What We Played of Marvel’s Avengers
My time with Marvel’s Avengers focused on two back-to-back single-hero campaign levels which flowed right into one another. I played as Kamala first, making my way around a helicarrier mid-destruction. I spent most of that level in the interiors of the ship, all shiny and chrome and frequently on fire.
The demo then took me topside for some hands-on time as plain-clothes Thor (using his old comic book alias Donald Blake), in which I dealt with larger, mechanical foes alongside Iron Man and Hulk. Before both levels, I dove into Marvel’s Avengers’ secret weapon, its many skill trees and gear options, while feeling like I’ve only just scratched the surface of its hero customization.
Learning the Ropes and Riding the Lightning
As has become relatively standard for action games, particularly superhero ones, each hero in Marvel’s Avengers has a light attack, heavy attack, and dodge. Yes, the Arkham style is still alive and serves the various heroes well to keep a familiarity across them, but not necessarily a sameness. Playing as Kamala and Thor offered two quite different combat experiences, as did playing with different builds of each.
Kamala, fighting in closer quarters than Thor does in his level, required me to constantly be moving for fear of having enemies surround and corner me. Kamala’s extendable limbs are certainly gangly, and offered a more improvisational tone to her combat scenarios that felt befitting of the character. She’s still learning the ropes — and those ropes are sometimes literally her own arms — and I was frequently surprised and delighted by Kamala’s moveset. It remained endlessly entertaining to smack enemies against the wall with an embiggened hand, or to pull off a somewhat ranged attack, using her punches as essentially projectiles I could shoot out and quickly recall to fight flying foes.
Marvel’s Avengers – A-Day Gameplay Trailer Screenshots
Thor, meanwhile, who delighted me in the A-Day demo, remains an early favorite hero of mine for the game. He’s appreciably reminiscent of how Kratos handles in the new God of War — not a huge surprise given that that game’s systems designer behind the Leviathan Axe is now the lead combat designer on Avengers — with his hammer Mjolnir able to be tossed and hailed back with a satisfying button press. But obvious Kratos parallels aside, Thor’s combat also clearly takes inspiration from his comic and film appearances, and I found him most fun to play as soon as I figured out how to use his fists and Mjolnir in tandem to deal with swarms of enemies. It also doesn’t hurt that I could more easily get away from any particular skirmish given that he can hover and fly out of a battle.
Both characters demonstrated that there’s a lot more than the Arkham-style system at play. Perfect dodges open enemies up more to an attack, while some of the abilities I could gain for either hero even let me take more advantage of a well-timed dodge.
Similarly, some of the upgrades at the earlier levels of the skill trees allowed me to create new combos, flesh out attacks, and really take advantage of each hero’s powers. Kamala has a particularly great variation of her heavy attack that uses her two embiggened and stretched out arms for stability as she rockets outward with both legs for a massive, embiggened kick.Meanwhile, with Thor, I found I could careen into the midst of battle and lay waste to foes with close-up attacks specced out one way, while in another I found it better to hang back, picking off weaker enemies with hammer throws, and then calling it back so it zoomed into other enemies on the return before going in for a bigger attack.
The underlying system that unites the heroes is simple yet malleable enough to let developer Crystal Dynamics make each of the heroes perform differently. And while I have to wait to see how the rest of the heroes hold up on extended play, the possible variety has me thrilled both as a Marvel and superhero game fan.
Skill Trees and the Pick-3 System
Each hero will, like any good action-RPG, have a series of skill trees that players can dump points into over time, and Avengers is no exception. But it’s the layers upon layers of skill trees where things start to get interesting.
Every hero will have a base set of skills related to their various attacks, and as players find what works for them with each classic Marvel icon, they can begin to hone in on those focuses. With Thor, for example, I had a Primary set of four skill trees that let me upgrade light and heavy attacks, which were then followed by another set of four Specialty skill trees to even further specialize Thor. Did I prefer a god of thunder who relied on close-up, quick hammer strikes, one who worked from afar by flying around and throwing his hammer; or even one with amped-up lighting powers that essentially turned him into the hero we saw in the Led Zepplin scene from Thor: Ragnarok?These skill trees really allowed me to expand his arsenal of attacks in the direction I wanted, but even further than that is the Mastery skill tree level, which allows you to unlock abilities and then choose from one of three different variations to have equipped at any one time. While this will certainly come into play more when playing co-op, I still loved messing around with these options during my multiple playthroughs of Thor’s level. One ranged Mastery ability, for example, let Thor’s hammer throw shoot out an AOE-bit of lightning once it impacted a surface or allowed me to manually target enemies as I spun it around and prepped a shot. One’s obviously better for picking off single enemies while the other can be more for crowd control. Other abilities included being able to hold multiple charges of his heroic ability, a powerful finisher-like move that proved devastating against the biggest foes when I had two or even three in reserve. I could also imbue more lightning in his melee attacks once I threw the hammer, leading to that “Immigrant Song” scene experience.
Conversely with Kamala, I could focus on her Embiggen ability, and choose skills that allowed her to remain in her embiggened state for longer with each successful hit. I could even turn her into quite a strong ranged character, throwing skill points into an ability that allowed her to stretch out her arm and an embiggened hand to squash foes against the wall.
And while I didn’t have a huge war chest of gear to pull from, I did get to see how the combination of gear with certain abilities could make for more varied combat. Certain gear will imbue specific attacks with various status effects, and while there are obvious ones like freezing and burning, Avengers will also introduce Pym, Gamma, and Celestial statuses. I primarily witnessed Pym-affected gear, which in living up to its Marvel name, allows players to temporarily shrink down enemies with a successful number of attacks. That’s right, in the midst of combat, you could just shrink down some enemies, which 1) makes Kamala’s embiggened hands and feet even more deadly and 2) is one of the many entertaining touches that I hope will keep fights fresh playing through the campaign and in Warzone/co-op missions.
Combat depth became a lot more apparent to me as I tried out different abilities between runs, focused on fine tuning my hero builds, and really testing out what these specializations can do. It’s a testament to Crystal Dynamics’ work, at least in these levels, that I never felt at a loss with my abilities focused one way or the other.
A Sense of Level Design
Both levels also offered an indication of what Avengers’ campaign scenarios will actually play like, rather than the more orchestrated A-Day demo. While Thor’s sequence was entirely combat focused, I could fly around the whole of the Helicarrier deck freely, picking up health canisters, running to and from different battles to help AI-controlled Hulk or Iron Man, and just generally take in the scene.
In Kamala’s level, though, which led me through corridors and expansive rooms, I found chests strewn about — and though these were pretty obvious, I was told other levels would have much more secreted away chest locations, and a nice balance between combat, traversal, and a sparingly used quick-time moment that offered one of Kamala’s best moments in the demo.So yes, while there were some more authored moments, neither level felt nearly as constricted and focused as the A-Day demo, which, while obviously a tutorial, has been the only long stretch of gameplay we’ve seen until now.
My time with Marvel’s Avengers offered a fun, albeit fast, look at how Marvel’s Avengers’ campaign is treating each hero as their own protagonist, and building something much larger to thread them all together in one cohesive story. There’s plenty more to discuss, from how gorgeous the two levels looked, to the funny banter of its protagonists, and more. But one of my biggest takeaways from the two was that playing as these separate heroes felt different, but both were still fun to play in their own right, and had me eager to spend more time with them. That’s obviously going to be key for a live-service game meant to keep bringing players back. There’s so much more heroes, skills, gear, and levels to see, which will ultimately determine if everything Crystal Dynamics is putting together remains successful in the long run, but like Kamala often feels after seeing her heroes in action, this hands-on with Marvel’s Avengers certainly filled me with hope for the future.
Marvel’s Avengers is our IGN First game for July. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come as we dive deeper into the heroes and world of Crystal Dynamics’ ambitious Marvel game.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, host of Podcast Beyond!, and will find any excuse to talk about Thor: Ragnarok. Find him on Twitter @jmdornbush.