Since its initial reveal at E3 2019, Crystal Dynamics has really struggled to showcase what Marvel’s Avengers is. Is it an Uncharted-like single-player game? A Destiny-like looter? Every trailer and stream made the vision more muddled for potential fans.
But after 10 hours with an early look at the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers beta, it’s finally clear what the game is: a successful multiplayer RPG masquerading as a superhero game.
What exactly is Marvel’s Avengers?
The Marvel’s Avengers beta starts with the A-Day mission first seen at E3 2019. It’s a linear tour of how each hero plays, from Thor, to Iron Man, to Hulk, to Captain America, and finally to Black Widow.
When the mission ends, the game skips forward over what seems like a few missions. The fallout of A-Day is still a mystery, although apparently Captain America is “dead” and the Avengers have broken up.
The camera comes back up on Bruce Banner and Kamala Khan (better known as Ms. Marvel) somewhere in the woods. The start of this mission is dramatically slower than the action-packed intro. A cutscene catches me up on more of the limited story revealed in this beta; the starstruck young Kamala just started working with the Avengers, or at least, with the Hulk, and the two are trying to find the exiled Tony Stark.
Eventually, the two heroes run into a group of soldiers, and Bruce Hulks out. I spend the rest of the mission as Hulk, beating the snot out of some AIM recruits. Like all the heroes in Marvel’s Avengers, Hulk played exactly like I thought he should.
As Hulk, I’m much bigger than all my enemies. As I smash and punch my way through groups, I occasionally hold the square button on my PlayStation controller to pick up an enemy, who I then use as either a weapon or a missile. In combat, Hulk feels like chaos incarnate; even in later missions, when I was trying to focus on a specific objective, I couldn’t help but accidentally destroy everyone and everything around me. My only issue with Hulk came during platforming sections. He is particularly unwieldy while climbing. While certainly appropriate, moving the Big Guy from place to place seems like it’ll be a real pain for Hulk players.
Some time into the mission, the game swaps me to Ms. Marvel to beat up some other AIM bad guys and explore a lab, which involves walking up to Avengers artifacts in a storeroom while Kamala nerds out about them. Kamala and Hulk are the two most similar-playing heroes available in the beta. But Kamala feels more focused than Hulk. Even when she stretches herself out and gets very large, it’s easy to aim her destruction in the direction of a specific enemy. While both heroes smash nearby targets with giant fists and can pick up foes, they still feel different — one of the major points in Marvel’s Avengers’ favor.
The mission concludes with me as the Hulk again in a boss fight against Abomination.
The rest of the beta’s missions break from this linear format, aside from a couple tutorial missions that happen once Kamala and Bruce reach their new home base (an abandoned Avengers helicarrier). Marvel’s Avengers isn’t an open-world game, though. Instead, I can choose from a series of different missions in different areas — similar to Destiny’s Director.
These missions are nothing like my previous outings — at least, not at first. When I choose a mission, I select my character from my Avengers roster (Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, and Black Widow in the beta). I can then invite friends to play the mission with me, and they can choose a different Avengers teammate to play (no duplicates allowed). The game will then matchmake two other players to play as two other Avengers, or I can choose to backfill them with AI-controlled versions of the other characters.
Once the beta opened up, I chose to main Iron Man, a character I’ve loved since I was a kid, but never enjoyed playing in a video game — until now. Iron Man is completely unlike Hulk and Ms. Marvel. I fly through the air like a Javelin in Anthem, and use a mixture of range and melee in my attacks. Instead of a standard heavy attack, I can swap between repulsors, missiles, and lasers to fit the situation. It feels like I’m managing my suit’s power, constantly swapping between ground and air combat, and mixing up my gadgets on the fly.
In the beta, there are several different types of missions called Warzones, which is a moniker that refers to repeatable missions that don’t meaningfully advance the story. One drops my team inside a lab and tasks us with destroying some Turbines, while another sends me to the woods and asks me to work my way into a secret facility. The first mission takes about 10 minutes, while the second takes 30 to 40. Both Warzones, but wildly different from one another.
The beta also had two longer missions. The first is called “Code: Green,” and seemed almost like a Hulk-focused group mission. When I selected it, it automatically changed me to the Hulk; while I could switch to someone else, I assume someone in the party must be the Hulk, because this mission had some story elements to do with him. But the structure here wasn’t like the earlier story missions. Instead, it was a slightly longer version of the longest Warzone, with different objectives and a final room filled with powerful enemies.
The final mission in the beta took about 45 minutes and features a boss fight against a giant tank. But to stand a chance at defeating it, I had to chase Marvel’s Avengers’ main objective: loot.
What makes Marvel’s Avengers loot grind so compelling?
Marvel’s Avengers is, above all else, a loot game. As I complete missions, including the more linear story missions, I’m getting new loot for my various heroes. As Ms. Marvel, I pick up new insignias and body armor. As Hulk, I get different augmentations for my bones. These loot pieces don’t change how my characters look, but they all can dramatically boost the heroes’ in-game capabilities.
Loot comes with multiple different rarities. White pieces don’t offer any perks, while purple pieces offer three different perks. The perks in the beta ranged from defensive and offensive buffs to decreased Gamma damage. And each piece of loot comes with a power level that I can increase by spending in-game currency.
Heroes also level up and earn new skills. When I start with Iron Man, I have access to a few basic combos, and only his repulsor weapons. As I level him up, I can unlock his missiles or lasers, new combos, and advanced moves like an aerial dive-bomb. Characters like Black Widow also have some gear unlocks similar to Iron Man’s gadgets, while Hulk and Ms. Marvel gain new interactions with enemies they pick up and wield as weapons. The skill tree is extensive, but the beta only allowed me to play with one skill tree per hero, where the base game will offer three.
Like my skills, my loot is unique to the character I’m playing. Because I mained Iron Man, Iron Man became my highest level character. I wouldn’t ever get drops for The Hulk or Ms. Marvel during my adventures as Tony Stark. Instead, my Iron Man just kept getting stronger and stronger, unlocking new skills by leveling up. When I swapped back to Hulk to give him another go, it felt like starting over again — but in a way that encouraged me that the final version of this game will be replayable.
After 10 hours in the beta, I walked away excited for Marvel’s Avengers’ Sept. 4 release date. But RPG systems can be hard to grasp in a single beta weekend. Never forget that BioWare’s Anthem demoed very well in its limited beta, despite being an unmitigated disaster at launch. While I have hope Marvel’s Avengers won’t be a repeat of Anthem, I’ve been fooled by RPG betas before — even if the Avengers beta has more varied content than Anthem’s ever did.
There are still other potential pitfalls for Marvel’s Avengers. Will the game be as fun to play for 100 hours as it was for 10? And the recent news of Spider-Man’s exclusivity to PlayStation consoles gives me pause. But if Marvel’s Avengers can maintain the level of quality in the beta for an entire campaign and post-game loot grind, it could be exactly what Marvel fans like myself have wanted for years.