How The Marvel's Avengers Game Can Turn It Around
Marvel's Avengers has an incredible single-player story, which made it very odd that Square Enix chose to market the Crystal Dynamics game heavily as a multiplayer experience. With so much of a focus on playing with friends, the endgame component of the Marvel game left little to be desired. Many felt that the grind was not worth the effort, a problem that games like Destiny 2 have faced, and with the response to those complaints being to make the title even more of a grind, we couldn't help but wonder what the heck the studio is doing and offer up a few things we'd like to see to help them turn it around.
How can Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics make Marvel's Avengers good again?
The single-player story of Marvel's Avengers, despite initial reservations over character models, was a pretty big hit for many players. It offered a different perspective of some of our favorite heroes and it also gave the "adorkably" charming Kamala Khan a spotlight that this character deserved. The story wasn't the problem. The problem was that Square Enix shoved the story aside when marketing the title pre-launch so when it eventually did release, players were expecting this breathtaking, fully fleshed-out multiplayer endgame experience. What they got was an endless repetitious cycle that didn't feel like there was any real payoff. The grind was real. It was also Real Boring™.
In response to criticisms that the grind was just too much and that the endgame experience felt lacking, Crystal Dynamics announced a new set of changes. The answer? More grind! Now, the studio is making it even harder to level up and is not even offering an increase in XP until level 25. The vanilla version of the game made the grind to level 50 slow (seemingly never-ending), and without reward. The decision to make the progression even slower, even harder to get to was the exact opposite of the change this team should have implemented.
To further the disconnect that the studio seems to have with what players want, our own Andrew Reiner noted in his review that the endgame content didn't match up with the goal intended. He said, "It doesn’t have the competitive hooks of similarly designed games like Destiny. A steady drip of new stories and missions will be needed along with the announced heroes."
While we've seen new characters join the fight, and more on the way, it's not enough. The concurrent player count for Marvel's Avengers has dropped dramatically since launch, a problem an online game never wants to face. So what can the team do differently? Ready for a controversial statement? Here we go: Square Enix needs to take a page from the Destiny 2 playbook.
Destiny 2 received a mixed reaction from players surrounding its launch. Those critical of the game took issue with rewards locked behind paywalls, lackluster endgame, cheaters galore, and a disconnect between story expansions all painted a bleak picture for the future of Bungie's space franchise. Then Bungie parted ways with Activision, and we as players began to see change happen. Did the positive change happen overnight? Absolutely not. Is the game perfect now? Still nope. Between Trials of Osiris woes and Stasis' mixed reception, Bungie still has a lot of work to do. The difference is, the work Bungie has done thus far has injected fresh life into the community – a community that once more has a healthy number of active players and even more jumping in all of the time.
What Crystal Dynamics (and Square Enix as the publisher) needs to do is listen. The decision to make the game even more of a grind comes from the creative director mentioning that he thought that players felt that way because they were "confused." What Bungie has done, and what others have done as well such as Ubisoft with The Division 2, is listen without presumption and make plans accordingly. That's caused some missteps along the way, especially with a community like Destiny's where players seem split on what they want, but what's important is that they never stopped trying. The game available now is wildly different than the launch title. The real turning point was the Forsaken DLC, an expansion that made the risky move of killing off one of the most beloved characters in the franchise's history. What many thought would be the final nail in the coffin for Destiny 2 actually acted as a catalyst for a bright new future. Bungie has invested heavily in endgame experiences (we're ignoring Trials here, because good god is that a mess) and Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics needs to do the same.
Instead of making the grind even more at a snail's pace, Crystal Dynamics needs to instead focus on fixing the more glaring technical issues that are still prevalent, especially those regarding Kate Bishop. Between the delayed arrival of Hawkeye and the lack of any meaningful tweaks to endgame, Marvel's Avengers is in a dangerous position of slipping permanently into the trap that Anthem did. But it's not too late.
They also need to reverse plans for the slowed progression. That is not the way to go in any reality and will only further hurt any other improvements that are on the way.
Crystal Dynamics needs to adopt a more consistent content schedule. The sparsity and sporadic release of anything new makes it hard for players that are losing faith to stay focused on the game. Personally, I would love to see the studio release a new hero and a new baddie every 3-4 months or so. That will keep players interested long enough to wait out any "online boredom" felt while awaiting new arrivals. It will also keep those that do move onto other games a reason to jump back in, and a reason to keep jumping back in.
But new characters won't be enough, especially with the continuously dropping player count. In addition to a new good guy vs. bad guy rotation, the team should invest in multiple zone expansions on a frequent scale as well. While I understand that this might not be as doable as in the past, especially with COVID-19, any purposefully withheld content needs to be brought front and center if it's ready.
New skill trees to invest time in, meaningful skill trees that feel new and exciting. New zones to explore that hide rewards that players will care about, new little Easter egg voice lines for players to stumble upon and want to talk about. More comedy, more levity. People want to laugh right now. They need to laugh right now. So make them laugh, this is an all-star cast of heroes that we grew up loving and aspiring to. The MCU and comics have proven time and time again that Marvel has a unique edge when it comes to a comedic overlay, even during serious arcs, and Square Enix should encourage Crystal Dynamics to lean into this.
Is it worth it?
Should Square and Crystal continue throwing money at a game that continues to go downhill? It's technically still making a profit, so it's not in the position that BioWare found itself in with Anthem, but that doesn't mean that the same future isn't a distinct possibility. What the company needs to do now is show that they are listening. Tap into its inner Bungie and put action behind words: "We hear you, we're listening, we'll do better" and then actually do better. Players want content. The company has more content than most IPs to work with. Use it. Harness it. Deliver it and we could just see a 180 that the game needs to thrive.