Marvel’s Avengers Beta Hands-on Preview – So Far, So Good
It's been three years and a half since Marvel's Avengers was first announced as 'The Avengers Project' back in January 2017.
At that time, gamers all around the world were literally confused as to why the increasingly popular Avengers and Marvel IPs weren't being properly used in games. The announcement of Marvel's Avengers lit a ray of hope for Marvel fans, even if Insomniac's excellent Spider-Man game beat it to the punch when it came to releasing as the first triple-A experience starring a Marvel character in ages.
Crystal Dynamics, the game's developer alongside sister studio Eidos Montréal, then went dark for a couple of years. Marvel's Avengers was properly unveiled at E3 2019, but the exciting part comes now as the game is finally in the final stretch of development with the first beta weekend (exclusive to PlayStation 4 pre-order customers) opening up this Friday.
We got the chance to try the beta in advance, though, and I'm happy to report that the first hands-on did not disappoint. The slice of content available in this build (4 Hero Missions from the campaign, 3 HARM Room challenges, 4 War Zones, and 5 Drop Zones) was very enjoyable to play, mostly thanks to the great combat system and the promising story bits on showcase.
The beta begins with the now well-known A-Day campaign mission, which is also the start of the story. There, you get the chance to see first-hand how everything quickly unravels around the Avengers, who are powerless to stop the San Francisco incident from happening despite all their might and ingenuity.
It's also a good way to provide players with a first taste of playing with Thor, Iron-Man, Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow, with the latter facing the very first boss fight in the game against The Taskmaster. Each Avenger plays out differently from each other and just as you would imagine, when you're with the Hulk you are empowered with an unparalleled feeling of strength, whereas Black Widow is all about stealth, finesse and agility.
Once the mission is over, the beta jumps forward to when Kamala Khan (Miss Marvel) manages to persuade Bruce Banner, also known as The Hulk, of the conspiracy that occurred on A-Day. The two set out to recover Jarvis, Iron Man's own AI companion, who might just know the whereabouts of Tony Stark. This Hero Mission in particular stood out as along the way the couple runs into The Abomination, eventually setting up a spectacular boss fight.
Additionally, while it is hard to judge the story from just a handful of missions, the presentation looked slick and polished, to the extent that we've come to expect from Crystal Dynamics following the latest Tomb Raider trilogy. This is perhaps unsurprising, anyway, as there are many 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 among this roster of founding Avengers, already looks like a great character capable of shaking up the established team dynamics with her cheerful vibe and positive energy.
Other than the Hero Missions, available War Zones include Drop Zones, which are short combat-focused sessions where you are tasked with a single objective, whereas Iconic or Faction Missions are larger and more structured endeavors that also contain some story. There's also a Villain Sector in the beta, a mission that ended in a huge boss fight against a massive robot that required disabling through weak point attacks before the heroes were able to properly smash it to pieces.
Ramping up the difficulty from Normal to Hard made everything way more challenging, at least with the AI companions, who seem decently capable but not exceedingly smart (one time, they did not come to my character's rescue at all as he was down but not out yet, causing the mission to fail). Of course, playing with friends while coordinating builds and strategy should be way more entertaining, particularly as there are team takedown moves that can be performed after you've filled an enemy' stun bar.
It should be noted, however, that if you're looking for an open world game similar to an MMO, this is not it. There are no truly open zones where you can freely roam around, like in Destiny or in Warframe's Plains of Eidolon, Fortuna, or the upcoming Deimos.
It is frankly an understandable choice by Crystal Dynamics, as it would have been hard to imagine a Marvel's Avengers game where all the heroes are somehow stuck into a specific (even if large) zone when literally all they do in their comic book, TV and movie adventures is jumping around the globe and beyond to deal with constant new threats.
That is not to say there's no room for exploration, as the War Zones generally have some of that, with loot and secondary objectives scattered around the larger maps. Perhaps the best way to think about Marvel's Avengers is of a mix between God of War or Spider-Man and Diablo.
Indeed, another highly promising element is the sheer amount of possibilities for gameplay customization of your heroes, between gear perks and skills. When it comes to the former, you can equip gear that adds specific damage types to certain attacks, such as Gamma, Plasma, Cosmic, Cryo, Shock, Pym, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg. You can opt to boost the recharge rate of Heroic abilities, you can get damage or defense buffs when performing light or heavy attack combo finishers, and so on.
The beta only enabled a single skill tree for each hero and even that is enough to get a glimpse of the impressive levels of specialization that can be applied to your characters. Suffice it to say, you could even set up a ranged build for The Hulk, or a melee build for Iron-Man if you really wanted to.
The preview also included a brief look at the Marketplace, which is where players will be able to unlock different cosmetic items, such as outfits, emotes, and nameplates. However, we do not know yet how much the game's currency will cost in real money, so it is hard to judge the danger level of these microtransactions for the time being.
The game was also rather impressive visually when played on a PlayStation 4 Pro, though there are occasional slowdowns with lots of enemies and effects displayed on the screen at once. These aren't meaningfully mitigated by switching from 4K mode to frame rate mode, so we're hoping the developers can iron out the performance issues ahead of the launch set for September 4th.
Beyond that, the big unknown lingering in my head after this hands-on is the variety of the repeatable content. Will there be enough environments, enemy types and mission objectives in Marvel's Avengers to keep the action fresh? Of course, this ties into the post-launch content schedule, which apparently should start a few weeks after the release with the first 'raid-like' content.
If Marvel's Avengers can deliver on that front, this could be a game I'll play for quite a long time.