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On Monday, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix made a major Marvel’s Avengers announcement: Spider-Man is coming to the game, but he’ll be exclusive to PlayStation systems. Understandably, portions of the internet erupted in anger. Nobody likes it when they’re told they can’t play with a new toy — especially when that new toy is freaking Spider-Man, one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes.
After playing the Marvel’s Avengers beta, we walked away pretty impressed. Every hero feels unique to play, which only makes Spider-Man’s console exclusivity that much worse for PC and Xbox players.
How different are the heroes in Marvel’s Avengers?
The first mission in Marvel’s Avengers took me through the A-Day mission, the same one previewed at E3 2019. The mission takes place primarily on the Golden Gate Bridge as a mysterious disaster overtakes San Francisco.
I play as Thor, then Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and finally, Black Widow. Each gameplay section gives me a small taste of each hero, their abilities, and their play style. It’s the first look at my favorite aspect of Marvel’s Avengers: Every hero plays like they belong in a different game.
Thor immediately gives off Kratos vibes from God of War’s franchise reboot. I throw my hammer, pinning an AIM soldier to a truck, and beat on the remaining baddies with my fist. When I’m ready, I summon Mjölnir back to me, taking out a few more enemies on its way.
Iron Man improves on some of Anthem’s good ideas, forcing me to mix melee and ranged combat in-air or on the ground. And when it comes to my heavy attack, I can swap gadgets between my repulsors, lasers, and rockets.
Black Widow plays like a typical action-game hero, like Dante in the Devil May Cry series — but every hit sends opponents into a small juggle animation. In a one-on-one fight, it’s hard to imagine ever taking a hit.
Captain America feels inspired by Rocksteady’s Batman games, as I battle with quick melee hits, leap over enemies, and execute frequent takedowns — an ability all heroes have access to, but I use it more frequently as Black Widow and Captain America. And when enemies get too far away, I rocket my shield off my arm and watch it ricochet against the AIM soldiers.
And Hulk … plays like Hulk. I pick up enemies and smash them into the ground — or into each other. I punch things and they go flying. As Hulk, I’m chaos incarnate, unable or unwilling to contain my destruction. And while I also use big fists and stomps as Ms. Marvel, who plays similarly to Hulk, I can direct that rage in a different way.
I can already imagine how Hawkeye will play when he comes to Marvel’s Avengers post-launch. But I don’t envision a reskin of Black Widow with arrows instead of bullets. I imagine he’ll play more like Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn, or Lara Croft from Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider games.
Such different playing heroes may sound like uncontrollable dissonance, but it works in Avengers’ favor. Each hero brings something unique to the table.
The Spider-Man problem
The unique nature of each of the Avengers makes me that much sadder about Spider-Man’s exclusivity. If the heroes all played similarly, with a few ability tweaks — like in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 or the LEGO Marvel games— I could stomach the exclusion a bit easier. But with Marvel’s Avengers’, denying Xbox and PC players access to Spider-Man is like Blizzard announcing that the Barbarian will only be on Xbox consoles when it launches Diablo 4.
Players love these characters’ personalities, yes, but they’re also effectively entire RPG classes. Every hero has unique skill trees, different abilities, their own sense of mobility, and different stories. But non-PlayStation users won’t see any of that for Spider-Man. And that sucks for Spider-fans who don’t own a PlayStation or want to play on another console to be with friends. Fans on the Marvel’s Avengers subreddit expressed frustration over the exclusivity deal. One player with a physical disability noted they can only play on PC, and were sad to not be able to play their favorite Marvel character.
It’s unclear whether Spider-Man is a permanent or timed PlayStation exclusive. Crystal Dynamics’ explanation of Spidey’s exclusivity did little to alleviate players’ concerns. A ComicBook interview with Crystal Dynamics’ co-head Scott Amos conveyed that Sony holds certain rights to Spider-Man, and so Crystal Dynamics made Spider-Man just for Sony players. Amos finished by saying “we’re making this game for everybody.” But it’s not. Most of Marvel’s Avengers is for everybody, all of it is for PlayStation players.
In a living game like Marvel’s Avengers, with raid-like activities, the greatest hope players can have is that Spider-Man isn’t worth playing. Otherwise, PlayStation players will have a distinct advantage over PC and Xbox users. It’s a deal that, on its face, isn’t dissimilar to exclusive Exotic weapons in the Destiny games, a deal Bungie did away with after its split with Activision.
There are key differences between the Spider-Man situation and Destiny Exotics, however. With Destiny, Exotics only stayed exclusive for a year, while it’s possible that Spider-Man may never come to PC or Xbox players — a PR representative for Marvel’s Avengers told us it has no additional information to share about Spidey. And Destiny characters are more than a single weapon. Guardians have an entire toolkit of abilities and multiple other weapons to equip — one weapon doesn’t define a play style, even if it’s very powerful.
Spider-Man is like an entire class unto himself, like making the popular Hunter class exclusive to Destiny players on PlayStation, rather than a single weapon.
Marvel’s Avengers’ first look didn’t show much promise, and this weekend’s beta is a chance for it to show players why they should care. But it’s hard for news of this deal not to sour the mood.