Marvel’s Avengers’ setup shows some promise in a way its gameplay does not

Marvel’s Avengers did not show well during its grand E3 unveiling. Not only did the sparse amount of details surrounding the game make it incredibly confusing to grasp but many were not pleased with the admittedly basic version of the classic comic crime-fighting crew. Square wasn’t letting anybody go hands-on game or ask questions about it, which meant no one could confirm if it played as bland as it looked or reveal its structure. Learning about its multitude of RPG systems and setup did inspire some hope that it may be a decent, repeatable game even if actually playing it didn’t quite provoke that same amount of optimism.

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | The B-Team

Marvel's Avengers' setup shows some promise in a way its gameplay does not

This is mainly because it has a ton of mechanics but doesn’t seem to go deep into any of them. Each of the five Avengers that will launch with the game all have drastically different skills. Thor plays a little bit like he was inspired by the most recent God of War with a splash of the old ones, meaning he can utilize his mythical hammer to bash dudes while also using sweeping magical attacks to hit multiple opponents at once. Of course, he can also throw his hammer, pummel his opposition with his fists, and then recall it, although, while neat, isn’t nearly as satisfying as doing the same with Kratos’ Leviathan Axe in this early pre-alpha stage.

While it is entirely possible that it would open up in the final game, Thor’s combat was mashy and didn’t appear to have the immediate responsiveness, flair, or depth that others of its ilk have. Being so directly comparable to one of the best games of 2018 (and the generation) isn’t favorable either since it more aptly calls this game’s mechanics into question.

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Iron Man was a little more satisfying because the shooting wasn’t as generic. Hovering around and blasting from the air benefits from its more solid shooting controls, although Stark also has access to melee-like blasters that don’t require manual aiming. His style is reminiscent of a late-game Jesse Faden from Control, albeit far less reactive and quick. However, Control‘s deft, well, controls were why Faden was so satisfying to play and Iron Man’s lack of similarly responsive movement options means he is that less engaging to control.

Black Widow is a rough mix of the two as she’s got dual pistols and melee attacks. However, she also has access to a parry-like ranged grapple move. It’s not quite like the Arkham style of combat like it might seem nor is it as smooth or central to the main gameplay as countering was in those prestigious Batman titles.

Hulk’s moveset is sweeping and a bit imprecise, but makes sense for his tanky nature. Grabbing enemies and using them as meat gauntlets or throw pillows is functional and a bit mindless in a way that playing the big green Avenger probably should be. He’s got a level of brutality the others don’t have and at least that sets him apart even if it isn’t as mentally engaging.

Captain America has the most potential and was easily the best character of the bunch. The way he uses his shield makes him the most unique as its versatility and array of satisfying, clanging sound effects give him the X factor the others are starkly missing. Cap’s combat seems to have the most depth because of the number of offensive and defensive options he has both up close and from far away. There’s even a hint of Insomniac’s Spider-Man in here and its execution makes it hard not to want a lone Captain America game (but a better one than Sega’s middling 2011 console title).

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | More work, more teams

Marvel's Avengers' setup shows some promise in a way its gameplay does not

As it stands in this early stage of the game, everyone but Cap was as uninspiring to play as they were to watch. None of them feel downright bad, but almost all of the playstyles have been influenced by other better, more focused games that the Avengers do not compare favorably to — God of War and Thor’s mechanics are a brilliant example of that. Those other titles have the ability to focus on one central style while Marvel’s Avengers is having to spread itself over a wealth of genres. This has the possibility of having multiple passable styles instead of one honed identity full of depth.

However, Scot Amos, head of Crystal Dynamics, doesn’t think this widespread approach will hurt the game. There are five core studios working on it, meaning that it has an epic workforce behind it to give it the necessary care for its wealth of systems. He argued that there’s almost sort of a strength in numbers in getting the game’s disparate mechanics up to snuff.

“We were afraid of [spreading ourselves too thin] from the beginning,” said Amos. “But it’s been transformative for us in how we make games because we really have to assemble the best of the best to be able to make this level of an impact across this many different things. It’s the biggest we’ve ever done as a team and the biggest team we’ve ever had to make a game because we needed that horsepower to pull this off.”

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | Gear up

Marvel's Avengers' setup shows some promise in a way its gameplay does not

Although, the abilities from the demo are just a small sampling of what each hero can do and show how much of an RPG it is. Characters have a whole host of skill trees with different abilities that let you craft your style. Using Iron Man as an example, you can choose to focus more on his repulsors, rockets, or lasers and all of them have different uses. And you can choose to go deep into any tree that you like, granted you have the skill points. While it does further make the game even more widespread, it does add a healthy amount of customization.

This also applies to the gear. It runs the typical gamut of rarities and all have different stats and perks associated with them. Some may add extra explosions to Iron Man’s rockets or something else entirely. Gear is exclusive to each character but doesn’t physically show up on them. They’re strictly ethereal stats and numbers and a good portion of them will be inspired by the comics.

Skins, however, don’t have stats but do show up on your character and will be what you physically see. Amos confirmed that this was not like Mortal Kombat 11’s customization where gear physically shows up on your fighter on top of your equipped skin. It’s an odd choice since MK11’s system has the best of both worlds and allows for more fine-tuning but at least the gear system gives players something to chase.

Missions will be the biggest place where you earn gear and its structure is meant to be replayed. The game’s missions are all laid out on an interactive map with icons representing each type of objective. Hero missions focus on one Avenger and are essentially the game’s story-based solo campaign.

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | The mysterious world of co-op

Marvel's Avengers' setup shows some promise in a way its gameplay does not

Warzone missions house the game’s co-op where up to four players can join in and tackle bigger levels. These don’t tell a story, but do dole out more narrative and character moments that fill out the world. Every hero is playable in these missions too and that means they’ll all need more dialogue to interact with one another. It’s a lot of work but Amos explained how all that extra care is fine because of the team’s love for Marvel.

“Being able to have [these new characters] feel like a part of that family was imperative to us,” he explained. “There [are other games] that have worlds where you hunt for loot and upgrade. But when you get to it, these characters are already beloved. The co-op Warzone missions have to have narratives that expand the world because those heroes are going to show up and need their own storyline and add more context to the overall world. So we have to figure out how to have the core five talk with each new hero [and vice versa] so they don’t feel tacked on but integrated into the world.”

But Square isn’t talking more about co-op until the beginning of next year. It’s a huge part of the experience since it seems like its angle as a Destiny-like lifestyle game is where it has the greatest chance of hooking people. Knowing very little about it sounds troubling since players are antsier than Hank Pym to understand exactly what this new game is. Amos said he was aware of this anticipation but stated that it would be too much to dump on people and he is confident the game will speak for itself in due time.

“If we tell everything to everybody at once, it’s overwhelming,” said Amos. “And there’s a fine balance between giving enough and saying ‘here’s everything!” Because there is so much. We’re just trying to breadcrumb people along the path with us. So it’s like you haven’t seen anything yet; there’s still more to come. It’s about getting the right information out so everybody gets the same basic knowledge. It sucks because we have so much [information] that we can’t just give everybody a mind meld in one go.”

Dripping out information is certainly a strategy to take and hearing Square dish out another wave of it is a little more reassuring. But the game still isn’t as tight as it could be and is where those reassurances are a tad less, well, reassuring. Marvel’s Avengers still is pretty far out though and has almost a year to shape shift into something more mechanically sound and fundamentally more fun to actually play. The teams seem to have a clear vision for Marvel’s Avengers so hopefully it’ll have time to be the hero we all want it to be.