The 'Marvel's Avengers' Beta Does Plenty Right, But It Still Needs a Little Work

Here's everything you need to know abotu the 'Marvel's Avengers' beta before the Marvel game's official release on September 4, 2020.

Marvel's Avengers

Image via Sony

Marvel's Avengers

On September 4, Marvel's Avengers will go live on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC. Along with The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima, this is the most anticipated game of 2020. 

Some of this hype is attributable to timing. The movies Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) whet the public's appetite for a massive team-up game, where these iconic superheroes could do battle alongside one another. The PS4-exclusive Spider-Man (2018) also spurred players' imaginations. If Insomniac could do that with a single superhero? What could Crystal Dynamics do with multiple characters at their disposal?

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The Marvel's Avengers beta, available to players who pre-ordered the game, went live on the weekend of August 7-9. There was a second round of beta testing from August 14-16. And if you pre-ordered the game but missed the past two weekends, there will be one more weekend to test drive the game on August 21-23, on any platform.

Here are some initial reactions--both positive and negative--to the Marvel's Avengers beta. Bear in mind this is a beta; the game is still a work in progress, and this review should not be taken as a final verdict on its quality. And with Crystal Dynamics planning to support this game for years to come, there is plenty of time to emphasize and expand upon what works and phase out what does not.

The opening sequence is as awesome as it looks.

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The trailers for Marvel's Avengers all spotlight the same opening sequence: the Avengers defend San Francisco against Taskmaster and a biological weapon that's about to explode. It is sweeping, dramatic, cinematic gameplay that is beautiful to look at and fun to play. Crystal Dynamics developed the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy, which featured multiple epic "run sequences." You know the type: Lara flees, jumping and sprinting from precarious position to precarious position as the world explodes around her. The San Francisco sequence is filled with beautiful, highlight-reel moments like these. 

The San Francisco opener is a glorified tutorial; it switches mid-battle between Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow. It gives a brief overview of what each character is capable of. Hulk smashes. Cap throws his shield, which ricochets around the room. Thor swings and throws his hammer; you press one button to throw it and press it again to call it back. The entire opening is, in its best moments, like starring in your own MCU film. But that being said...

This isn't the MCU.

Marvel's Avengers

The game has a prominent multiplayer emphasis.

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After the opening mission, a traumatic event occurs that forces the Avengers to break up. And it's here that the beta, rather than introducing more cinematic sequences, transitions into a different sort of gameplay--this one based around multiplayer action. We knew there would be multiplayer action. But it appears to be integral to the campaign, in a way we didn't anticipate

You take on these levels as one member of a four-person strike team. Each person must play as a different Avenger; you cannot, for example, get four Thors on a single team. You're airdropped into a map, where you fight side-by-side with your teammates towards a common goal. It could be to destroy an arc reactor, or to upload JARVIS to a computer server, or to take out a hostile outpost.

You team up with friends or strangers via the online matchmaker. If you want to play by yourself, you can, but you can't "solo" a mission; you'll be given three computer-controlled allies to help you along. At the end of each mission, you're rewarded with new gear or new Artifacts, which are used to upgrade your equipment and abilities.

The loot/crafting system is laborious.

At first, getting through these multiplayer missions is a slog. You're underpowered for one; Hulk can get taken down by a few soldiers, which feels dissonant and wrong. To upgrade your existing weapons, you're constantly on the lookout for loot, which falls into one of eight different types of raw materials.  There are also collectible major and minor artifacts, which enhance your Hero's abilities with various buffs during combat.

There's a lot of fine text to read that describes each material's function and what each buff gives the player. This is expressed as rows of numbers that further divide into seven different character qualities: Might, Precision, Proficiency, Valor, Resolve, Resilience, and Intensity. How are these categories measured? What does the number signify, beyond itself, in gameplay terms? 

That is entirely too much complexity for what is essentially an arcade-style beat-em-up. Some studios avoid discussing the math by hiding it. Avengers made the mistake of showing us the data but depriving us of the context to explain it.

Each Avenger has a distinct play-style that's fun to uncover.

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Eventually, you will acquire enough loot and upgrades that your character will feel like a superhero. We want the power fantasy--of beating up crowds of bad guys without breaking a sweat. There is a slow startup. But if you stick with the game, you'll see tangible results. 

When I was playing as Iron Man, I found protective armor for my suit, and I outfitted myself with explosive repulsors (which took me four missions to acquire). I upgraded these with my loot to make them three or four levels higher than I originally found them. I then used my earned experience points to teach myself new abilities, like diving mid-air or shooting smart missiles at multiple opponents. Armed with all these new gadgets and toys, the robots melted in front of me.

The enemies get repetitive.

But speaking of robots, there are far too many of them. No matter what location you travel to on your big HUD globe—New York City or the Pacific Northwest wilderness—you're always fighting the same AIM robots. This is fine in the HARM room, where Dr. Bruce Banner sets you up to train against waves of enemies. But the sameness of the enemy types makes every encounter, even the ones in the "real world," feel like a training exercise. Hopefully, this is just a taste of what's to come, and the enemies in the final game have more variety.

I loved the Abomination boss fight.

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Thus, it makes sense that the best parts of the beta are the ones that mixed it up—that forced me to use the full range of my abilities to tackle a unique problem. For example, the beta has an early boss fight where you take on Abomination as the Hulk. It's one of the most enjoyable parts of the game, purely because it gives us something new: an enemy with unique, idiosyncratic powers and a weak point that we have to discover and exploit.

The worst parts of the game are chaotic.

The sequences where the game simply doesn't work are the ones where you're fighting in a narrow, closed space. Each of these Heroes has unique attacks and abilities, but when they're all crammed into a tiny space, the result is an ugly, whirling sea of punches and kicks, which all become indistinguishable from the other. These Heroes need open spaces to breathe, to accentuate their differences. Hulk and Black Widow are close-quarters combatants. Iron Man is a zoning/shoot-from-a-distance fighter. And so forth.

The verdict?

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After playing the beta for the past two weekends, I'm cautiously optimistic of what's to come. This game initially turned me off, but has grown on me significantly. it's not what I expected it to be, based on the early trailers and my own preconceptions. But once I came to terms with that, I was able to enjoy it for what it was, on its own terms. And then it was extremely fun. I'm looking forward to the final weekend of beta access, and I'm hopeful that Crystal Dynamics will take the fan feedback to heart. A lot of it will come down to messaging—to explain to people what they're getting, why they should want it, and how to play it best.

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