Superheroes have been a major staple in pop culture for over a decade, with Marvel Comics at the forefront of that popularity.
While superhero movies have been the dominant medium aside from comics, Marvel has partnered with Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics to bring the quality of the movies to the interactive form of video games.
“Marvel’s Avengers” was originally announced in January 2017, but with the release finally nearing, players are gaining access to a beta test to try out the game for the first time and provide Square with feedback during network tests.
These beta weekends took place over the course of August with the first taking place from Aug. 7-9 as a closed access beta to those who pre-ordered the game on PS4.
The beta test gave players access to around 30 minutes of total story content that takes place at different points in the game. Following story mission completion, players can play side-missions to become better accustomed to the heroes.
The first 15 minutes takes place in the opening set piece of the Avengers “A-Day” celebration.
This celebration goes sideways after a terrorist attack contaminates the San Francisco Bay area with Terrigen Mist, creating the new mutant race of Inhumans.
The remaining story takes place 5 years after the attack, with the San Francisco quarantine lifted and the Avengers disbanded. Inhuman Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel attempts to reunite the disgraced heroes to stop the scientific organization AIM from experimenting on the Inhumans and to uncover who was truly behind the A-Day attack.
In the A-Day section, players are able to get a feel for five of the main playable characters; Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow and Captain America.
However, the rest of the beta missions limit access to Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow and Ms. Marvel.
Even with the limit to four characters, players can get a feel for exactly how each individual hero plays.
Each hero has a few standardized parts in their movesets that can be broken down into melee attacks, long range attacks, wide attacks and parrying or guarding.
Although each hero boils down to similar aspects, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Iron Man and Thor are best suited for primarily long range or wide attacks as they both have larger projectiles that they can fire in quick succession at enemies.
Ms. Marvel and the Hulk are better for up-close melee attacks and crowd control as they both have sweeping movements that can hit multiple enemies at once with Kamala’s embigenning or the Hulk’s shockwaves.
If players want to try and improve a character’s ability in another category, they can level up their hero and spend skill points on the skill tree to add different moves and combos to their arsenal.
The combat is uniquely satisfying as enemies can be stunned by hero attacks, making the gameplay more akin to the likes of “Devil May Cry” with faster paced, player advantaged combat.
Combos speed varies between characters, allowing more speed-focused players such as myself to pick faster heroes like Kamala while strength-focused players could specialize in battle with the Hulk or Thor. The range of choice also creates balanced teams when playing with friends. The amount of choice also has the exciting potential to create speed-centered teams, teams that are comprised entirely of brute strength characters or whatever character specialties a group of players wants to focus on.
Surprisingly, I found myself most intrigued by Black Widow’s gameplay as it is more fast-paced than her counterparts. Black Widow automatically has parry and counter skills that allow combos to be strung together in a much more satisfying way, weaving your way through enemies and landing hits without taking damage.
While the game ran the risk of becoming repetitive if heroes weren’t being leveled up and upgraded, the game keeps progression moving at a fast enough rate that the combat never has a chance to feel stale.
Missions are chosen from the War Table in a decommissioned SHIELD helicarrier that Kamala and Bruce Banner have turned into their base. As the story progresses, upgrades will be made to the helicarrier before it is eventually airborne again.
The missions are also broken down into different categories.
There are basic story missions that progress the story and often require the use of a specific hero.
Alongside the story missions, War Zone and Drop Zone missions give players the ability to level up their heroes and engage in multiplayer missions in large, expansive areas. These two types of missions can contain some story progression, but serve primarily to level up characters and earn new types of gear to equip and upgrade hero stats.
Despite being a small preview of the story content of the game, the way that bits and pieces of the story are sprinkled in and teased make for an interesting mission set up.
During one of the Hulk’s story missions that are included, one of the side objectives is to rescue an Inhuman. However, upon their rescue, another character teleports into the location and takes them back to the central helicarrier HUB area.
While there is no explanation for what this mechanic entails within the beta, it gives a neat teaser of the kind of base-building and rescuing mechanics without revealing the full depth of how this objective affects the full game.
The base and hero upgrade systems alone are enticing enough draws to see what awaits players in the full version.
I would be remiss not to mention the questionable practices that have been enacted during the promotion of this game.
Making certain post-launch characters exclusive to certain platforms like Spider-Man on PS4 have soured potential players toward buying as it excludes a main draw of the game to part of the player base.
I am not quick to point the blame at the developers over at Crystal Dynamics as these decisions were more than likely made by the publisher, Square Enix, as has been the case with many publisher/developer disputes before.
Inevitably, despite certain downsides to playing the game on a certain platform, I remain hopeful for the full game and believe that the pros will outweigh the cons.
“Marvel’s Avengers” launches in full on Sept. 4 for PS4, Xbox One and PC, with PS5 and Xbox Series X releases to be dated.