'Marvel's Avengers' is gorgeous, chaotic, and a hell of a lot of fun

Square Enix's superhero adventure is hugely ambitious. Will it pay off?

Square Enix wants you to play Marvel’s Avengers for a long time. The development team at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montréal plans to roll out new narrative content, missions and playable characters over “multiple years.” What’s more, all those future additions will be free once you’ve purchased the base game. No paid DLC or Season Passes here. (You’ll have the option to shell out some cash for special character skins, but they’re purely cosmetic and won’t make the game easier.) It’s a big, bold plan, and with 80 years of Marvel Comics history at their disposal, Marvel’s Avengers has an embarrassment of riches to work with.

You probably know about the lofty ambitions already. You’ve also likely heard today’s announcement that Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) is not only playable in the game, but the main character. By now, you’re probably wondering, is Marvel’s Avengers actually fun to play? Definitely.

In a two-part event at New York Comic Con, I got the chance to test out the game’s introductory A-Day sequence set on the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as a second demo pitting Ms. Marvel’s polymorphic powers against 15 waves of foes in the “Harm Room.” Though there were a few moments I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing, I came away hungry for more.

Each of the six playable characters has their own unique moves and abilities. In the A-Day demo, swapping between five different playstyles felt like too much to fully digest in just 15-20 minutes. Just when you’ve got the hang of one Avenger, you’re on to the next one, which means it’s easy to flub and default to the moveset for the character you were using moments before. For instance, pressing R2 allows you to block as Cap, but it triggers a grapple once you’re playing as Black Widow. Pop-ups will inform you of new, relevant attacks to use throughout this tutorial episode, but I accidentally breezed past a lot of these in my button-mashing fury. Whoops.

In the final version of the game, it seems neither the single-player campaign nor the multiplayer challenges will require much of this rapid-fire switching between characters. Single-player “hero missions” are “designed specifically and tailored to showcase each hero’s unique traits and what makes them special,” Rich Briggs, senior brand director at Crystal Dynamics, told Inverse. This opens up a broad variety of level designs, from “huge, wide open environments for Iron Man to rocket around, and plenty of destructive environments for the Hulk to smash,” he explained.

War Zone missions allow up to four players to team up online to discover ultra-powerful gear and new story content. Character leveling and stats will carry over in both game modes, with adjustable difficulties for the single-player campaign and scaling difficulty for multiplayer. The team hasn’t revealed how long the single-player campaign will take to complete, and promised more robust details about co-op missions sometime “next year.”

Marvel's avengers a-day captain america
Captain America faces off against some baddies in the Marvel's Avengers A-Day demo.

Despite the occasional bumbling, the A-Day demo was delightfully over-the-top and exhilarating, with each character having a very distinct feel with regard to both combat and traversal. As Hulk, I was swatting cars and concrete aside with the flick of a hand, flinging goons around like plush toys. As Iron Man, I was zipping into the sky and weaving through obstacles (sometimes nimbly!) while giddily blasting everything in sight with repulsor beams. The action freely flows between cutscenes and gameplay, to the extent that I died at one point during Black Widow’s one-on-one showdown against Taskmaster, because I was too busy gawping at the baddie’s flashy moves. (That’s not exactly a bad problem to have)

The second demo was tailored to today’s announcement that Ms. Marvel will be the game’s protagonist. If you’re familiar with the character, you already know she’s got a pretty wild arsenal of abilities. “All those powers have to do with stretching and morphing her body into crazy shapes. She can also grow to amazing heights… or as she likes to call it, ‘embiggen,’” Hannah MacLeod, narrative designer at Crystal Dynamics, tells Inverse.

Marvel's Avengers AIM HQ
The headquarters of A.I.M, Advanced Idea Mechanics, in Marvel's Avengers.

The Harm Room will act as an in-game training facility, where you’ll take on steadily more difficult waves of enemies as you learn each character’s specific abilities. In the demo, it was a great opportunity to get a feel for Ms. Marvel’s unique (i.e., absolutely bananas) fighting style, and playing as her was an absolute kick. She can alter the size and shape of her body at will, sprouting up to enormous size to wallop large foes up close, or extending her limbs like pool noodles of death to clobber distant opponents with super-sized fists. One of her charged special abilities allows her to heal herself, a handy asset in an action-packed game where it’s easy to forget to keep close tabs on your health bar.

My big takeaway from all this? Ignore the E3 haters. Marvel’s Avengers is shaping up to be one of the most exciting games of 2020.

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

Media via Marvel Entertainment, Square Enix. Screengrab via YouTube, Square Enix, Marvel /Square Enix