Going hands-on with Marvel’s Avengers’ beta marks the third time I’ve been able to play the game and the first that I’ve gotten a real sense of what it’s all about. While previous hands-ons had focused on one character’s combat abilities or the opening minutes of the game, this Marvel’s Avengers‘ beta is important because we’re finally getting to see what kind of game it is.
Its identity and genre are but one of a number of difficulties Marvel’s Avengers has faced since it was first announced. Not being based on the MCU is another.
However, in my reading, fans are most confused and concerned about what they’ll be getting once they purchase the game. And while the beta is a highly curated, vertical slice of the finished product, it should finally put those concerns to bed.
Marvel’s Avengers is an action RPG. An action RPG with loot and superheroes. Yes, Marvel’s Avengers is a Game-as-a-Service with all that that entails but it has far more in common with Diablo 3 than Destiny or The Division. There’s no open world for you to go patrolling in, no random public events and no PvP. There is a social space where you’re free to wander, chat with NPCs and shop with vendors but in the beta it’s largely empty.
Its only function in the beta is to provide access to the War Table, which functions like Destiny’s map. From the War Table, players are able to view and access all available missions and select which one they’d like to attempt.
Missions come in a variety of flavours. War Zones are the largest, most open and most freeform experiences, which allow players to explore, uncover secrets, unlock more content and complete mission objectives at their own pace. Drop Zones are short and linear missions which have one objective and can be completed quite quickly. There’s still variety in each type though, even in the beta. Some missions require players to capture and hold points on the map, others send waves of enemies at the players and others require the elimination of a certain group of enemies. War Zones tend to feature numerous objectives that span across the large map and proceed through numerous area and stages. Drop Zones include a single area and only one or two objectives before the mission is complete.
Drop Zones are really short and can be completed in anywhere from five to 15 minutes. War Zones are far meatier. These sprawling areas are the closest you’ll get to a patrol/open-world area. Once the mission starts, you can see your objective on the HUD, however, you’re free to roam, look for additional optional objectives, chests filled with loot, SHIELD bunkers, mobs and more. War Zones are where Marvel’s Avengers feel the most like a standard, open-world superhero game. You can draw similarities with Spider-man on PS4 as you move around the area beating up baddies and earning XP to level up. However, you’re certainly not as free as you are in that game.
War Zones, while large, are constrained by whatever mission you’re tackling. You’ll find a number of other points of interest on your HUD but nothing of any real substance. Aside from the mission objective, you’ll only ever discover minor side quests involving beating up a tonne of guys or solving an incredibly simple puzzle to unlock a door. It doesn’t take long, at least not in the beta, to exhaust the War Zone of everything aside from your main objective. That being said, exploring and completing the optional objectives will see you rewarded with loot.
Marvel’s Avengers’ beta also includes an iconic character mission for the Hulk and a mission with a boss battle. I’m not sure if these missions are considered as War Zones or Drop Zones but at the end of the day no matter which type you choose, you’ll be earning loot, levelling up and unlocking new skills and abilities.
Unlike Destiny or The Division, where you have different classes which are a variation on the same theme, Marvel’s Avengers uses the different members of The Avengers as entirely unique classes. Choosing to play as a Titan or a Warlock, while still feeling somewhat distinct doesn’t compare to how differently the Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Necromancer or Wizard play. The same goes for playing as Hulk, Black Widow, Ms Marvel and Iron Man.
Unlike Diablo, when playing Marvel’s Avengers you’re able to freely swap between heroes and level them up as you see fit. Tired of playing as Hulk? Switch to Iron Man. Sick of hearing Nolan North’s take on Tony Stark, have a go at Black Widow for a while. During story missions, so far, you play as Ms Marvel as she attempts to round up The Avengers, though, the mission in the beta also gives you control of the Hulk, so it’s likely Marvel’s Avengers will give you ample time with each hero whether you choose them or not.
Hulk’s movement is momentum based and gains speed and distance as he goes. While moving forward, if you jump, he starts to build up speed and can jump further and higher as you go. He’s able to jump onto certain surfaces and perform a wall jump the sends him flying forward. It’s exhilarating to leap across the game world with great speed and you really gain a sense of the power of Hulk as you do. In combat, he’s a beast; as expected. His attacks are largely focused on dealing massive damage in the area directly surrounding him as well as stunning enemies and picking them up. As he dishes out damage, Hulk increases his Rage meter which can be used to activate Rage which increases his damage output and reduces damage taken.
Iron Man is a weird, kind of hybrid character. He is able to move around on the ground as well as hover and move through the air while remaining upright and he can fly. So, learning his three different “stances” is essential. On top of that, he has access to Repulsors, Lasers and Rockets, all of which drastically change how he attacks. For instance, pressing Triangle (heavy attack) with Repulsors active fires a Repulsor blast at an enemy but doing so with Lasers active sees Iron Man swing a laser-like a Lightsaber. Further complicating matters is remembering which abilities are tied to which weapon. They’re all fairly similar, but they do behave and perform differently, so making sure you have the right weapon equipped to perform the right move is key. The three weapons are also tied to a constantly regenerating meter too and each uses up a different amount per attack. Iron Man can be quite powerful once you figure out how to utilise him but he’s difficult to learn and his flying controls leave much to be desired.
Ms Marvel is really great. Her stretchy, rubbery set of powers gives her this fluid, dynamic feel during combat. Watching her grow and shrink in size while using her fist as a projectile, avoiding attacks by warping her body out of harm’s way and stringing together combos is pure magic. While she’s a much smaller character than Hulk, they bear some similarities in combat. They’re both focused on dealing huge melee damage and both do so in their general vicinity. However, Ms Marvel is more mobile than Hulk (in combat at least) and has some incredible abilities that let her pummel enemies while moving all over the battlefield.
After playing as Hulk, Ms Marvel and Iron Man, Black Widow almost feels like the Black Sheep. She doesn’t have any powers and could have been a lame gun fighter. Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics has made Black Widow a real-powerhouse. Using the enemy against themselves is the name of the game with Black Widow and counter-attacks are her weapon of choice. Sure, she has pistols and batons, which do come in handy, but by countering enemies at the right time, you can stagger them and pummel them into a smooth paste. While performing said pummeling, Black Widow will generate energy which is stored in her feet and fists and the more she stores, the more damage she dishes out. However, if she’s hit, she’ll lose all progress. Stay on the move and stay powerful.
The beta only gives access to Iron Man, Black Widow, Ms Marvel and Hulk but they’re more than different enough from one another to make replaying the relatively short missions actually worthwhile and enjoyable. At launch, players will also have Thor and Captain America to play with, though it’s still not clear how Cap fits into things given the plot. Post-launch, everyone gets Hawkeye free and PlayStation players get Spider-man. It’ll be interesting to see if Spider-man will play exactly as he does in Insomniac’s game or if Crystal Dynamics will create its own version of the character.
The meat of Marvel’s Avengers is combat. Movement is important but each character moves fluidly and in their own unique way and are all responsive to the inputs given. Iron Man’s flying is a little off but by and large, movement works fine. Combat is where you’ll spend most of your time and, luckily, it’s a blast.
During my time with the beta, I was attacked by a horde of rampaging killbots with alarming frequency and no matter which hero I was driving I was having a great time. Combat is quite hectic and often it’s difficult to work out exactly what’s going on but you always have enough tools on your belt to stay alive and keep going. Crystal Dynamics has included a target lock-on function but it’s all but useless when you’re surrounded by enemies and need to focus on them all equally. I found by locking on, I was limiting my viewpoint to one enemy and would end up being mauled from behind. While not ideal, it’s better to keep the camera free and swing it around as you fight.
Getting the hang of each hero’s strengths and weaknesses goes a long way toward improving your time in combat too. Once you figure out some combos, some parries and some special moves you’ll be begging enemies to come at you so you can test out your latest technique.
You’ll also always be backed up by three other Avengers, whether they’re controlled by humans or AI. When you select your hero, you can request up to three others you’d like to take with you and if matchmaking is on, you’ll be first paired with players using those heroes. If matchmaking is off, you’ll go in with three AI heroes and if you’re playing with friends, you’ll get what you’re given. Good luck forcing your mate Johnno to pick anything other than Iron Man.
Playing solo works well enough and is still incredibly playable, but it’s clear Marvel’s Avengers has been designed as a co-op experience. The AI isn’t very smart and won’t help out much with objectives or in general other than by smashing up bad guys. When you’re able to play with other humans, Marvel’s Avengers is elevated to a much higher plane of existence. Working as a team has never been so satisfying and being able to be the Hulk to your friend’s Black Widow while Iron Man flies overhead is something you’ll only ever get from videogames.
With four characters to play as and level up in the beta, players only get access to the first of three pages of skills. Additionally, with a level cap of 15, the characters aren’t able to unlock every available skill. Crystal Dynamics has said players will be able to create their own versions of these heroes by picking and choosing which abilities to use, but in the beta, everyone is going to be roughly the same. That being said, there are still enough abilities to unlock that not everyone will have the exact same stuff.
Where everyone is guaranteed to have different stuff is loot. Each character has four Gear slots, one Major Artifact slot and two minor artifact slots. The four gear slots are;
- Melee Gear
- Ranged Gear
- Defense Gear
- Heroic Gear
The look, shape and basic form of each piece differ based on the character. Iron Man’s melee gear are specialised gauntlets while Hulk’s are Nanites that affect his muscles. I wasn’t able to unlock a Major Artifact during the beta, so I’m not yet sure what they do but Minor Artifacts give characters bonuses like an XP boost, damage boost etc.
Gear comes in Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic and Legendary rarities and provide better stats and bonuses the higher you go. Common gear includes no perks or extras, Uncommon usually includes at least one, Rare generally has two and Epic and Legendary have three or more. There is an enormous number of bonuses and stat changes attributed to the Gear in Marvel’s Avengers, however, during the beta, you’ll level so quickly and unlock so much Gear that you’ll be thankful for the button that allows you to simply equip the best stuff you’ve got. Gear also comes with different damage types including Gamma, Cosmic, Cryo, Graviton and Pym Particle.
After playing the beta, I’m not sure if you can increase the power level of gear by ‘infusing’ it with more powerful gear, like Destiny, however, you are able to increase the power level of individual pieces through Power Levelling. Each piece of Gear can be powered up a number of times, based on its rarity; generally 5 for uncommon and rare and 10 for Epic and Legendary. This means you can increase a piece of gear and in doing so increase your overall power level. However, each type of Gear uses a different resource to Power Level. In Marvel’s Avengers, you’ll collect the following Gear Resources
- Upgrade Modules
Fragments and Upgrade Modules don’t seem to have a use in the beta though the menu states they’re both used for Upgrading Gear. Nanites are used to Power Level Melee Gear, Nanotubes for Ranged Gear, Catalyst for Defense Gear and Plasma for Heroic Gear. Each of these resources will be used to purchase gear from Vendors in the final game too, meaning it’s going to be a heck of a grind to get your heroes up to a powerful level. Luckily, you’ll find resources everywhere, unluckily, you’ll never quite have enough which is exactly why you’ll quickly grow addicted to the grind.
That being said, I found myself earning new Gear almost constantly so I was never attached to any one piece for too long. Crystal Dynamics has said the rate of levelling up etc has been inflated for the beta but I’d still be concerned about the turnover rate of loot. It’s nice to see your power level climb but having to constantly jump into the menu to equip your new stuff is, frankly, painful.
There’s still some time before Marvel’s Avengers launches and I’d hope Crystal Dynamics uses that time to polish the game. Playing on a PS4 Pro, Marvel’s Avengers ran ok. For large portions of my playtime, I had no issues, however, there were numerous moments when the framerate would slow to a crawl, the visuals would blur out of focus, characters would clip through and get stuck on geometry and the game would generally run like a dog. It’s not great to be playing a beta and seeing these issues crop up, especially the number of times I saw.
Marvel’s Avengers is also oddly ugly. Coming from the team who made Tomb Raider, I was expecting to be blown away by the visuals but in truth, Marvel’s Avengers looks like a game that would have been released in 2015. It’s washed out, very blurry/fuzzy and just seems to be missing that extra level of love and attention needed to make it shine. Fingers crossed by the time the full game launches, things have been tidied up.
The sound design, on the other hand, is flawless. Everything is crystal clear and perfectly in balance. Dialogue is impeccably acted, sound effects hit you right in the chest and the music ebbs and swells in reaction to the action on screen. What the visuals lack, the audio more than makes up for. However, Nolan North and Troy Baker are monumentally miscast. Both of their performances are great but they’re too recognisable and too well-known and it’s distracting. When Tony Stark quips it doesn’t sound like Tony Stark, it sounds like Drake. When Bruce Banner quietly contemplates, all I can hear is Booker DeWitt, Joel and Vincent. Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey are also recognisable, but not nearly so much as North and Baker and they’re inclusion isn’t a distraction. I wish Crystal Dynamics had used lesser-known actors who could have embodied the role without distracting from it.
Conversely, Sandra Saad as Kamala Khan deserves tremendous praise. As the player’s window into The Avengers, she manages to fan-girl about the situation while fully embracing the bizarreness of becoming a superhero and of meeting her personal heroes. The pure joy in her voice reflects that of the player being able to become part of The Avengers. It’s wonderful.
Despite only offering a handful of levels and heroes, Marvel’s Avengers’ beta hooked me. It definitely took some time before I understood what type of game I was playing and what Crystal Dynamics was going for but once it clicked into place, I couldn’t get enough. It’s far from perfect, and at this stage, technical issues hold it back but hopefully they can be ironed out before launch.
In spite of the issues though, Marvel’s Avengers is shaping up to be my absolute favourite GaaS title and THE game I dedicate most of my time to going forward. Not only does it have terrific combat, a dangerously addictive loot and gameplay loop and a superhero take on Diablo, it also has The Avengers; arguably the hottest pop-culture IP in existence today.
If the plot can do the character’s justice and the gameplay can sustain nearly endless playing, Marvel’s Avengers has a bright future indeed.
Marvel’s Avengers’ beta was played on PS4 Pro using a digital copy provided by the publisher.