‘Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda’ Review — Not Quite King Yet

by Sage Ashford

Let’s get to the point: if you’re looking to Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda expansion to fix all of the problems you had with the base game, you’re likely going to be disappointed. But there is more to this new Marvel’s Avengers expansion.

For those who haven’t been keeping up, Crystal Dynamics has had a rough go of it with Marvel’s Avengers since its launch last year. What seems to be a rushed launch, combined with having most of their staff at home during the pandemic for bugfixing and developing new content, has resulted in it taking far longer to polish post-game problems than they (or the gamers) would want.

To their credit, the company has managed to release a competent roadmap (something most of the fanbase was asking them for), and has hit the dates for pretty much all of it. As to how good that roadmap has been, well … it introduced Hawkeye (Clint Barton) to the game in May, who was initially scheduled to release last November, and other than that it’s been a lot of random “events” designed to keep people playing until they could get their first “major” expansion out: War for Wakanda, where the game takes players into the afro-futuristic continent that’s home to the Black Panther, King T’Challa, played in this game by Christopher Judge (who also plays Kratos in the 2018 God of War game).

In this expansion, the Avengers come to Wakanda to offer assistance after learning AIM, the main villains of the game, are trying to gain access to Wakanda’s massive store of vibranium. These AIM forces are being led by well-known Black Panther villain Klaw and Captain America villain Crossbones.

But really, the first hour or so of the game doesn’t feel like an Avengers title at all. The Avengers are nowhere to be found  — instead, players are immediately placed in the role of T’Challa, and it’s a solo game for the first mission and most of the second. These missions are lengthy too, so after a while it begins to feel less like an Avengers game and more like a Black Panther game. This is where Avengers’ amazing combat mechanics shine. Black Panther feels like his own character, so traversing the jungles and catacombs of Wakanda, and battling Klaw’s forces, makes it easier to forget this is supposed to be a game with Iron Man and Ms. Marvel in it.

Judge’s performance of T’Challa takes some getting used to, but that’s more down to iconic performance of the late Chadwick Boseman than it being a bad performance on Judge’s part. After the first mission, I’d adjusted to his version of the character rather than feeling like he was out of place, as I had when I first heard him speak.

The story of War for Wakanda is straight-forward, but if anything, I enjoyed it more than I did the main storyline for Marvel’s Avengers. T’Challa’s supporting cast all get to shine in their own way, from Okoye and the Dora Milaje being shown as competent warriors who can fight alongside the Avengers, to Shuri being the capable super-scientist; each of these characters is solidly defined. T’Challa comes off as someone who cares about all of his people, but who’s split in so many different directions, he needs every one of his close allies to help him keep his country safe.

His counterpart in the story, Klaw, played by animation voice-acting legend Steve Blum, is easily the best villain Avengers has had thus far. His reason for wanting to attack Wakanda and his hatred for the Black Panther is uncomplicated, but it doesn’t need to be complex. He’s competing with a collection of villains who’ve all been … less than impressive. Just having easily understandable motivations and a solid voice acting performance is more than enough. Plus he’s far more active in the story’s plot than Monica or George — let alone Maestro — in earlier campaigns.

Exploring Wakanda is delightful. Players are invited into Black Panther’s home in between missions and the designers nailed what one would expect it to look like from the film and comics. Wakandan soldiers stand at attention, greeting T’Challa with warm welcomes, making it obvious they respect and cherish their king. It’s a treat just walking around this massive space and taking it in, wondering what it could be like to get a purely solo Black Panther title.

The only complaint with the design of Wakanda is that players are never let into the city. Klaw’s entire goal is terrorizing the Wakandan people and for the most part he fails, so there’s no reason for the characters to explore the city. And while I understand that, it’s still kind of a bummer to only see jungles and catacombs throughout the entire expansion.

Speaking of —  it’s a bit of a stretch to refer to this as an “expansion”. Fun as this storyline is, it’s only slightly longer than the Kate Bishop or Clint Barton stories, which were initially pitched as two halves of the same whole. For something called an expansion, I would have expected something just slightly shorter than the main campaign.

The story certainly could have used the time to expand on things and perhaps give some of the other Avengers a chance to shine. None of the characters outside Cap or Iron Man really matter to the story. The game adds a new map in Wakanda, but the prior “Operation Future Imperfect” did that. The only real thing this expansion does that the smaller operations don’t is adding two bosses instead of one.

And that’s another problem with this expansion: it feels like it’s designed for multi-player exclusively. This is a problem the game has struggled with since its announcement, when fans were frustrated to see this emerging as another Destiny-like. There are two missions in particular that were absolutely dreadful to deal with — typical “guard these objects from being destroyed” type objectives featuring far too many enemies to fight on one’s own, and the Avengers don’t draw nearly enough aggro or destroy them nearly as fast. I had to play these sections multiple times just to complete them, and while I’m no stranger to difficulty (playing this game has always been a challenge), I just couldn’t help thinking that Crystal Dynamics perhaps wanted me to play those sections with some outside help.

Much like the help the final boss has in War for Wakanda, where the players are forced to fight both Crossbones and Klaw at the same time. On a timer. This is, again, a section where it feels almost unfair, even with a Black Panther that was slightly leveled up. Having the two characters constantly pummel T’Challa while I struggled to stay alive left me feeling exhausted rather than accomplished when I wrapped up the storyline. Perhaps fully kitting the character and having a much higher damage output would make these missions easier, but I’m hours away from finding out thanks to the game’s slower experience level gain post-patch and byzantine method of powering up the Gear Score.

In the end, War for Wakanda is worth your time if you’re already a fan of Marvel’s Avengers. It’s definitely worth your time if you’re a major Black Panther fan. But it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. If you were frustrated with the challenge level of the base game’s combat, it doesn’t get better — the new enemy types can make it so you can’t even see the screen thanks to their sonic weaponry. If you’re looking for more endgame content, that’s also not here yet; the expansion doesn’t even add new Villain Sectors for players looking for that. And it’s also still an Avengers game with nine characters, when it probably should’ve launched with at least ten, if not a dozen.

The people who will get the most from this game are the people who want more of Marvel’s Avengers; the people who looked at this game at launch and thought there wasn’t enough there in terms of character or story. Certainly everyone who hasn’t thought about this game since base launch should absolutely give this game another look. And of course, Marvel geeks who want to shout a bunch of Black Panther catchphrases will have a blast. Just try not to overdo it on the “For Wakanda!” stuff if you have neighbors.

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