**Spoiler Warning: This article discusses major plot details from Marvel’s Avengers**
Over the weekend, I was given the chance to check out Marvel’s Avengers ahead of the public beta, which launches on August 7. While I was delighted by the campaign’s intriguing premise, the game’s brilliant combat and its charming cast of characters, I’m yet to be convinced by its War Table multiplayer co-op component.
Let’s dig into the story first. The Marvel’s Avengers beta kicks off with the apocalyptic opening mission of the game, The Light That Failed. This is the “A-Day” gameplay demo you’re most likely familiar with if you’ve been following the game’s marketing since its initial announcement.
I had watched and later played the above demo previously at E3 and Gamescom, respectively, but it was just as exciting from the comfort of my own home.
This catastrophic slice of Golden Gate gameplay swaps you between the main Avengers with finesse, jumping from cutscene to action seamlessly. It’s a wonderfully scripted story mission that teases out each character’s strength just enough that you’ll want to dig into every hero once you get your mitts on the multiplayer portion of the beta.
Thor and Captain America aren’t available beyond this point in the demo, so if you’re fans, make the most of your playtime – it’s a shame as they offer some of my favourite combat loops in the game. Thor can pin enemies to walls with Mjolnir and Cap is a Batman-esque brawler, plus his throwable shield bounces between enemies with a satisfying thud! Unfortunately – spoiler alert! – he appears to perish in an explosion moments after such an exciting spot of gameplay…
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how quickly I was hooked into the narrative. I’m not a massive Marvel fan by any stretch, but the voice-acting talent for the story is there, and the premise is very interesting too.
It centres around a scientist called Dr Tarleton (who Marvel fans will know is doomed to become the villain MODOK) who has taken over as society’s protector after Bruce Banner is forced to admit that the Avengers “are a menace to society” during a testimony about the team’s failure to protect the public during A-Day. Beyond the destruction, A-Day also gave many regular citizens superpowers due to the Terrigen Mist that was mysteriously unleashed.
The bad eggs are now running amok and causing chaos, and Tarleton’s AIM company has stepped in to protect the public with science and technology, setting out to cure the “Inhuman Disease”. However, something is very fishy about AIM’s motivations and Tarleton even claims that he doesn’t know what happened to Captain America on A-Day, despite the fact he was in the room with him when he died.
The next story mission takes place after the Avengers disband in the wake of Cap’s death, with Kamala Khan and The Hulk trying to get the band back together. Their first stop takes them to a lush jungle setting to seek out Tony Stark.
Banner and Khan’s relationship is a lot like Joel and Ellie’s in The Last Of Us, but it’s not a carbon copy – there is a clear emotional depth to both of their characters that is briefly coaxed out in the back and forth dialogue I observed during my playthrough.
Khan gains her powers during the events of the opening mission and is tempted by AIM’s cure so she can be normal again. However, Banner is doing his best to assume a parental role, using his own experience with his unpredictable power to help Khan navigate through the responsibility that comes with her newfound abilities.
They bounce off each other well and the mission has brilliant quiet moments where you’re out of combat, picking up lore bits that will please the comic book nerds. Yet it balances out its quiet spots with loud set pieces – this particular mission ends with a gripping crescendo.
After that thrill ride, you get to the War Table and the main meat of Marvel’s Avengers’ online component. What’s strange is that the game opens up and becomes… less interesting? The War Table pumps the brakes on the narrative, pivoting hard into the service style setup of games like Destiny and The Division.
You’ll be offered a variety of smaller missions in hollow and bland open-world maps where you fight hordes of forgettable enemies, popping damage numbers and holding down buttons to complete predictable objectives. The purposefully obfuscating jargon about protocols, security nodes and uplinks starts to grate as you realise it’s just there to make you feel like what you’re doing is story-relevant when, ultimately, it’s not. I was quickly left wanting to get back to Khan and Banner’s brilliant banter.
It’s a grind basin, with its saving grace being the variety. Some of the missions are far more involved than others – a few that I played could be beaten in minutes, consisting of tiny excursions to take out one elite team of units. Yet others took much longer and had some story ramifications plastered over the combat arenas, such as one that centred around The Hulk destroying Monica Rappaccini’s AIM Gamma technology.
There are a few clever small details to note: War Table missions have certain modifiers like including more enemies with freezing attacks, which will make you think about your armour, composition and loadout before you embark. I also liked that collectable comic books which you find in the world can eventually become sets which give you stat bonuses.
There’s even some fun hidden puzzles and objectives in War Table missions for the eagle-eyed. Loot is always filling your inventory and you can break it down into one of the several resources the game has you collect. I wasn’t left with a good impression of what each resource does or how crafting works, but I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming weeks.
The final mission that you work up to during the beta is even more lengthy and developed, and it felt a lot like a Destiny raid, complete with an appropriate difficulty spike and a deadly end boss. Sadly it was… just a giant robot, instead of a supervillain cameo as I was expecting. The fight felt lacking in personality, but it was certainly miles better than the less demanding, more grind-focused excursions that litter the war table. Ultimately, the mission was far more engaging to work up to.
What’s most important is that Marvel’s Avengers’ combat loop is great fun across all of the characters. Juggling foes with Kamala Khan’s rubbery punch-kick combos and pummelling them with her charged giant palm ability feels amazing – even more so when you combine with the rest of your companions to issue a supercharged takedown.
Black Widow’s invisibility powers, Tomb Raider-style pistols and interrupting grapple make for a delicious combat combo too. Oh yes, The Hulk can also carry enemies in his giant hands while he’s fighting, and throw or slam them into the ground as needed. If you can excuse another pun, it’s incredible!
There’s decent depth to the dodge and parry system, despite the frustrating reliance on charged attacks to break enemy shields. I was also pleased to find some genuine difficulty in the more complex War Table missions. It’s far from a walk in the park as you’ll have to work to string together combos and use well-timed parries to immobilise trickier enemies if you wish to stay alive.
However, the movement tech in Marvel’s Avengers isn’t exactly comparable to Marvel’s Spider-Man. Combat lacks fluidity to account for the fact that there’ll be many players fighting at once, but it doesn’t detract too much from the experience – it’s definitely a lot more versatile than shooting endlessly at moving targets!
There’s a lot of fun to be had with each character, and fortunately, none of the beta roster feel particularly useless or below the benchmark for fun gameplay – it’s really the set dressing that lets it down.
My key concern is that I didn’t really get a feel for any meaningful progress in the Marvel’s Avengers beta. I must preface my complaints with a few notes: the levels are capped in the beta, the progression is accelerated, the skill page is only one of three and the item drops aren’t final.
Even so, I wasn’t so attached to any of the loot I picked up and upgraded because there was so much of it. Plus, none of it is actually visible on your character in-game, so you don’t feel like you’re making them any better by equipping it. It’s all background stats and buffs that don’t appear to make much meaningful difference in battle.
Each hero has a skill tree full of abilities, but there’s no Borderlands-style path that lets you feel like you’re making your own special version of your chosen character. There’s a battle pass per hero that tracks your progress and lets you unlock new cosmetic items, but even with all of these systems, as I pushed through the levels I still felt like I was playing as the same Kamala Khan that everyone else has – I couldn’t quite specialise as I had planned.
This is why I’m concerned about the end game of Marvel’s Avengers. Hopefully, in the more fleshed-out launch experience I can build my specialised superhero, but based on what I played of the beta, I’m not so convinced I’d want to stick around beyond the magnificent campaign.
The War Table missions are versatile but they inevitably feel like a grind, and the progression systems aren’t as addicting as I would have hoped. Once I’d beat every beta mission, I didn’t have much desire to grind any more – mainly because I wasn’t sure what was waiting for me if I did. I’m hopeful this will be ironed out before launch, and I’ll definitely be hopping back in across the beta weekends to see if it gets any better.
DNA-locked strongboxes were one part of the beta that I definitely want to dig into when I get access again – you get DNA keys by beating tricky missions, and I’m intrigued as to what rewards you can get for using this premium resource. These smaller mysteries are the threads I’m hanging on to keep me interested in Marvel’s Avengers multiplayer component.
I’m totally sold on the campaign, and would buy the game for that aspect alone, but I’m not sure that the War Table is good enough to keep me playing once the credits roll. I’m open to being convinced and maybe the next few weekends will make me a true believer.