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Square Enix revealed some more details about Marvel’s Avengers today, and it’s clearer than ever what it really is. Developer Crystal Dynamics is making an action role-playing game similar to Destiny, Diablo, and … Marvel Ultimate Alliance. We can’t predict how it will actually feel to play, but that isn’t always the draw for this genre. Games like this thrive on their sense of customization and progression, and the developer put a major emphasis on those aspects of Marvel’s Avengers during its War Table livestream.
But if you were expecting Marvel’s Avengers to play like Insomniac’s Spider-Man game but with Iron Man and Thor instead, you are probably feeling deflated. After all, we did just get an action-RPG starring Marvel superheroes in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order in 2019. So, how is Marvel’s Avengers going to stand apart from that? Well, Crystal Dynamics’ game is trying to look more expensive in terms of its production. And I don’t know if it’s succeeding. Avengers may also feel more exciting to play than Ultimate Alliance — but again, we’ll have to wait and see.
Marvel’s Avengers launches September 4 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Stadia. It will also hit PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X some time this holiday.
For now, let’s focus on what Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics did show.
What is Marvel’s Avengers?
Marvel’s Avengers is an online live-service game where you run through missions while collecting loot and leveling up your character. Like Destiny and The Division, it’s attempting to update the classic mechanics that powered the success of Diablo. But what does this mean for you as a player? Let’s run through it.
In Marvel’s Avengers, you will pick characters like Hulk or Thor to take on a mission. While you can play alone, Crystal Dynamics is designing much of the game to work cooperatively with friends (although, it doesn’t have local cooperative play). During these quests, you will battle through enemies using a variety of attacks including ultimate abilities. During the gameplay trailer, Thor used his bifröst ultimate to teleport past an impenetrable shield.
But mostly, the trailer shows Marvel heroes repeatedly beating up similar-looking robots. And that’s likely a fair portrayal of what to expect. If it seems like the enemies and combat encounters are something of an afterthought — it’s possible that they are.
Crystal Dynamics highlighted the important systems to operating a live-service game like Marvel’s Avengers. It showed Thor leveling up and unlocking different abilities. Players will also find gear with color-coded rarity. Upgrading your character and finding more gear means improving your character’s melee, defense, and ranged ratings.
The gameplay trailer puts it succinctly:
So why is all of this important? Because it means your Thor will play differently than my Thor. And my Hulk will play differently than yours.
Games like these aren’t necessarily about the moment-to-moment gameplay or even getting through a narrative. They are about building a relationship with your characters and wanting to see them improve. Or they’re about filling meters to see some sort of abstraction of progress, and Marvel’s Avengers channels that with the helicarrier Chimera, which players can rebuild over time.
You can also unlock new cosmetics for your character or buy them from an in-game store.
Who is going to like Marvel’s Avengers?
I don’t know if you’re going to like the game or not. I haven’t played it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all appropriately set expectations.
This is probably not going to turn out like Marvel’s Spider-Man. That doesn’t seem like it was ever the goal. Instead, Square Enix is going for something like Marvel Ultimate Alliance but with a bigger budget. But that comes with a lot of risks.
An action-RPG works best if you can play with friends, and that means supporting crossplay. The publisher has confirmed that PS4 and PS5 owners can play together, but it hasn’t said that Xbox, PlayStation, and PC can do the same.
But more important than crossplay is content. If the idea of Marvel’s Avengers is that I am building out my own custom Iron Man, the game is going to need a lot of missions to support me coming back to play on a regular cadence. And that’s maybe where this game has the biggest potential to fail. The blockbuster-level visuals mean that making more content is expensive. This could have a few side effects. Avengers might not have a lot of content, that content could repeat frequently, or the developers could scale down the complexity of its art to make it easier to produce.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the trailer shows the super heroes fighting off AIM robots that look like they came off an assembly line.
But these are issues that live-service game developers often face and then overcome. That’s possible here — especially if the core gameplay is fun. About that, though — freelance writer and Kinda Funny cohost Imran Khan says that playtesters are finding the game “boring to play.” Now, it’s important to remember that games often come together in their final weeks before release. So maybe Crystal Dynamics will figure this out.
We’ll have to find out for ourselves when the game goes into beta and then debuts later this year.