If the main missions of Marvel's Avengers are its biggest highs, the side quests are far and away its most disappointing lows. We've been lucky enough to play the upcoming beta for the next Crystal Dynamics-developed title a week early, and our biggest takeaway is that the moment you deviate from its core offering, Marvel's Avengers falls apart. The California-based team has a critical path problem on its hands and that's probably not something it can fix in the lead up to launch next month.
Anyone participating in the beta will experience the same introduction -- it's the classic Golden Gate Bridge demo we've all seen time and time again. Having already played through it once before, the mission does feel slightly more polished as development of the initial product nears completion while combat packed a bit more of a punch. It's a promising first impression to make, especially so when a more personal quest follows it up in spectacular fashion.
The pre-launch test will fast-forward through time, assumedly skipping over a few levels to avoid spoilers, to a point where Bruce Banner and Kamala Khan are attempting to put the Avengers team back together in secret. You'll get to play as both superheroes throughout the duration of the mission, putting their skills and abilities to the ultimate test. As the twosome open the sequence with Uncharted-esque chatter and quips, you start to get the sense of a genuine single player campaign filled with story beats and set pieces. And, for the most part, that's exactly what you get. The main missions of Marvel's Avengers, or at least the couple we've been able to sample, seem hand-crafted to make you feel like the supreme leader of the superhero task force. You'll bounce between characters as you progress, utilise their unique talents and traits to get one over the enemy, and have just enough time at the end of it all to crack a joke or two. It really does feel like an Avengers movie come to life.
And then you're presented with the War Table -- an interactive menu where you'll be able to select the next mission to partake in. Roughly eight more quests are unlocked for play at this point and you're probably left impressed by the sheer amount of content Crystal Dynamics has managed to pack into this beta. The problem is then that these optional quests are packed to the rafters with the dullest objectives imaginable. Capture this point on the map, eliminate that certain group of enemies, destroy those generators. These sorts of tasks are nothing new to games, but we're at a point where all we can do is groan when we're presented with one in the most basic sense. Simply put, they're dull. However, the cherry on top is that some of these quests can take less than just a few minutes to complete if you don't choose to explore the environment. It begs the question: what's the point?
Everything which elevated those main missions is also nowhere to be seen during side quests. Interaction between the cast of characters is limited to throwaway lines during combat while cutscenes just aren't a thing. It leads to a series of levels that rely on the game's combat system, and despite that being fairly robust, it just isn't enough to see it through to the finish line. The Last of Us: Part II, with its dynamic gameplay that gracefully transitions between stealth and intense gunfights, this is not.
Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, and Kamala Khan are all playable as part of the beta phase, each sporting their own take on brawling and battling AIM's forces. Hulk loves to get down and dirty with gigantic swings and punches that devastate combatants while Iron Man makes use of his blasters from afar. Kamala Khan can put up a fight at both close and far range thanks to her extendable limbs while Black Widow actually fulfils a similar role with a gun and another set of moves for personal encounters. It gets to a point where the two superheroes feel a little too akin to one another, almost making Natasha Romanoff obsolete. Because you'll always want to embiggen as Ms. Marvel.
And let's not forget that this is a loot-based game. Chests are scattered throughout missions and act as rewards once you've completed them, showering you with new items to equip that boost your stats and provide minor perks on top of that. The beta doesn't really allow for this aspect to be fully explored as none of its content provides much of a challenge, but you can start to get an idea of how it'll work in the full game. Certain missions warrant a specific gear score, the loot you get provides small incremental upgrades, and rarity tiers are attached to every piece. Multiple currencies feature on the menu screen, gear can be upgraded with certain materials, missions can be repeated for more loot. This is a Destiny-like experience in every conceivable way.
So, one month before release, Marvel's Avengers has managed to prove that it could be both the superhero game of our wildest dreams and one brimming with uninteresting, mediocre content. Its main missions are such a major step above anything else in the game that you have to question whether its resources and funding were deposited correctly. Or maybe Crystal Dynamics just chose a poor selection of side quests to demonstrate what Marvel's Avengers has to offer off the critical path. Either way, we don't have long to wait until the final product is in all of our hands.
For more information on the upcoming Marvel's Avengers PS4 beta, head on through the link. Are you looking forward to checking out this superhero experience from Crystal Dynamics? Share your thoughts in the comments below.