Marvel's Avengers, an online multiplayer game developed by Crystal Dynamics for Playstation, Xbox and PC, is ending its live service. It’ll get it’s last content update on March 31, and all support will end in September. While the writing had been on the wall for a while, it’s a shame to see the possibility of new content evaporate as CD goes on to work on the popular “Tomb Raider” and “Perfect Dark” franchises. While it’s a shame that a lot of potential inherent potential in a licensed Live Service game featuring one of the biggest franchises in media is lost, it’s also a shame that more people didn’t play it. While it had a rocky start and got a bad reputation (that I would argue is unearned), at its core “Marvel’s Avengers” is still a fun title that deserves a look.
What does “success” look like when it comes to the relatively new “Live Service” distribution method? Josh Bycer on Superjump says "the true goal of a live service game is to see continued profit and continued growth for months and years to come.”
I see people saying “if it was good it wouldn’t have been shut down, bad games don’t shut down.” But the idea that a live service game is only a success, or even the highly subjective “good,” if it manages to be developed in perpetuity is flawed. If the criteria for success is that a game runs forever, very few games are successful. Maybe Destiny 2, Fortnite and Genshin Impact. Comic Book Resources went so far as to say Destiny 2 is the only “successful Live Service” game. In fact, I daresay that games like Destiny 2 are the exception, not the rule. So there has to be room for “success” in between “defines the genre for the industry” and “didn’t make a profit.”
Square Enix’s President did call sales “disappointing,” but they also said the sales of 2013’s “Tomb Raider” reboot failed to hit expectations, but it’s the highest selling entry in the franchise at 14 million copies sold! Kotaku noted that Square Enix has apparently been disappointed with sales of a large number of their western franchises, from Hitman to Deus Ex.
Let’s also dispel this notion that “Avengers”’ reception is the reason Edios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” didn’t sell like Square expected. You’ll some people claim that’s why they didn’t pick up “GOTG,” but it’s an excellent game in its own right, and has 80 on Metacritic. Not checking out a great game because a separate developer made a separate game with a separate IP that’s slightly related is stupid. Maybe “GOTG’s” top ten debut was still a little soft because it came out against “Metroid Dread,” “Far Cry 6” and “Madden 22.” Those are three established IP, and “Dread” even had franchise-high sales. That’s a lot for a new title, even a licensed one, to go up against. Likewise, Firaxis’ “Midnight Suns” is at 83 on Metacritic and underperformed; maybe super hero games not specifically starring Spider-Man are just having a hard time.
“MA” ran for two years, updated with new characters, content and cosmetics, and got above average reviews. It outsold Mario Kart 8 and Animal Crossing New Horizons the year it was released. Ms. Marvel voice actress Sandra Saad won an award for her performance. In an industry where it’s considered a “miracle” that anything gets finished and released, that’s not bad. Did it become the new “Destiny 2?” No, but it sure as hell isn’t “Babylon’s Fall.”
The game unfortunately finished development at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Crystal Dynamics (and a lot of us) were still adjusting. Combine that with a Live Service distribution method that was probably not the focus from the start, and “Avengers” launched with bug and less “endgame” content than players wanted.
A rough first impression is hard to overcome; people don’t usually give a title a second look right away. “Cyberpunk 2077” only recently overcame its initial impression, it took “No Man’s Sky” years of updates that publishers like SE aren’t often willing to give. Once everyone made up their mind that the game was a disappointment, that was it. Reviewers and influencers went out of their way to disparage it.
Jirahd “The Completionist” has a YouTube channel where he “completes” games, going through all the content in a title. He typically doesn’t do live service games, and even waits until most or all DLC is released to cover a game; his video on “Dragonball FighterZ” even came out two years after it’s initial release. In MA’s case, a video was released a month after it dropped, before any of its three expansions, raid, or five additional characters were added. It was declared grindy and buggy. He hasn’t commented on the game since. Youtube channel Gvmers released a video on the title called “How to Kill a Game.” It came out the same month as Mighty Thor Jane Foster character and months before several contents updates, not to mention over a year before the actual end of support.
Without a doubt, the worst and dumbest negative press had to be when paid XP boosters were announced. People were up in arms that the devs had “broken their promise to never include ‘pay to win’ mechanics.” But even with these paid boosters, nothing was “pay to win.” The gameplay loop was about grinding for loot, not experience. There was no competitive aspect to the game, nobody to win against except a computer. A new addition to a character’s move set was unlocked with each level gained through experience, and since the cap was 50, your main hero didn’t need XP after that (eventually a “Champion” system was added to give small boosts past level 50, but only roughly 5% at most). CD even gave those same XP boosts away for free as a weekly log-in bonus; regular had more boosts than you probably needed. Eventually the paid XP boosters were killed after barely a month, and the whole thing blew over.
Does this “controversy” seem silly yet? But people want to be mad, and every outlet that reported on this non-issue helped. So few of them actually reported on the game accurately, because apparently few of them ever gave the game a chance.
Again, I don’t expect to suddenly change minds. Two and a half years after its launch, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already. There will be people who say that this game doesn’t deserve a second look, but it let players inhabit the world of one of the biggest superhero teams ever. Moreover, it was fun.
“Avengers” is like a house on a HGTV house flipper show; it’s got good bones! You got to play as a uniquely designed, animated , playing and voiced Captain America or Ms. Marvel or other hero, in a way that games like “Midnight Suns” or “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3” don’t allow.
I haven’t heard anybody say the main single-player mode wasn’t at least enjoyable, and it’s still worth playing. There’s roughly 20 hours worth of content there (according to HowLongToBeat) split between the single-player and the DLC “Operations.” If you bounce around between a few Avengers, see the story, and hear the performances from a murderer’s row of video game voice acting talent, you’ll have fun. In that same video where The Completionist bemoaned the bugs, he also called “Avengers” “the best B+ game I’ve ever played.”
Ironically, CD ending support technically solves some of the biggest complaints; the lack of content updates. There’s no more content coming, so there’s no reason to grind endlessly for god-tier loot. If you beat a mission, then whether or not it was “worth it” is no longer a question of loot or experience gained, but if you had fun. And shouldn’t that have been the criteria in the first place?
Personal confession time; this was my first “Live Service” game. I never got into Destiny or even really played an MMO. This was my first game of this type, and I picked it up purely for the IP. It never reached the lofty heights of something like “Fortnite,” but very few do, and it did alright by itself. Now, despite all the negative press and hearsay from people who maybe didn’t even play it, it stands as this complete little package. And more than anything, it’s still fun, as long as you approach it with an open mind. It’s currently on sale on several stores and I’m sure a used copy can be had for a song. Maybe pick it up to tide yourself over until “Secret Wars.”