BETA REVIEW: ‘Marvel’s Avengers’ – The More I Played, the More I Found to Love (Xbox One)

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Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers is a third-person action RPG for one to four players developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. When a celebration of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in San Francisco is attacked, the casualty count is huge. Among the dead is the Avengers own Captain America. With the government holding the Avengers responsible the group is forced to disband. Now five years later, the group’s biggest fan and recently transformed Inhuman Kamala Khan, is determined to reunite the team so they can once more save the world. This time the threat is the shadowy technology corporation Advanced Idea Mechanics. Or AIM for short.

With two previous weekend betas already on the books for Marvel’s Avengers my expectations going into my first chance to play the upcoming title were grounded, to say the least. I’d heard many complaints of a sense of sameness among the characters, as well as sub-par combat. And to be fair, my initial reactions to the gameplay mirrored these sentiments fairly strongly. It was only after several hours of gameplay that the game’s strengths truly started to shine. And while I’d still say Marvel’s Avengers probably won’t be for everyone, I think there is a lot of fun still to be had here.

Let’s start with what was probably the most underwhelming aspect of my game experience for me. The visuals. Don’t get me wrong, I think Marvel’s Avengers looks good. But that’s as far as I’ll take the general look of the game. Lots of enemies feel fairly generic in their appearance. Even the more imposing enemies like piloted mechs and spider tanks feel like things I’ve wrecked somewhere else before. The environments also provide a bit of a mixed bag. While the interior areas look fairly impressive, outdoor spaces come off as extremely generic. Whether battling within the iron maze of a city, or the woods of northeastern America the outdoor spaces feel like almost an afterthought from a visual design standpoint.

There are some bright spots to the graphics, however. The particle effects can look pretty gorgeous. Iron Man’s various attacks tend to highlight this nicely. The other aspect of the game’s look I appreciated was the alternate costume designs of the various heroes I got to see. Skins ranged from ideas like Kamala’s homemade super suits to classic spy apparel for Black Widow. The team at Crystal Dynamics clearly let their art department stretch their creativity with a lot of these looks.

The second aspect of Marvel’s Avengers I want to tackle is the gameplay.  With each character sporting light and heavy melee attacks, three specials, and a ranged attack the core of each initially feels eerily similar to the others. However, as one explores the game, strategies and gameplay styles quickly show them to be worlds apart. To give an example of what I mean, let’s compare Iron Man and Black Widow. Two fairly balanced characters that, with the exception of Iron Man’s flight, feel like they fill virtually the same roll in the game. Let’s start with a look at their range attacks.

In the early moments of Marvel’s Avengers these two characters range attacks feel fairly identical. While Tony’s repulser blasts hit a little harder, Natasha’s pistol fire quicker, making the end result is virtually the same. However, once a few skill points are invested these attacks quickly become immensely different. Natasha gains access to both a heavy pistol, as well as a pair of machine pistols. These options open up how Natasha can approach various situations. I generally preferred the heavy pistol for picking off enemy torrents with a single powered-up shot. While the machine pistols were ideal for pouring fire into crowds of melee combatants or the large spider tanks that I came across.

While Natasha’s range options diversify her playstyle they quickly become dwarfed next to Tony’s. Instead of a single upgrade tree for his range combat, each of his three potential ranged attacks sports their own upgrade tree. These options give each individual attack lots of room to grow. Furthermore, Iron Man’s range attacks can become integrated into every aspect of his fighting. From finishing combos, to power attacks Tony clearly becomes the ranged expert in Marvel’s Avengers.

This variety extends to every aspect of Marvel’s Avengers gameplay. From how characters fight in melee to combo attacks that can be performed out of a dodge, every aspect of the gameplay feels adjustable for each of the characters. And it’s already been announced that the full game will have two more full screens of upgrades when it launches next month.

Marvel’s Avengers
During one of the two-story missions the Hulk squares off with one of his oldest foes.

The only real issue I can see some players having with Marvel’s Avengers gameplay is that it is fairly simple in a mechanical way. No elaborate combos or tight, unforgiving windows of attack are present here. This game is clearly intended to be a power fantasy type of experience. As long as the players are approaching situations intelligently, and being mindful of their surroundings they should be able to overcome any obstacles they are suitably leveled for.

The biggest wrinkle though amongst the characters combat abilities comes from their special powers. With each character sporting three specials, support, an attack that, and an ultimate power-up, the characters further find their niches in the gameplay.

For example, Kamala’s support ability is an area heal, while Black Widows makes herself, and nearby allies invisible, making enemies incapable of targeting them. These abilities can be further modified through equipable items gained throughout the mission. Speed of recovery, and size of the effect area upgrades were just added bonuses to make my favorite powers even better.

The only special abilities I have to admit feel extremely similar for each character is their ultimate. These abilities increase the character’s combat potential and deliver an awesome visual effect. Whether it’s Tony climbing into the iconic Hulkbuster armor, Kamala doubling her size to dole out the pain, or Natasha wielding a full length electrified staff to pummel her enemies with all these powers look incredible, but basically deliver the same effect. A lot of damage in a short time.

The last major element to Marvel’s Avengers is the ways the game allows you to customize your various Avengers. This comes in the form of skills, and equipment. While I’ve touched on both already a little, I’m gonna dive in a little deeper for each.  First, let’s talk about equipment.

Equipment is the primary way that a character’s basic stats increase. With four different stats governing things like melee and ranged damage as well as a defense, it is critical that players keep their equipment up to date. Along with stat buffs, equipment also can also change the nature of the damage attacks deal, as well as provide resistance to various types of damage. In addition to all this, most pieces of gear can be upgraded through the expenditure of resources. This gives a favorite piece of gear even more life. With unwanted pieces being broken down into these same resources there is a good flow to equipment procurement, even if you don’t get a piece you need.

Now, let’s talk about the skills in Marvel’s Avengers. As previously noted, skills do a lot for your character. From altering preexisting attacks to opening up entirely new options, for both combat and traversal, achieving a new character level, and thus a skill point is always exciting.  What really has me stoked to play Marvel’s Avengers full release is the promise of so much more coming from skills when the game launches. The possibilities feel endless.

I also wanted to take a moment and talk about playing the game as a solo player. I rarely have friends to cue up with so having a viable single-player experience is key for me to get into any game. I’m glad to say Crystal Dynamics has made Marvel’s Avengers an enjoyable ride to solo play. The AI allies that you can have that accompany you are proactive and helpful. Whenever I went down, an ally came running to revive me. I rarely noticed special powers being used at bizarre times, and while their target priority sometimes differed with how I would’ve liked them to perform, they were at least consistent enough that I learned to adapt to their shortcoming.

So while I came into Marvel’s Avengers with tempered expectations, my hype for the game has increased tenfold. The only major aspect of the final game I wish I could say more about here is the story. But with only two narrative missions available I don’t feel like I can really comment on it yet. But, if Crystal Dynamics can deliver a tale that provides as much fun for me as the gameplay I’m sold. I’m just happy there isn’t much time to wait till I get to pulverize the legions of AIM again as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

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