Hands-on with Marvel’s Avengers

I admit to being skeptical of Marvel’s Avengers when I saw the first trailer for this game months ago. Although it was created with in-game engine, it looked like an action scene from a movie, I couldn’t really tell what the game played like.

Flash forward to PAX West, I had the opportunity to sit down and play the opening to the game, as well as hear Crystal Dynamics’ Studio Head Scot Amos lay out the vision for the game scheduled to come out next May. Not only were my concerns laid to rest, but I walked away excited to play Marvel’s Avengers next year.


You can actually see what I played at PAX in the official video above, but that doesn’t tell you how it felt to play it. The demo starts at the very beginning of the game, introducing the playable characters and the events that propel them into danger. It was a whirlwind of action, switching between each character every few minutes, giving me just a taste of each. With the exception of Iron Man, who always seemed to be flying, the controls were fairly similar, light attack, heavy attack, dodge, special. However, every character felt very different to play.

As I said previously, Iron Man flew above the fray, spraying lasers at foes on the ground and also flying jetpacked enemies. He nimbly dodged almost everything thrown his way, and I loved his powerful chest beam special attack.

Captain America is a classic brawler, swinging and bashing his shield, and occasionally flinging it to mow down enemies like dominoes. Hulk smashes of course, and I particularly had fun picking up unfortunate enemies and tossing them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I had a moment of difficulty jumping over large gaps until I realized I could grip surfaces that were scuffed up. No big deal.

Black Widow was nimble and fast, weaving in and out of the fray while squeezing off shots from her dual pistols. Honestly, I found it hard not to compare her to another Crystal Dynamics character, Lara Croft, but I’m not saying that disparagingly. She had tricks up her sleeve Lara never had, like an invisibility cloak, although it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine Lara wielding her other tech weapon, the grappling hook.

My favorite character to play in the short time I had with the demo was Thor. He had a great range of close melee attacks and ranged attacks thanks to that beautiful hammer, Mjölnir. I couldn’t decide what was more satisfying, unleashing lightning onto an area and taking out multiple foes, or flinging Mjölnir into a single foe crushing him into a truck behind him.

I really appreciated that the movement and attacks of all the characters felt like they had weight. Cap’s shield knocking someone over, Hulk driving into the ground splitting concrete, Thor’s hammer pinning a hapless foe to a wall; all felt like your actions as a player controlling these heroes had a tangible effect. I suspect most players will find one or two characters they prefer playing, and the good news is there is a hero for almost every play preference.

This is what’s next for the Avengers. What we want to do here is take the Avengers, these iconic heroes, and reimagine them through a different lens, a Crystal Lens. Back in 2013, we did that with Lara Croft, reimagining and modernizing her.  We want to broaden the canvas with new types of stories, epic stories full of human spirit. When we met with Marvel, they said that’s exactly what we want to do with these heroes.

Scot Amos, Crystal Dynamics’ Studio Head 

An original Avengers story

Marvel’s Avengers begins at A-Day, where Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Thor are unveiling a high-tech Avengers Headquarters in San Fransisco-including the reveal of their own helicarrier powered by an experimental energy source. The celebration turns deadly when a catastrophic attack results in not only the destruction of the helicarrier, but also a large portion of San Fransisco.

Blamed for the tragedy, the Avengers disband, and the story picks up again five years later in a world where all Super Heroes are outlawed, and a shadowy organization called A.I.M. is responsible for the world’s peacekeeping through technology, robotics, and AI. Although A.I.M. has answered many threats this past five years, they may be the source of the greatest threat the world has ever seen.

Most Avengers stories are about saving the world. This time, the story is about saving the Avengers (and then the world). The Avengers are scattered and broken. Captain America is missing and presumed dead, having gone down with the prototype helicarrier trying to prevent even greater devastation. Bruce Banner isn’t sure whether the Avengers are heroes or vigilantes, and is living with a self-imposed rule to no longer transform into Hulk. Tony Stark lost everything, his fortune, his technology, and his confidence. Black Widow has some comfort knowing she saved many civilians on A-Day, but she wasn’t there for the Cap when he needed her most, so she retreats to her spycraft. And even the Mighty Thor feels he let the team down. He abandons Mjölnir and is quietly serving his people in Midgard.

Single-player? Multiplayer? Yes.

Your first task in Marvel’s Avengers will be reassembling the team, and then rebuilding them individually. These are broken heroes no longer in their prime as they were five years ago. In a reclaimed heliocarrier, the assembled Avengers will embark on several mission types. From a holographic war table, the player selects Hero Missions or War Zone missions. Hero missions are the single-player campaign missions that advance the story. War Zone missions can be played by one to four players, and advance the conditions of the world as well as give the players an opportunity to level up and collect loot in the form of gear. Both mission types advance the narrative in different ways, but the Hero missions are designed to showcase a specific hero, while the War Zone missions allow players to join together as a team to take on more global challenges. It is worth noting that in the War Zone missions, players will have to choose a hero that isn’t already chosen; for good or ill you can’t roll out with four Hulks.

Your hero, your way

Playing your hero, your way is central to the vision Crystal Dynamics has for Marvel’s Avengers. Drawing on 80 years of Marvel’s comics, each hero will have multiple outfits that can be unlocked. Some of these can only be earned on missions, and some will only be able to be purchased. None of the outfits will affect how the heroes play, just how they look in the game.

Hero abilities will be tied to gear and skills. Gear can be collected in missions and will have Destiny-style rarity ranging from uncommon, rare, epic, legendary and beyond. Each piece of gear will have different perks, some of which will be locked until certain conditions are met. Additional perks may be unlocked with complete sets of specific gear (such as all Stark Industry gear), and the rarest gear can only be found in the toughest missions.

Skills for each character are unlocked through skill trees by cashing in skill points earned on missions. Going down different branches of the skill tree will allow the player tremendous customization for each character and allow the player to play their hero the way they prefer. You can focus on melee or ranged attacks, heavy armor versus mobility; the potential customization means your Iron Man might not play like my Iron Man.

Looking to the future

Marvel’s Avengers will launch soon next year, Crystal Dynamics has a vision for the game going much further than that. New heroes will eventually become available, as well as new areas and missions to brawl in. The future looks bright for the Avengers as they rise from the ashes of A-day and assemble.

Marvel’s Avengers will release on May 15, 2020 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC

Tim Bledsoe

Podcasts & Single-player games are his thing except on "Adventure Time Tuesdays"