My least-favorite moment in the story portion of the free Black Panther: War for Wakanda expansion for Marvel’s Avengers is when the rest of the Avengers show up. Until then it’s the T’Challa and Shuri show, and it’s perfect.
Far from the fledgling king we know from the Marvel cinematic universe, Marvel Avengers’ Black Panther is some years into his reign. He’s escaped the shadow of his father, shaping himself into his own version of the panther king. He is adored and respected by his people, he’s not afraid to lean on his family for guidance, and he has utter faith in the power and sovereignty of Wakanda.
So when Ulysses Klaue shows up at his doorstep with an army of mercenaries, eager to drain Wakanda of its precious vibranium, T’Challa doesn’t run to light up the Avengers signal...he takes care of business on his own. The expansion’s opening mission is a solo Black Panther joint as the king runs through the jungle, solves challenging puzzles to unlock ancient temples, and uses his defense-heavy moveset to take out Klaue’s mercenaries, some of the game’s first truly new enemies since it launched late last year.
As a fighter, Black Panther is highly technical. His core abilities involve blocking and parrying in order to store kinetic energy in his suit. This energy can be used to power special abilities, like a percussive blast that pushes all enemies away and increases damage dealt. You can also use it to power up normal moves, giving them a little extra power. His specialty attacks include a spear that can pin up to three enemies, Kimoyo beads which seek out foes and do stun damage while lowering impact resistance, and his ultimate, which summons the power of Bast to buff damage and defense and use kinetic powers without consuming energy.
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I will admit, I died a few times before getting the hang of Panther’s powers. I’ve been waiting for the character so long I just wanted to go wild. There’s some room for random flailing here, but not much. Parrying is hugely important, especially in the first boss battle against B-lister Crossbones, so use weaker enemies as practice. Use T’Challa’s skills effectively and he’ll be a powerful addition to your team.
Eh, the team. The Avengers are allowed to enter Wakanda at Shuri’s behest, but they aren’t here to lend a hand. The expansion writers, one of which is former Kotaku writer turned comic book author Evan Narcisse, have gone to great lengths to ensure this episode isn’t about the Avengers saving the day. Instead, Cap, Tony, and friends show up to ask T’Challa for help. Corrupt vibranium is popping up around the world, and they need the world’s foremost expert on the alien metal to make heads or tails of what’s going on. Wakanda does not send out distress signals. Wakanda answers them.
After you briefly take control of Captain America for a tour of the new Wakanda base of operations, which is a gorgeous mixture of ancient history and modern technology, the rest of the Avengers just stand around awkwardly while T’Challa sets the rest of the expansion’s story in motion. It’s almost like they don’t belong here and they feel sort of awkward about it, which is good.
Lush new jungle setting aside, the rest of the expansion’s story plays as any fan of the game might expect. The Black Panther and whichever Avengers you let tag along run through the jungle from objective to objective, taking out the forces of Klaue and his employers, A.I.M., as the villains attempt to infiltrate Wakanda’s powerful defenses. It all leads to a grand confrontation with Klaue, who undergoes a transformation to make him more like his pure-sound comic book counterpart.
Once that final battle is finished we get an epilogue that fans of Black Panther (and his supporting cast) will absolutely love. Then ol’ BP runs off with the Avengers to join their battle against A.I.M., and we’re quickly reminded this is still Marvel’s Avengers and not a brand-new game starring T’Challa that the Avengers only appear in as special guest stars. Pity.
The War for Wakanda storyline only takes two or three hours to play through, which is on par with the accompanying story content for the two Hawkeyes, but it feels so much richer than those previous additions. Wakanda is its own lush world, one that could easily be the setting for a full game. The Black Panther is a compelling character both in and out of battle. And as a special added bonus, he doesn’t use a goddamn bow and arrow. Almost makes up for his lack of a tail.
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That said, Black Panther and the War for Wakanda expansion doesn’t magically transform Marvel’s Avengers into a better game. Once it’s over, we’re back to the same old grind, only with a new friend in tow. It’s nice while it lasts, though.