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Let's Talk About the Avengers Beta

Illustration for article titled Lets Talk About the Avengers Beta
Photo: some website (AP)

I’m going to try to make it through this entire thing without referencing Battleborn. Starting....now!

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I’m going to be verbose, so skip to the tl;dr at the bottom if you want to know my final thoughts. I have some time, so buckle in.

This past weekend I had an ear infection. I went to urgent care and they diagnosed it as a middle ear infection, prescribed me some antibiotics, and sent me on my way. Two days later I was back in urgent care in unbearable pain. The doctor that saw me was upset the original doctor had prescribed me antibiotics aimed at a middle ear infection when I clearly had an external ear infection. My ear canal at that point had swollen shut and fluid was building up behind that blockage leading to my pain. I tell you this because for two days I didn’t sleep. During that period of wakefulness I played the Avengers Beta. I will try to be as objective as I can but the game certainly gets some bonus points for distracting me from the feeling of a growing sea urchin in my ear canal!

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Logging In

I’ll start at the beginning, which is a very bad place to start if you’re the end user. On last weekend’s open beta for PC I downloaded the game, opened it up and was met with, “You must link your Square Enix account to your Steam account”. Ok...well...uhh.. that’s a problem you see. For starters, Square Enix has about 3 or 4 different “accounts”. There’s a Square Enix account, a Lodestone account, and a few other account types I forgot and don’t feel like logging back in to see what they were. Regardless, I felt like “Aha! I know this one” because I used my Lodestone account to play FF14 a few years ago. It only took me 1 or 2 tries of logging into a proper Square Enix account and being told that my account doesn’t exist to remember this. So I tried to login to my Lodestone account. I was fairly sure I remembered my password but after several tries it became obvious that I did not, in fact, remember my password. I requested a password reset and was emailed after 5 minutes or so, “This e-mail address is not associated with any Lodestone account”. I tried another email address I may have used at the time with similar results. Well. OK. Weird. Maybe they deleted my account, I thought. I attempted to make a new account only to be told, “This email account is already in use.”..........................................OK. I decided to swallow my pride and any plans on ever playing this damn game, and emailed tech support. It turns out that in 2020, logins where you use your email address are CASE SENSITIVE when logging into a Square Enix account. I had been typing everything as lowercase. I’m no computer programming wiz but even in my introductory Python class they taught me the toLower() function. OK well, thankfully, they responded very quickly so I still had potentially a day or two to actually play the beta.

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Linking Accounts

Next up, now that I was finally able to log in to my account, I was required to link my Steam account to my Square Enix account. I clicked “link accounts” under my Square Enix user settings. I linked my epic account, no problem, I linked a few other accounts I had, no problem. I clicked link Steam account, logged into my Steam account and was told, “This account is already linked” You can see the maddening progression below.

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This persisted through the weekend and into the week. This was not just me either:

Steam Forums where users are complaining about the same issue as I had
Steam Forums where users are complaining about the same issue as I had
Screenshot: Aikage
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There were pages upon pages of users having the same problem. Not exactly an auspicious beginning. Eventually on Friday, August 21st I was able to link the account.

Starting Up

Finally able to login, I gave the game a shot. As most people know by now, you begin the game on a sort of bizarre tutorial level on the Golden Gate bridge. There’s a celebration for the Avengers that turns south quickly and the game uses this catastrophe to introduce you to each of the characters. I....didn’t like it at all. You spend too little time with each of the characters, and the game does little to actually instruct you what to do here, resulting in a useless tutorial. I would have preferred playing through this whole tutorial as only one character where the game walks you through the basics and nuances of combat instead of this. They could allow you to replay it from different character’s perspectives if desired. It is a little confusing when the game highlights things that aren’t unique to each hero such as pressing L2 and R2 you aim down sights and through your hammer as Thor. But this is a default action. If you press L2 and R2 with ANY character you will perform a ranged attack. By focusing on Thor and how his throw is unique because his hammer will come back to him, it confuses the player as for some time I thought only Thor had a throw move. Also this:

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I get what they were going for here but it doesn’t work. It’s the more modern equivalent of “Press F to pay respects” in that it’s “hold X to dramatically enter the battlefield” but it doesn’t feel cool or elicit that “HELL YEAH” kind of feeling.

Each hero gets their brief moment to shine and I suppose those individual sections are fun enough. The whiplash from switching between them and the disjointed storytelling here kind of ruined it for me. By far the weakest of the bunch is Black Widow. Her section has you basically doing QTEs from RE4 while running on spaghetti legs off a cliff. When Hulk runs off a cliff, the game kindly deposits you back on solid land and pats you on the head. When spaghetti legs Jane Black Widow runs off a cliff it reloads an entire section, puts you through a cutscene and then tells you to smile more. It’s terrible. Her fighting style is also the least fun of the bunch. I was discussing with Hatman last night and he said the game reminds him of Warframe more than Destiny, and that’s true. Black Widow should control like a space ninja, not...whatever this is. There are components that should be fun. She has a zipline that can pull her to enemies, for example. DMC has very similar mechanics to what they were going for here, they could have cribbed that entire feel but instead from what I recall, she was only able to zipline at certain points during the boss fight. Why does she feel like running through pudding and attacking with pool noodles. Why does the camera not turn 15 degrees here so that when I’m pressing straight up I don’t fall off this scaffold every time? Why does firing her guns feel like Baby’s first Firing Range? Everything here sucked. There was even a plodding, stupid boss battle with Taskmaster that I couldn’t wait to have it be over.

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It Gets Better

The good news is after the tutorial level, things start looking up. You’re given control of Kamala Kahn and she is a delight. Sidenote: It’s worth mentioning the voice acting in this game is pretty great. It was weird to hear not Mark Ruffalo not sounding like Mark Ruffalo, but very clearly being modeled after Mark Ruffalo’s mannerisms, if that makes sense, but you get used to it. These are very clearly inspired by, but separate from, the MCU characters. Back to Kamala. She’s the player insert as she’s a big fan of the Avengers and for reasons that aren’t explained very well she’s going to put the band back together with Bruce Banner the Hulk. Your first story mission sends you and Hulk out to collect Jarvis’ ...back up? I think (I couldn’t hear very well due to the ear infection so I’m not going to detract any coherency of plot from my final “score” since it’s possible I didn’t hear it). Finally the game starts to come together, there’s some light platforming with magic stick Hulk who just magnetically plonks to walls as long as they’re colored white, and then another “HOLD X TO SMASH” moment and then, finally, we’re let loose. And, y’know what? It’s fun as hell.

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I’ve heard complaints about the fact that Hulk can be beaten by robots and to these complaints I say...shut up. No seriously. What is wrong with you? It’s comic books, I’ll help you OK? The robots are all designed using Tony Stark’s technology. Tony Stark the guy who is basically the Batman of the group, who has contingency plans to take down all the other Avengers if they go rogue. So there ya go, it’s totally unnecessary because it’s a video game and if you make Hulk invincible there’s really no point to even having a game, right? But, 1. There’s an in game reason why the robots you fight are able to take down Hulk - because they’re designed with him in mind, and 2. Are you even playing the game? I played on Hard and Hulk was by far the easiest character because he has Rage. When you play as him you fill a bar by punching people or (I think) getting hit will fill it as well. At any time, you don’t have to wait for the bar to be full, you can hold R2 to begin consuming this bar. When R2 is held you enter Rage mode where you attacks hit harder, your defense is increased, and your health regenerates. It’s not a bar that is filled slowly either. I think the game did a fairly good job of making you feel nearly invincible while playing Hulk if you actually know what you’re doing (which to be fair the game does a horrendous job of telling you things like this).

Combat is basically the same for each character. You have a normal attack with X, a heavy attack with Y, a dodge with B, a throw with R2/L2, three “special” moves that fill like the R2 meter but can only be used when they’re totally filled, and then your R2 defensive move. The “dodge” felt very...bad. There’s maybe no i-frames for it? Maybe I was just timing it wrong? There’s a longer dodge with double tap which is a cool feature but I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of success with actually getting it to work. Mostly I just ended up using it to begin Kamala’s juggle move where you can upgrade her dodge to include a leg sweep afterwards which was by far the most fun I had. Each of the characters has different attack speeds, mobility, power, and specials and each of these can be augmented by gear.

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Gear

I’m not going to lie, I have no idea how gear works. I read that you can link certain debuffs and buffs to armor or weapons and then your attacks will have potentially something like, SHRINK RAY ability and that can be combined with your partner’s STUN ability to just own everything. I don’t know. I hate loot games. “BUT AIKAGE” I hear you say, “THIS IS A LOOT GAME”. You’re right, and it’s the least interesting part for me but it thankfully wasn’t an issue. Every time I leveled up I would go into my loadout and hold L2 for “equip best gear”. I have no idea what the algorithm is that they use to determine best gear. Eventually the game told me I could boost my gear. I then held x to boost until it told me resources were depleted. I didn’t go searching for resources. I didn’t spend hours agonizing over whether the 7.5 number was better than the 7.4 but with added effect. I just didn’t care and the game allowed me to not care. I suppose the caveat is if you’re interested in end game PvP or raiding or something, you may need to really pay attention. I played on Hard and did not ever feel like it was the fault of my gear when I died.

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Leveling

There are going to be apparently 3 skill trees but I don’t see how they’re going to make this very interesting unless you vastly expand the number of upgrades on each skill tree. By the end of the game I had almost maxed out the entire skill tree that was available in the beta for Kamala. The skills are neat though and what helps to differentiate fighting styles from “smash X until everything is dead”. There is strategy here. For example, some enemies will have shields you will have to break. So you can choose to take skills that will break shields, or you can choose to take skills that will help juggle enemies into the air longer. Overall the idea here is solid, but I’m worried that if this is the entirety of one skill tree that we’re seeing, that’s not great.

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Enemy Variety

This was one of my first concerns when I saw the bad guy was going to be AIM. It’s true nearly every enemy I fought in the Beta was a robot. There was a boss fight against Taskmaster and Abomination but I think everything else was robot a or robot b. It’s.......not great, but on the other hand if you look at games like Uncharted or Control - both of those games work with limited enemy variety. Control is probably a pretty apt comparison. In that game you have ground enemy 1, ground enemy 1 but now he has a shotgun, ground enemy 1, but now he has a rocket launcher that kills you in one hit (god eff those guys), etc. They all look pretty similar but they have different attacks. That’s how Avengers feels. You have purple robot who teleports around and hits pretty hard. You have Adaptiods who have musculature and can take a beating while hitting like a tank, you have flying robots, robots with fireball shooting guns, robots firing gravity mines at you, giant robot mech suits, giant robot tank things. It’s all kind of the same family but they do different stuff. I wasn’t super impressed but it is what it is. They do their best to color code them so you know Yellow Robot = fodder, Purple = PITA.

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Bugs

I have read from Steam reviews that a lot of people were having issues with the game being horribly optimized. I ran it at a pretty steady >100 fps and had no real technical issues except for one instance of the sound playing catch up (no sound for a few seconds and then hyperspeed talking for 5s). I’m running the game on (humblebrag time) an i9-9900, with a GeForce 1080ti though so YMMV. More often I found an overall lack of polish. Times when Kamala’s Stretch Armstrong hands were supposed to grab a ledge but didn’t, or conversely, times where I would hit X to attack mid swing and I’d grab the nearest ledge instead. Times where Hulk’s smash would clip through a door and so wouldn’t register as damage to that door. Weird graphical artifacts. Typos. Nolan North.

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Icon for the pause menu vs. the small circular icon used for other text
Icon for the pause menu vs. the small circular icon used for other text
Screenshot: Hatman

Seriously, Nolan North for Tony is probably a good pick but the writing, which is good to great for other characters, is just not up to the task of writing witty one liners. Someone who is supposed to be a snarky, arrogant, but charming, billionaire instead seems like your lame uncle at Thanksgiving.

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Tl;dr / Summary

Overall I think, and I hope that the game will be fine. I think a lot of the bugs can be cleaned up and the core gameplay is strong enough that any other negative things can be fine tuned with time. That said, as it stands, the tutorial is abysmal and unfun, logging in is a criminal offense that the game really doesn’t need right now in its infancy. There are enough glitches that it’s apparent they won’t be fixed before launch, and I suspect that the launch is going to be incredibly rocky if this beta period was any indication. I’d recommend holding off purchase for the first few weeks until issues get resolves. Also FWIW: all DLC has been promised to be free to people who purchase the game so...that’s nice I guess. Hawkeye is the first DLC character (goodwill evaporated) and it’ll be interesting how they incorporate a character that should be more ranged focused as most of the characters are close or mid range in the beta.

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Why Battleborn though...

I’ve noticed that there are a vast amount of people who are crapping on this game but have never played it and it feels like Battleborn all over again. There’s a rush to judge this game (imperfect as it is) based on....? Sony exclusivity of Spiderman (blame Sony)? that it has loot? That it’s trying to be a game as a service? without really giving it a chance to display what it DOES have to offer. I suspect that this will get mid 70s metacritic when it releases but if I get 20 hours of a well written Avengers story out of it, then that’s good enough for me. I’ve spent more for less.

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