Marvel’s Avengers Beta Impressions
Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers has been in the hopper for quite some time. The delayed title had a pretty poor first showing a couple years ago, which was so bad that it forced a lot of fans to question what it would eventually become. The game was clearly just shown in too early of a state. The characters and voices didn’t mesh well. The art style just felt off. The overall feel of the game felt far less than heroic. There was little outside of its comic property that invited fans to want more.
But then here we are, a year or so later, and fans had a taste of the second beta weekend. After having put about 20 odd hours into the beta and leveling three characters to the cap of 15, I can firmly say that the beta has completely sold me on the game. Having said that, the fluctuating frame rate and immense camera shake and motion blur are two issues doing their darndest to pull me away from that satisfaction.
Here are things that we absolutely loved from the Marvel’s Avengers beta thus far:
Diverse Group of Characters
I went into the Beta almost certain that, of the entire Avengers cast, I wouldn’t like Black Widow. Of all the characters on the roster, she was one of the ones that I was more than happy to skip. It just so happens that she was one of my favorites…As was Kamala Khan and The Hulk. That’s what this game does exceptionally well. Each character has their own unique set of moves. They all sort of follow a distinct framework, yet they all have their own unique pizzaz. No two characters feel like the other. Whether it is the way they get around the world, their heroic abilities, or a simple light-heavy attack combos. The uniqueness of the heroes is also further specified via their skill trees, something which strongly encourages playing multiple characters instead of sticking to a “main.”
If I had to pick, Kamala Khan was probably my number one hero. There is nothing like seeing her slap her massive palm into an enemy and send them flying 30-40 feet. Using her ultimate heroic ability (Embiggen) makes her somewhere around 20 times the size of any other character, and the sight is one which cannot be missed as chaos erupts around her. Just slamming her fists around with upgrades adding the ability to wildly swing her arms around in a tornado-like fashion definitively states that this is comics in a nutshell.
I think the way they tackled each character was pretty remarkable. Each character feels unique to any other on the roster, but their base move set framework follows a similar structure. Take for instance Iron Man’s spinning lasers and Kamala’s spinning arms. Both moves feature the ability for some crowd control, while still being uniquely that character’s move set. Just as all characters have forms of launchers, but someone like Black Widow’s is far different than that of The Hulk.
Even the characters we only played for brief moments in the single player A-Day section, Captain America and Thor, had a genuine feel to them. I sorely wished that we would have been able to play Cap during the beta because he felt amazing. Thor also felt interesting in his own right with glimpses of God of War’s ax in its recent reboot. While not necessarily the same caliber with what we were able to play, I am interested and confident he will complement the rest of the cast extremely well.
Wide Open Mission Spaces (Namely: Snowy Tundra Vault) With Side-Content
A hidden mission… in a beta? There’s always an interesting design decision to account for. Do you make things obscure enough and/or hard enough that there might be a subsection of your playerbase that never even sees the content, or is everything readily and easily accessible? While I don’t think this leans toward being that much of a hidden mission, since through exploration I have to imagine most users would find it anyway, the Snowy Tundra Vault is one of the best showcases of what this game as a service could be.
It features a nice set of optional missions, a handful of more difficult enemies due to variety and number and ends with a unique puzzle of which I’m sure will become more difficult as progress is made throughout the game.
While the side-missions often aren’t some revolutionary addition to the genre, think of things like rescuing an agent, defeating a difficult enemy type or solving a pressure-plate puzzle, it does provide a nice change-up to just fighting things. If anything, I would love for even more of that; although, that might be found more in the main story campaign. Since interactions do often get lost in the melee (quite literally), I would love for some smaller moments where more strategy is needed.
A side note of something that I found interesting was that certain characters could access certain areas. There was an area I couldn’t get into as Kamala, but Widow could happily access the terminal. Conversely, you need The Hulk to Smash through a wall that I couldn’t access with Widow. This is a unique way to flesh out characters, but it could be annoying if you aren’t playing in a group of actual people and are instead relying on the AI.
I am wholly on the train that if your movement in game isn’t good, your overall game often follows that trend. I am happy to say that I loved how each character traversed the world, minus one! The Hulk gaining momentum after each jump really sold the feeling of being The Hulk. Kamala’s leg growing and extending as it vaulted her forward was literally smile-inducing. The one character I thought would be a bit of a bore, Black Widow, also had some nice speed to keep up with the group which was heavily aided by her spider-man-like grappling hook. Now onto the one character that I thought would be a shoo-in for movement: Iron Man.
I am not sure if it was the tight indoor corridors or what, but his movement just didn’t gel with me. I’m sure some will love the character, especially after a few upgrades, I just didn’t feel like his traversal was all that engaging. The fact that I absolutely love the way most of the characters controlled was far more than I expected going in. I did only level Iron Man to about level 8, so it might have more to do with getting into the nuances of the character.
And a few things we didn’t like:
It’s difficult to assume how a game is going to play when it comes out, but the beta is rough in many areas. Frame Rate drops occur anytime there are a handful of enemies on screen and heroes are using their special abilities. While this is a glaring concern, I do have faith that it will be tuned up in the final release since this beta is most certainly an older build. When the frame rate was fine (especially for a console release), the game got in its own way by obscuring all the amazing action taking place by adding a jarring camera shake. With nearly every button press, the camera judders around. In a game where you are literally button-mashing your way through it, this is a huge issue. Luckily, this has been addressed by Crystal Dynamics in a tweet where they said they are going to tune it down. I would love for the option to turn it completely off.
It’s a shame these issues get in the way of all the eye-popping action that is going on. There is something here that induces a child-like grin, but the game’s performance just can’t keep getting in the way. I have faith that these changes will do nothing but support Crystal Dynamic’s vision, but there is still a part of me that fears these issues won’t completely resolve themselves until the next-gen of consoles.
Loot Not Being Visual
The drive for loot in many GAAS games, is to make a cool looking character. Oftentimes, the visual appeal of a new piece of equipment even trumps its abilities and proficiency. In countless other titles, I’ve taken the more visually appealing design than how effective the loot was. The drive to repeat a strike, raid or more difficult area was almost entirely due to getting a piece of equipment to showcase. But with Marvel’s Avengers loot being strictly stats and elementally based, I find it hard to see the drive to repeat missions to push for better loot. There is little encouragement to grind away, but the lingering feeling will still push you to do so to simply make the numbers go up. Admittedly, this is probably out of Crystal Dynamics control and squarely on the character rights with Marvel. While it would be great for fans to piece together a semi-unique costume, in many cases, this wouldn’t mesh with Marvel’s vision.
I fully understand the importance of establishing canonical costumes (which can be grinded-out through challenge cards or bought with in-game and real-life currency), but from a fan-perspective it would have added a unique aspect to help encourage the discovery and continual grind in a game that hopes to be around for years to come.
Minimal Interactivity Among Heroes
With such a set of heroes, I would have loved for there to be more instances where you can do team moves. There are a few, and certain character’s abilities to impact other players (like Black Widow’s cloaking which is a nice touch, or the ability for anyone to hop into the Hulkbuster armor), but oftentimes it feels like you all are just fighting enemies in a singular instance. It is a sight to behold when you launch a character in the air with Kamala and an Iron Man rocket blasts him out of the air, but those are hard to see amid all the chaos. The possibility of some more contextually-based team combos would be a welcome addition. Something like more group finishers to further tie in the idea that you are fighting together.
When playing with fellow Dual Pixels writers, I mentioned how cool it would be if Kamala could hang onto Iron Man as he flew through the sky, or if another character could hop on the Hulk’s back for some increased speed. It’s not necessarily needed since each character does have a solid foundation of movement, but can you say it wouldn’t be awesome to see? The feeling of isolation also might have been due to the narrow FOV and how close the camera is to your character’s back. I think pulling it back just a tad could help to relish in the bigger moment that is going on around you.
Number of Resources
I can say this above point for almost any GAAS or MMO. Throughout the game, you will pick up a ton of different resources in chests of varying rarity strewn throughout the game world. The resources you will find are: Fragments, Upgrade Modules, Nanites, Nanotubes, Catalysts, Plasma, Polychoron, Uru and DNA Keys. For how the beta was set up, it wasn’t too much of an issue since lacking any certain resource didn’t really occur, but hopefully these are a bit more integrated into the story instead of just something else to collect. Adding in two forms of currency, something of a trend with GAAS games since microtransactions will be involved, also makes the whole assortment a bit cumbersome as it was shown off in the beta.
This is a trap that many games fall into, and it isn’t entirely fair to assume the game won’t feature more well-known bosses in events such as strikes or raids, but as it sits, you really only have a handful of enemy types. You have the grunt, the shield guy, the flying guy, the robot guy and a spider-looking mech. Yes, this is all in jest with arbitrary names, but with all types of chaos going on, they are anything but memorable. Of course, this will most likely change since this is a games-as-a-service title, but it’s hard to see what that might look like here.
Are any memorable villains saddled to the story-oriented missions? Maybe special events like strikes and end-game content like raids? I can’t imagine that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics wouldn’t have access to some of Marvel’s mainstay villains, but thus far we have only seen Abomination and Taskmaster.
For the love of god, AI needs to do two things in this game. 1) Take out the turrets and 2) stand on the control point, of which your AI team often does neither. This is where the game clearly encourages you to team up with an actual squad of teammates. I wish there was a way to softly command Iron Man to focus on turrets and Kamala to emphasize heals, or even to have the ability to hot swap mid-mission to set a precedent for what they should be doing. Most of the missions weren’t all that negatively impacted by this, but I wouldn’t want to imagine trying out a harder difficulty and still gunning for the five-star rating.
It may seem like I am a bit down on Marvel’s Avengers, but I actually loved my time with the beta. I probably clocked around 25+ hours or so playing a mixture of solo w/ the AI and with a group. The game certainly shines when you can communicate with an actual person, but it was more than serviceable without. Seldom does a game grasp us where the only Discord messages flying around were when we could all jump back in. The Dual Pixels crew were jonesing for more and more play time. If Crystal Dynamics can clean up the frame rate and shaky cam, there is little reason this game won’t sell well and be supported well into the future. And thus, a nice plate of crow is ready to be served.
Marvel’s Avengers releases on PS4, PC and Xbox One on Sept. 4th, 2020.
The Beta was played on a PS4 Pro with a 7200 rpm hdd.
You can listen to more impressions on Dual Pixels Radio #50