It’s been three and a half years since Marvel’s Avengers was first announced as ‘The Avengers Project’ in January 2017.
At the time, gamers around the world were literally confused as to why the increasingly popular Avengers and Marvel IPs weren’t used correctly in games. The announcement of Marvel’s Avengers brought a glimmer of hope for Marvel fans, even if Insomniac’s excellent Spider-Man game made it a success when it came to releasing it as the first triple-A experience with a Marvel character in ages .
Crystal Dynamics, the developer of the game alongside sister studio Eidos Montréal, went dark for a few years after that. Marvel’s Avengers was correctly revealed at E3 2019, but the exciting part is now because the game is finally in the final stages of development with the first beta weekend (exclusive to PlayStation 4 pre-order customers) opening this Friday .
However, we got a chance to try the beta ahead of time, and I’m happy to report that the first hands-on didn’t disappoint. The part of the content available in this build (4 Hero Missions from the campaign, 3 HARM Room Challenges, 4 War Zones and 5 Drop Zones) was a lot of fun to play, especially thanks to the great combat system and promising story bits on showcase.
The beta begins with the now-famous A-Day campaign mission, which is also the beginning of the story. There you will have a chance to see first hand how everything is happening quickly around the Avengers, who are powerless to avoid the San Francisco incident, despite all their power and ingenuity.
It’s also a good way to provide players with a first introduction to playing Thor, Iron-Man, Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow, with the latter encountering the very first boss fight in the game against The Taskmaster. Every Avenger plays out differently and just as you would imagine, the Hulk gives you an unparalleled sense of strength, while Black Widow is all about stealth, finesse and agility.
Once the mission is over, the beta jumps forward when Kamala Khan (Miss Marvel) convinces Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, of the conspiracy that took place on A-Day. The two went looking for Jarvis, Iron Man’s own AI companion, who may know Tony Stark’s whereabouts. This Hero Mission in particular stood out because the couple encountered The Abomination on the way and eventually started a spectacular boss fight.
In addition, while it’s difficult to judge the story from just a handful of missions, the presentation looked slick and polished, to the extent we’ve come to expect from Crystal Dynamics after the latest Tomb Raider trilogy. This is not surprising anyway, as there are many critically acclaimed voice actors in the cast, with Laura Bailey as Natasha Romanoff, Troy Baker as Bruce Banner, Nolan North as Tony Stark and Travis Willingham as Thor.
Kamala Khan, the newcomer to this list of Avengers founders, already looks like a great character who can shake up established team dynamics with her cheerful vibe and positive energy.
Aside from the Hero Missions, the available War Zones include Drop Zones, these are short battle-focused sessions where you have the task of achieving one goal, while Iconic of Faction Missions are larger and more structured endeavors that also include a story. There’s also a Villain sector in the beta, a mission that ended in a massive boss fight against a massive robot that had to be knocked out through weak point attacks before the heroes managed to smash it to pieces.
Stepping up the difficulty from Normal to Hard made everything much more challenging, at least with the AI companions, who seem fairly capable but not exceedingly smart (once they didn’t come to my character’s aid because he was down but not out anyway, making the mission failed). Of course, playing with friends while coordinating builds and strategy should be a lot more fun, especially since there are team removal moves that can be performed after you fill an enemy’s stun bar.
However, it should be noted that if you are looking for an open world game similar to an MMO this is not the case. There are no truly open zones to roam freely like in Destiny or in Warframe’s Plains of Eidolon, Fortuna or the upcoming Deimos.
It is honestly an understandable choice of Crystal Dynamics as it was hard to imagine a Marvel’s Avengers game where all the heroes are somehow trapped in a specific (even if big) zone while doing literally everything in their comic book , TV and movie adventures are leaping around the world and beyond to face constantly new threats.
That’s not to say there’s no room for exploration, as the war zones usually have a portion of that, with loot and secondary targets scattered across the larger maps. Perhaps the best way to think about Marvel’s Avengers is a mix between God of War or Spider-Man and Diablo.
Indeed, another promising element is the sheer amount of options for customizing your heroes’ gameplay, between perks and abilities. When it comes to the first, you can equip equipment that adds specific types of damage to certain attacks, such as Gamma, Plasma, Cosmic, Cryo, Shock, Pym, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. You can choose to increase the reload speed of heroic skills, you can get damage or defense fanatics when performing light or heavy attack combinations and so on.
The beta enabled only one skill tree for each hero, and even that’s enough to get a glimpse of the impressive levels of specialization that can be applied to your characters. Suffice to say you can even set up a range build for The Hulk, or a melee build for Iron-Man if you really want to.
The preview also included a close look at the Marketplace, where players can unlock various cosmetic items such as outfits, emotes and nameplates. However, we don’t yet know how much the game’s currency will cost in real money, so it’s still hard to judge the level of danger from these microtransactions.
The game was also visually quite impressive when played on a PlayStation 4 Pro, although there are occasional delays with many enemies and effects on the screen at once. These aren’t significantly mitigated by switching from 4K mode to frame rate mode, so we hope the developers can fix the performance issues before the September 4 launch set.
In addition, the big unknown that lingers in my head after this hands-on is the variety of the repeatable content. Will there be enough environments, types of enemies and mission objectives in Marvel’s Avengers to keep the action fresh? This, of course, ties in with the post-launch content schedule, which apparently should begin with the first ‘raid-like’ content a few weeks after its release.
If Marvel’s Avengers can perform on that front, this could be a game I will be playing for quite a long time.