There was an idea. An idea for a game that would let you play as a group of remarkable characters. A combination of multiple genres in one title to see if they could become something more. Marvel’s Avengers is not quite that game.
Marvel’s Avengers is a third person character action game, that has loot gathering elements that will let you upgrade your character, based around a series of multiplayer missions where players team up as members of the Avengers and beat up the bad guys/robots.
That extra clause in the commas up there? That’s in there because, like that sentence as a whole, the game could probably work without it.
The looter/RPG growth element of this game is completely unnecessary and does not add anything meaningful to the game.
It’s there to give players a sense of progression that is completely tied to arbitrary power levels in the game. Get “better” gear that gives a slightly higher percentage chance of regaining 20% of your willpower meter after a takedown, and your power level will increase! Then boost it to higher levels using the resources you’ve gotten from opening loot in missions! Increase you percentages! Heroism!
Ugh. My engagement with the looter/RPG percentage based progression system consisted almost entirely of holding the button that would just auto upgrade my gear to the best choice.
That my highest recommendation is the button that lets me skip getting involved in an entire system within the game is not ideal.
It’s even worse because Marvel’s Avengers already has difficulty options to let players attempt missions at different competencies.
And you do actually have a character levelling system that, like a good character action game, expands your moveset and combo options as you advance in the game and gain experience.
Plus there’s Character challenge cards. You have experience you can gain for each character by accomplishing daily/weekly challenges for the character which unlocks skins/emotes/cardplates for that character. Very much like an individualised battle pass. You can also use the premium currency (which you get some of free in the beta) to pay for tier skips.
So why is the loot based progression here? Because this game is supposed to last for years. Make Square Enix a helicarrier full of cash. Players support this by purchasing currency to buy cosmetics and emotes, etc. There’s no gameplay modifying elements.(at least visible in the beta)
But the wheel must turn, and players need to still be playing the game in order to be around to buy these cosmetics as they release. Enter the treadmill that is loot progression. Particularly a loot progression that will be separate for each of the games (at launch) six characters. That will keep players busy, so they can use the characters they want in higher level raids and ongoing missions. And they’ll come back. And be tempted to buy currency.
The worst part of this is that it unnecessarily obfuscates an otherwise reasonable character action game. So let’s talk about that instead.
The beta has playable versions of Hulk, Ms Marvel, Black Widow and Iron Man for full missions. The opening sequence gives a tease for Thor and Captain America too, but there’s not much depth in that introduction.
Each character has a similar core moveset made up of a combination of light and heavy attacks, paired with some (in the beta) fixed special abilities that are on timed cooldowns. They all also have a thematically appropriate ranged attack. Hulk tears a rock out of the ground, Widow shoots her guns, Ms Marvel just kind of punches a lot farther in one specific direction.
Every character has a launcher to allow for aerial attacks/juggling and higher difficulty play demands the use of upgraded dodges and parries to survive the waves of enemies. All the skill based elements are there, and the slow build up of combos and shield breakers after levelling up suggests quite a bit more height on the skill ceiling than the percentage boosting loot system would imply.
The special attacks provide gameplay and visual variety too, and generally any combination of characters will complement each other pleasantly in combat. It makes fights interesting to watch as well as play. There tends to be fun moments where you react to the symbol on screen telling you there’s an attack coming from behind, only to dodge around and watch as Hulk flings the would be attacker across the arena.
Specifically as well, each character also has some unique features that make them stand out. Iron Man can hover or fly, Widow has a grappling hook, Hulk can generate armour and extra damage with a temporary buff by raging. Everyone feels unique and thus makes their player feel that their choice of character had an impact on the overall approach to combat.
It’s a solid, workable system. Even in characters I didn’t particularly enjoy playing, (Hulk felt very floaty, unwieldy and insubstantial to me) I could at least get to grips with the abilities quickly and see that someone could have fun with it. You won’t necessarily get incredible Devil May Cry style combo videos straight out the gate. But equally, it’s not quite as simple as the combat in the Lego Marvel Games or Ultimate Alliance.(Both previous high bars in this type of superhero brawling)
It helps that the core experience is solid because there’s so far not a whole lot of variety in the missions. Now, as stated above, the centrepiece raid missions and the (fully playable in single player) campaign aren’t present in the Beta. So what you have now is missions that vary between 10-30 minutes where players rampage through city/forest/desert maps or battle through AIM laboratories.
In those missions, core objectives include:
1. Stand in glowing areas to capture locations in a timed king of the hill style while beating up the bad guys.
2. Smash some specific objects like computers or gadgets while beating up the bad guys.
3. Beat up ALL the bad guys in waves. While beating up the bad guys.
So far mission variety is not Avengers strong point. There’s glimpses of what could be great though. The New York stage in particular starts with your team on the streets surrounded by skyscrapers, able to undertake side objectives and explore. There’s other variants in a Siberian Tundra and Oregon Forest. Lavish environments to explore that carry on the Modern Tomb Raider legacy on a smaller scale. You just then have to go into a nondescript laboratory and beat up bad guys.
It seems a little unfair to judge it entirely on the beta, but these are repeatable, ongoing missions. They will make up the majority of most players time with the game. The raids may be more challenging, the campaign elements and special character missions we get access to do seem engaging. It just doesn’t inspire too much confidence for longevity based on the rest of it.
What inspires even less confidence is the matchmaking system and menus. I’m chalking it up to the beta right now, but the readability and user experience of the whole system leaves much to be desired.
I wanted to play a mission with my friend who wanted to be Iron Man, plus two AI characters, that was my goal. From opening the mission select, in the end it took us fifteen minutes to start playing. This was because of:
1. Changing matchmaking settings multiple times because the disable matchmaking option kicks any existing party members.
2. Linking back to the steam overlay to send invites, outside the game
3. Being forced to restart the whole process because someone else had joined as iron man and theres no kick function.
4. Waiting in a loop because the button that means “ready up”, which in all other games signifies that everyone is good to start, is here labelled “Launch Mission” and has to be pressed by everyone before launch.
I fully appreciate that none of the four studios designing this game have a pedigree of multiplayer systems design. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal are much better known for their single player affairs. But this was miserable to start with. Incomprehensible and frustrating. Just another layer of interference before getting to the actual enjoyable parts of Marvel’s Avengers.
Returning to things which Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal do actually do well in Marvel’s Avengers, the characterisation and world building for the game seems to be a lot more engaging than I expected. Marketing to date has focussed heavily on the core avengers team and the big names playing them. They’re doing a good job setting out their own versions of these characters. (Even if the designs are aping the MCU is a few too many ways) Sandra Saad’s Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel who’s stolen the show so far for me though.
I’m a tad biased as I think the character is one of the better creations of Modern Marvel comics, but her translation into this game is perfect. In spite of the anti-superhero, slightly brooding atmosphere that permeates the game, she still retains her enthusiastic earnestness and joy.
Whether it’s finding fully voiced passages from her avengers fan fiction as collectibles, or hearing her evoke one of the most meaningful lines of dialogue in a recent Marvel comic (“Good is not a thing you are, it’s a thing you do”) her character is believably hopeful and charming. A perfect focal point for the game to build around. Now it just needs the rest of the story to live up to it.
This game has been made with some real love and dedication to the source material. Relatively obscure but much loved side characters like Phil Sheldon are worked into the universe, while even the loot system is packed with on the nose references like “Graviton” relating to gravity altering attacks. Even the cosmetics show a dedication to attempting to really dig deep and realise the history of the characters in this format.
There’s a lot to like in Marvel’s Avengers and the core multiplayer combat system that’s really at the heart of it. It’s just dampened and worn down by the extraneous elements that are resting on top of them. The live services loot treadmill. The wildly inefficient multiplayer menus. The now infamous Spiderman deal. The corporate sponsored DLC access. The Emote you can only get by buying gum.
The game will have a full open beta on PC, Xbox and Playstation the weekend commencing Friday 21st. Then full release is September 4th. I strongly advise testing it yourself and seeing how much of the game actually appeals to you before jumping in.
Because it’s fine. It’s absolutely fine. In a year or so it’ll probably be a decent game to pick up on gamepass or on sale. All the better to experience all the single player content.
But if you’re looking for your next group game. The one that will keep your destiny bored team grinding gear for months on end?
Maybe take another look before you assemble on Marvel’s Avengers.