The first hurdle I had to overcome in returning to the game was getting my head around all of the currency and material changes. It’s telling how painfully bloated this aspect of Avengers was at launch that they have retired five different upgrade materials and it still feels like there’s an unnecessary amount. For all the changes in this area, visibility is still woeful. You can only see how much of each you have by going into the equipment menu, meaning that if you’re looking to grab something from a vendor or upgrade a piece of gear from the character page, you’ll only see how much it costs, not how much of that resource you actually have to spend, which is either a frustrating oversight or a deceptive way to get players to burn through resources. On that note, Polychoron — the stuff needed to upgrade your Major Artifact on a character — is effectively time-gated, with daily missions being one of the only reliable ways to stock up. The Major Artifact will typically be the only thing holding you back from max Power Level of 150, and you’ll basically need to play regularly if you want to max out even one character… I’ve had Widow kitted out in all 140 gear for a while, but the Artifact is still sat at 7 and it’ll take weeks to push it to 10.
Annoyingly, unlike in most similar games, just doing one character isn’t really enough here. Elite Heroic Hives, which offer top-end loot, work differently to most other Avengers content — you bring a team of heroes and switch to your next when your current one is knocked out, meaning you really need at least two near-capped characters to make it through this gauntlet and grab some of the best gear in the game. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to load up on 140s in all of your main slots once you’re at or at least close to the Hero Level cap of 50, especially now there’s an infusion system that works exactly like the equivalent system in Destiny. For the benefit of non-Guardians, this basically allows you to power up certain lower-level gear by burning something stronger into it, meaning you keep the stats and perks of the original piece, but gain the item level of the destroyed one — perfect if you’ve got a great build on the go and don’t want to lose key stats, but still need to give it a boost to get an edge in more difficult content.
The actual levelling process itself has been through all kinds of changes since launch, with the speed and ease with which you can take a hero from 1 to 50 seemingly in constant flux. Honestly, I didn’t notice too much of a change in pace from what I remember a year ago, and was quickly able to power-level Hulk to a suitable state for a particular challenge that was required to unlock more missions, and push Black Widow through the last few levels to ding 50 and unlock Champion levels. A maxed-out character continues to gain experience, which then goes towards Champion perks — permanent passive abilities that offer slight stat improvements (typically a 1-5% boost to one stat or ability) which can actually grow to be quite significant if you put the time in and start stacking them. Again, though, this encouragement to invest heavily in one character does work against having a core endgame activity that requires multiple heroes, so I always felt torn on whether I should be grinding out Champion bonuses on my ‘main’ character or dragging someone else up through the ranks.
One thing I found especially amusing was the new splash screen upon loading the game, which now features a ‘spider warning.’ While intended to warn arachnophobes about new spider-esque enemies added in the Wakanda campaign, there’s one spider in particular who is conspicuous by his absence: Spider-Man. Peter Parker’s web-slinging alter ego was announced to be a PlayStation exclusive, which left many on other platforms feeling short-changed, but it actually seems as though players on both sides ended up getting a bum deal. You see, unlike the other characters that have been added since launch, Spidey doesn’t actually have any kind of story content to back him up — he’s just kinda there, playable in all existing content but with no presence in the story at all. He looks fun enough to use, and the design is good (it’s not as easy to mess up as some of the others, admittedly), but the lack of supporting content is far from amazing, meaning Xbox and PC players shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on too much… even if it does mean that all of the best current Spidey experiences are tied to PlayStation consoles. Speaking with IGN recently, gameplay director Philippe Therien explained why Spider-Man didn’t get his own campaign. “We want to spend our efforts on content that everyone can enjoy,” he reasoned, so let’s take a look at some of that extra content that players on all platforms can swing into as they please.
I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve not completed all of the additional stuff, but I’ve given it all a go to get a feel for both the permanent and rotating event content so I have a fair idea of everything the game currently offers. The pair of Hawkeye mini-campaigns seem alright, even if the narrative feels like little more than the played-out ‘something, something, time travel’ nonsense that gives it free rein to do whatever the hell it likes. The War for Wakanda expansion, on the other hand, feels much more grounded and in offering us pretty new places to go that aren’t AIM lab corridors, it’s a welcome change of pace and scenery. T’Challa himself is really fun to play — moreso than the archer duo for me, with his interesting mix of fast strikes, mobility, and long-distance grapples — and it’s cool to have new destinations to explore both in and out of combat. The other good news is that while there aren’t too many new regular enemy types (besides those in the Wakanda areas), the new boss battle now mean that daily Villain Sectors aren’t just Taskmaster forever. It’s not that the new bosses are actually good, mind… they’re straightforward multi-phase HP mountains the likes of which we’ve been seeing for years, but at least they help mix things up a bit.
It’s not all such good news, though, and while I’m no developer, I’m not sure I’d try to course-correct a game that was underperforming with a system that a lot of people hate. Yes, for some reason, Crystal Dynamics opted to add loot boxes to Avengers, known here as Shipments. In fairness, the implementation is about as consumer-friendly as loot boxes get, with contents visible before you purchase and boxes rotating daily (or after one is bought). Outfits seem pretty rare in these (I’ve not seen one pop up since returning to the game) and it’s usually just nameplates and basic resources, although there’s apparently a chance at getting super-rare cosmetics and upgrade materials. Units used to purchase them can be earned in-game, if rather slowly, so seeing a good box and grabbing it shouldn’t break the bank. It’s still a vile, predatory practice, especially with a mercy system that straight-up gives you the featured item after opening 100 Shipments, but it could be way worse.
Closing out on some glad tidings, Avengers now supports Xbox Cloud Gaming and given that it’s already quite a spongy-feeling game, it doesn’t actually feel much different to play with slight latency issues, and without the need to even download that massive 133GB file for the Xbox Series X version. The new-gen version is a solid improvement, looking crisper and running much smoother than before, and that’s true whether playing the cloud or native versions. It’s still pretty buggy and glitchy — I’ve had several encounters either take way longer than they should or rendered impossible due to mission-critical enemies getting stuck in terrain, which has been happening since launch, and animation is still really awkward when quickly transitioning between a lot of different movements — but it’s certainly better than it was.
Am I going to be playing Avengers daily like I do with Destiny when I get the bug? Unlikely. But the improvements pretty much across the board mean that if you haven’t played it and you have Game Pass, I’d actually say that jumping in now isn’t a horrible idea. The campaign is fun, there’s plenty to do and way more variety than before, and so long as you’re not bothered about the completion (which is a hell of a grind, although achievements seem to be fixed now — I had about five auto-pop when I first logged in via Cloud Gaming), it’s a decent time. It’s still not close to being up there with the best games of its kind, but credit where due, Crystal Dynamics has made some marked progress (as well as a few missteps) in trying to turn Avengers’ fortunes around. Perhaps in another year or so, it’ll be even better… assuming support for the game continues that long, although honestly, seeing how much better it has gotten in just 12 months, I think it’d be a shame if it didn’t get more of a chance to prove itself.