I played 7 hours of the new Marvel's Avengers game coming later this year. It's going to make a lot of people very happy.
- I spent 7 hours with the new Marvel's Avengers game, set to be released on September 4, 2020.
- It was a tale of two days: On my first day with the game, I spent five hours with the game and loved most of what I played.
- When I returned to play the game again on the second day, its flaws stood out to me much more, and I was having less fun.
- I think Marvel's Avengers has an excellent foundation for a fun game you'll want to play with your friends, but some aspects of the game concern me, and some areas need some tweaking if the game hopes to find a broad audience.
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Marvel's Avengers are finally getting the blockbuster video-game treatment.
Thanks to a collaboration between Marvel, Crystal Dynamics ("Tomb Raider"), Eidos Montreal ("Deus Ex") and publisher Square-Enix ("Final Fantasy"), you'll finally be able to play as your favorite Marvel superheroes later this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google's Stadia. If you buy it on Xbox One or PS4, you'll get a free upgrade for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions, respectively, when those next-gen consoles launch later this year.
The kind folks at Crystal Dynamics were kind enough to send me a code to try out the beta version of Marvel's Avengers, and I have to say: I enjoyed a lot of what I played.
All told, I played about 7 and a half hours during the beta period, which ran from last Thursday to Saturday. I played as Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Ms. Marvel. I played every activity available to me, including two single-player "Hero" missions and several "Warzone" missions you can play with friends. I also unlocked costumes made available through the in-game store, which will assuredly attract a lot of interest (and real-world dollars).
But I also came away from the game feeling like it lacked significant polish, and a few areas of the game made me pretty concerned as a fan of both Marvel's superheroes and video games in general.
First, let me start with what I didn't like about the game.
I want to mention this before getting into the good stuff since there's been a lot of skepticism towards this game since its first trailers debuted, and because if any of the game's developers are reading this article, I want them to know the issues are not pretty but seem fixable.
There is often way too much happening on the screen at once.
Alert symbols for enemies are really in your face: big blue exclamation points when an enemy spots you, and big yellow exclamation points when an enemy is about to hit you. The heads-up display in the bottom-right corner is also an eyesore, and unnecessary.
That's on top of the visual on-screen elements tied to the action itself: fighting between allies and enemies, fire, explosions, green smoke, electricity, and so much more. It feels messy and not focused, and over time becomes not fun.
Areas, enemies, and many missions feel generic.
Most activities in the beta revolved around storming a laboratory owned by AIM, the evil corporation in this video game. Except every laboratory looked pretty identical. I wanted areas in the game to be fun playgrounds for my hero; instead, they felt like very boring cut-and-paste hallways and rooms.
While the beta only included a handful of activities, including two single-player "Hero" missions and several group-concentric "Warzone" missions - many of these activities were spread across different areas of the world - I still felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. Find enemies, beat them up, move onto the next area, rinse, repeat. It got boring after the first 5 hours.
When my wife first saw me playing the game, she said, "Is it fun? It looks kind of basic." This, to me, sums up my experience: fun, but also pretty basic.
While this game borrows some cues from Insomniac's "Spider-Man" game from 2018, and some components from looter-shooters like "Destiny" and "Diablo" (running missions with friends or matchmade groups, leveling up through gear won from activities), this game felt like it lacked any sort of meaningful distinctiveness.
There isn't much exploration in this game; despite some big open areas for your superhero to bound around, I didn't feel like the environments felt that deep. I know I'm looking at a slice of the game, but the handful of areas I played felt bland. There are some "secrets" to find, to give you collectibles like comic book covers, but the chests scattered around the game world felt like a minor addition.
That puts a lot of pressure on the single-player Hero missions, and the group-play Warzone missions, to really succeed. I liked the two Hero missions I tried, but the Warzone missions were hit or miss.
What I hope this team of developers does is simplify.
I need fewer on-screen elements and alerts. The inventory screen has too many symbols and too much going on.
I also don't need a ton of Warzone missions where I basically do the same thing in each one; I'd rather have just a few really good focused ones. Quality over quantity.
Now, onto the good stuff.
There are two things I think Marvel's Avengers really knocks out of the park: character design, and traversal.
I loved playing as the different heroes — and each character felt distinct.
Thor felt like controlling Kratos from the most recent "God of War" game.
You can hit enemies with fists, or throw your hammer from a distance and watch it ricochet to hit a bunch of enemies at once. You also have area-of-effect attacks with your lightning.
Black Widow is more of a hand-to-hand fighter.
Black Widow has some ranged options, like shooting her pistols or grappling to enemies to beat them up, but she also gets the ability to go invisible - and make her teammates invisible - which tends to offer a huge advantage in most video games.
The Hulk is just incredibly fun to play.
His strength is comical, and I mean that in the best way possible. You can grab enemies, knock them around, throw them into each other, and blow up tanks just by punching them. You can also jump from wall to wall, like a gorilla-sized Mario.
Iron Man was probably my favourite character to play.
You can seamlessly transition from beating up enemies on the ground with your fists and energy beams, to flying around and shooting from afar to divebombing groups of enemies.
In certain moments I was punching, beaming, dodging, parrying, and flying like a pro - and it like a choreographed scene.
The best part: Traversal with all of these characters is super fun.
Ease of movement is vital for a superhero game: I still continue to play "Spider-Man" from 2018, even though I beat the game years ago, because swinging around New York City is just too much fun, and pretty cathartic as well.
The same thing applies here: Flying as Iron Man feels good, as does running and jumping from building to building as the Hulk. Even non-flying, non-rage-monster characters like Ms. Marvel (with her stretchy Mr. Fantastic-style elastic limbs) and Black Widow, who has no real superpowers to speak of, felt like they were quick on their feet and flexible enough for any environment. Playing as the different heroes, and getting around with them, was easily the star of the show to me.
My favourite moment in the beta came in one of the game's strikes, where you can create a matchmade team of up to four different heroes as you all complete a big hero-style mission together. It feels very much like something the Avengers would actually do, like storm a facility together.
I was playing as Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. The strike started off in the middle of this snowy tundra, and I had a blast running and jumping and swinging from trees as I headed towards the mission objective with a computer-controlled Hulk in tow.
In that moment, I felt like this is what I wanted out of an Avengers game: to play some epic mission together, possibly with friends, as a bunch of overpowered superhumans. What's not to enjoy about that?
One other thing I liked about "Marvel's Avengers" is that combat isn't a straight button-mashing experience. When the combat clicks, it can feel very fun.
Sometimes you need to break an enemy's shield to attack them, but if you're charging up an attack to break a shield, smaller enemies can interrupt your attacks and overwhelm you quickly if you aren't paying attention. Dodging is also necessary, and the game encourages you to mix up your move set with light, heavy, and ranged attacks.
"Marvel's Avengers" has all the right ingredients to be a hit, but it needs to be cleaned up and edited down.
I think Marvel's Avengers is going to be a pretty big success. Not only does it carry the name and branding of the most popular movie franchise of all-time, which will attract plenty of fans on its own, but it has a strong foundation: fun characters that feel good to play, and the ability to play with your friends.
There are a lot of nice touches in this game that will keep people coming back. Probably one of the biggest appeals is the game's unlockable costumes for each of the heroes: Although many of them will require real-world money, the outfits themselves are colorful and just plain fun. I also like how the inventory menu lets you press a single button to automatically equip your best gear: In games like "Destiny," that can take a long time to do. So that will make it easy for players to enjoy the game's progression without much fuss.
My biggest concern is the game's lack of focus. It's evident in the user experience, where the character menus and inventories have too much information to throw at you, and it's evident in any of the fights, which feel busy to the point of muddy due to the overwhelming number of signals and alerts and visual effects. I would love to see those tuned to be less of an assault on the eyes, because there's a great game in here.
These elements, I hate to say, really wore on me after the first five hours of playtime. The generic design of the strikes and all of the environments within - copy-pasted labs and hallways - made me feel bored. And that's not a good feeling to have in a brand-new superhero game.
The review scores for this game will really depend on the strength of the game's single-player campaign, as well as its multiplayer activities, and I really worry about the latter since those felt less special to the point of boring. The game is fun, for sure, but lacks a degree of polish players have come to expect in terms of visuals and the user interface. Here's hoping Crystal Dynamics and company can iron out some of the kinks before its release on September 4.
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