Marvel’s Avengers Beta Impressions

We got the chance to hop on the closed beta this past weekend for Marvel’s Avengers. There’s plenty of opinions out there from the previous PlayStation only weekends, but it was good to get our hands on the game ourselves finally, even if we came away slightly unimpressed.

Crystal Dynamics made quite the name for themselves when 2016’s Tomb Raider came out; here was a storied franchise that had fallen off its lofty perch somewhat in recent years that was brought back to glory with an excellent, mature take. I personally enjoyed both Rise, and Shadow, of the Tomb Raider just as much, and was very keen to see where CD were going next.

The Marvel universe, both comic and cinematic, is not really my thing, though I have enjoyed various Superhero games in the past. As a result, when it was revealed that CD were bringing The Avengers to the game space I kind of passed it by, though was still keen to see if the excellent quality single player adventure mastered in Tomb Raider would translate to this new title. Sadly, from this beta at least, that seems to have taken a back seat.

That’s not to say there isn’t a strong cinematic element to things. CD have clearly poured some love into crafting the story wrapping the gameplay, with some lovely looking cinematics and well-acted characters. The opening mission hints at what could have been, as we play – solo – through a heavily scripted but chaotic and action packed scene, switching between the core Avengers along the way. I did enjoy this part, as it kept the action flowing, and moving from Hulk to Iron Man to Black Widow was interesting. Again, scripted as it was it still hit some of the same highs as the faster paced scenes in Tomb Raider, such as in Shadow when the floods begin, Lara desperately trying to escape the village as the water rises.

It ground to a halt though when Black Widow faced off against Taskmaster; and here is where Avengers true colours started to show. While still a fairly hectic boss fight, the rate at which his health bar depleted was truly tedious, and his being able to block attacks that clearly bypassed his shield just because he was in a certain state frustrated no end. Some of the Tavern team seemed to get past this without as much difficulty as me, but even they bemoaned the same issues.

Outside of the bombastic opener, it’s a fairly standard LIVE SERVICE affair. A central hub area – that I found utterly confusing to navigate in order to find the HARM room – houses a world map from where the missions are selected. The UI for the menus is exactly the same as Destiny, down to the cursor and pop-in menus for character upgrades. There are story missions alongside optional extra missions, and a somewhat pointless tutorial one that repeats what we learned 20 minutes earlier during the opener. Loading in to a mission sees us need to pick a character from the roster unlocked, while AI team mates fill in any required spots should we not have friends online.

The missions themselves are – at least in the beta – boring rinse and repeat affairs, with waves of repetitive fights against repetitive enemy types. Bulky ‘Guardian’ style foes enter the fray, of course, and take a battering while also not showing any effect of our attacks – you’d think even a smack from Hulk would at least stumble them. Each hero has their own special attacks on cooldowns, and while these are visually pretty cool, they lack any real weight for the aforementioned reason. Even teaming up with friends didn’t prove much better, as there didn’t seem to be much in the way to encourage teamwork. Hulk smash, and Iron Man blast, but player bored.

Combat devolves into a fairly boring case of mashing the light and strong attacks while occasionally dodging in a similar fashion to the Arkham games; a quick flash of a counter circle indicates when to dodge, opening them up for attack. Each of the characters, despite their unique talents, ends up feeling pretty similar in the general gameplay. I did find a favourite in Kamala Kahn, her stretchy limbs at least allowing me to traverse the arenas in a bit more of a free flowing way, but she still didn’t really stand out as someone I’d main going forward. I guess that could be a good thing – players would be free to mix and match in sessions rather than sticking to one character – but the upgrades gained are character specific, forcing us into the typical trappings of using our powered up character, or starting fresh if someone else in the team takes them.

The upgrades are a bit odd too. While much in the vein of Destiny again, they offer up stat boosts without visual customisation. The difference between a LVL9 and LVL10 chest piece boils down to a few points of defence, for example, while the character model remains the same. For me, this takes away a big part of the fun in upgrading characters – seeing what cool, or wacky, outfits I can muster up. If you’re into LIVE SERVICE style games then this may not be too much of a bother, but solely upgrading based on numbers without any visual element strikes me as a missed opportunity.

What makes this even more of a shame is the hints at what could have been. After the opening scene we play as Kamala Kahn as she and Bruce Banner explore an area looking for a hidden lab. The interaction between the characters is exactly what I’d expect from a CD game, with the dialogue and movement feeling very Tomb Raider – or, dare I say it, Uncharted – like. Fights break out along the way, but it feels much more enjoyable to clear enemies out and then carry on with the tale than spend five minutes hoovering up loot before the next fight comes. It points to what a single player game could’ve been, and while I’m sure more of this element will feature throughout, that it’s backed up by the trapping of a LIVE SERVICE game mean that getting to enjoy these moments will likely be the exception rather than the rule.

Conclusion

My hopes weren’t exactly high for Marvel’s Avengers from the pre-release info we had, and sadly after the beta not much has changed. It feels a very LIVE SERVICE by-the-numbers affair, with elements straight up ripped out of other titles, and unexciting combat punctuating the loot grinding. More visual customisation might have helped perk this aspect up, but as it is there’s a lot of number crunching that doesn’t really inspire much excitement.  There are hints at a pretty interesting and engaging tale here, especially for Marvel fans, and the voice acting from industry stalwarts is excellent (I couldn’t help but imagine this as an alternate universe Last of Us though, with 3 of the main cast shared across both series). But whether that will keep players coming back I guess will only be told in the weeks after launch.

This game was previewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.
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Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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