“Wakanda! Your king fights for you!” …but is it a battle worth fighting, or one he should’ve been on the sidelines for? The latest expansion for action RPG Marvel’s Avengers, Black Panther – War for Wakanda is arguably the strongest DLC for the title yet, even if it still has some flaws. Fans who already own the game, and especially those with a fondness for the Black Panther comic series or film and its characters, will most certainly find King T’Challa’s battle worth fighting, if only for a short while.
The story of War for Wakanda starts some time after the events of the single-player Reassemble campaign and the two earlier pieces of DLC starring Kate Bishop and Hawkeye, respectively. It’s worth noting that you can readily jump into this episode without touching any of the other story campaigns. That turned out to be a boon to me as, while I enjoyed the Kate Bishop storyline, I’d never actually gotten around to playing Hawkeye’s time traveling adventure. Some familiarity with previous plot events is helpful since the expansion does reference them from time to time in its narrative, but I appreciate that it isn’t prohibitive for those more interested in the Black Panther storyline. Another added bonus in the DLC’s favor is that if you happen to have a copy of the base game, the expansion comes as a free update! It is a surprisingly substantial campaign just a couple hours shy of Reassemble‘s playtime, so offering it free for people who already own the base game is quite impressive.
Gameplay in Black Panther is pretty much consistent with other Avengers adventures. Players opting for a single-player experience take on the role of either the Black Panther himself or one of his comrades in the Avengers, with an assembled team of three other AI-controlled heroes. You utilize a large mission map and fulfill various objectives ranging from decimating foes with souped-up combos to completing ranged and/or timed puzzle events. Along the way, you collect resources used to purchase or strengthen your equipment and find loot boxes containing new gear for your chosen hero. That is the gameplay in a nutshell; it’s a formula that stays relatively entertaining to play through in short bursts, though it can wear out its welcome during longer play sessions.
There are also some quality of life improvements in War for Wakanda that I greatly appreciate. The developers took to heart the remarks about mission maps looking similar, as Wakanda is a vibrant jungle landscape and a welcome breath of fresh air from the deserts and tundras that populated the other campaigns. For the most part, puzzles aren’t as frustrating as they were previously, even when relying on ranged attacks to complete them. Instead of hordes of humanoid robots to battle, a bit of enemy variety has been introduced with new arachnid foes and more human enemies to fight against. The developers even helpfully supply a warning about the spiders for those who might have arachnophobia, which I thought was a thoughtful touch. The home base at the capital of Birnin Zana is much more populated, feeling much more “alive” than the other bases found throughout the story campaigns. You can even spot the Avengers hanging out there, their dialogue changing depending on story progression. It is a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, but a nice one. I actually started remembering Thor was in the game because of it, since I’m used to him being far removed from the narrative!
The plot for the expansion is easily the strongest in Marvel’s Avengers since Reassemble. After the tragic events of A-Day, King T’Challa chooses to close Wakanda’s borders. However, the stores of a rare and powerful element known as vibranium that make the kingdom prosperous attract the attention of the nefarious AIM. Mercenaries led by a man named Klaue begin attacking Wakanda in force, and due to their continued efforts to counteract AIM, the Avengers travel to Wakanda to offer their assistance. Together, they might just be able to repel Klaue and the rest of AIM, but only if the Black Panther can come to terms with the notion that protecting his country isn’t a burden resting on his shoulders alone.
The characters making up the Wakandan citizenry are some of the best in the cast of Marvel’s Avengers to date. However, it is important to note that T’Challa is portrayed differently here than in his iconic MCU characterization. He’s been both the king and protector of Wakanda for quite a while at the start of the story, which colors his views and leaves him reluctant to rely on help from others for what he feels is his personal duty. This even spills over into his interactions with the Avengers and other notable Wakandan citizens like his little sister Shuri, the head of his Dora Milaje warriors Okoye, and the spiritual elder Zawavari. T’Challa’s journey throughout the expansion centers around his learning to trust and the realization that he doesn’t have to do everything on his own and that his teammates, family, and countrymen have his back. It makes for a compelling character narrative overall.
Okoye and Zawavari are both interesting characters in their own ways. I loved Okoye’s no-nonsense reactions to everything around her, and Zawavari brings up some good ideas while having entertaining side conversations with some of the more “mystical” characters from Marvel’s roster. Shuri tends to steal whatever scene she’s in, proving herself just as capable and helpful an ally to the Avengers as her older brother, even having one of the most emotional scenes in all of the game thus far. The sibling bond between Shuri and T’Challa is wonderfully illustrated throughout their caring banter together. The voice work for everyone in the cast was also top-notch, with special mention of Christopher Judge’s unique take on T’Challa and Steve Blum’s insidious Klaue. As much as I adored the cast’s stellar voice acting, I found the music to be a little underwhelming comparatively, which is a shame given the vibrant atmosphere of Wakanda itself.
However, that isn’t to say the expansion is a perfect experience. For as many quality of life improvements came with this installment, a few problem areas remain unaddressed. Multiplayer continues to have its various issues, and visibility in regards to camera angles is still a major concern on mission maps. This is made even more noticeable in this DLC by a new sonic disruption ability from enemies that renders visibility almost nonexistent for a time. Multi-phased battles against FUSE machines have you relying on lining up ranged shots to hit puzzle targets, for instance, only to have your character suddenly get blindsided by waves of enemies you didn’t see coming at all. It is a thoroughly frustrating experience. While enemies are more varied, you’re still fighting robotic spiders and humans who are so fully armored they might as well be robots. The added visibility hindrance of some of them does nothing to help ease frustrations out on the field, either.
Missions themselves are still rather lengthy affairs with no reprieve. You should devote at least an hour to completing one, and that is if everything goes right from the start. You can’t simply start up a mission again from a reached checkpoint on the map should you need to leave for whatever reason, which can be frustrating if your time window for playing is limited. The last story mission in particular is especially difficult, culminating in probably the toughest boss fight to date in the game. Having to restart it due to time constraints can be especially rough.
The last mission and boss fight itself can be somewhat problematic given its difficulty, especially if playing as T’Challa. He’s a great addition to the cast with some truly powerhouse moves and a lot of speed, but odds are good (unless you’ve been playing every mission up to that point) that he isn’t your most leveled character by the time you fight Klaue and Crossbones. It can make the battle exceedingly tricky. I had to actually switch to my old main Ms. Marvel in order to put them down for good, and even then, I didn’t have an incredibly easy time of it. The fact that you can jump right into the expansion is great, but I’d personally recommend having played Reassemble first so that you’ve some decently leveled companions and potential player characters for that final fight should you need to fall back on them.
Looking at this DLC as a component of the entire package, Marvel’s Avengers still has some of the same issues as always with its multiplayer content and most notably a lack of enemy visibility on mission maps. However, Black Panther – War for Wakanda manages to provide a surprisingly substantial expansion to its arguably stronger single-player content. Those who already own the base game will probably want to take a look at it given that. I can’t say you’ll necessarily want to stick around for long after playing it while waiting for the next DLC expansion (which will probably be the Spider-Man one with its own can of worms due to its exclusivity), but it certainly has me holding onto my copy of the game for that much longer, if nothing else.