For those who pre-ordered Marvel’s Avengers on PlayStation 4 and were lucky to get in, a pre-launch beta was held this past weekend, allowing players to sample a tiny portion of the single-player offerings and a decent representation of the multiplayer suite. Out of the gate, the beta painted a somewhat troubling picture for a game that will launch officially in just under a month, but continuous play really showed the potential for this ongoing live-service title.For all the positive points though, there’s still the matter of the core mechanics that felt a little rough around the edges, which is perhaps to be expected for a title juggling characters with vastly different play styles, and it will be interesting to see how it addresses this as it grows post-launch.
The beta opened in the A-Day segment seen in Marvel’s Avengers debut during E3 2019. For the purposes of giving first-time hands on to players, it provided a satisfactory taste of most of the game’s cast as they fight in and around San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. An issue though is that it perhaps jumped between characters too quickly, allotting not that much time to really get a true understanding of not only The Avengers themselves, but also certain mechanics. There’s a move that allows you to leap over enemies, activated by holding the dodge button (circle on PS4) and moving forward, and an Arkham style counter system that you’re introduced to, but the bombastic mission wasn’t exactly the place to learn either.
After you got through the single-player portion of the demo, you were placed in what’s called a HARM room, basically a VR mission area, where you were given a place to better understanding some of the more advanced maneuvers. While not as quite as a thrilling kicking off point as A-Day, this maybe should have been shuffled to the front as a basic tutorial before you’re thrown into the deep end. Once you completed A-Day, you were unable to repeat it too, and two characters, Captain America and Thor, were only playable there.
Marvel’s Avengers sets itself up as a respectable, but not exceptional, third-person action game in the opening hours of the beta. The heroes moved, looked, and felt like they should: Hulk bounds from ledges with ease and Iron Man seamlessly transitions from full flight to combat, but you also couldn’t shake the suspicion that things were a little…off. Your hits registered, and vibration from the controller gave them that appropriate “oomf” but everything came across a little clumsy. It’s a game that’s in need of that snap you get when you bounce from enemy to enemy in the Arkham games, especially in the dodge. With the exception of Black Widow, everyone else just sort of casually slides out of the way and stops. It’s more than likely due to the teams having to make six, at launch anyways, characters feel similar yet at the same time unique, but at least from the beta, Marvel’s Avengers tries to emulate the best of the genre like God of War (2018) and the Arkham games but can’t quite match their quality.
Where the beta was at its worst was during the first of two single-player missions, at least starting out. You played as Hulk, partnered with Kamala Kahn, aka Ms. Marvel, in search of Tony’s JARVIS AI. To put it simply, neither the combat scenarios nor the level traversal did a character like Hulk justice. You’re more or less funneled through an area, leaping from obvious jump points marked by white scrapes on rocks like something out of Uncharted, and it never really took advantage of that character. It remains to be seen how the rest of the single player missions will work, but like it is for the base combat, because the levels are designed in such a way that they have to work with everybody, they feel like they’ll never truly take advantage of any one character.
When fighting enemies as Hulk during this level, it came across slightly worse than A-Day, and it’s disconcerting to see a character like Hulk get overtaken so easily by generic A.I.M robots that are adept at countering your crushing wind-ups. The cannon fodder enemies also strangely posed a larger threat to the Jade Giant than Abomination, who you fight during a boss encounter and was an absolute breeze to topple.
The shining point of the two non-A-Day single player missions was when you transitioned away from Hulk to Ms. Marvel, who was a welcome inclusion not only because of her infectiously positive attitude, but how her polymorph abilities work. For those unfamiliar with the character from the comics, Kamala is an unabashed Avengers fan, and it’s impossible not to feel the same level of excitement as the character when you entered an abandoned S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier that was just rife with Avengers memorabilia. What’s going to be a big draw through the single-player campaign is seeing just how Kamala interacts with the rest of the team as they come back together after the events of A-Day.
Kamala is the only character you don’t play as during A-Day, mainly because that’s where she obtains her powers, and she more than makes up for a somewhat bland mission as Hulk. Kamala’s Inhuman abilities allow her to bend and reshape her body, and this is put into good use in both traversal and combat. She can stretch out her limbs to clear gaps while jumping or running, grab out of place ledges with ease and swing from grapple points, all of which straddles a line between looking really cool and also a little gross. This is put to use in battle in some great ways as you swing around your stretched out arms for crowd control, smash enemies into walls with a giant hand and when you activate “embiggen” to dwarf both enemies and allies alike. There’s perhaps no better medium than that of video games to communicate Ms. Marvel’s powers, and she only gets more interesting to control as you start to unlock new abilities in her skill tree.
Upon completion of the solo missions and HARM training, the War Table became activated. Here you could select from a random series of missions that could be played both by yourself or with up to three friends. Even with just a single companion, it’s easy to forgot about Marvel’s Avengers’ problems when you’re taking on hordes of enemies as any one of these iconic superheroes. Things like pedestrian fighting mechanics drop to the back of your mind after your first fly by as Iron Man Once you started accumulating experience by digging into the multiplayer levels, you see just how deep things can get. Skirmishes with A.I.M went much more smoothly with the addition of new moves, combos, even ammo types. Iron Man for example can swap between three ammunition types: repulsors; lasers and rockets, all of which can be incorporated into hand-to-hand melee encounters.
This is also true of Black Widow, a true shining star among the four playable characters whose quick, nimble moves wouldn’t be out of place in a Bayonetta style character action game. Starting out she has access to a pair of dual-pistols, but these can be swapped with automatic weapons and a charged shot that can break enemy shields. Even Hulk, star of the easily most underwhelming part of the single player missions, started to really open up the more you put into him. Initially the challenge was quite low on the normal difficulty, but as you began to power-up your team, the enemy forces responded in kind, forcing you to become as efficient as possible with each Avengers move set.
Marvel’s Avengers isn’t as graphically impressive as some of the best games on the market today, but from just the beta, you can see a lot of variety in its environmental design from forests, to an arctic tundra and the streets of New York City. Missions ranged from single area areas where the goal is to simply destroy everything in sight, to ones where you shift from outdoors to interior sections. You might get throw a simple puzzle like a king of the hill style defense section or having to destroy power generators, but you’re mostly still battling against the armies of A.I.M. Missions for the most part were quick and easy to get in and finish, never really overstaying their welcome. This will certainly help the longevity of the game, as there’s an arcade like quality to these where you can keep going if you have the time, or just hop in for a simple round if you don’t. .
You could play everything by yourself with the AI controlling the rest of your team, and for those not in your control, they’re still your characters with the skill points and gear you’ve attached to them. Hopefully in the main game they’ll be a bit brighter, or better yet it will patched in that you can give them simple commands. Hulk is by no means the brightest Avenger, but he knows better than to run at a wall while clutching a rock . Something that also needs to be addressed is the amount of repeated dialogue. When summoning the Hulkbuster suit, Iron Man will make the joke “Who ya’ gonna call? Hulkbuster!” and it’s mildly amusing the first time, but downright irritating by the tenth or twentieth. It also really makes you wish Josh Keaton, who played Tony Stark in Marvel’s Iron Man VR, was here instead of Nolan North who doesn’t so much sound like Nathan Drake from Uncharted, but just himself from the Retro Replay YouTube show. This is all canned dialogue though, and it can only be assumed he’s given better material to work with in the full release.
What’s going to keep players coming back over and over again to Marvel’s Avengers, besides the ever expanding roster, is loot. There were plenty of chests to go about unlocking in the beta, both from those you stumbled upon and ones marked with a question mark via a waypoint that activated after hitting up on the directional pad. Marvel’s Avengers suffers from the same issue that’s common in a lot of games that rely on hunting treasure boxes in that you’re getting a lot of junk, but you never know what it’s in service for. Gear can be equipped and upgraded with resources, but at least in the beta, you’re getting a lot thrown at you with very little real explanation. ISO-8, an element from Marvel’s free-to-play games that has found its way into console games, can similarly be attached to your team, and this too comes with its own material that can be used to upgrade it.
Then there’s the different loot types. Equipment can come from divisions like Stark Industries, S.H.I.E.L.D and Pym Tech, and it’s unclear if you’re meant to work towards having your four gear slots as one type for an added bonus, something that hopefully will again be elaborated upon further when the game launches next month. For those who also wish to see their choices reflected upon their characters, Injustice 2 this is not, because whatever you attach is not reflected on your character model. Conversely, for players who just want to play as these characters in the outfits they were designed with, you can take solace in knowing whatever you equip won’t change that design one bit. Microtransactions will be in the final release but they weren’t in the beta. Presumably they’ll just be for cosmetic skins that won’t affect gameplay or provide an advantage for those who wish to open up their wallet.
It’s somewhat cliché to call Marvel’s Avengers a mixed-bag, but based on the beta, that’s probably the most apt description. Combat can feel clumsy, yet once you travel down the skill trees of your team it’s less so. What was present from the campaign section was disappointing, yet the prospect of playing with friends is exactly what you want out of a game starring The Avengers. For those who play a lot of live-service games, it’s difficult to say exactly if this one will pull you away from them, but for those who were maybe on waiting for the service model to be applied to a license like this one, Marvel’s Avengers could very well be something that could keep you occupied for quite some time. What the future holds for Marvel’s Avengers is hazy, but it’s easy to see its potential from just a few days with a small portion of it.
Marvel’s Avengers is available September 4th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia and PC. Next-gen versions will follow.