With the release of Marvel’s Avengers on PC and current gen consoles just around the corner, we had a chance to try out the pre-order beta on the PC before the game’s September 4th launch. The pre-order beta is a stripped-down teaser of what is to come, featuring a couple of campaign missions, War Table missions, and four heroes for regular play.
The beta offered a small peek at the story campaign that serves as a coming of age story for Ms. Marvel. The start of the campaign is a solid entry point to those new to the Avengers franchise. The writing is not too heavy but is strong enough to keep things interesting as I ended the beta still wanting more campaign missions.
The game itself is a third person action-RPG with some light shooting and flying mechanics thrown in. We had a chance to play Black Widow, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, and Thor during the tutorial. The bulk of the beta only provided access to Black Widow, Hulk, Iron Man, and Ms. Marvel.
The RPG mechanics are standard, offering players access to better gear and new skill points as they level up. Each hero has four slots for equipment plus three artifact slots. Gear have some combination of brands, perks, stat bonuses, and elemental effect, making the system similar to Borderlands and Tom Clancy’s The Division. There is some opportunity for basic build making, but it is clearly not the main focus.
The combat is enjoyably tight as it is responsive and fair. It rarely strays far from the standard third person melee-centric action gameplay. Each superhero has a move set designed to represent the character’s unique fighting style. At the core though, the combat system is built on top of a defensive skill and three attacks: light, heavy, and ranged. The initial move set is limited to begin with but improves as players level up and invest in the skill tree. For the most part, the actual key combos are almost the same, making swapping between heroes relatively easy. Each character does get one or two unique gameplay mechanics exclusive to them, like Hulk grabbing enemies to use as a melee weapon or Ironman’s flight abilities that handle like a simple dog fighting game.
The level design in the beta was good, though some possible red flags have been thrown up for replayability. The beta offered a couple of campaign missions and several War Zone missions. The campaign missions are the more linear of the two with straight forward scripted sequences creating a tight and cinematic experience. The War Zone missions break down into a couple of mission types: story-based side missions, VR combat challenges, and generic missions that feel randomly generated. These missions are designed to be done in groups, with AI characters filling in for missing players. While the story-based side missions were enjoyable and close to the main campaign in entertainment value, I am not entirely sold on the generic missions. If these are used to buffer out a healthy number of story-based side missions, the generic missions may be a good filler when players want a quick game without dedicating time for a longer story mission. If these missions represent the bulk of War Zone, their repetitive nature will wear on players quickly.
Marvel’s Avengers has a solid user experience so far. The controls were excellent on a controller. There are a lot of abilities and functions being crammed into a limited number of buttons, but everything felt natural and intuitive. The mouse and keyboard is generally less than ideal for these types of games, but Crystal Dynamics has made it work. The possible key binds are quite generous outside of the inability to rebind menu keys on the PC. I was able to cram all my attacks on the mouse, but I could never get a layout that felt natural to me as the game relies on both heavy and ranged attacks. I probably will not be alone in my troubles as there is no option for more context sensitive controls like the controllers. As mildly annoying trying to find a natural key bind layout is, mouse and keyboard users will just have to learn to live with it as characters like Black Widow and Iron Man lean too heavily on their aimed ranged attacks to ignore the aim button all together.
The visual experience is solid. The realistic style fits in well within the existing movie franchise. The artists have done a great job creating a cinematic feel to the game through a combination of camera angles and a minimal UI that fades away when not in use. The game does pack a solid set of graphical options for PC gamers, including high resolution texture packs. On the flip side, I did run into some sudden FPS drops that will hopefully be addressed by the time the game launches on September 4th.
The audio is incredibly well polished already. Crystal Dynamics has hired the who’s who of voice actors for the game. The investment has paid off as the voice acting is nearly flawless. The beta also showed off a solid set of sound effects and epic music that fits the game well.
My experience with Marvel’s Avengers pre-order beta was a positive one for the most part. The combat feels tight and the RPG mechanics gives the game some meat. As expected from a major Marvel title, the audio/visual presentation is excellent and stands up against the films. While I believe the game will be a decent title at launch, the final game quality will likely hinge on the War Table mission variety.