For the past few days, I’ve been playing through the beta for Marvel’s Avengers, and I’ve found myself both more intrigued and more concerned about the impending full release. Having a triple-A Avengers video game is something that Marvel fans have been dreaming about for a long time now. Ever since the MCU took the world by storm, it’s seemed inevitable that we’d eventually get to play as these heroes. I’m not sure Marvel’s Avengers is going to have quite the same amount of praise as the movies, but I still think there are glimmers of a great story and an engaging live-game here.
The first thing that is apparent from playing the beta is how great everything looks. Particle effects, character models and environments all look up to the expected standard from Square Enix, and I was genuinely impressed by some of the detail. This isn’t a new take, but the main problem here is that while the game looks technically impressive, everything feels somewhat generic thanks to a focus on mimicking the style of the cinematic universe. The only character who stands out here is Kamala Khan, and that’s mostly because she hasn’t appeared in the MCU yet and they’ve had to create their own take on her without movie inspiration. The unlockable skins do look like they’ll minimise this issue a bit, but it’s a shame that the aesthetic choice lets down the impressive visuals.
These visuals are really put to the test with the first section of this beta, the story content. I got to play through three different story missions, including the game’s prologue on the Golden Gate Bridge and two other missions focusing on Hulk and Kamala Khan. I’ve seen the game’s prologue enough times that the spectacle is sort of lost on me, but it’s still really cool to get a small playable demo of each of the game’s full roster.
The other two missions are where things get a lot more interesting. You play as Hulk & Kamala Khan and get a pretty good idea of how they both play, as well as a nice look at how the story plays out. It’s the same gameplay as the multiplayer stuff, with a bigger focus on setpieces and character interaction. I genuinely really enjoyed the characterisation of Kamala and Bruce, and there’s a good chance that the story mode alone will be enough motivation for some players. If the story has enough cool setpieces, fun character dynamics, and satisfying combat then it might actually be a highlight.
It’s through these missions that you’ll probably see whether or not the combat meshes with you at all. Generally speaking, it’s very basic third-person action but I’d be lying if I said that attacking and moving didn’t feel really good. It’s very weighty and flashy, and doing moves like Hulk’s thunderclap put a big smile on my face. The one thing that didn't feel right is how weak these heroes can feel going up against even the smallest of enemies. I know this is for the sake of making a playable game, but there were times when seeing a small turret take down Iron Man made me roll my eyes a little.
For Marvel dorks like me, just having these characters as set dressing might be enough to look past the repetition. Saying that, I genuinely liked all of the heroes that I played as, and I really did get the impression that choosing to specialise as one would actually make a difference, rather than just being a choice of who was my favourite. Iron Man’s got great mobility and range, Black Widow is fast and uses gadgets, and Hulk smashes and crashes through everything. Besides special moves, each character also has unique movement options and traits that separate them, and it makes me very excited to see how Cap and Thor feel in the full release.
Saying that, the combat is repetitive by nature and probably isn’t going to gel for some. Much of the variety is going to come with who you play as and how you’ve customised their moves and appearance. Although the beta doesn’t offer much opportunity to to mess around with skill trees, you do get to allocate a few points. So far I’m impressed with what can be changed, and I’m hopeful that the full game allows each hero to feel really fleshed out.
Unlockable gear is supposed to be a big part of the gameplay loop, but it’s easily the most underwhelming part of the experience right now. You can just hold a button that gives you the best loadout and not even think twice as it doesn’t even affect how your character looks. It feels like it’s there just to be there, but it’s also really distracting to be constantly getting useless gear.
Speaking of customisation, this beta also gives you a look at the sort of outfits each character can unlock. I speak as a Marvel nerd here, but I think that the somewhat mindless combat and generic objectives might actually be made a lot better by some of these skins because they’re actually really cool. I’m almost ashamed at how much these skins make me want to keep playing, and if they’re constantly adding new ones then I’m a little concerned I might not be able to stop playing this game.
Once you’ve done the main story missions, you get given a selection of side missions to complete - either online or with AI companions. I didn’t actually get the chance to play any of the missions in multiplayer thanks to some connection issues, so I’m hoping that the involvement of other players makes some of the missions shine more, because so far they aren’t very exciting. The side missions that have a narrative fare a bit better than the rest, but all of these have generic objectives and locations that make it hard to differentiate between them. Playing with friends will definitely make a difference here.
After playing through all of the beta's content, I'm genuinely intrigued to how the full game is going to progress. I hope that there's a healthy mix of story missions and side content, and I hope that the two don't necessarily intersect with each other too much. Don't make me do all the side missions to progress is what I'm getting at.
This beta has made one thing very clear to me: Marvel’s Avengers isn’t going to be for everyone. It can be repetitive, generic and frustrating at times with some mechanics that feel like they really don’t matter, but I also see the love for Marvel shining through here and making it worthwhile for fans. I want to see this story through, I want to unlock all the costumes and I want to see how in-depth the mechanics really go. Marvel’s Avengers really is looking like gaming junk-food and I honestly think I’m okay with that.