Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia
Release Date: August 17, 2021
Price: Free for owners of Marvel’s Avengers ($40)
Genre: Multiplayer action/adventure
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda has the same charms as the base game — and the same problems. This free expansion to Marvel’s multiplayer action game adds Black Panther as a playable character, as well as a substantial story campaign and a handful of new multiplayer missions. The price is right, and Black Panther is a welcome addition to the roster. But War for Wakanda can’t do much to change the fact that Marvel’s Avengers can be a confusing, tedious experience that tries to cram single-player adventures into a game designed around a multiplayer core.
While War for Wakanda is probably worthwhile for dedicated Avengers fans who are in the mood for some new content, it’s a tougher sell for more casual fans. Since the expansion is free, you have nothing to lose by checking it out. But if you haven’t touched Avengers since you completed the campaign last September, War for Wakanda will probably remind you why.
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda review: What’s new?
If you haven’t played Marvel’s Avengers before, it’s an action/adventure game where you control a variety of Marvel superheroes, leveling up their skills and gear as you go. There’s a single-player component, where you guide the characters through an original story, and a multiplayer component, where you team up with other players to run more difficult missions for better equipment. Each character has a markedly different play style, with unique skills and items.
For a more detailed breakdown of gameplay, you can check out our original Marvel’s Avengers impressions. The basic premise hasn’t changed in War for Wakanda, but the cast has. Rather than Ms. Marvel, our point-of-view character this time around is Black Panther, aka King T’Challa of Wakanda. When recurring bad guy organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) attempt to invade his technologically rich African nation, Black Panther teams up with the Avengers to oust the villains.
The big highlight here is Black Panther himself, who represents the game’s ninth playable Avenger. (Previously, the roster comprised Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye and Kate Bishop.) Unlike the last two downloadable characters (the Hawkeyes), Black Panther is a melee hero, focused on technical combos, precise parries and building up energy for devastating attacks.
Black Panther’s central conceit is his “Intrinsic energy” bar, which allows him to store power as he successfully blocks attacks. As he levels up, he can channel this energy into powerful attacks, which may involve pouncing on foes, launching himself off of nearby walls or smashing through an enemy’s guard. Black Panther’s abilities feel true to the character, and help set him apart from any Avenger we’ve played as before.
The trouble is that while Black Panther is a well-designed character, Marvel’s Avengers still just isn’t that much fun to play. The more technical skills are often not worth the effort when light and heavy attacks almost always suffice. Furthermore, no matter what you do, you’ll have to contend with needlessly large enemy health bars and swarms of foes that overstay their welcome by a considerable margin. After pummeling an unremarkable marksman or robot into submission for the hundredth time, I started to wonder what kept people coming back to Marvel’s Avengers, anyway.
The answer must be “the multiplayer,” since it’s admittedly satisfying to pick the character who suits you best, hone your skills with friends and eventually get the best possible “version” of your Avenger, complete with your favorite classic costume.
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda review: Story campaign
However, that’s not really what the single-player experience feels like, and War for Wakanda is primarily a single-player affair. (Although, to be fair, you can play through the whole story with up to three friends.) Just like the previous story campaigns, the levels in War for Wakanda feel like they were designed for multiplayer matches, even when it’s to their detriment.
In most War for Wakanda levels, Black Panther and three other Avengers land in the middle of a lush jungle. They traverse a needlessly big, open-ended battlefield, occasionally stopping to fight enemies or pick up better gear — if they feel like it. The story objectives almost always boil down to “reach this waypoint” or “solve this embarrassingly simple puzzle.” The repetitious rainforests, cliffsides and ancient temples don’t add much of a tactical challenge, save that you’ll occasionally have to do a bit of imprecise platforming.
Occasionally, though, you’ll have to put up with a truly hellacious set piece: a battle against one of AIM’s gargantuan FUSE drills. To call these encounters “excruciating” is somehow an understatement. While fighting off hordes of enemies (most of whom have ranged weapons, and can fling you across the battlefield like a noisome insect), you’ll have to target the drill’s weak points, some of which can shoot fire or lasers at you.
You’ll then have to jump up a series of floating platforms, which usually ends with an enemy flinging you to the ground, where you’ll have to start the tiresome process all over again. If you employ AI companions, they usually don’t follow your lead; if you fail, you have to start the whole FUSE section over again.
The real kicker, however, is that the game requires you to do this twice.
The “story” part of the story campaign is also a bit of a letdown. Perennial B-list Marvel villains Ulysses Klaw and Crossbones lead a team of mercenaries into Wakanda and attempt to plunder the company’s Vibranium stores. Black Panther and his royal court, as well as the Avengers, fight back. That’s about it.
If you pitched the most generic version of a recognizable Black Panther arc, it would sound something like War for Wakanda. The story has no twists or turns to speak of, and doesn’t do much to advance the ongoing AIM arc that’s carried Marvel’s Avengers so far.
I do have to give the game props for its characterization of Black Panther, however. While the recent movie sanded off some of T’Challa’s rough edges, the game remembers that he has a dark side. At his best, Black Panther is noble and proud; at his worst, he’s suspicious and arrogant. War for Wakanda portrays both sides of the character, although it doesn’t have enough depth to really explore either one.
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda review: Visuals and sound
War for Wakanda looks very good, at least on the PS5. The country of Wakanda, and the capital city of Birnin Zana in particular, positively pop with Afrofuturist details. Wakanda is a colorful place, from its azure skies and verdant rainforests, to the reddish browns of its ancient tramways. You can also collect plenty of cool Black Panther costumes and profile images.
The music and sound effects get the job done, but I had mixed feelings about Black Panther’s voice. Christopher Judge is a fantastic actor in shows like Stargate SG-1 and games like God of War (2018), but as T’Challa, his accent is inconsistent, and his performance can be expository. Admittedly, this might also be an issue with the underwhelming script.
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda review: Verdict
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda is neither better nor worse than the main game. It’s still a cool showcase for some beloved Marvel characters. It also still can’t quite decide whether it’s a single-player game with optional multiplayer missions, or a multiplayer game with a single-player onboarding section.
While the protagonist and setting both work to War for Wakanda’s advantage, neither one improves the overall Avengers experience that much. Then again, the expansion doesn’t cost anything extra, so you’ve got nothing to lose but your afternoon.