Imagine if you could fix the fatal flaw of an amazing game but it would cost more money.
This is the current situation facing Marvel's Avengers fans as Square Enix and developer Crystal Dynamics introduce paid boosters to help your heroes increase their level and improve their gear faster. These "pay to win" elements allow time-strapped players to spend money on their progress instead. It shouldn't have been this way, as I've said all along.
As the recent "War for Wakanda” update revealed, the biggest problem with Avengers is the way it's constructed. This undermines the central fantasy that the Avengers are Earth's most powerful super-team. The earlier post has more details. But the short version is that each of the heroes must be fully leveled before they can access their abilities. This takes 20 hours.
Avengers has a simple, but excellent story mode that makes it easy to climb the ladder to unlock a character's set of powers. But what happens after that? This is a painful cycle of feeling less-than-superior and repeating the same activities.
The 2020 Xbox Game Pass release is now available. However, there are some new controversial items on sale at the in-game Marketplace under the "Consumables” menu. A $5 booster gives players an extra week of experience points (XP), which is 1.5x more expensive than the others. Other consumables can be used to increase the drop rate of gear upgrades or last longer.
This is the "Consumables menu" in the 'Avengers 'in-game marketplace. This is the $5-week-long XP boost. Credit: Crystal dynamics / Square Enix - screenshot by Mashable
The XP boosters are particularly bad. The 1.5x boost does not even slow down the rate of Avengers leveling up to the point it was before the game launched. Crystal Dynamics reduced the speed of leveling up your heroes back in March. Crystal Dynamics claimed that players were increasing their leveling too quickly and that it led to pacing problems, such as skill points being rewarded too quickly. This could be confusing and overwhelming for newer players.
The developer is right to admit that there are some truths to the belief that players need to be given time and space to learn. Avengers uses a unique skill tree-style role-playing game that allows players to tailor their abilities. Certain skill tree branches at the end of leveling up offer either/or propositions that allow you to choose which of three ability-altering nodes you want to activate.
Iron Man's Unibeam attack is the bright beam of light that he shoots from his chest plate. The Unibeam's skill tree gives players the option to make it last longer, stagger its charge so that he can take more shots before it is exhausted, or increase its damage.
Each hero's skill trees work in this way. Once you have mastered one hero it's easier to master the rest by playing with them and reading their skill trees. You don't need to go through 50 levels of experience that take up double the time. This kind of obstacle is actually counterproductive. This makes it less attractive to play as other heroes.
When Avengers launched, it was at most a manageable issue. Although I didn't like the idea of having to level each hero separately, it was a good decision for those who can quickly grasp RPG systems and still give less experienced players a smooth learning curve. All of this was changed by the March update. It was a nightmare to level up heroes after the first.
While you can speed up your leveling, you will need to pay for it.
As new heroes were introduced to the game, they had short story modes that didn't even allow them to complete half of their skill trees. Crystal Dynamics seems to have noticed this issue. When "War for Wakanda", launched, it came with a temporary boost of XP gains for all players for a month. Even with the Wakanda story, my Black Panther got to level 21 out of 50.
The timed boost looked like it was an implicit acknowledgement of Avengers' pacing problems from the outside. The game was back in the same sorry state it was after the March update. We now see why. You can level up faster but you must pay.
It's partly because it's a broken promise. Crystal Dynamics repeatedly stated that the in-game marketplace was only for cosmetic items and hero skins. A blog on the Avengers website from September 2020 states that "Weve...committed content purchasable in real money in Marvels Avengers Will Be aesthetically-only Additions, which will ensure the game can be kept fresh for many years to come."
It is also annoying because boosters are basically Crystal Dynamics asking players for money to fix pacing problems that the studio created. It was manageable in Sept. 2020, when Avengers launched. Adding XP boosters to the game could have made sense. Broken promises aside, it was still bearable. The March update was a major step in the wrong direction. It seemed that the temporary XP boost, which occurred just as Black Panther arrived, seemed to confirm.
Perhaps Avengers wasn't as financially successful than Square Enix had hoped. Therefore, selling boosters is a way to offset the cost of future development. As someone who has played the game extensively since Sept. 2020, this isn't it. Crystal Dynamics needs to be transparent, open with its fans and admit that the game it created may not be what players expected.