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So, Is Marvel's Avengers An Endless Grindfest Or Not?

Illustration for article titled So, Is iMarvels Avengers/i An Endless Grindfest Or Not?
Screenshot: Square Enix

There’s a cloud hanging over Marvel’s Avengers. Since the third-person action game was confirmed to be a Destiny-style online game, one question has persisted: Just how much of a grind are we looking at? Is Marvel’s Avengers, officially out tomorrow for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, more of an endless toil than an entertaining game?

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The short answer is “not really,” at least not if you’re laser-focusing on the single-player campaign. The campaign is a blast and not much of a grind. But, as with all big questions about big games, the full answer is more complex. Beyond the main story, there’s a mess of factions, level-ups, cosmetic options, microtransactions, side-quests, and endgame (sorry) content to sort through. So come along as we assemble all of the information you need to know.

Wait. Campaign? I thought this was a superhero-themed loot fest.

Yes, there’s a campaign, and it plays an unexpectedly large role in the game. Even if you played the beta all three weekends, watched every “War Table” stream (including the one that showed off a campaign mission), and consumed every bit of pre-launch marketing blitz, you’d still reasonably underestimate just how prominent the single-player story is.

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Despite all the buzz about War Zones and replayable missions, the campaign is the main draw here. You’re even pushed toward it from the jump. When you start the game, you can hop right into Avengers Initiative, the multiplayer mode, but you’ll get a pop-up warning suggesting that you play through the single-player story first. Otherwise, it reads, you’ll run into serious narrative spoilers.

Good thing it’s a terrific campaign that largely involves reassembling a scattered Avengers team in a fight against the evil corporation AIM. The main character of the campaign is Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, though you spend time playing as other Avengers as well.

If you mainline objectives and primary missions, it’ll take you about 12 to 15 hours to complete it. Tackling secondary objectives and side-quests can easily push that to 20 hours or more. To put it in perspective, the campaign alone is a similar size and scope to developer Crystal Dynamics’ recent Tomb Raider games. (You can further see the stamp of those games in how Kamala swings across chasms with her stretchy arms, an action that feels identical to Lara Croft’s trusty grappling hook.) Though it all clearly draws some inspiration from the marquee, star-studded Avengers films, the story here is entirely unique. It’s kind of like playing through a Deadmau5 remix of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: You can hear the same tune underneath, but this is very much its own thing—and it’s a genuinely cool thing at that.

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That doesn’t sound so bad. What are the grindy parts?

To take the campaign in a vacuum, Marvel’s Avengers is by no means a grind. Compared to other big-budget, third-person action games, you’re getting a similar bang for your buck. But once you venture past the narrative, you’re entering a realm light on motivation but full of things to level up. Let’s break it down.

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Factions: There are two factions in Marvel’s Avengers: the Inhumans and SHIELD, both of which correspond to respective Destiny-style social spaces that I won’t detail out of concern for spoilers. Each faction has its own faction level. You can increase your faction level by completing daily “assignments”—tasks like “defeat 40 enemies with melee attacks” or “complete any War Zone mission”—that grant 200 faction points a piece. You can also complete certain quests that tell you, clear as day, how many faction points you earn up front. The higher your faction level, the more gear you’ll be able to buy from that faction’s shop.

On any given day, both SHIELD and the Inhumans will have eight assignments up for grabs. Since you can accept 16 assignments at once, and since uncompleted assignments just evaporate from your log, there are no ramifications for taking everything at once. This structure incentivizes you to start off each play session by visiting social spaces, interacting with faction coordinators, and collecting a bunch of busywork.

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Alisande Morales, the SHIELD faction coordinator, will give you daily assignments.
Alisande Morales, the SHIELD faction coordinator, will give you daily assignments.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku

Character levels: All of the playable Avengers have their own levels and experience bars, plus multiple skill trees—skill trees that are intimidatingly packed. Thor’s primary skill tree, for instance, features more than 30 skills, while his speciality skill tree has 17 (a further six of which are more or less class mods). Once you hit level 15, you unlock a third skill tree, which can then be used to further customize skills unlocked in the first tree. After beating the campaign, only one of my Avengers (Iron Man) was at level 15. There’s currently no way to respec characters, so choose your allocations wisely.

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Challenge cards: Each character also has something called a challenge card—basically, this game’s take on a battle pass. These challenge cards are totally free for launch characters, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a slog. Each one has 40 levels. At every level-up, you’ll earn cosmetic items (things like costumes or nameplates), credits (currency used to buy cosmetic items from the online store), or units (in-game currency used to buy cosmetic items from in-game vendors). These challenge cards are character-specific, too. You won’t be able to get Black Widow to level 40 by playing as the Hulk.

You can level up challenge cards by earning 200 challenge points, a task you complete by knocking out daily or weekly quests as certain characters. Daily quests, which net you three challenge points apiece, are simple, usually of the “defeat 10 enemies with heavy attacks” variety. Weekly quests, while just as easy to understand, require more commitment. Maybe you have to take out 50 enemies with heroic attacks, or eliminate 10 enemies in the air. You’ll earn 11 points for each completed weekly quest.

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If there’s one thing to know about challenge cards, it’s this: You can’t race through them. Completing every daily and weekly quest will earn you 64 challenge points per week. At that rate, it’d take you the better part of a month to hit level 40—and that’s just for one character. Doing so for the whole squad would likely feel like a second job.

How does gear factor into all of this?

Like Destiny, Borderlands, and every other loot-based game in history, gear in Marvel’s Avengers is color-coded. You find common (white) and uncommon (green) pretty much everywhere, and will quickly grow sick of it. Rare (blue) and epic (purple) stuff is harder to come by; often, it’s offered as a reward for completing missions. If you’re lucky, you’ll find or earn legendary (yellow) gear. Only the truly worthy can score exotic (orange) stuff for their loot caches.

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Gear impacts traditional stats. Equip better gear, and you’ll hit harder, take less damage, and become even more formidable with your ranged moves. But every piece of gear also has something called a Power level. (Destiny players will recognize this system as similar to the Light levels from the first game and Power levels from the second.) Equip stuff with a higher Power rating, and your character’s total Power level will increase.

You’ll want to increase your Power level before tackling this mission.
You’ll want to increase your Power level before tackling this mission.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku
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A character’s traditional level more or less dictates when they’ll open up skills and earn skill points. The Power level is their true rating, and serves as an easy shorthand for which missions are or aren’t viable. As an extreme example, a Thor with a Power level of 20 would get crushed trying to take on the “Enter: The Avengers,” which has a mission Power of 125. Something like “Stark Realities” (mission Power: 28) would be tough, but not unmanageable. Both of these missions, by the way, are missions from the endgame. They play similarly to core campaign missions—use super powers to punch bad guys into dust—and even take place on the same maps. The difference is that you roll up with a squad of four heroes, whether they’re controlled by the computer or by fellow humans.

You accrue gear in Marvel’s Avengers at a rapid pace and, as a result, spend a lot of time managing your inventory, mixing and matching and swapping things out as you see fit while deleting the stuff that doesn’t. You can also level up any piece of gear by spending in-game resources—stuff with fittingly comic-book terminology, like nanites or polychorons—to boost its power. Throw in the fact that you can only hold nine pieces of gear for each of the four categories, and you can see how much of a juggling act this becomes.

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In other words, yeah, it’s a loot game.

Are there microtransactions? I heard there were microtransactions.

You heard right. Marvel’s Avengers has microtransactions.

I don’t like microtransactions.

No one does. But you’ll be happy to hear the microtransactions in Marvel’s Avengers are relatively non-invasive. For starters, you can only buy your way to snazzier outfits and other cosmetic options. You can’t pay your way to a more super superhero. All skills and stat-enhancing gear are earned through the traditional means of opening chests, beating up bad guys, completing missions, and visiting in-game vendors. For another, they’re not essential. Anything you can buy with microtransactions you can earn by playing the game. Handing over money just speeds up the process.

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At the moment, there’s only one thing you can buy in the microtransactions department: credits. As mentioned, you can spend those credits on custom cosmetic options—emotes, nameplates, and outfits. You can also spend credits to artificially advance through challenge cards, which in turn will earn you small batches of credits along the way, but at a sunk cost. Ultimately, you lose out. For the curious, here’s a deeper dive:

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Okay, so what’s the verdict?

Marvel’s Avengers certainly has all of the ingredients of a cyclical game. Here’s one example: In the endgame, there’s one mission with three tasks that, on paper, seem like the Martha Stewart Living recipe for “soulless, repetitive grind.” First, you need to scour 20 Memory Chips from robotic enemies. Then you have to take out 30 Keepers, a low-tier fodder enemy. To wrap things up, you need to complete one Sabotage mission. That all may sound tedious, but the truth is you’ll knock out the first two tasks by just playing as you do. You’ll end up playing a Sabotage mission eventually, too, because all of the mission types are fun. It’s the type of grind that will automatically complete itself as you play the game.

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Once you wrap up the story, you can’t, as far as I can tell, replay campaign missions. At that point, you can mop up any side-quests you may have missed. (All currently playable Avengers have their own miniature plotlines that are excellent but easy to miss.) Or you can jump into any of the replayable War Zone missions with three computer- or human-controlled Avengers. The goal, then, is to boost your Power level as high as you can.

Truth be told, since wrapping up the campaign, I’ve found myself playing the game differently. Instead of just playing to play, I now seek out War Zones that grant epic gear rather than rare gear. If a daily quest wants me to eliminate 15 enemies with power attacks, I’ll temporarily change my playstyle to do so. That is all, by definition, a grind. But the core gameplay loop is so engaging that I, for one, don’t notice or mind.

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Yet.

More assembly required? Read these:

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Staff Writer, Kotaku

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DISCUSSION

signofthenine
signofthenine

There’s currently no way to respec characters, so choose your allocations wisely.

Well, that needs to be fixed, immediately.

How was the combat? I didn’t play the beta, and I’ve seen a few videos saying all the characters feel the same. Light attack, heavy attack, super, etc. Like each character played the same as the rest. Do each feel different, or is the character itself just a fancy skin?

(Thanks for any feedback!)