Naturally enough a beta is only a short snippet of the full game but the recent Marvel’s Avengers Beta on Xbox One came across as rather impressive, boasting decent visuals and exciting set pieces. Not everything is so smooth though with (understandable) glitches and some annoyances. But the big worry and the takeaway we need to talk about is found in the fundamental gameplay.
The gameplay in Avengers is rather simple. It feels somewhere close to a hack and slash affair the majority of the time with some cooldown abilities thrown in to add a slight bit of spice to your combat. You can smash things up with Hulk, fly around with Iron Man, beat up baddies with Cap or play with a whole roster of others. Perhaps its biggest strength is what you can do with said characters. Before going here, maybe we should start with the opening to the game.
Marvel’s Avengers plays with its opening shot very well. It is epic, glorious and filled with the effects of the current Avengers set up. You see celebrations to the Avengers alongside them going about their daily life. At least until the San Francisco bridge is attacked. Iron Man and Thor fly through the sky at a moment’s notice until Thor slams down, attacking some of the baddies with a nice QTE. This is where you are let loose on everything, and anything, that is found in your way. Thor has traditional attacks and dodges but also a nice “shooting” mechanic through Mjölnir. This can be thrown and recalled to hit multiple enemies at once, and is a nice way of playing with his abilities. Thor can also punch his way through particularly pesky bits of the environment to make his way forward to the next set of baddies. He is interrupted from above as Iron Man flies by. His section looks great but unfortunately doesn’t feel fantastic as the shooting mechanics, while flying, are a bit iffy. Both your arms and body are controlled with the stick, often meaning your body will wildly jerk one way or the other when you just want to shoot some bad guys. The scene itself looks hectic and fun and could be ripped straight out of a Marvel movie, to its benefit.
Much like Thor before him, Iron Man’s moveset follows a similar control scheme. This works well for Marvel’s Avengers as a whole. While the controls may be similar, each character feels distinct in the moves available to them and different in their approach. This idea is only heightened through their special moves, activated with the bumpers. Hulk can cause massive AOE damage where Iron Man might focus on a central beam. Black Widow might focus on speed where Ms. Marvel has situational advantages. This makes a fully formed team feel much more real and dynamic as certain characters have strengths and weaknesses.
The foundation of Avengers relies on a few distinct titles. Its gameplay feels like a much more traditional Marvel game where its loot and missions system feels much more like that of a live service title. It seems to take inspiration from the likes of Destiny and The Division with upgrade paths, tons of loot and strike-styled missions to take on with friends. Unfortunately, this falls flat in a few central fields. The loot system doesn’t feel dynamic and (while there is plenty of loot to obtain) it never really feels like as much of a conscious decision as the aforementioned titles. In this way, it signals a clash between the world of the Avengers and the game of Avengers. You play legendary characters known for defeating hundreds of thousands of soldiers yet it can take up to a few minutes to kill off a handful. Its level progression system feels a little rigid to this design too, meaning you don’t tend to feel like you’re getting better at the game, rather just picking up new shorts that help you deal more damage. There are some moments of true greatness in combat, but this is held back by other moments of poor performance, occasionally slowing down or blurring chunks of your view to compensate.
There is an RPG at the core of Marvel’s Avengers that, when stripped back, doesn’t really reveal much role-playing. Most progression throughout the recent beta on Xbox One felt a little hollow and the story didn’t do much, opting to throw sidequests and busy work at the player. This was only exemplified through the weak heroes you play as. The core gameplay is reasonably fun but I’m (understandably) a little cautious for the full release of the game on Xbox One, PS4, PC and Google Stadia at the start of September. While it hopes to achieve what Destiny has now, it might instead give us the Destiny we got at launch – a good looking but otherwise menial live service.
Massive thanks go out to Square Enix for providing us access to the Marvel’s Avengers beta on Xbox One.