With all the controversy around Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers title you couldn’t have been blamed for missing the fact that their beta finally opened it’s digital doors to PS4 players who preordered the title over the weekend. Console gamers were treated to hands on gameplay with all six of the title’s heroes, albeit focusing more heavily on Kamala Khan, Hulk, Black Widow and Iron Man. So if you’re trying to decide whether a PC preorder is worth your hard earned dollars or you just want to know whether there’s going to be another big player in the looter genre over the next few years here’s exactly what we thought of our first 48 hours of gameplay.
The beta dealt out a huge chunk of content, with missions from the games main storyline titled ‘Reassembled’, a clear nod to the 2004 comic storyline Avengers Disassembled. Crystal Dynamics story takes more beats from the Civil War comics instead but in the spirit of minimizing spoilers, we’ll discuss that in more detail once we get our hands on the full version of the game. What we can say after delving into around two hours of story missions (maybe one and half hours if you skip some objectives – which we certainly didn’t) is that the characters seem to take more inspiration from their comic book counterparts than their big screen Hollywood versions. Thor speaks in theatric Shakespearean tones, Steve Rogers takes on more of a leading role than we’ve seen in the movies and Tony Stark is, well actually he’s about as flashy in the movies as the comics actually.
It gives the characters an extra layer of depth that the comic book fans especially will love, while those familiar with the characters from their blockbuster franchise might be left a little confused by initially. A great example is the partial backlash to the characters facial designs, which are clearly based on print rather than the rugged good looks of a Hemsworth or an Evans. I say partial as the facial features of some of the characters still seem a little… off. Their facial designs are absolutely fine, but the textures can occasionally seem a little jarring, one particular cut scene featuring Kamala and Hulk in the beta’s second story mission certainly shows off some areas with room for improvement for example.
It’s tricky to judge at this stage whether the storyline itself will be able to hold it’s audiences attention throughout the core missions of the game, although the character interactions we’ve seen so far certainly wet our appetite. Kamala is a great choice for the catalyst of the Avengers reuniting, although it remains to be seen just how far Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix plan to chase the Inhuman storyline down it’s traditionally ill-fated rabbit hole. Remember that great Inhuman TV show or how the Inhuman comics completely took over from the X-Men titles back in the summer of 2014 when Marvel attempted to make the switch? No? Yep that’s because both of those attempts bombed, both financially and creatively. The Inhuman idea is a great concept, but I wouldn’t want to see it become the staple of the Marvel Avengers games direction past it’s first series of expansions. Perhaps we’re just eager to see some mutants make their appearance in this world, but that’s an article for another time.
As for the titles all-important gameplay, you’re in luck, it’s actually a lot of fun, particularly when played in co-op. Close quarters combat plays out differently for each of the six characters but there are enough mechanics involved to give it a sense of depth. Widow is particularly entertaining due to her speed and mobility, vaulting over shielded foes to open them up for her allies, Ranged could potentially need some work, with even potentially ranged focused characters like Iron Man and Black Widow just seeming a little flat when played as the ‘keep your distance’ style support and DPS class. This could potentially be solved by one of each character’s two locked skill trees (only one is available for each character in the beta), however it’s unlikely the developers wouldn’t have thrown a potential strong ranged build into the mix just to show what was possible – we’re guessing it’s Widow if anyone at all, but as we said, it just doesn’t quite capture is in the same way as the melee combat does.
Crystal Dynamics have clearly spent the time to give each character their own distinct style though, and I enjoyed my time with each of them. In fact, having scanned some of the feedback on Hulk in particular, it seems to be one of the areas that they seem to have yet to find a balance between character inspired inspiration and gameplay that uses that but is still fun to play.
The Hulk is a mindless animalistic monster known for screaming ‘smash’ before bludgeoning his enemies to a pulp with whatever hefty objects are available, and his video game counterpart plays this part well. His specific ability allows him to heal from the damage he deals, making him a perfect choice for a more tank oriented class, and yet there’s been feedback that he just plays too one dimensional which honestly feels true when playing through the single-player storyline missions, left to fight without a team for the Hulk focused beta storyline mission for example. I’d argue this is the same for most tankier classes/characters in a game. However when he’s part of a team he becomes the core of your squad, using his special abilities to draw aggro from nearby enemies, while dishing out another damage that his ability can keep him on his feet. Yes, it’s a simple loop but it doesn’t need to be more complicated in terms of gameplay mechanics for the character himself if your teams enemies force each of you to play to your strength.
I’d argue that from what we’ve seen so for Marvel’s Avengers does this in spades, there’s something particularly exciting about each of your squad knowing their specific skills (whether from their character, skills or gear build), for me it was having a tanky Hulk, a Black Widow to take out the weaker flying enemies, Kamala to deal melee DPS backing up Hulk and Iron Man to mop up anything long ranged and a little tougher than Widow’s ranged pistols were able to handle. It feels like you have an Avengers team that works as a team and that’s exactly what we wanted right?
The loot aspect of the title generated some negative responses from those wanting a more story-focused title but having played a good chunk of the game you get a sense that the the two can certainly co-exist, if at times to the detriment of the looting side of the game. Characters can each equip four pieces of gear, as well as artifacts that give additional stat boosts and effects. My characters weren’t max level but the gear did begin to play a bigger part in the playthrough as time went on, one particular mission being completely impossible without spending the time to rank up my power level (think Destiny’s light score or World of Warcraft’s Ilvl). The hunt for gear is definitely something that caught my attention about the title and I’m a big lover of hunting down the perfect items to compliment a build, however the title still needs to correct some areas to make it a gear system to rival that of Destiny, Borderlands or the king of the genre Diablo.
One odd area for instance is that every single item you equip is upgraded by a different currency, so that’s a lot of different material/currency drops you’re picking up and something that can definitely seem overwhelming at first. Plus it doesn’t really benefit the gameplay in any way other than to mitigate your progress to push you to grind for specific upgrade currency or items of the same type to dismantle. The games bank is also woefully small for what it needs to contain – six characters sharing one bank means a LOT of things are likely going to end up getting scrapped when you’d rather be hanging on to them.
Other issues are more at the forefront of the title however such as desperately trying to get the camera to keep up with you. It repeatedly got caught in nearby walls and objects, targeting flicked to the wrong enemy when attempting to lock on to specific enemies and just all together slows down your experience. As is to be expected in a beta, there’s plenty of other bugs too, most of these are harmless enough (see below), however one matchmaking issue locked me out of launching missions for my full first two days of Beta access. Finishers are a great addition to the game (you fill up an enemies stagger meter, you get to perform a finisher for big damage), the problem is when it’s being performed on one of the larger enemies or by multiple characters that nine times out of ten, the characters would get stuck, not move or jump on an invisible enemy next to the one being attacked, and the target would explode anyways.
Again, it’s not game breaking, but it’s distracting and takes away the sense of accomplishment as the larger targets take longer to build up their stagger meter, and lets be honest, we all want to take Hulk and Iron Man performing finishers together right? It’s nothing that can’t be corrected before launch though and that’s comforting, whether Crystal Dynamics can work out the kinks before launch we’ll have to wait and see though.