Hands on Marvel’s Avengers – figuring out what Crystal Dynamics’ endgame is

Avengers reassemble.

Following its reveal at E3, a lot of people will have been left wondering just what in the hell is Crystal Dynamics’ new Avengers game? I know I was, and even as they spoke about a dynamic growing world, a live service game model and co-op gaming, I was left only slightly the wiser. Having played the game at Gamescom and sat through another presentation, I think I get it now, but really Square Enix have done a mediocre job at best of helping hopeful Marvel fans understand.

A big part of that comes from the fact that all they’ve shown so far is the game’s A-Day opening, with the reveal trailer cutting from one small snippet of action to another. Here the game looks like a linear action game, full of bombastic set pieces as the most iconic line up of the Avengers get hoodwinked in a cataclysmic plot.

It was this segment that I went hands on with at Gamescom, and it acts as the game’s tutorial. All of the characters have their different styles, different strengths. Thor opens things up with some fantastically satisfying hammer swinging, being able to throw Mjolnir at enemies, pinning them to vehicles that now litter the Golden Gate Bridge, before recalling it and slapping it through the back of another enemy. As you brawl, there’s a tickle of the kinds of Batman Arkham combat, with a relatively close third person camera view and a good mix of impactful feeling abilities.

Having worked through one set of enemies, another faster, flightier foe comes to the fore, and so it’s over to Iron Man to chase after them in an arcade shooter fashion, before switching to his Repulsor shots from his suit for a bit of ranged combat. It’s not quite as immediately engaging, but as soon as he fills a meter and can unleash a Unibeam attack from his central Arc reactor, you get an idea of just how this character could play out.

And then it’s the Hulk’s turn, with plenty of grabbing enemies and slapping them into each other, action platforming that has you leaping across the crumbling bridge and kind of wall-running his way through to tanks to smash. Last up, there’s Cap and Black Widow, each with brawling at their core once more, but with Cap’s throwable shield and Black Widow’s pistols getting to do some of the talking. Each hero comes with their own particular special moves, like Nat’s active camoflague, the Hulk’s Thunder Clap, and so on.

And it’s at this point that it clicks with me what this game really is, just before heading to a behind closed doors explainer session. Seeing as Square seem intent on making you wait to actually find out, I will as well.

The events of A-Day; where the Avengers’ unveiling of their West Coast headquarters went horrendously wrong as Stark’s experimental technology was hijacked and redirected away from keeping a Helicarrier in the sky and toward obliterating San Francisco. In the wake of the tragedy, superheroes were outlawed and the Avengers dismantled (not least because of Cap’s apparent death) with Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) emerging to replace their peace-keeping duties with an army of Synthoid AI robots. I’m sure you can see some of the directions that the story can take from there.

Needless to say that half a decade later you need to get the band back together, overcome the demons that have haunted each of the surviving Avengers since then and build out the roster of heroes to battle super villains once more. You’ll regroup at an abandoned Helicarrier and head out across the world, taking on missions in various different regions and uncovering a whole new conspiracy behind AIM.

I think the best way to think of it is probably in terms of Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Destiny, but with the production values of the modern Tomb Raider series for story telling. Taking a look at the Wartable, there’s a mixture of solo main story missions to complete, each of which has been designed with a particular character in mind and looking to make the most of their archetype – so expect plenty of flying around as Stark, while there’ll be more smashy-smashy fun as Banner’s green alter-ego. On the other side of things are the more general Warzone missions, which you can also play solo or tackle with up to four players in online co-op, and these have to be designed with the gamut of heroes in mind. While the solo hero missions are there to push the main narrative forward, the Warzone missions look to expand the storyline, with various mission types like a High Value Target.

The thing that leaves me scratching my head is just how much content the handful of studios working on the game will have to churn out, in particular because when I asked about Destiny-style mission grinding, it was made clear that they’re trying to avoid that. You can go back to a level and try it again – the Warzones in particular should lend themselves to replay with a new character – but the progression is intended to be constant with each mission completion unlocking more missions on the Wartable.

But there’s clearly a drive toward RPG-style character customisation, and so there will be an endgame, if you will. While each hero will start off with certain powers, you have Gear and Skills to earn and unlock. Earned through completing challenges, Gear has different rarities, which can be modified and buffed through perks and synergies with other items from the same sets. Then there’s Skills, adding a lot of depth and flexibility around the four main character archetypes of melee, ranged, aerial and ground. You can take Thor and focus him around area of effect lightning attacks, or beef his one-on-one hammer attacks up instead. It’s here that you’ll see Iron Man’s missiles and spinning laser attacks come out to play, as his repulser attacks get put to one side.

And hoping to prop all of this up are a range of ever expanding cosmetics that Square hope you’ll splash out on with microtransactions. You’ll see a huge variety from the movies, comics and TV series, as well as some new creations from Crystal Dynamics.

And it actually all feels like this can come together quite nicely. Again, Marvel Ultimate Alliance shows that this kind of superhero team up works well for superheroes, and we know the eternal delights of Destiny’s online co-op all too well. The marketing plan might be a little mystifying and needlessly obscure the gameplay right now, but they will eventually show off some more meaningful gameplay with a co-op reveal in early 2020. I’m cautiously optimistic.

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