Going into my demo with Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers at PAX, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But between my half hour of gameplay and conversation with the developers afterwards, I learned a lot about what to expect when the game launches on May 15, 2020.
I played through the familiar-by-now bridge level shown in the E3 video, which the developers described as a tutorial to acclimate the player with the five playable Avengers. Gameplay felt a lot like a conventional action game — each character has a light, strong, and ranged attack and can dodge out of the way of oncoming enemy attacks indicated by an exclamation mark a la Batman Arkham Asylum/City/Knight. During combat, you build up energy which can be used for “Heroic” attacks like Hulk’s Thunderclap.
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Each character felt relatively similar, since the gameplay for each boiled down to using combos to take out the masked goons I was facing and occasionally evading. That said, this was only the tutorial. As the game progresses, you can customize each Avenger with different skills and gear, which can change how the characters play. The example given was Thor, who can be specced as a flying, area-denial specialist using lightning attacks, or an in-your-face brawler with Mjolnir.
As for the tutorial, it was a linear stage set on the collapsing Golden Gate Bridge, but afterwards the game opens up significantly. You’ll choose missions via war table that spans the entire globe and is divided into “Hero” and “Warzone” stages. Hero missions are essentially the main campaign and are single-player only, while Warzones can be played solo or in a group of up to four players online.
The narrative organizing all of this is new, but feels similar to recent MCU films. At the inception of the story, Taskmaster and a strike team using SHIELD gear destroys the Avengers’ new ship, taking a large part of San Francisco with it. The public blames the Avengers, who scatter and retreat into depression and isolation. Five years later, an organization called Advanced Intelligent Mechanics has stepped in and taken over the role of now-outlawed superheroes with robots. Of course, AIM is up to no good and the Avengers will have to re-assemble to deal with them. But the developers said that the story is as much about healing the broken Avengers as it is about stopping AIM.
To these eyes, who have seen these characters in various states in various media for years, the Avengers in this game look pretty bland. They’re not the MCU versions of the characters, but they feel extremely safe in design. Between the game’s photorealistic look and the movie-adjacent visual direction, I’m a little disappointed in how generic each hero looks. That said, there is a plethora of costumes available for each character, which I’m sure will be a major draw for many players. These are solely cosmetic, and are distinct from gear. Some costumes will be obtainable in-game, while others are only available via purchase.
On that note, I asked Crystal Dynamics if Avengers would include loot boxes of any kind and they told me that it will not, nor will players be able to purchase gear or skills. Microtransactions will be for cosmetics only, and these will be directly purchasable rather than obtained through a gacha system. Additionally, more heroes and narrative are coming to the game after launch, all of which will be free DLC.
I had no idea Marvel’s Avengers was going to be a Destiny-like live game, but now that I’ve played it and heard more details, I’m optimistic. I’m still unsure about the character designs and somewhat basic action gameplay, but it looks like it could be a lot of fun to play alongside friends, and Crystal Dynamics seems keen to avoid many of the pitfalls associated with the live game model. We’ll have more updates on Avengers as Crystal Dynamics tells us more in the run-up to the game’s release in May 2020.