Marvel's Avengers Beta | First Impressions

Even though it was announced in 2017, it wasn't until the E3 2019 trailer that Marvel's Avengers from Square Enix actually hooked me. This third-person action-adventure game being developed by Crystal Dynamics, in collaboration with Eidos-Montréal, is a standalone Avengers experience that's not tied into a preexisting property. It isn't trying to bridge any movies or fill any time gaps. Having seen DC succeed in this medium with the Batman: Arkham Trilogy and with Insomnia's Spider-Man being such a huge hit, I was excited to see what the team that successfully rebooted Tomb Raider would bring to the table. Although I had seen a few Twitter rants regarding the release of Spider-Man as a PlayStation exclusive character, I was mostly on the positive side of the spectrum when I went into the beta. And now, having played the game all weekend long, my feelings are mixed.

The story of Marvel's Avengers, which is only skimmed in the beta, is similar to Endgame; the good guys lose. However, this time around, the world turns against the heroes after their failure on A-Day, and in-humans, people infected with a virus that made them develop mutant powers, are being captured and experimented on by the mega-corporation called AIM. Although players can switch between the various Avengers, who have since split up, the story is seen through the eyes of Kamala Khan, also known as Ms. Marvel, as she works with Bruce Banner to reassemble the Avengers. Her hardcore-fan-turned-unofficial-Avenger perspective is effective at easing players into the world without it being too jarring. After all, this team of heroes is completely new and detached from the films, and by the start of the game, they've already been together for awhile. There isn't an official time stamp on how long the campaign is, but from the beta, my guess is that it falls somewhere near The Division's 22-hour mark.

At first glance, the gameplay is the same traditional third-person beat-em-up that is to be expected in a AAA superhero game. Each Avenger can perform a light attack, a heavy attack, and a set of special moves that charge over time. Plus, traversal in some of the more wide-open areas changes drastically based on character choice. However, despite the distinction between each character's gameplay style, the combat can end up feeling unengaging, resulting in mindless button mashing. This isn't to say that it's all bad though because as I cleared room after room of robotic baddies I was reminded of Gazillion Entertainment's Marvel Heroes Omega, a game which I sunk quite a few hours into back in 2017 when it came out on the PS4. Marvel Omega Heroes had the same combat loop as Marvel's Avengers with levels that could be cleared without much planning or forethought, making it an easy game to unwind with after a long day. But the key difference between the two games is the free-to-play price tag on the Omega Heroes, which meant anyone could pick it up with no entrance fee. 

Speaking of Marvel Heroes Omega, Marvel's Avengers also has a similar MMORPG-like structure that isn't typical in a AAA superhero game. Similar to the aforementioned free-to-play game, enemy drops and chest openings are key to leveling up your character. Each character has their own set of upgradable gear as well as unlockable skill trees. On that note, a small but great addition is that gear and character skins are separate, allowing players to look how they want without compromising on stats. The game can be played with up to four players online and, to increase replayability, the game also has mission modifiers that can alter a war zone to add increased difficulty or change its overall feel. Now, while I have been a big fan of games in this genre in the past, having played a lot of Destiny and The Division, the system didn't quite feel organic to me in Marvel's Avengers. I wanted to be immersed in an original story, not pause every few minutes to stare at the gear selection screen and check what new item I got and how it compared to what I already have equipped. This is very much so a personal opinion, but the game is at its best during its more linear scripted moments like the Black Widow vs Taskmaster and Hulk vs Abomination boss fights. It's when the game throws you in to secure drop zones and defend threat sectors that it becomes repetitive.

As to be expected from the developers of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Marvel's Avengers looks amazing during cutscenes and while there are a few rough edges during gameplay, like Banner's facial hair or Thor's lightning, the polish is apparent. Players will no doubt have a tough time adjusting to the new voices of the Avengers but once that hurdle has been passed the cast, consisting of Nolan North (Tony Stark), Troy Baker (Bruce Banner), Laura Bailey (Black Widow), and more, make the characters their own. Personally speaking, the thing that took me the longest to accept was the character designs. The Avengers look enough like their MCU counterparts to be recognizable but they are also just different enough to look like strangers. It made for an odd first few hours but once I had gotten used to them I did enjoy their personalities and chemistry.

As I said at the start, based solely on what I played in the beta, I have mixed feelings. It's hard to deny that the team behind Marvel's Avengers cares about the source material and they put a great amount of work into creating a campaign that can rival the plots of Marvel's own Cinematic Universe. But the pairing of that campaign with MMORPG loot and upgrade systems doesn't feel organic to me. For players who always buy games with a few buddies and can jump online at any time to do some missions, this game is ideal. For players who just want to play a story game starring their favorite superheroes, less so. I can't pretend to know what's best for this game, but I have seen what happened with Destiny 2 in 2019. A full-priced game that got a second wind when it's core content became free-to-play two years after release. If the multiplayer aspect of Marvel's Avengers is something the developers feel is a cornerstone to the experience, making the game free will open the doors for a lot of players who were initially hesitant. However, that all depends on how the game is received, and, at this point, we just have to wait and see how Marvel's Avengers does when it launches next month. 

Marvel's Avengers will have another open beta from August 21 to August 23 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The full game releases on September 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia, PC, and later on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

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