Based on one of the biggest media properties in the world and first teased back in 2017, Marvel’s Avengers is a game the industry has been acutely aware and curious about for a while now. In less than a month from now, Avengers will be out on shelves and in the hands of players around the world, but before that, all throughout this month, many are going to be dipping their toes in the water throughout its beta period. Over the last few days, I’ve had the chance to jump into that beta and spend several hours with the game. Here, I’ll be talking about my six big takeaways after my time with the Marvel’s Avengers beta.
These are not my final thoughts by any means, and there’s so much of the game I haven’t played, but based on what I have played, my impressions so far are… mixed.
COMBAT IS FUN… BUT NOT WITH ALL CHARACTERS
Given the fact that Marvel’s Avengers will be launching with six different playable characters, Crystal Dynamics had a pretty monumental task on their hands as they sought to bring each of these six to life in satisfactory fashion. Yes, that entails their portrayals in the game’s story – and I’ll be talking about that in a bit as well – but the trickier task was to make each of them feel unique and fun in terms of gameplay. No one can fault the developers for a lack of effort, that’s for sure. Each character moves differently, fights differently, has unique abilities, unique progression trees, unique gear. A lot of work has gone into making each of them feel unique and have depth. And some of them are a lot of fun to play as… but by that same token, others aren’t.
The one that stood out to me was definitely Ms. Marvel. Her hits land with weight and feel punchy when going up against enemies face-to-face. When enemies are far away, she can stretch her limbs and punch them from a distance by using the left trigger to aim and the right trigger to attack. Her powers also give her interesting traversal mechanics, allowing her to stretch out her hands and grab distant ledges to pull herself up, or grab pipes or bars that are high up to swing across large gaps and chasms, almost like a Spider-Man with rubbery hands instead of sticky webs. Her ultimate ability, Embiggen, allows her to expand in size (as the name suggests) and beat now-diminutive enemies to a pulp. Moving around battle arenas and fighting enemies as Ms. Marvel is definitely the most fun out of all the Avengers.
Black Widow is also a highlight. She can move about very quickly, which gives all of her actions a lot of immediacy, while switching between shooting enemies with her pistols from range and using her fists and feet when fighting them up close during combat also sets her apart from any of the other characters. Some of her abilities – such as being able to go invisible for a period of time to catch enemies off-guard – also stand out. I enjoyed playing as Captain America as well, though it should be said that I only got to spend a few minutes with him in the prologue section, so I don’t have enough to go on to form a proper opinion on his gameplay right now.
Thor and Iron Man are inconsistent. Both have flight controls during combat, and flight can be hit-or-miss with both. In tight spaces, controlling flight can be a bit of a nightmare, and particularly with Iron Man, having to contend with precise aiming while also controlling flight didn’t feel as good as I had hoped. Outside of flight, they’re both much better, but Iron Man does stand out, mostly because of he’s better suited to tackling both melee and ranged combat on more or less equal footing. Sure, Thor can throw his hammer at enemies from a distance as well, but Iron Man definitely has a wider range of attacks on that front, which gives him more utility.
Hulk feels the most disappointing of them all. You’d think that in a game that is as focused on combat as Marvel’s Avengers is, a character like the Incredible Hulk – who is all about the combat – would be the star of the show… but that isn’t the case. His movement feels slow and lumbering, often to the point of being inaccurate and unresponsive, and while watching him smash anything and everything in his path is instantly gratifying at first, eventually it starts feeling a little repetitive, and combat as him becomes sort of button mash-y.
That, in fact, leads me to my next point.
COMBAT THREATENS TO BE A BIT TOO BUTTON MASH-Y
As I mentioned, this is definitely more of an issue with the Hulk – maybe because of his very nature as a character – than anyone else, but it does pervade the combat to varying degrees with all of them. The highlights with each character – in terms of raw combat itself – are the ultimate abilities, which are as fun to pull off as they are to witness, without exception. But by definition, these abilities can only be pulled off once in a while, and in the time that you don’t have access to those, you rely on your light and heavy attacks. Pulling off combos is surely a lot of fun – more so with some characters than others – and unlocking more skills and combat moves – which I’ll get to in a bit – does help with injecting variety into the combat – but things can feel a bit too same-y every now and then nonetheless. It definitely doesn’t help that many of the missions put too much of their focus on combat.
Something that helps stave off the feeling of repetition brought on by occasionally button mash-y combat is enjoyable traversal, but this, too, is something that varies on a character-to-character basis. You’ll remember that I mentioned Ms. Marvel and Black Widow being my favourite characters to play as, and that’s because they’re the most fun to move around as, the former because of the enjoyable traversal her stretchy arms enable, and the latter because she’s so quick and agile and feels so responsive. I mentioned that my impressions on Iron Man and Thor were mixed, and it’s no coincidence that the biggest issues I had with both were flight controls, especially with Iron Man, who relies on flight much more than Thor does. And again, it’s no coincidence that slow and lumbering Hulk was my least favourite character to play as.
SKILL TREES AND PROGRESSION SEEM PROMISING
If not for the skill trees, combat in Avengers would surely feel significantly more button mash-y. Each character has three unique pages of skill trees, and though the beta only gave access to one page per each character, that was still enough to improve combat noticeably. Characters level up and gain skill points as they do, which you then use to unlock unique moves and combat abilities from their skill trees, and I found myself quite invested in this particular aspect of progression, perhaps even more than the loot (again, I’ll get to that in just a bit).
It’s hard to go into too much detail here unless I start describing the exact moves you can unlock with each character. What I can tell you is that they inject much-needed variety into the combat, and they also give you plenty of options to pick and choose from based on how you like to play. If you like to go big with the Hulk’s hard-hitting attacks that you have to charge up before unleashing them – which definitely has a risk-reward factor – you can unlock skills to make those more effective.
If you like using Ms. Marvel’s ranged moves, you can unlock skills that allow her to make follow-up attacks and make her deadlier from a distance. And this was just from one skill page- the full game has two more full pages for all the Avengers, so it’s safe to say that I’m optimistic about what the game’s progression will have to offer on this front. This is something that facilitates combo-based combat, which – given the sheer variety on offer based on how each character is so unique from all the others – makes it one of the game’s most promising aspects.
But, of course, for better or for worse, skill trees are definitely not the primary means of upgrading your characters in Avengers. Which brings me to my next point…
THE LOOT IS EXTENSIVE… BUT IT FEELS INCONGRUOUS
One of Marvel’s Avengers’ most controversial aspects if the fact that it’s being built as a gear-driven game, with many saying that the decision to have an Avengers game chasing the Destiny crowd feels incongruous with the nature of the property. That’s something I still feel after the time I’ve spent with the game.
That’s not to say the loot feels unnecessary. This game isn’t lacking in terms of the gear you can outfit your Avengers with, and it certainly does throw a lot of options into the mix with the various enhancements and benefits all the gear pieces can bring, while the fact that each gear piece can also be individually upgraded a certain amount of times also gives you even more control over progression.
It just feels a bit too… excessive? I’m not talking about how much gear you get. Loot drops and leveling have been accelerated in the beta, so I can’t say for sure yet how this in particular will turn out in the final game. But every time you enter a menu, you get a deluge of gear pieces to choose from. Each kind of gear piece is upgraded using a different currency. Different gear pieces can have different effects, from increasing your chances of landing a more powerful finisher in a combo to increasing a certain type of elemental damage. Equipping more powerful gear increases your Power Level, but you also have to keep an eye on individual facets, like your melee rating, or your ranged rating, and so on. It’s all a bit much, and it’s not what I want to be doing in an Avengers game.
Does it make sense for Iron Man to be decking out his suit with different kinds of gear to finetune his abilities? Absolutely. Does it make sense for Ms. Marvel to be doing that? I’m not so sure. It just feels at odds with what an Avengers game should be about. I realize that this point in particular will probably be highly subjective, and a well implemented and well-balanced gear system might be enough to outweigh that incongruity, but based on my time with the beta, I personally am not too sure about that.
THE CHIMERA IS A COOL HUB LOCATION
Between missions, you’ll be spending your time in a decommissioned helicarrier called the Chimera, which will serve as the game’s central hub. You’ll be spending all your downtime here, you’ll return to this ship after all of your missions, you’ll select your next mission from the War Table on the bridge- this is basically the place you’ll call home over the course of your adventure. And as a Mass Effect fanatic who dreams about the Normandy in his sleep, I instantly fell in love with the Chimera.
There’s plenty of different rooms in the ship that will slowly open up overtime, which means this is an environment you can explore quite a bit. There’s things to interact with, collectibles to find, characters to talk to, and while my experience with all of this was limited owing to the fact that I was, after all, playing a beta, it still made me excited about what it will be like in the full game, where it’ll have much greater room to change and expand overtime, and hopefully give me more of a reason to explore the ship and all of its quarters.
By definition, this isn’t going to be a major, major part of the game, but it’s one that I’m quite excited to see more of.
THE STORY SEEMS PROMISING
For many, the story will be the biggest reason to play Marvel’s Avengers. Crystal Dynamics have the privilege of working with a legendary media property, full of universally beloved and popular characters, and so many years of storytelling to pull from and be inspired by. Telling a good story that resonates with players and portraying these characters properly is one of the most important tasks for this game. Thankfully, from what I’ve seen in the beta, they’re on the right track.
I don’t have a full picture yet, of course. I haven’t seen a lot of the main story – only some sections from the opening hours of the game – and even then, the beta has taken out some cinematics and sections to preserve spoilers. But Marvel’s Avengers seems to be doing a good job of bringing these characters to life. Their personalities seem as well fleshed out as they should be, performances from the actors are all hitting the right notes, and the interactions between them are all hinting at some great narrative moments.
It remains to be seen how well this will turn out in the full game, and how well the narrative will stick the landing over the course of a much longer experience, but based on what I’ve seen in the beta, I’m optimistic.