Last weekend, I had the opportunity to play through the beta content for Marvel’s Avengers that is set to go live this weekend. In what marked our first hands-on with the game since Brodie got to go hands-on with it a year ago at Gamescom, I was interested to see if the pieces of the Avengers puzzle were coming together better than they were a year ago.
The Golden Gate Bridge mission is what I was hoping to get out of Marvel’s Avengers. Taking place on A-Day, which acts as the game’s narrative catalyst, it’s the first taste of the single-player campaign and it reminded me of the classic superhero brawlers of the original PlayStation days, in a good way, of course. It’s highly cinematic, combat is easy to pick up and it’s full of fan service for Marvel fans, new and old.
Acting as a tutorial, the mission gives you a few minutes of hands-on time with each of the Avengers, in unique scenarios that seem to be tailored to their skill-set. Hulk will need to use his rock throw to take out people high up, Black Widow faces Taskmaster with her guns and Iron Man flies high above in order to take enemies out with his repulsors. It’s definitely a little bit jarring jumping between each of the characters, but it’s effective in demonstrating the variety in each of them.
This mission also provides our only look at both Thor and Captain America who both have a nice combination of ranged attacks and close up combat, and feel like they’ll most likely be the best and most fun Avengers to play as in terms of combat, so it’s understandable that you don’t get to use them after A-Day and it certainly leaves you wanting more.
The beta contains a second campaign mission, which has you keeping an area secure whilst warding off waves of enemies as either The Hulk or Kamala Khan. It’s also the first look at a more open, outdoor area, which I feel is where the game has the potential to shine. The combat in both of these missions feels solid. Every hit lands with each of the Avengers having a very unique style of fighting, with a vast array of skills that can be upgraded to be even more diverse.
The last mission that you need to complete before the co-op portion of the beta opens up is the first HARM Room challenge. The HARM challenges are rooms that throw waves of enemies at you one after another. They’re combat-focused and allow the player to experiment with team synergies and combos but ultimately begin to feel a little bit repetitive after once you’ve played through them more than once.
The completion of the HARM Room is where a lot of the confusion begins for Marvel’s Avengers. Whilst there’s going to be an extremely capable single-player campaign in this game, the game leans heavily into its multiplayer elements, which I believe is going to cause a lot of confusion. I was hoping to play the game would clear a lot of this up, but it really doesn’t give me much clarity in terms of how the balance between single-player campaign missions and the co-op missions will be handled in the final game.
The co-op elements of the game are split into War Zones, Drop Zones, and Harm Room challenges. Within any of these missions, you can squad up with three other players, each of whom can choose whichever Avenger they want to play as. As mentioned earlier, you can customise your Avengers with various skillsets, meaning that your Thor, for example, might be completely different from your friend’s Thor, although you obviously can’t send two Thors into battle at once and fling Mjolnirs around the battleground.
The majority of missions in the beta are Drop Zone missions. These are designed to be quicker, providing shorter bursts of combat, but the ones that we got to play felt incredibly short with often one very specific mission goal, such as staying alive for a certain period of time or clearing a room of enemies. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these were often over in less than five minutes.
These missions, in particular, are all about getting loot, which makes up a large part of the Marvel’s Avengers multiplayer experience. If you’re not into collecting, managing, and upgrading your various armour pieces, then this portion of the game won’t be for you. It’s crucial to succeeding in missions, which are level-gated based on your power level rather than your individual character level. It’s exactly like how Destiny works where each armour piece will have a light level assigned to it which all add up to a total power level. It keeps it a bit more interesting than a basic leveling system, though systems like this often artificially increase the grind in a game that’s ultimately rather repetitive. Hopefully, Crystal Dynamics have a good road map of content to prevent similar burnouts as we’ve seen in Destiny.
War Zone missions are longer variations of these Drop Zone missions. They often take place in larger parts of each specific map with multiple objectives at play. Whilst they definitely let you get into the groove of the mission more, I still don’t know that there was enough variety in mission structure and enemy design in what I played.
My issue with the game is that rather than either focusing on being either a great cinematic single-player experience or leaning more heavily into its Destiny-like looter-shooter style of gameplay, it wants to do both. This results in an extremely confusing experience, I get the feeling that both styles of game are going to get in the way of each other.
Those that want a purely single-player cinematic experience, aren’t going to get the full experience without completing side missions that are made for co-op, and those that want to play the entire game with their friends are going to be forced to play campaign missions alone. In terms of fan service, there’s a lot here for Marvel fans. The game has a ton of unlockables including comic book cover sets are scattered all over the place and there are also mountains of iconic outfits for each of the Avengers that you can unlock and equip.
When it comes to the visuals, Marvel’s Avengers is a pretty game with a lot happening on the screen at any given time. There’s definitely slow down with the frame rates, and the game will most likely benefit from next-gen consoles, but it’s definitely playable on the PlayStation 4. There’s a 4K mode and a performance mode, and I’d definitely utilise the performance mode in order to get as many stable frames as possible.
At the end of the day, I definitely had a fun time with Marvel’s Avengers and I am intrigued to see how the game shapes up come launch day. It seems as if the team is committed to supporting the game long term, with characters such as Hawkeye and Spider-Man already confirmed to be on their way for free. I just hope that the game trying to be too many things at once doesn’t result in it lacking substance and direction.
Marvel’s Avengers launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 4, 2020.