Feature Article

Marvel's Avengers Will Be More Involved Than Its Beta Suggests

Crystal Dynamics talks about teamwork, character customization, endgame loot, and how it'll all tie together in Marvel's Avengers.

The beta for Marvel's Avengers gives players a more expansive look at the game than anything we've seen so far, but it's not a complete one. Though the beta provides a sense of the game's characters, story, teamwork-focused gameplay, combat, and loot chase, it's still only a sample of all those things. What we've seen gives a general sense of how the game will work (as well as some of the hidden secrets of Marvel's Avengers), but leaves out some specifics.

Apparently, there's a lot more to building your Avengers and assembling your team than the beta shows off. As Crystal Dynamics studio head Scot Amos and Avengers game designer Lauryn Ash explained, thinking about the characters you're building and how they'll work together, either as AI companions or on teams with other human players, is a big part of the experience. Only a small sample of that shows up in the beta, but expect a whole lot more complexity in character interactions in the full game.

At first, it comes down to your characters' customization and specialization through their skill trees. The beta includes a few short, truncated skill trees for each character, but it sounds like there are a lot more skills that will appear in the full game. When you customize your characters, you'll be thinking about how they handle combat with abilities that allow them to tank more damage or focus on more ranged combat, while also figuring out how you want them to support their teammates.

"You have like one skill tree in the beta, but there are two other incredible skill trees that are all about supporting your team and mastering the combat of your hero," Ash said. "So for players in the beta, they will experience what it's like to fulfill that fantasy and just a taste of what it's like to support your team by increasing your power, increasing your hero level. But there are all these skill trees dedicated specifically to those support heroics, to the ability to support your team, as well as gear that you won't see in the beta that will be available at launch to really dive in and support your team from the role definition standpoint."

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You'll spec out your characters with their skills as well as their gear, and a lot of the gear shown in the beta can debuff enemies that allow for greater synergy between your characters. One example Amos gave would be to spec Iron Man with rockets that carry Pym technology from both skills and gear, giving them the "shrink" effect when they hit enemies. Enemies that take on the shrinking debuff are stunned more easily and take more damage, so you could spec your AI Iron Man for ranged combat, and as it shrinks enemies on the battlefield, you smash your way through the enemies with a damage-focused Ms. Marvel.

So there's a level of strategy to the combat that has you making decisions about all your characters at once if you're playing alone with AI companions, or working together with your teammates if you're playing with other humans online.

But while you're choosing skills that can make for a damage-absorbing Ms. Marvel or a range-focused Incredible Hulk, your characters won't necessarily be stuck in those roles. Ash said you'll also have "choose three" skills that you can change on the fly, which aren't shown in the beta, that give you an opportunity to adjust your characters to specific combat situations.

"For us, it is important that you'll be able to spec into pretty much everything," Ash explained. "You'll really be able to hone in on all of the possibilities, you're going to unlock all of the possibilities. But once you get those possibilities, it's what you do with them. So you have these choose-three skills and it basically is, do you want your Heroic Ultimate to deal more damage, do you want it to be a little bit more crowd control, or do you want the ultimate to just to last a lot longer so that you can end up doing more damage over time? What are all of the ways you want to spec out your hero? But because of choose-three, you can actually start a mission taking a little bit more of an offensive approach and then switch it up to a defensive approach as you need to during combat. And so that's the depth that we want to get."

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You'll also have the ability to switch your character's gear while you work through missions, giving you another layer of customization for your strategies and your team's composition, Ash said. While there's a fair amount of gear to find and equip in the beta, what we've seen so far tended to be fairly low-level, conveying perks like a small chance to convey certain kinds of damage and debuffs, such as Gamma radiation or Shock.

But since gear is a big part of the long-term hook of Marvel's Avengers, expect finding better equipment and finding good ways to use it to be a big part of how you create your Avengers team. Amos and Ash said that gear you find later in the game will start to be more and more specialized as it becomes more and more powerful--so rather than finding gear for Iron Man with the same general perks as gear for Black Widow, you'll start to find gear that has perks specific to Iron Man and specific to Black Widow, and how each character plays.

Artifacts are another area of the gear chase where you can expect to find the best, most interesting stuff. These are items with perks and Power levels of their own, but which can be equipped on any character. The artifacts we've come across in the beta tend to be crystals and similar objects that aren't particularly interesting--but Amos said there are Artifacts late in the game that are definitely worth chasing.

"There are things, particularly in certain areas, that you can go and find that only those really advanced players will find," he said. "You will get things that, suddenly, you'll see they have a unique name, and they actually have some unique things that only they do. ... [Artifacts] actually even have some mythology with them. They have some great references back to the comics, you'll see a name like, 'Oh, where does this thing come from? Oh my God.' Some of them give you hints of, 'Whoa, if that artifact's in the game, does that mean this other story thread might happen down the road?' That's the kind of stuff that we love people who are fans, who want to dig into this, who want to actually go and invest that time, will start uncovering and then you'll be ready when, 'Oh my God, they did bring X, Y, and Z in and it happens this way.'"

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There's also the question of the Avengers endgame--what happens after you work through the game's story? Amos and Ash didn't give much in the way of specifics, but did hint that there's a lot of potential endgame content that hasn't been revealed yet. Some types of missions have been mentioned, like enemy strongholds called Hives and raid-like activities.

Amos and Ash also mentioned content that will roll out post-launch in ways that might be similar to live games such as Destiny 2. Amos suggested the idea of new missions and challenges unlocking in the weeks after launch, for example. We also know that new characters are coming to the game after launch, starting with Hawkeye. Crystal Dynamics also announced that Spider-Man will join the game for players on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, but that's the only platform-exclusive character. Amos reiterated that all additional characters and regions that are added to Marvel's Avengers will be free.

So while the Marvel's Avengers beta currently gives a look at what playing the game will be like in the early going, there's a lot of complexity and depth Crystal Dynamics intends to help keep the game interesting over the long haul as well. As with all live games, the questions that remain are how well those systems will work together to make the game interesting over the long term--and whether the developer can create and support endgame content that keeps players invested. Crystal Dynamics seems to have a lot of ideas and plans in that arena, and we'll need to wait until September to see what they all are.

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Phil Hornshaw

GameSpot editor in Los Angeles, and the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero’s Guide to Glory. Hoped the latter would help me get Han Solo hair, but so far, unsuccessful.

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