I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan, but the opening hour or so of Square Enix’s upcoming Avengers game had me glued to the screen like nothing else this year.
Set for release on PS4, Xbox One and PC on 4th September, Marvel’s Avengers aims to be the ultimate superhero experience. As a service-based game, it will launch with six playable characters – Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow and Ms. Marvel – with more being added for free post-launch. And thanks to online co-op, Square Enix is hoping it will have players returning to it time and time again.
The opening hours of Marvel’s Avengers could be misleading if you aren’t clued up as to what the game actually is. Taking control of one hero after another as you take an epic battle from the streets to the Golden Gate Bridge, it seems like a linear single-player action game. With each character jump you get some handy tutorial pop-ups instructing you how to make use of their unique abilities, and while the action is far from challenging, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Every character shares the ability to pull off quick and heavy attacks, as well as jump and dodge. By holding down the left trigger, every character is essentially capable of performing ranged attacks, too. Thor throws his hammer, for example, Hulk lobs detritus, and Black Widow shoots her pistols. Despite this shared moveset, they all still manage to feel unique, and that’s before you take their personal quirks and skills into consideration.
Each Marvel’s Avengers hero has two special abilities at their disposal, as well as a powerful heroic ability that allows them to truly decimate their enemies. They’re particularly useful when facing off against more powerful foes or when overwhelmed with lots of small fry, but you need to use them wisely as they have cooldown timers. And to further add a bit of unique flavour to each hero, they each accumulate a store of energy that can be used in different ways, like powering Iron Man’s energy blaster.
With a story that finds the Avengers being disbanded, your aim in Marvel’s Avengers is to get the gang back together and thwart a new threat. And so, after a cinematic intro, the game opens up, essentially becoming an action RPG that borrows ideas from the likes of Diablo and Destiny. Missions are accessed via a War Table in your base of operations, and from there you can organise your team, including inviting friends or starting matchmaking if you want to play alongside other human beings. Up to four players can work together, each controlling a unique hero.
Marvels’ Avengers is playable solo though, with AI taking control of your companions. For the most part it seems to work okay, too – until you reach a task that requires you to occupy one or more areas to upload data or another arbitrary objective. Hopefully the AI will be improved in the final game, but in the beta, these bits were nearly impossible playing alone; you can’t rely on your AI-controlled teammates to either defend a specific area, or keep you protected while you do the required work.
It has to be said that each mission is fairly sizeable, and while you can head straight to the mission marker if you wish, it pays to explore. Groups of enemies can be found patrolling, providing the chance to get some combat experience in. Containers can be found, too, full of valuable resources and perhaps even equipment. The best containers will be sealed behind doors, requiring you to locate and press a number of switches with a set amount of time. Be quick, and the spoils are yours.
Needless to say, as you batter enemies left, right and centre, your characters level up, increasing their powers. Skill points are gained too, which you can spend in numerous skill trees, although only one was available for each character in the beta. And then there’s the loot; every piece of equipment you find has a power level, and maybe even the odd perk or two. If you want to make your characters as powerful as can be, you’ll want to find and equip the best loot. It likely means you’ll run missions you’ve already completed time and time again, hoping you’ll get something useful.
While those who were expecting a lengthy, heavily story-driven single-player experience like Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games will likely be disappointed with Marvel’s Avengers, others, like me, who love hectic bouts of combat and grinding for powerful loot, will quite possibly love it. There are some aspects of the beta that are worrisome, though.
Playing on a base PS4, the framerate is one such issue. In the thick of the action, the framerate can really tank, leaving you playing a slideshow for seconds at a time. Hopefully this is something that will be fixed for launch; if not, then Marvel’s Avengers is likely to only shine on next-gen consoles, which it’s also coming to sometime this year. If you buy the PS4 or Xbox One version, it’s a free upgrade, too. There’s also the fact that the combat can perhaps feel a bit too scrappy at times. When trying to tackle one enemy in particular, the lock-on system doesn’t seem too hot, and the game’s camera isn’t always your friend. Still, it doesn’t stop pounding your enemies with reckless abandon from being heaps of fun.
What’s perhaps most disappointing about Marvel’s Avengers, however, is that the loot you find and equip doesn’t change your character’s appearance whatsoever. It seems like such an insignificant thing, but it’s one of the biggest draws of loot-based games like this. If you’re equipping fancy rare gear, you want your character to show it off. It’s obviously something that Square Enix can’t implement for launch, but if Marvel’s Avengers takes off, hopefully it’s a feature that can be shoehorned in further down the line. For now, players will just have to make do with a multitude of unlockable skins.
Marvel’s Avengers will seemingly have its issues, then, if the beta is anything to go by. On the whole though, having now played a few hours of it, I’m more keen to get stuck into than I ever have been. It’s good-looking, action-packed, and the lure of character development and loot has me sucked in already. It seems to be big, dumb fun, and I’m on board for that, especially considering how different each character feels to play. Numerous Marvel games have flirted with a formula similar to the one on display here in the past, but Marvel’s Avengers might just be the one that has real legs.
Marvel’s Avengers launches 4th September on PS4, Xbox One PC and Stadia. It will also on PS5 and Xbox One X at a later date.