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Marvel's Avengers needs to be put out of its misery

Marvel's Avengers.
(Image credit: Crystal Dynamics)

Marvel's Avengers' official site has a long and frankly dull post celebrating the one year anniversary of the ill-fated multiplayer brawler. Square Enix expected this to be one of the biggest games in the world, the most commercial superhero license around realised as a live service game that would see players bashing baddies and buying costumes for years to come.

It didn't quite work out that way. You almost never see the game breaking more than 1000 concurrent players on Steam, matchmaking has been a nightmare since launch (presumably for this reason), and the endgame... well, there is no endgame worthy of the sobriquet. All of which is an enormous pity because by no means is this a bad game: the singleplayer campaign is great, and is now bolstered by three chunky expansions that added two Hawkeyes and Black Panther. Multiplayer, when it works, can be great fun too.

But Marvel's Avengers just doesn't have the depth and mission variety to keep you hooked. The multiplayer becomes repetitive far sooner than it should. The gear system has sucked from the start (and the developers still haven't worked out how to fix it). And there's never any sense that the Avengers Initiative, the narrative umbrella under which multiplayer sits, is doing anything comparable to what Bungie has managed with Destiny 2. That might seem an unfair comparison, but make no mistake: this game was intended to compete in the same space as Destiny 2, and as things stand Bungie's shooter is in a different league.

(Image credit: Crystal Dynamics)

I am probably being a bit mean. But Marvel's Avengers has always felt like two games smooshed together: one of the best Marvel singleplayer experiences out there (if it wasn't for Insomniac's Spider-Man, probably the best), with a multiplayer mode that is fun but completely incapable of sustaining interest over weeks, let alone years. 

The low playercounts are why the Crystal Dynamics writeup ends up throwing absolutely pointless metrics out. 275 million hero levels earned! 1.5 billion upgrade modules rewarded! Who cares! Introducing the game's roadmap for the rest of the year, the post says "our goal is to deliver more compelling Avengers Initiative content that is replayable." It cites the upcoming Klaw raid as an example of what this means in practice:

"The Klaw Raid features custom-crafted levels, new threats that require complex and tactical combat, and stronger enemy variety themed to the Villain being faced. New enemies called Echoes (sound constructs created by Klaw) have been created and tailored exclusively for this experience. With the Power Level increase to 175 yielding more compelling drops, it is a notable example of replayable and rewarding content that fits our mantra moving forward."

(Image credit: Crystal Dynamics)

There is a bunch of other stuff going into more detail on things like drop rates in the post itself, and as these roadmaps are becoming quite common I would like to add an appeal to developers: stop putting 'bonus XP weekends' on there to bulk them out. That's not a feature and, again, no-one cares.

To be honest, my eyes kinda glazed over after the only halfway exciting announcement anyway. We've known for a while now that Spider-Man would eventually appear in Marvel's Avengers, and we've also known he would be a Playstation exclusive. Well, he'll be arriving with a new hero event in 'Fall / Winter' (which could be anytime up till February or March 2022) and, yes, it's still exclusive to Playstation.

I know it's weird moaning about something that has been public knowledge and communicated openly for a while. But this post really reminded me that Crystal Dynamics' game won't ever be complete, or the best possible version, on PC. Spider-Man is easily Marvel's best character, and for my money he's one of the core Avengers too. Or certainly, any Avengers story is better for him being in it.

Lord knows what kind of boardroom shenanigans went on when this deal was signed. But it absolutely blows that, in a game where the character roster is the whole deal, because I bought the game on PC I'll never get the chance to play as Spider-Man. I'm not buying this game again on Playstation for a goddamn downloadable character. And when he does arrive PC players will get...nothing. It's not like Crystal Dynamics has made a 'compensation' campaign for the platforms that don't get Spidey: those unlucky players just get nothing. Is our money worth less than that of Playstation players?

Marvel's Avengers

(Image credit: Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics)

Marvel's Avengers always had this element of hubris to it: a sense of success being guaranteed, a massive playerbase waiting in the wings, the idea it could get away with things. Baffling decisions like the Spider-Man deal remind you of this arrogance and, one year down the line, have turned into something of an albatross for a game looking to attract players. Why would you ever play this on PC now, why would you even consider buying it? I don't have an answer and neither does Crystal Dynamics, unless you've got a Playstation.

Despite myself, I do return every so often around the new characters, just to see how Marvel's Avengers is ticking along. Sometimes I have fun, sometimes I don't. Either way, the feeling now is of a game on its last legs, struggling to retain its existing players (nevermind attract new ones) and with nothing to really get excited about on the horizon. There's no vision for how to 'fix' this game, if it can even be fixed, just a lot of words about fiddling at the edges.

It's a shame, because Marvel's Avengers contains some of Crystal Dynamics' best work, and anyone who's played it will tell you there's a lot to love. But this just isn't and never will be the service game it was conceived as, and it's never quite shaken that whiff of a money-grubbing setup forced to play nice. So much for the one year anniversary: even Spider-Man can't save this one.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."