A Questionable Start
Game developers have been trying to lock down a successful formula for live-service titles the entire generation. Arguably the biggest issue at hand is trying to convince consumers to pay a premium for a product that is ultimately unfinished. Results have varied but one thing is constant, a live-service title takes at least a year to meet the expectations laid out at launch. Destiny, Sea of Thieves, and The Division didn’t find their respective stride until year 2, while others, like Anthem, completely bombed at launch.
After playing through the Avengers beta, I came away cautiously optimistic. It is clear however, that there are significant issues with the core gameplay that must be corrected before I can recommend this title to anyone. I believe the single-player campaign will merit a playthrough, but its cooperative multiplayer lacks the polish required to ensure its longevity.
What’s evident from the beginning is that the Avengers is pushing to ensure that each playable character is completely distinct from their counterparts. Each hero has their own abilities, combo strings, and use in combat. This is greatly appreciated because it allows for group experimentation which will result in diverse team-ups. If you’ve ever played the Ultimate Alliance series, think of the Avengers as an extension of that with a greater emphasis on loot.
The beta allowed players to control each Avenger, but the results of this are mixed. Some characters like Black Widow and Ms. Marvel are really fun to play due to their mobility and move sets. Unfortunately, the Hulk and Iron Man were the two most disappointing to play. The former was slow and had attacks that surprisingly lacked impact, while the latter had some visually striking attacks, but had a limited move set. You could spam the ranged attacks with Iron Man and decimate enemies fairly quickly, this however felt unsatisfying in comparison to the melee combat when playing as Ms. Marvel and Black Widow.
Thor and Captain America were only playable during the opening mission and it would be unfair to judge them based off the tutorial mission. Regardless, there was something off about combat in the beta, attacks would range from being super impactful to feeling like they didn’t register at all. I understand that not every enemy is going to stagger but it is a strange design choice considering how combat with the Hulk should make the player feel unstoppable but instead made the character feel mortal.
There were also significant framerate issues prevalent throughout the beta. Now this is something I won’t judge too harshly, but the stutter was noticeable when the action began to pick up. This was distracting because there are some excellent visual effects, especially when activating an ultimate ability, but you couldn’t appreciate them with all of the framerate issues.
In terms of content quality, the single-player campaign comes off as the most intriguing. The Avengers fail to prevent an attack in San Francisco, leading to the release of the Terrigen mist, which results in the loss of innocent lives and the creation of Inhumans. There are only three story missions in the beta, but this was more than enough to build intrigue. The missions that follow set up the different multiplayer scenarios and this is where questions about the content arise.
Multiplayer-wise, there are Hero, War Zone, and H.A.R.M missions. Hero missions focus on a specific character and will grant the player loot that can only be used by that individual. War Zone missions can range from open-area missions that have multiple objectives to smaller areas that act as pure combat zones. H.A.R.M. missions can be described as challenge rooms that will result in rare loot drops. Challenges will scale in difficulty and these do a good job of testing your familiarity with each character.
Regardless of what was selected, each of these felt very repetitive in regards to their objectives and mission structure. The biggest issue was that War Zone missions lacked environmental diversity. Open areas will differ based off the location, but they all tend to funnel into these rooms that all end up looking indistinguishable from one another. The only interesting War Zone mission in the beta was one that ended in a large scale boss fight. This mission felt similar to strikes or raids found in other live-service titles.
Loot will play a major role in the end-game and during my time with the beta this was hit or miss. As you traverse through the environment, you’ll find chests and enemies that will drop various types of loot. These tend to either be equipment or resources that can be utilized in upgrades. Equipment comes in different rarities and upgrading them will unlock buffs for your character. Loot drops in the beta were strange though, because it never felt like you were receiving something of quality based off the action completed. Either way, the loot system will need to be consistent to ensure player investment as there will be those who will want optimize their builds.
If the Avengers is going to make any type of impact in the live-service genre, the developers will have to refine a number of features and mechanics because as it stands right now, the game is a bit rough. There are only three abilities per character and this feels low considering that this is a brawler and it will get repetitive quickly. Certain characters will need to be tweaked to make them more interesting and have them fit the personalities of their comic counterparts. If I’m playing the Hulk, I expect to be dominant and no point did I feel that way.
Rarely does a title benefit from a testing period so close to release. In the case of the Avengers, its obvious that there’s potential, but because the game releases in a month, its highly doubtful the developer will be able to fix all the major issues that will hinder the success of this title. What’s there is enough to establish a foundation for the future, that’s the good news, but future content will need to be drastically better than what’s there now, otherwise the Avengers will flounder and possibly fail. We aren’t talking a Destiny or The Division scenario where an unecessary sequel is developed, we are talking more of a Anthem scenario, where the title may need to be completely retooled to be viable.
The Avengers should be one of the last big releases before the beginning of the next generation. In its current state however, it might be better to take a wait and see approach as it will hopefully allow the developers time to further define their vision. As in the case of all live-service titles, this may be the best course of action for those sitting on the fence.