Over three long years after its first ominous teaser, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have given us our most in-depth look at the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game. After being pushed from its initial May 15 release date to Sept. 4, Square decided to fill the gap with a series of War Table presentations, the first of these focusing on characters, missions, customization, and systems. And while a lot of this looked and sounded great, the only thing I wasn’t completely sold on was the actual gameplay itself.
A lot of Marvel’s Avengers shown off so far is exciting and promising. I love the bleak framing of the story, set in a world where Captain America dies (I’m sure that’ll stick.) and the rest of the Avengers are framed as terrorists and disbanded, giving way for A.I.M. to slither in and take power. Furthermore, the emphasis on the conflict between Kamala Khan and George Tarleton, aka MODOK, gives us a fresh glimpse into the Marvel Universe that hasn’t been done to death in recent movies, while the grounding of familiar heroes like Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, and Iron Man is still present. I mean, seriously, MODOK rules, and I don’t see him being used in the MCU any time soon.
As a fresh-faced Pakistani Muslim hero, Kamala delivers a unique and refreshing outsider’s perspective to this world and its conflicts. We’ve already seen some effective scenes that really contrast her young, hopeful naivete with the grizzled pessimism of a beaten and defeated Tony Stark, and there’s so much more potential here with her and the rest of the familiar crew. There’s also home base customization and four-player co-op missions with your pals that are delivered by familiar faces like Jarvis, Maria Hill, and Hank Pym. That all sounds great.
Likewise, the actual character and player customization aspect of the game has plenty of potential. People like me who are fascinated by the personalized nature of characters in games like Destiny, Warframe, and Final Fantasy XIV are pretty excited by what Square Enix has shown off. Marvel’s Avengers has such a deep well of comics, cartoons, films, and other mediums to pull from to keep things interesting with customization. It seems like it’s going to scratch an itch similar to unlocking costumes in Insomniac’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4.
The game also just flat-out looks great, especially replayed in 4K. Plus, there are still some lingering but exciting questions over whether or not there could eventually be a connection between this game and Insomniac’s Spider-Man, given that you can spot a Daily Bugle microphone at one point in today’s footage.
Even the game’s actual release seems promising. It’s hitting PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on Sept. 4 but has been confirmed to receive free updates to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively if you own a current-gen version of the game. Given how close it’s releasing to the launch of the new consoles, and the fact that it’s being billed as a living game that will continually be updated like Destiny, it’s nice to know that our September purchases are future-proof.
Everything I’ve mentioned so far sounds wonderful. The problem is that the basic act of playing the video game doesn’t seem so enticing yet. So far, the core gameplay that’s been shown off has been pretty underwhelming on a few different levels. When you look back at the E3 2017 demo of Insomniac’s Spider-Man, it immediately conveyed the acrobatic and tactile combat and traversal that we imagined a game starring the Webslinger should have.
But Marvel’s Avengers gameplay just seems disconnected. The enemies don’t feel like they have any weight to them, just a trash mob of forgettable robot pixels to slam through, which is a bummer considering the vast library of potential villains at Crystal Dynamics’ disposal. Likewise, the characters all appear like they just glide through the environment instead of being a tangible part of the world.
In all, the combat we’ve seen so far all feels relatively shallow compared to titles like Spider-Man or Batman: Arkham, which is honestly kind of understandable, considering how each character has a very unique play style. But everything comes across like a slightly less exciting version of things we’ve seen before. I can’t help but watch Thor’s gameplay and think about God of War. Or Iron Man’s and think about Anthem. Or Black Widow’s and think about Control.
Some of these reservations might stem from the fact that the game is clearly a Destiny-inspired shared-world action game, but presented in a third-person perspective featuring a property a lot of us are extremely familiar with. I will say that the gameplay portion I most enjoyed of the first War Room presentation were the few moments where the HUD came up and it actually started to resemble what the game will look like when we play it in September. Having that information thrown up on the screen made it easier to imagine what the hours upon hours we spend in the final game will feel like. I’m hopeful we’ll get more of that in the next few presentations leading up to launch.
I’m remaining cautiously optimistic about Marvel’s Avengers. Crystal Dynamics has done a fantastic job with its pair of recent Tomb Raider games. (2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider was developed by Eidos Montreal.) Likewise, the game’s being directed by Shaun Escayg, who worked on The Last of Us and was creative director of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. This team, combined with some of the best actors working in our medium like Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, and Nolan North, shows that there’s a serious pedigree behind the project. And considering how many fantastic video games don’t fully gel until close to the finish line, I’m hopeful that I can look back on my gameplay worries about Marvel’s Avengers come September and see how wrong I was.