Since its initial debut, Marvel’s Avengers has seemed like a difficult game to reveal and talk about, with layers of features and systems including a campaign, multiplayer, loot, an evolving world and storyline, and other aspects that simply make it tough to boil the game down to an effective logline. However, the more we’ve seen of the game, the more cohesively all of these elements have started to come together to help us understand just what kind of game Marvel’s Avengers is. But the ultimate test? Going hands-on with the game to see how it plays and figure out how its systems work together to create one of the most unique games in recent memory.
Last weekend, Square Enix gave me the opportunity to hop into the Marvel’s Avengers Beta a week early to test everything out; smashing things as a curiously stylish Hulk and walloping enemies as an embiggened Kamala Khan. I also got to take Iron Man and Black Widow for a spin, as well as try out the myriad challenges and missions that players will soon get to undertake themselves over the next few weekends as Beta access widens.
Marvel’s Avengers feels like a blend of gameplay and systems from loot-based games like Diablo and Destiny, and multiple Marvel brawlers, including Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Marvel Future Fight, and Marvel Heroes. This is effectively a loot-focused Marvel dungeon crawler, a higher budget version of mobile titles like Future Fight that I’m not ashamed to say I poured hours of my life into. Don’t take that to mean it’s going the mobile monetization route. From what I could tell, monetization will be strictly for cosmetics. There aren’t any mobile mechanics like limited energy to take on missions or paying for upgrade paths. But if you want that really cool Hulk skin, you’ll probably have to fork over a few bucks. Real money transactions weren’t live in the Beta, but they did give us a little bit of in-game currency to play around with the premium cosmetics store. Thanks to that, my Hulk looked like he was running a criminal organization out of Cuba for the majority of the weekend.
There are an almost overwhelming amount of stats, numbers, and currencies quickly thrown at the player, none of which really get in the way of just brawling. Though I hope this onboarding is streamlined a bit for the actual game, I was rather quickly able to make sense of everything to make sure my heroes were properly geared up. If I do have one criticism, it’s that gear doesn’t display its maximum possible values, so it’s sometimes unclear which drops are actually more valuable. A couple evenings with a loot-based game in a limited Beta isn’t exactly the best indicator of how those systems well settle into place in the final release over long term play, but at first glance, they are a little bit obtuse.
Fortunately, the stats and currencies don’t get in the way of just brawling as the heroes and taking on waves of different enemies. If you want to take a simple base approach to gearing up your characters and don’t want to worry about a “13.5% chance of Heroic burst on successful Heavy Combo” or similar stats, you can just pay attention to the overall power of your gear and quickly take the fight to the forces of AIM. For those who do want to tailor their builds to certain skills and playstyles, that attention will be rewarded, though the Beta didn’t really offer extensive enough gear or upgrades to create a comprehensive “build” of any character. However, it did manage to shed light on the systems that will allow players to make their own unique team of Avengers in the final game.
Marvel’s Avengers Beta Hands-On Preview – A-Day
The Beta begins with the early A-Day campaign mission on the Golden Gate Bridge—Marvel’s Avengers prologue. You’ll quickly get to play as Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, and Captain America before the disaster that brands these heroes as failures and dangers to the people. (Side Note: It seems odd that Captain America would be a unique playable character if he wasn’t coming back in some way. Crystal Dynamics confirms six playable heroes at launch, and considering Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel alongside the five featured in the prologue, I have to think that Captain America sits among those six launch characters. Expect him to somehow survive or get resurrected in the story.) It’s a great way to quickly get a taste for how different each hero feels, while maintaining some similarities in central mechanics like heavy and light attacks, ranged versus melee, etc. Black Widow gets a fun boss fight against Taskmaster, and alongside another boss fight in the Beta, this hints at some pretty cool and unique encounters with notable Marvel villains.
After this, it skips to Kamala Khan and Bruce Banner searching for JARVIS so they can locate Tony Stark’s Iron Man. This lengthy story mission switches between both Ms. Marvel and Hulk at various points as they infiltrate an old SHIELD facility filled with Avengers relics of old, and in its finale, lets Hulk brawl it out with Abomination. Another story mission takes the pair to a snowy Russian environment on the hunt for more old SHIELD tech, showing a familiar face for Avengers fans and really starting to kick the story into gear. It’s a very early look at how Kamala seeks to bring the Avengers back together. Both feature somewhat open environments, though I wouldn’t go as far as to call them “open-world.” They are simply allowed to breathe a bit and not feel like narrow hallways shuffling you from one battle to the next.
Replayable Drop Zones and War Zones fill out the rest of the Beta content (you can’t go back and play the two story missions). Drop Zones are very short little missions that offer a single objective for players to quickly chase. They are usually over within about 10 minutes and weren’t particularly interesting or engaging, taking place in “samey” environments and often being of little consequence in terms of the bigger story, particularly directly compared to the story missions that at times take on an almost “Uncharted-esque” quality. Given the fact that Creative Director and Writer Shaun Escayg came from Naughty Dog, the influence of that experience is impossible to miss. It’s possible these smaller Drop Zones serve a role within the full game as places to quickly earn gear and complete challenges in the endgame, but as part of the Beta, they are simply opportunities to focus on hero combat and environment traversal.
The bigger War Zones offer more engaging multi-objective missions, though most of these were limited to “defeat this group of enemies” or “hold this point” before moving onto the next one. However, being able to approach these on repeat as different heroes highlighted a massive strength in Marvel’s Avengers variety character gameplay. I latched onto Hulk and Kamala’s more brawler-like fighting styles, but had a fun time trying out the evasive tactical maneuverings of Black Widow and Iron Man. Thor (and probably Captain America) were off limits in the Beta, aside from the opening Golden Gate Bridge mission.
Finally the HARM challenge rooms are strictly combat focused, with no objectives or traversal required except “beat all the enemies.” These gave me a real opportunity to play around with the characters and their various special abilities, as well as try to target some gear for my play style, even if drops were too limited and low level to make any good cohesive builds. Each character has a “Challenge Card” which is a Battle Pass-like system where completing character challenges will award points towards various cosmetics and materials. As far as I could tell, the Challenge Cards were not a part of any premium real world monetization, though I could use the premium in-game currency to unlock levels along the card if I wanted. How that will translate into the full game remains to be seen.
Though the game does have multiplayer, I was unable to play during any periods where other early access players were online, so I couldn’t get a good sense for how this aspect will function. In lieu of human players, Marvel’s Avengers gave me AI teammates based on the heroes I had built, which seemed competent enough for the most part. There were a few questionable decisions they made, like chasing down enemies instead of reviving me when I died, but overall it felt like they held their own in the battles, even if they don’t really do much work on the objectives.
All said, progress will carry over to subsequent Beta weekends, so I’m curious to see how continued play evolves my characters and builds over time. I spent much of my time this past weekend just familiarizing myself with the crazy amount of menus and systems present. To be honest, Marvel’s Avengers has a lot going on, enough that it could easily overwhelm new players coming in, particularly those who are unfamiliar with managing gear drops and power and loadouts and stats. For those of us who have been playing games like Diablo, Destiny, Borderlands, and The Division, you’ll feel right at home as the loot-based dungeon crawler genre gets a big-budget Marvel makeover.
The Marvel’s Avengers Beta makes one thing clear: This game is about building your unique group of heroes, from how they look to how they play. It’s a rather limited look despite its massive size and staggering amount of content (all of which I didn’t even fully complete before the servers closed). Early betas like this aren’t meant to fully encompass the endgame pursuits, which is where Marvel’s Avengers will be put to the real test, but this glimpse offers a promising future for an Avengers game long in the making.
The Marvels’ Avengers Beta kicks off for PS4 preorders this weekend on August 7th, with open betas to follow in the coming weeks ahead of the game’s full September 4th launch. Beta players will receive exclusive items at the game’s launch as a thank you for playing early.
Early access to the Marvel’s Avengers Beta on PS4 was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this preview.