed, intelligent and very stubborn. All of the Avengers have gone underground and the city has been taken over by a police state indoctrinating civilians and controlling those with powers. Kamala makes it her mission to deal with this in any way she can.
This leads us to how Avengers chooses to deal with this story. There are a few main mission types throughout the campaign, and a selection of story-driven acts that have less action and more responsive levels. For instance, the first level after the opening has you control Kamala as she makes her way to an important spot for information. It has you traverse the rooftops, working as a clever tutorial. This is less action-focused and reveals little pieces of information about the world. These almost feel inspired by third-person action games like Drake’s Fortune, having a mix of combat, exploration and story. Other missions follow in line with a structure set by Destiny. To give a semi-open feel to levels, there are often clumps of bad guys in chokepoints and semi-hidden objectives that net you better gear. They don’t work nearly as well as the more cinematic parts, often feeling a little tedious. They don’t tend to break up the monotony of beating up bad guys, often feeling like an A to B run until you’ve eventually just finished the mission.
The gameplay doesn’t do too much to keep that interest there. It’s reasonably solid, feeling like a pretty standard beat ‘em up with some timed abilities. All attacks feel smooth and the complexity of combat is held up slightly with the mix of rage, shooting mechanics and a higher difficulty level. The first few hours of combat offer mindless yet fun joy, but it fails to offer any more depth past that. What it does do well is its universal controls. Whilst each character is unique, the way each moveset is designed gives every Avenger a certain ease of access. X with every character is punch, LT with every character is aim. This gives a unique yet not daunting challenge to learn how each character operates best.
Perhaps the single thing keeping combat interesting past the first few hours is its levelling system. Much like Destiny, each Avenger has a power level that is an average power of all pieces of gear. You can find new gear in strongboxes or upgrade pre-existing gear with materials. This means you are constantly looking up to the next level both in regards to experience and gear. This enunciates a bit of a power imbalance between two styles Avengers wanted to go for. Parts of the single player have genuinely nice moments and manage to slow down when needed for conversation or to view a sight. They feel spaced out and surprisingly well-paced. On the other hand, there are mission-like war zones and side quests that feel tedious and unoriginal, designed to be played over and over again with friends.
This clash of multiplayer and single player is expressed even further with the Avengers initiative – Avengers’ endgame multiplayer content. You, and three random online players, have to take on sometimes arbitrary objectives in order to get better loot and gear. There is a story behind it, that is advised to take on after the story as it’s loaded with spoilers. Unfortunately, tedious missions and mediocre matchmaking leave most multiplayer missions dull in comparison to the better parts of the single player. It is often grindy and not hugely interesting.
Unfortunately, it seems the more of Marvel’s Avengers you play, the less likely you are to come away with an overall positive experience. The single player by itself might take you up to 10 hours but diminishing returns for the multiplayer aspects set in rather fast. The single player is Hulk: strong, fast and a surprise when you aren’t expecting it. The multiplayer is Bruce Banner: calculated, small, and has the potential to be something powerful but isn’t quite there yet.
Marvel’s Avengers on Xbox One is a little bit of a mixed bag, but like one of those tote bags you get at events – you might laugh at the 5th bottle opener, you might make fun of the lack of originality, but it makes for a nice surprise and looks pretty good to boot.