It has been a steep hill for Square-Enix’s ambitious Avengers project. People have been quite jaded by service-based games. The controversies surrounding Anthem, Fallout 76, and Final Fantasy XIV played a big part in that. They were sold as the next major AAA game that would keep players invested for many years. Yet, they ended up never delivering on their promises. As such, by the time they were able to solve these issues most players have already stopped playing. So, it is rather risky for a massive IP like Marvel to enter such a market, especially when facing their own set of controversies surrounding exclusivity deals. Now, all eyes are on the first closed Beta for PlayStation per-orders. This could determine if the game will deliver on its promises and offer a good first look at what is to come.
The game’s story looks promising as a single-player experience, especially the reveal trailer for M.O.D.O.K. which hyped me up for what it could offer. A misstep, however, was their marketing only focusing on A-Day. This created this feeling of a lack of content that wasn’t addressed until a video in June. It is unsure how much of the game will be story-based missions, but they have been a bit more transparent. Why is it important? This will probably be a major selling point. Unlike other service-games, this IP already has years worth of potential story content and characters. If most of the missions just consist of dialogue without any animations, it could undersell the work put into it. The Beta throws us into a shortened version of A-Day, the search for Jarvis and Nick Fury. This highlighted a bit more of the story that was hidden up until this point and seemed quite promising. A personal highlight was the battle against Abomination that offered a great set-piece and teased the potential of future boss fights. Hopefully, they will stay true to their statement and continue the story even beyond AIM.
The War Zone missions you unlock after the story are limited. They do show a bit of variety, even if there could be more. We get character missions, like Hulk’s “Condition: Green.” Here we have to infiltrate a gamma-lab to avoid it becoming a weapon. Sadly, there weren’t any animations to give this mission more life. We got some voice-over from various characters but didn’t actually see much of the villain of this vision. Maybe it’s due to this being a Beta but I really hope they give character-specific stories more attention. Don’t want them to be just another War Zone mission with some extra dialogue. Another highlight was “To Tame a Titan.” After you infiltrated an AIM facility, you see something looming in the distance only for you to realize it’s a boss battle against a giant Warbot. There was some actual build up to this moment. Hope to see more of this in the game.
Most of the other missions consisted of combat. Sometimes they add variety by having siege-like areas you need to secure. After a few missions, however, you did start to notice the same corridor repeating. It’s a Beta, so they probably limited the environments and game styles. Still, they will need to offer some variety to truly give the game legs. Luckily, open areas did give you freedom to find secret little missions that offered some additional incentive. If they do have to reuse assets, it would be good if they space it out accordingly. Would be best to avoid a constant feeling of déjà-vu.
Focus on Character
Let’s talk about the playable characters. As soon as you unlock the Helicarrier, you have access to four characters. The Beta lets you play Ms. Marvel, Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Widow. Thor and Captain America are only playable during A-Day as a short tease of what they offer. Thor plays a lot like Kratos from God of War with how he uses his hammer. Captain America seems to take some inspiration from the Batman Arkham Games in how he in combat. Even if they do feel unique and play different, the controls are standardized. Each character has a light and heavy attack. They can dodge and even counter enemies to avoid damage. Everyone has a third-person targeting function that depends on the character’s unique abilities. If you play right, you can even juggle enemies to create some interesting combos that fit your play style. Their approach is especially highlighted through the gear system. It is a bit too much like Destiny‘s design. So, you’ll probably invest resources to upgrade an item only to find a better one shortly after. The cool idea though is that you can add special effects to attacks. For example, Iron Man can use his beam to shrink enemies through Pym tech.
Here is a quick rundown of the four main playable characters and how they differ from each other:
- Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms. Marvel gets the most spotlight in this game. She is the easiest to start with, mostly because she gets the most gear in the story missions. Her attacks take down a wide area thanks to her stretching abilities. You can also target your punch to take enemies out from the distance. The best part is that after upgrading you can even grab them. She also uses her stretching powers to maneuver the environment. It is a great touch even if it isn’t always as responsive as it should be.
- Hulk is really heavy in comparison to the others. He is the only one that can cling unto specific walls. What is odd is that he can only jump off of those areas instead of the classic wall running mechanic. Given his focus on combat, he cannot block attacks. Instead, he uses his rage to heal and take less damage. These kinds of small changes fit the characters and force you to change your approach with each character.
- Iron Man‘s heavy attacks are his iconic beams. The action meter decreases with each use, so you cannot spam them. You can’t just camp out enemies while hovering over them. When you dash from a hover you will end in the flying animation. It is sadly very restrictive and needs some practice to get right, especially shooting while flying is difficult due to a lack of a lock-on function. It probably is the one thing I hope they expand in the future. Still, you can instantly switch between flying, fighting, and hovering which handles great.
- Black Widow is a fun character to play but could be fleshed out more. She can pull out her guns at any time to take down enemies from a distance. Found myself switching quite a bit when I was low on health. Sadly, no stealth functions to hide from enemies. Her special ability to cloak is mostly so you can avoid a few hits. So, you can’t sneak up bad guys to take them down instantly. Would like to see them use her unique abilities in interesting ways for unique mission types potentially.
Question of Villainy
You get to try out these abilities on a variety of enemy types. At first glance, it could seem like you are just pounding away on damage sponges (won’t deny that some are). AIM’s focus on tech allowed them to add some diversity to the enemy types. You have your classic enemies with guns, staffs, and shield. Some also have their own abilities to use against you. there are turrets and drones are there to distract you. We see some variations of comic enemies like the Adaptoids. Then there are also heavy types like the Aliens-inspired mech suits, spider-mechs, and the before-mentioned giant Warbot. The Beta probably showcases some enemies from later in the story. I do hope we get some more surprises in enemy types in the full game.
Yes, they do recycle throughout the Beta but depending on the mission they also have unique properties. These are similar to how your own upgrades. This adds some nice world building to what happened after the Avengers disbanded. In the “Condition: Green” mission, most enemies are infused with gamma radiation. These return while facing villains with cryo weapons. So, you have to avoid getting frozen and being poisoned. It’s a small touch but it does mix up battles in an interesting way to make you strategize a bit more. In my mind, this keeps it from just being a button-smasher as you need to pay attention to what is happening. You can easily get ganged up while focusing on one specific enemy. That got me killed more often than I am willing to confess throughout my playtime.
The only thing that stands out is that all enemies so far are AIM’s goons and robots. We barely spend time with the mercenaries, so hope they will also return. Marvel has such a large world to be inspired by. It would be a waste to just focus on one singular organization. We could see a mission suddenly interrupted by HYDRA or even Flag-Smasher’s ULTIMATUM. We get to visit New York City for a bit, so they could introduce minor villains for special missions. You could play as Kamala Khan trying to race the Hood through the city after a robbery. The advantage of this IP is that the different characters from the comics can help create unique mission types to avoid repetition. The multiplayer’s function should not limit what is possible with this game.
Room for Potential
In the end, it’s still a Beta that only reflects a small portion of the actual game. There are some noticeable bugs. A personal favorite was Kamala’s hair just vanishing into thin air during a cut scene. Didn’t even realize it was here until it was over. The multiplayer aspect faced some connection issues. It is nowhere as bad as it could be in a Beta. My only major gripe was that twice I got kicked out due to a connection error. I was playing with AI companions, so there was no reason for it. If this happens in the actual game, I hope your party just gets replaced with AI. Imagining a two hour mission being interrupted at the last second would be infuriating. Overall, the game has some rough edges but with the service-concept, I believe this can be fixed easily. The developer Crystal Dynamics has been very on point listening to player feedback. This is one of the reasons why Hawkeye was announced as the first DLC character. Still, here are some things I noticed while playing the game that I hope will be updated sooner rather than later:
- The menus need a complete overhaul. It was the only thing that really bothered me throughout the game. There are a lot of different menus with additional sub-menus that just become disorienting. For example, they could just turn the collectibles could just be added into the Helicarrier as a special museum area. Could add a Stan Lee cameo as a silent SHIELD agent, who works there. Would give it a bit more flair and a sense of progression. I noticed that the character card wasn’t in the War Table stream, so it might just be for the Beta. I just think a lot of functions that aren’t necessary for missions should be added to the base.
- Speaking of menus, the start menu is quite bland. Instead of just starting the game with a click of my controller, I have to select a button. It is just an unnecessary additional step in my opinion. The update page could be kept on the main page as a notification menu. The marketplace I think would work better as an actual shop in the Helicarrier. I know, it’s probably there so they can entice people when starting to game but it’s very lackluster.
- I think this is due to the Beta skipping a lot of sequences but some important information is just revealed very late. It is one of the reasons I kept dying throughout the second mission. I didn’t know that there are healing containers, or that there were any benefits to going into rage mode. I didn’t realize willpower was the game’s name for health. The counter was only revealed around two to three hours into playing, which would’ve saved my life countless times. Hope that the actual A-Day mission spreads this out much better.
- The dynamic camera is a great idea on paper. It makes a lot of action sequences look great but it becomes quite disorienting at times. Motion blur especially adds to that. Sometimes when a lot is happening it just goes crazy. I noticed especially with Hulk this to be the case. It starts shacking every time he slams to the ground. Maybe just an option to change it a bit would be helpful.
- Levels are a bit strange in this. I think they only really add to the skill tree. The character card also has levels but I couldn’t unlock anything. I don’t know if you get more willpower through it. I think it should add to your stats in addition to the gear. Whatever it does and how the character card works (outside of paying to unlock in advance) just wasn’t well communicated in the game.
- It would be good to add the length of the mission in the War Zone briefing. If you want to just jump in for a quick mission, you might accidentally end up in one that lasts about 30 minutes to even two hours.
- Also, I hope they rename the difficulty settings, as “Challenge II” or “Challenge III” doesn’t really say anything. I would love to see threat levels such as “Venom” or “Thanos” as an indicator and to add to the world-building of the game.
- This is more a personal pet-peeve but I think the character’s health meter should be in the bottom left corner. Most of the action is below and it just feels unnatural to constantly look up. Also, it is a waste that their power bar only includes an almost unrecognizable icon. Why not make the symbol a unique aspect of the character (Kamala’s is drawn, Hulk’s is punched into the screen) to just add some flair to the HUD. It being placed in the corner with the various meters coming out of it. As of now with the menu design, it feels very by-the-numbers and could use some spice.
These are just improvements I hope to see. In general, I had a blast playing this game. Even though it is just probably 10% of the actual product, I already invested around ten to twelve hours. Each character gives you a new experience and offers some variety. I underestimated how much the skill tree changed my approach to combat as I leveled up. I cannot wait to develop the Helicarrier back to its former glory. Really hope you have a lot of freedom to do so. This is something I have always wanted n a Marvel game. Hope it gets expanded as it continuous to grow. Once you have the Helicarrier built and defeated AIM, maybe you get to build your own Avengers mansion or even a Triskellion. The teased faction concept also sounds like a fun way to expand the world. There is just a lot to be excited about.
While I say that, I do have my worries. The most important thing moving forward is transparency. One of the driving factors for these service games failing was that there was no real communication. All you were stuck with was a bare-bones game with the empty promise of a better future. Avengers already laid the groundwork with the tease of Hawkeye as the first DLC character but how long will we wait? Is this a matter of half a year or a few months? All that is currently in the air.
My hope is that we get a road map. Street Fighter V recently revealed one for their latest season pass, which offered a good overview of what is to come. We don’t need to know the exact release date but just to get a feeling how this game will continue to expand. This game consists of so many elements that you can easily underwhelm your audience. People will stop caring if the story missions you promise are just two pieces of dialogue with re-used assets. There is still a month to go and hopefully another War Table to reveal what the future has in store for us. As of now, I am really excited to get my hands on the game and find out how this game will continue to develop.