What if you could fix the fatal flaw in an awesome game, but it would cost you more money?
That’s the situation fans of Marvel’s Avengers are facing as developer Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix introduce paid boosters that help your heroes level up and improve their gear more quickly. These “pay-to-win” elements let time-strapped players spend money instead to get ahead. But as I’ve been saying all along, it shouldn’t have been like this in the first place.
The big problem I’ve had with Avengers, as the recent “War for Wakanda” free update highlighted, is how it’s built in a way that undermines the central fantasy of commandeering Earth’s mightiest super-team. There’s much more detail in the earlier post, but the short version is that each hero needs to be leveled up fully before you can access all their abilities — but that’s a 20-odd hour process.
There’s a basic (and excellent) story mode in Avengers that makes the first climb to unlocking a character’s suite of powers relatively enjoyable and straightforward. After that, though? It’s an unpleasant treadmill of repeating activities where you’re constantly left feeling less-than-super.
Now, though, as the 2020 release arrives for Xbox Game Pass subscribers, the in-game marketplace has some controversial new items up for sale in a new “Consumables” menu. The priciest of these is a $5 booster that gives players a week of increased experience points (XP) gains, by 1.5x. There are other consumables that last for shorter amounts of time and/or provide a boost to the amount of gear upgrade materials that drop.
Credit: crystal dynamics / Square enix – screenshot by mashable
It’s all bad, but the XP boosters are especially egregious. That 1.5x boost doesn’t even get the pace of Avengers leveling back to where it was when the game first launched. Back in March, Crystal Dynamics slowed down the whole process of leveling up your heroes. The studio claimed players were leveling up too quickly, and it “led to pacing issues, such as skill points…being rewarded too fast, which may be confusing and overwhelming to newer players.”
In fairness to the developer, there’s some truth to the view that players need time and space to learn. Avengers employs a unique role-playing game-style skill tree that allows players to customize the way their abilities perform. At the later stages of leveling up, certain skill tree branches offer either/or propositions where you can choose which one of three ability-altering nodes to activate.
Take Iron Man’s Unibeam attack, the blazing beam of light he shoots out of his chest plate. One branch of the skill tree governing his Unibeam gives players a choice: You can make the beam last a few seconds longer; you can stagger its charge so he can take more shots before the ability is exhausted and needs to cool down; or you can beef up its overall damage.
Every hero’s skill tree works like that. Once you’ve mastered one hero, getting a handle on the rest is more a matter of playing around with them and reading the text of their skill trees than it is progressively unlocking skill points. There’s no need for a lengthy grind through 50 experience levels spanning double-digit hours. In fact, this kind of hurdle is counter-productive. It makes the prospect of playing as other heroes far less appealing.
It was at least a bearable problem when Avengers first launched. Having to level each hero individually wasn’t my favorite decision, but it moved swiftly enough for people who grasp RPG systems quickly while still leaving less experienced players a gentle learning curve. The March update changed all of that, though. Suddenly, leveling up any hero after your first one turned into a miserable chore.
This became even more clear as new heroes were added to the game, with short story modes of their own that wouldn’t even carry them through half of their respective skill trees. Crystal Dynamics even seems to be aware of that specific issue; when “War for Wakanda” launched, it arrived alongside a temporary month-long boost to XP gains for all players. Even with that boost, the Wakanda story got my Black Panther only as far as level 21, out of 50.
That timed boost sure looked from the outside like an implicit acknowledgment of Avengers‘ deep pacing issues. But when it ended, the game returned to the sorry state it was left in after the March update. And now we see why: You’re allowed to level up faster, but you need to pay for it.
That sucks, in part because it’s a broken promise. Crystal Dynamics has said multiple times in the past that the in-game marketplace is only meant for things like hero skins and emotes — cosmetic items. As a blog posted on the Avengers website in Sept. 2020, the month the game released, reads: “We’ve…committed that content purchasable with real money in Marvel’s Avengers will be aesthetic-only additions, which will ensure we can keep the game fresh for years to come.”
It also sucks because the boosters are essentially Crystal Dynamics asking players to pay to fix pacing issues that the studio itself created. It was bearable enough in Sept. 2020 when Avengers launched that adding XP boosters now could have made sense, broken promises aside. But the March update was a huge step in the wrong direction, as the temporary XP boost timed to Black Panther’s arrival seemed to confirm.
Maybe Avengers hasn’t been as financially successful as Square Enix had hoped, and so selling these boosters is a push to justify the costs of further development. But as someone who’s played extensively since Sept. 2020, I’ve got to say: This ain’t it. It’s time for Crystal Dynamics to embrace transparency, level with its fans, and accept that the game it built perhaps isn’t the game players thought they were signing up to play.
This content was originally published here.