Today sees the first of three beta weekends for Marvel’s Avengers, first giving those that have pre-ordered the game a chance to glimpse what they’re buying, and then opening the gates for all and sundry to rush through and see if this super hero online action RPG is for them.
There’s plenty to see in the beta – read our hands on impressions here – with a handful of story missions, an introduction to the War Table, Drop Zone missions and more, but as we chatted to Shaun Escayg, Creative Director and Writer, and Vince Napoli, Lead Combat designer in a roundtable interview – we were joined by Rich Walker from Xbox Achievements and Alessio Palumbo from Wccftech – we were reassured that there’s much more to the game.
“We wanted to include as much of a sample as we could for the beta,” Vince said, “but it was also like, what are the introductory levels so we don’t spoil too much, what are the ones that we’re not giving away other tiered content, so yeah, there’s absolutely bigger ones, there’s more grander spaces and more interesting biomes that we wanted to save and didn’t want to spoil for the beta.”
OK, but… let’s address the elephant-sized spider in the room a second. What’s the deal with that Spider-Man exclusivity?
Shaun explained, “The Spider-Man [backlash] is very delicate. It’s above us in terms of the relationships – it’s a Marvel and Sony relationship and we really don’t have much say in that.
“We are excited about putting out our version of Spider-Man and having that Spider-Man live in our world. That’s crucial for us, that this Spider-Man belongs to the Marvel’s Avengers world and the world dominated by AIM. Other than that, I can say that Spider-Man will have he own story, his own story arc, villains that accompany it and live in this world. For the time that’s probably all I can say on it.”
Spider-Man is not a part of the game on day one, but planned for early 2021, and whether he’s exclusive, timed exclusive or not, that means that he simply cannot take a leading role in the main game’s story. Instead, alongside Avengers mainstays like Iron Man, Hulk and Black Widow, the fresh-faced youngster on the team gets to be Kamala Khan, the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel comic book back in 2014 as the new Ms. Marvel.
Featuring her so heavily, as the assembling force for the Avengers is a fantastic spotlight for one of the few characters that breaks the rich white guy genius mould that so many Marvel heroes fit into. Can Crystal Dynamics go further to push diversity within their own spin on the Marvel universe?
“We’re all for diversity in general. I love Kamala Khan, what she represents, what she brings to the table, how she reunited the Avengers and how she’s a fan just like us and idolises these heroes,” Shaun told us.
“One of the things that is important to know about the way we approach the stories, and this is what Marvel is very good at in terms of opening up that 80 year history the the game, is that as long as we can ground those heroes and place them within our universe, within our world and story, every hero is on the table.
“So the opportunity to see much more diversity of heroes, of storylines, everything is what we’re trying to set up in this sort of living organism that is the AIM dominated world that sort of happens after the campaign. That’s the foundation where we can now create these new stories and hero arcs, and yes, the goal is to open up the entire Marvel universe and use that as a palette to draw from to place and situate in our world.”
Without committing to anything specific, it sounds like they’re aware of the opportunities, and we really hope that they can follow through. There’s plenty of other opportunities to take advantage of though. There’s been a vast number of characters that have been a part of the Avengers, or at least teamed up with them for a decent amount of time. Even if you discount the sub-groups that splinter off to form things like the West Coast Avengers, you’ve got some villains turned goodies, and even X-Men like Beast and Quicksilver who’ve joined their ranks. There’s an 80-year history to tap into, and precedent for just about anything.
As long as Crystal Dynamics can make a solid case for their inclusion, it sounds like Marvel are happy to sign off. The one criteria is that each new hero must come with their own story to tell, and can be used to push the game’s world and overarching narrative forward.
With so many characters, all with varying levels of super-ness, who was the most difficult one to make fit into the game so far?
Vince replied, “I would say Black Widow was maybe the most interesting and challenging, and we wanted to tackle it first, just because we had a lot of people, even internally questioning how Widow competes with Hulk, with the God of Thunder, and stuff like that. So we decided to right away set the bar with her and go from there, starting from sort of the opposite end of the spectrum.
“I think Widow actually ended up being the favourite currently, or at least in playtests she ends up getting the highest marks, because people aren’t expecting her to be as dynamic as she is. She plays very distinctly from the rest of them, with a combination of her speed, agility and gadgetry, we’ve just leaned into all those aspects, and the result is you wouldn’t expect her to be able to compete at that level, but she does.”
We can expect similar emphasis on mobility and gadgetry for the post-launch addition of Hawkeye, who’s famously just a guy with a bow and arrow – “If a strategy works, I’m definitely a fan of continuing that,” Vince said.
And it’s definitely not just new characters and new stories, but also new endgame content and styles of gameplay. Vince explained some intriguing modes planned to be fed into the game regularly through the months after launch – expect more War Table streams to explain these in greater detail.
“Some of the missions might resemble a Villain Sector,” he said, “where it’s that boss challenge culminating in those kinds of fights. We’ve also got an endgame content that’ll be out shortly after launch, which is the Hive and Mega Hive that utilise your entire roster in a single go. They’re really designed around the idea of how far you can get with a single character before they’re sort of extinguished for use, and then you switch to the next character and see how far you can get.
“That one really challenges your full team and is a very very different style of endgame content. We actually have a group version of that, where you plan your roster in an order, and team up with other players who’ve planned theirs, and see how far you can get.
“We also have other mission types that are in this time shard frequency, where you’re constantly taking damage. It’s a very short interval loop, so these are almost intended as rapid high intensity, high pressure missions, but they’re only open for a short interval before they refresh on a couple day timeline.
“We have a breadth of that kind of endgame, high tier challenge stuff, and then of course we do have more traditional missions that you might refer to as a raid, which is, you know, larger than life and multi-tier objectives.”
It certainly sounds like Crystal Dynamics have been sitting up and paying attention to the wider world of looter games, whether it’s Destiny, Borderlands or more traditional action RPGs Diablo. Combining a rapidly expanding range of things to do while playing with a steadily growing roster and evolving super hero story, Marvel’s Avengers could be set to captivate comic book and movie fans for years to come.