Marvel’s Avengers game preview: hands-on with Earth’s mightiest heroes

Our mega preview of Marvel's Avengers covers gameplay, story structure and everything else we know...

At the Gamescom 2019 expo in Cologne, Den Of Geek was lucky enough to spend an hour in the Square Enix booth to learn about Marvel’s Avengers game. We played the game’s tutorial-like demo, which Marvel has also shared online in video form, as well as watching a presentation from the developers about how the game will play out after this intro level.

Of course, with this being a massive upcoming title, everyone involved is playing their cards close to their chests, from the publishers at Square Enix to the developers at Crystal Dynamics, Nixxes Software BV and Eidos Montréal. But at this event, the lid was lifted at least a little bit, allowing us to build a better understanding of what the game will be like when it launches next year.

From our impressions of the gameplay to the highlights from the presentation, here’s a round-up of everything Avengers-based that we learned at Gamescom…

The demo feels like a throwback

As you will have seen if you watched Marvel’s video footage of the demo (which we’ve embedded above this paragraph), the segment of gameplay that Square Enix shared at Gamescom takes place right at the start of the game: story-wise, things kick off with Earth’s mightiest heroes unveiling a new Helicarrier in San Fransisco, only for the villainous Taskmaster show up and cause some trouble, backed up by legions of well-armed goons.

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Feeling very much like a tutorial, the demo allows you to play through a short little section as each of the available heroes: first you take control of Thor on the Golden Gate Bridge, using your controller’s shoulder buttons to throw and recall Mjolnir, as well as dishing out melee attacks and lightning blasts; then you swoop into the scene as Iron Man, flying across the sky and simultaneously firing your handy repulsor cannons, before landing and trying out some different attacks (including a massive blast that comes from the chest-mounted arc reactor); then you become Hulk, who can pick up enemies and smash them around (think “puny god”) as well as destroying environments for extra advantages; then, up in the Helicarrier, Captain America is swarmed by enemies as you get to grips with throwing his shield and brawling through fist-fights; and finally, back on the bridge, Black Widow goes toe-to-toe with Taskmaster, using her acrobatic fighting style and array of gadgets (including a grappling-hook sort of thing) to take the masked menace down.

It’s worth mentioning that this version of Taskmaster is a bit of a different beast than the Spider-Man PS4 version. While the Taskmaster in Spidey’s solo game would repeat your own attacks back at you, this version’s most noticeable skill is that he quickly learns how to dodge each of your attacks, forcing you to try out every different skill in Black Widow’s arsenal. This makes sense because this is a demo, but the Spider-Man PS4 version of Taskmaster does represent a bit more of a challenge.

In terms of how this demo actually plays, the overall style feels like something of a throwback. If it wasn’t for the modern graphics, this would seem like a game that you could’ve played on PS3. There are quite a few Quicktime events taking place, as the game tries to teach you its control scheme, and there’s a fair bit of emphasis on the shoulder buttons. The basic punching and dodging attacks are the same for everyone, but the shoulder buttons tend to connect to more character-specific moves. Each hero also has a super-duper charged-up attack, which you can save up for and then deploy for maximum impact.

Despite the fact that you’ve learned the controls and successfully won the hand-to-hand fight with Taskmaster, disaster still strikes: while the Avengers are distracted, a massive explosion goes off in the Helicarrier, exacting a heavy death toll on the city. Cap, who was close to the blast and nowhere to be seen afterwards, is presumed to be dead. And because of this tragedy, the Avengers disassemble.

The story pits heroes against scientists

After we moved from the demo room into the presentation room, Casey Lynch from Square Enix sat us down and told us some more about the game. Lynch promised that, after this introductory tutorial, there will be significantly fewer Quicktime events and more of an emphasis on player freedom. And in terms of the narrative, there will be a five-year time jump.

While the Avengers have been licking their wounds – Tony growing his hair out, Banner retreating into Hulk, Thor leaving his hammer by Cap’s grave – a new team has taken on the role of protecting society. A scientific institute named Advanced Idea Mechanics has deployed a huge amount of AI-assisted robots to protect the population, and people seem to be lapping it up. But anyone who’s read a comic or watched Iron Man 3 will know that A.I.M. is actually a villainous presence.

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It’s not entirely clear how/why/when the Avengers decide to get the band back together, but we do know that they will reclaim a Helicarrier and use it as a portable HQ. Investigating A.I.M. seems to be a going concern: for example, we saw a mission log that says an Agent Garza is asking the Avengers to take a closer look at one of A.I.M.’s massive ‘Dreadbot’ robots. This is presumably Sarah Garza, an Inhuman S.H.I.E.L.D. operative from the comics.

Besides knowing that A.I.M. is in the game, we also know that Black Widow will have a rematch with Taskmaster and Hulk will go up against The Abomination. Beyond that, we don’t know a huge deal about which other familiar foes from the comics will show up here. But because this is a brand new universe – it’s not based on the MCU, and there don’t seem to be any links to Spider-Man PS4 at this stage – the developers could feasibly add any enemies that they want. Can we place a request for M.O.D.O.K., please?

You’ll tackle a mixture of mission types…

So, five years have passed since the San Francisco tragedy (commonly referred to as “A-Day”) and the Avengers have requisitioned a Helicarrier… now it’s time to sink your teeth into the main meat of the game. Your base of operations will be the Helicarrier, with a tabletop map in its war room allowing you to choose from a variety of missions at any given point. Square Enix is calling this the War Table, and we can see during the presentation that there are various different markers scattered across it.

Looking down on the War Table, you’ll be able to choose between Hero Missions (which are single-player missions that highlight a particular hero) and Warzone Missions (which feature four heroes, and allow you to play either solo or in 2-to-4-player online multiplayer). Certain missions will also have a specific hero’s symbol positioned next to them on the map (e.g. Thor’s hammer), so you know that particular Avenger will be a focus.

The main story-based campaign will be found specific Hero Missions (which will be highlighted with a star on the War Table), but the Warzone Missions will have heaps of enemies and some rare loot that you can’t find elsewhere. It will be possible to play the whole game solo, but we’d wager that having some friends to help you in the Warzone Missions could make them a little less taxing.

As well as the Agent Garza mission that we mentioned before, we also saw a mission log pertaining to Hank Pym (pictured above, previously glimpsed in an official clip from the game). At one point in the game, Dr Pym will identify the location of an A.I.M. holding facility and urge the Avengers to rescue some freedom fighters that are being held there. We’d expect to see loads of errand-running missions like this, especially since Square Enix wants to keep the Avengers game active for quite some time.

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Expect more heroes and heaps of customisation

As well as the core four of Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Square Enix teases that there will be extra Avengers added to the game later at no extra cost. We already know that Hank Pym is in there, but we haven’t seen him suited up as Ant-Man yet. They’ve obviously built a playable Cap, as well, although the events of A-Day suggest that he’ll be out of action for a decent chunk of the game at least.

There’s also a character that looks a lot like Kamala Khan, AKA Ms Marvel, who has been glimpsed in the promo materials. Lots of people have been asking about Hawkeye, too, but Lynch won’t be drawn on which heroes will show up or when. He certainly won’t confirm whether Spider-Man is in the game, but he does tease that “surprises” are planned in conjunction Square Enix’s “friends at Sony”. And since Sony recently bought Insomniac, the creators of Spider-Man PS4, that does seem like a significant clue. 

Lynch was more open to talking about customisation, revealing that there will be multiple different looks for every character: a scaled suit for Captain America, some white armour for Iron Man, and a pinstripe ‘Joe Fixit’ costume for Hulk are some of the most tantalising ideas that we glimpsed artwork for. You’ll be able to unlock a lot of costumes through gameplay, but there will be some cosmetic items that you can buy with real-money microtransactions.

There will also be loads of gear, all of which is earned through gameplay, allowing you to tool up your heroes with different weapons and items. Each character will also have their own skill-tree, allowing you to hone their skills however you see fit. For example, you could increase your Thor’s flying and lightning skills to the point that he can hover above a battlefield and smite your foes by summoning bolts from the blue at a safe distance; alternatively, if you see Thor as more of a brawler, you could increase his melee attacks and defence traits to make him a force to be reckoned with on ground level.

These are Earth’s most customisable heroes, basically, and Square Enix has big plans to keep adding to the roster and the experience for “multiple years” to come. As for whether gamers will go for it and make this effort worthwhile, though, only time will tell. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing more, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted as more news comes to light…

Marvel’s Avengers launches for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia on 15 May 2020.

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