Following E3, Marvel’s Avengers found itself in a weird situation. With only a single trailer that briefly showed off what the game had to offer, the general sentiment shared by many was a vaguely confused optimism. It looked good enough, but nobody really knew exactly what it was. Sure, playing as The Hulk is cool and all, but the trailer showed off a super linear intro mission that didn’t really capture the destructive gameplay that the Hulk’s character demands.
However, after getting some hands-on time with the game at Gamescom 2019 and attending a Q&A session that answered some of our most pressing questions, our cautious anticipation for Marvel’s Avengers has evolved into full-fledged excitement.
The demo we played covered the first mission of the game – the very same mission that you get to see lots of during the game’s announcement trailer – and let us play five characters that will be present at the game’s launch. The demo starts with an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge while our heroes are conveniently hanging out on the Avengers Helicarrier nearby. Seeing that people are in danger, the heroes fly in to repel the attack, while Captain America stays behind because he believes that something nefarious is afoot.
This might seem like a minor point, but it’s pretty cool that the first action you do as the player is go out and save people. One thing that’s ignored by too many superhero games is the act of – well – being a superhero, swooping in to protect people and selflessly putting others first, even when that isn’t necessarily the ‘smartest’ thing to do. Establishing this immediately helps make this game feel like an authentic portrayal of the Avengers, which the developers continue to nail once you get into combat.
The combat itself is fairly basic. Each character has a light and heavy attack that they can chain together for combos, and every character can press both buttons simultaneously to perform an insta-kill finisher. Eventually, you can use the shoulder buttons to activate special moves that allow you to clear out groups of goons with a single flashy attack. Let’s be clear, you’re not going to find Devil May Cry-esque depth here, but the real enjoyment comes from the unique twists each Avenger brings to the fold.
Thor, who you play as first, is your standard close-range brawler. He’s used to explain the aforementioned basics of combat and has a few quirks that separate him from the other heroes. Mjölnir, for example, acts as both his melee and ranged weapon. With it, you can pin the hammer to enemies, sending them flying into obstacles or off into the distance before calling it back and hitting anyone caught in between.
The more characters we played, the more interesting the game became. Iron Man, while being able to hold his own in hand to hand combat, excels at using his suit’s abilities for an edge in fights. Unlike the rest of the cast, Iron Man can remain off the ground indefinitely, shooting bad guys with his potent ranged weaponry, which adds verticality otherwise absent from other characters.
The Hulk, being a giant green guy, can pick enemies up and swing them around as makeshift weapons. Captain America is another close-range brawler, with the main difference coming from his shield, which he can use to lock onto multiple enemies at once before dispatching them all at once. While not as drastically unique as Iron Man or The Hulk, being able to throw yourself at enemies while your shield bounces around has its own special charm to it.
Finally, there’s Black Widow, who was the character everyone seemed most worried about. It’s plausible that going from super-powered characters to her would be a tad underwhelming, but our worries were quickly put to rest in a boss fight with Task Master. After a short QTE sequence, you find yourself locked in a close-quarters brawl with the menacing mercenary. Luckily, Black Widow’s unique ability is a grapple that allows you to perform cinematic counter attacks on certain moves. While this fight was certainly enjoyable, we do remain slightly torn on whether her style of fighting will still hold up in standard fights or whether the thrill of a special encounter conveniently masked some of the character’s gameplay failings.
In terms of how the game looks, it’s neither here nor there. Honestly, we’re torn on whether the visuals are a major detractor from the experience or just an average coat of paint on an otherwise enjoyable experience. It’s clear they took inspiration from the film, with the characters having a slight resemblance to their Hollywood counterparts. But without the actual appearances of those movie heroes, many people get a slight uncanny valley feeling.
“Sure,” you’re saying. “That’s all well and good, but what do you do when you’re not fighting people?” Well, during the Q&A, we were given a rundown on aspects of the game not shown from the demo. When not fighting, you go on missions. After each successful mission, you return to the Avengers Helicarrier where you decide what to tackle next. This acts as your central hub and will be a location you return to often throughout the game.
The missions you can embark on will be either story missions, that will actively forward the plot with single player only missions, or warzone missions, which are unlocked as you proceed through the game. Warzone missions can have you do specific tasks like destroying a specific enemy but, at the core, they’re filler missions that allow you to play with any Avenger you’d like, which can be played solo or with up to three other players.
Warzone missions are your primary source of gear for your roster of heroes. Gear, which is unique to specific heroes, gives your characters bonuses and buffs that’ll come in handy when tackling difficult missions. Obtainable gear scales in rarity and the harder the Warzone mission, the better the gear you obtain, so there’s a sense of progression throughout the game as your Avengers get stronger. We also caught a glimpse of two artifact slots on the gear screen, however we weren’t shown any such artifacts or what boosts they provide.
The gear you earn isn’t the only way to customise your characters. Each character has a skill tree that allows you to earn new moves, with close combat lasers being the example shown to us in the presentation. This, in my opinion, paired with the presence of gear is great for letting players create the version of superheroes they love. What sort of Iron Man are you? A death-from-above style hero who dominates the skies with powerful long-ranged weaponry, equipped with appropriate gear that boosts that style of fighting? Or, do you want to stay close, using Iron Man’s suit to tear up people up close with high melee damage gear? Rather than feel tacked on, the gear system has the potential to allow players to tune their team to their liking and adds the option to mix things up in a game that could otherwise quickly become stagnant with unchanging characters.
Overall, our experience with Marvel’s Avengers at Gamescom was ultimately reassuring. Did the game appear to be a mind-blowing masterpiece? No, but in fairness, we were shown only a small chunk of the start of the game. It looks like a damn good attempt at a Marvel video game, with ample attention paid to the characterisation of its protagonists. It’s too early to say that it feels like a good comic book story lifted straight from the pages, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on if you had previously paid it no mind.