This weekend, Crystal Dynamics launched the third beta for Marvel’s Avengers. Unlike the other two, it was open to the public. With the whole weekend to play, there was plenty of time to repeat the content and get a grasp of the product on offer. Keep in mind these impressions encompass the beta’s limited content and are not indicative of the final game. With these caveats in mind there are still signs pointing towards a rough launch for Crystal Dynamics.
Marvel’s Avengers tutorialized players on the bridge battle seen in the E3 demo. There, players get a chance to familiarize themselves with each character’s distinct playstyle. On a surface level, there’s no way the experience of slamming enemies with the weight of Thor’s hammer could feel the same as flying like a bird, blasting soldiers in Iron Man’s suit. The feeling of flipping over a tank or tearing concrete from the ground to haul at groups of enemies fall on opposite ends in the gameplay spectrum compared to Black Widow, right? In the beta’s case, not so much. While the campaign set pieces do take advantage of the ranging cast of heroes, the main gameplay loop does little to reward emphasizing a variety of abilities on the player’s team.
Yes, Iron Man has an easier time tracking flying enemies than most and The Hulk can tear out the flooring to tackle waves of enemies at once but these special moves do little to capitalize on how distinct the first impression of these characters are. The fact remains every character has a dodge, light and heavy melee attacks, and ranged attacks on their triggers. This boils the character’s distinctions into boosts in efficiency, similar to a headshot in Borderlands, speeding up the process without affecting any aspect in the gameplay. By the time the beta content had dried up the differences between characters had grown less valuable with the novelty wearing off. Selecting a character was less about their tiny advantages and more being annoyed by their disadvantages. Taking The Hulk is an obvious choice for anyone who enjoys area of effect moves in gameplay but it comes at the cost of movement speed. Players who enjoy the range Iron Man has to offer might be disappointed by the stiff flight controls with combat locations rarely allowing the openness players would desire to maneuver.
While mentioning Borderlands, the loot progression in this live service multiplayer experience is lackluster and overly simplistic. It is important to mention the rarity of the items in the beta were limited, but unless legendary items truly add variation to characters’ special abilities, the longevity of this experience may have a glaring issue. Games like Borderlands or Destiny are acclaimed for the variety and quality of their loot tables because they reward players for making informed decisions that complement each other in intelligent ways resulting in satisfying loot grinds and builds players desire.
This is not the case with this game. Instead acquired loot contributes to an overall power level, even including a button to auto equip loot to maximize power. This is a dull system that adds near nothing to the experience aside from minor elemental effects. It remains to be seen if the full experience will evolve the system in place but that is not likely. In the final release, players will be able to collect and interchange between characters’ ultimate abilities but only one interesting choice to make for an entire cast of characters with a gear system designed around them seems like the game’s greatest oversight.
One of the most promising aspects of the beta were the campaign missions. In the second mission, Marvel’s Avengers proves it can pause the chaotic battle sequences to allow characters to take control of a scene and play out situations with each other. While Iron Man’s mid combat quips became a meme in the time player’s had with the beta and Ms. Marvel’s overwhelmed fan girl exclamations don’t land all that much. The magic is in the interactions characters have with each other. Seeing Bruce Banner’s calm, collected attitude contrasted with Kamala’s explosive fan girl excitement shows that Crystal Dynamics knows how to contrast the intense and serious moments with the human, light hearted touches that peel back layers of characters we already knew so well. This type of care and attention to detail carries true about most of the experience and the writing shows effort into building a universe that can be expanded overtime.
While there are some glaring issues to the longevity of the experience and the gear system, this is intended to be a living breathing game with over 15 characters to be added overtime. While the combat isn’t the most fleshed out of any action game, it may still appeal to the fantasy of embodying these heroes we know so well. Perhaps the saying for live service games “Not how they release but what they become” will be true for Marvel’s Avengers.