“We’ve had several thousand questions about how you play this game”.
As I sit down to talk with Crystal Dynamics’ Head of Studio, Scot Amos, about the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game, I sense equal feelings of excitement and relief. Amos knows that fans have had more questions than answers about the game since its E3 2019 reveal – and here in this quiet, private room away from the bustle of this year’s PAX Australia show floor – he would restore balance once again.
Amos begins by giving us a bit of history around Marvel’s Avengers and how it came to be in the hands of Crystal Dynamics. “In 2013 we reimagined Lara Croft. One of the things that Marvel and Crystal have in common is that we love telling these epic stories of the human spirit.”
“We love taking iconic characters like Lara Croft, putting them through a different lens and reimagining them, as we did then. That was awesome because when Marvel got together with us, they were like – this is what we want to do with the Avengers”, he asserts, so eager and excited to be having these conversations that I barely have enough time to process each sentence before he’s moved on to the next.
“From the very beginning, while they’ve invented these characters, they also pushed us to do something original with them. We know who Iron Man is, we know who the Hulk is, but they very much asked us to say – what new things can we bring to it? What new perspective? Like we did with Lara. So we can keep things fresh, yet familiar.”
Getting into the game itself, Amos recalls the original gameplay demo that debuted at E3 and that the public had access to play right below us at the Avengers booth. This section, as we now know, is actually the very beginning of the game and sees players assume control of Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, The Hulk and Iron Man as a huge disaster strikes San Francisco during A-Day celebrations. The Avengers’ brand-new helicarrier and its Terrigen Crystal power source explode, exposing the city to Terrigen mist and effectively ending the Avengers as it stands. Fast forward five years and superheroes are completely outlawed, with a science-based organisation called AIM standing in as society’s protectors, but also heading dangerously towards creating a ‘technocratic utopia’, as Amos puts it. In this time, the Avengers have all but disbanded, cast out to the fringes of a society that now vilifies superheroes. Broken and wracked with guilt, each wants nothing more than to leave their past, and the Avengers, behind. AIM’s influence on the world is growing though, and threatens to do much more harm than good, so the heroes are needed now more than ever.
“This isn’t a game that’s just about saving the world, this is a game where you’re actually saving the superheroes”, Amos remarks. That’s where the game’s sixth hero, and main protagonist comes in. Revealed just over a week ago during New York Comic-Con, we now know that Marvel’s Avengers’ main playable character is, in fact, Kamala Khan – or, Ms. Marvel.
“This is so exciting for us – we’ve kept this a secret from the very beginning”, Amos expresses, “It’s been one of the biggest secrets, I’d say, from the beginning of this project”. Although perhaps not quite as secret as we first thought, as he then divulges, “The first voice you ever heard in our campaign, in January 2017, was hers. That’s who narrates the entire campaign.”
So why Ms. Marvel? “This whole story hinges on the fact that she’s a fan of the Avengers”, says Amos. Certainly, who better to lead players on a journey to rescue their favourite heroes than a character who loves them just as much? “We think players are going to instantly relate to her,” he opines, “She’s on this quest to become a hero, which is why you play these kinds of games and stories.”
It’s a great way to handle that early game progression too, as Kamala’s powers have only come about as a result of exposure to that Terrigen mist. Everything from her story, to her learning and her mission almost mirror that of players, which is a pretty commendable feat in a game based on the well-established, larger-than-life personalities of its poster heroes. Kamala also comes with some pretty interesting moment-to-moment gameplay, being that her superpower is the ability to grow and stretch her body, but I’ll touch on that more later.
Other than Ms. Marvel, there’s been one other major aspect of Marvel’s Avengers that’s been more than a little elusive up until this point, and that’s how the game actually works. Based on comments made since the E3 reveal about the game employing a live-service model, it’s been speculated that it’d feature a similar kind of structure to something like Destiny. Based on what I learned today that’s mostly accurate. “Marvel’s Avengers is an epic game that spans the entire globe,” Amos explains. “So we use what we call the War Table, where you essentially pick where you want to go in this world, where [you’ll find] your single-player and multiplayer missions.”
Amos shows us an example of the War Table’s map, zoomed in to show a region called the American Southwest. Peppering the map are a number of icons that Amos explains represent the missions available to the player at that point in time. Signified by the iconic Avengers ‘A’ icon is a Hero mission, one of the single-player story missions that make up the game’s core campaign. These Hero Missions are narrative-focused, with set playable characters and unlock in succession as the player completes them – not unlike a traditional single-player action-adventure experience. The opening, A-Day level that introduces the five Avengers and has been publicly playable is the first example of one of these Hero Missions. “The fun thing about Hero Missions is that they’re very specific canvases for us,” says Amos, “So we can custom build to say – this is really going to show off Widow’s powers or Hulk’s powers or Iron Man’s. So if it’s a Hulk Hero Mission we’re gonna give you tons of stuff to smash, or if it’s an Iron Man Hero Mission there’s tons of stuff to fly around and just rocket through the air and blast with your repulsors.”
As players go through the Hero Missions, making their way across the world and rebuilding the Avengers team, they’ll also unlock a multitude of War Zone Missions. This is where the game expands to include online co-op for up to four people, as well as allowing players to mix and match the playable heroes to their heart’s content. Although nothing specific was mentioned, War Zone Missions will apparently feature an array of different styles of gameplay, all supporting either solo or online play. The idea here, as Amos tells it, is that they want players to jump into the game, open up their War Table and say “Okay, where do I want to go today and how do I want to play?.” It’s important to know that these missions will still add to the overall narrative, for example a War Zone Mission represented by Black Widow’s icon on the War Table would likely add something to her character arc. So aside from just being these spaces for co-op play and gear chasing, they’ll actually add to the overall world and the lore in meaningful ways. The other side of these missions is that they’ll be the supporting framework for the chase for newer and better gear.
“We’ve said very explicitly that you can look the way you want to look, but everything you do for gear and for skills will let you play the way you want to play and they are not going to limit each other.”
As with any other good MMO-like action game, Marvel’s Avengers will feature deep customisation for all of its heroes in three main categories: their gear, their individual skills and their outfits. Amos is quick to note that the team wanted to make sure that cosmetics were separate from gears and skills so that players could look and play the way they wanted. “We’ve said very explicitly that you can look the way you want to look, but everything you do for gear and for skills will let you play the way you want to play and they are not going to limit each other.”
Everything is character-specific too, and often earned by doing character-specific quests as well as completing missions and beating up bad guys. Gear comes in multiple rarities from common to uncommon, rare, epic, legendary and ‘beyond’, and each piece comes with perks and buffs to a character’s stats or abilities. Gear also comes in sets, so finding one or more parts of a set of Iron Man’s armour, for example, might motivate players to go out and hunt down the specific missions or enemies to nab the rest of that set.
Working in tandem with gear are character-specific skill trees that unlock and augment each hero’s abilities. Amos only has limited time to take us through what is ostensibly a high-level introduction to the game’s mechanics, but the idea of skill and ability trees will be familiar enough to anyone who’s played a modern action-adventure game, and the core of the message is that outfits, gear and skills will work together to allow players to shape their heroes to look and feel unique to them. Amos is also very quick to point out that while the game will include microtransactions for outfits and gear, they are entirely separate to the ones available to earn in-game, and vice versa. You can read more about that here.
Following our chat, Amos invited us to be among the select few to try out Kamala Khan for ourselves in a demo not made available to the public. A simple introduction in a virtual training room with fifteen waves of enemies to defeat, but a very nice taste of how Ms. Marvel will play in the full game. As with every other character, Kamala has a range of standard melee attacks, special abilities and a kind of ‘ultimate’ at her disposal, all obviously relating to her power of ‘Embiggening’, as Crystal Dynamics are calling it (nice Simpsons reference!). Using Kamala’s powers to stretch and expand her limbs to smack down enemies from afar or with great force, and eventually grow herself up to three times her size to absolutely wreck house, is incredibly fun. It’s hard to discern an actual judgement from this one, bite-size demo using a premade build of the character, but any reservations I might have had about how Marvel’s Avengers feels to play are completely gone after having an absolute blast playing as Ms. Marvel. Not only are we getting a protagonist that will hopefully speak to whole groups of fans that don’t often get the opportunity to relate to a game’s main character, but we’re getting someone who’s so much fun and so integral to the game that basement trolls can’t say shit about it.
It’s always a nice feeling coming out of a developer interview with all of the answers you went in hoping to find. It’s even nicer when a developer is so in touch with what their fans want to know that you get the answers before you’ve even asked for them. In one short sitting, Scot Amos blew the lid on everything we wanted to know about Marvel’s Avengers, more than I could hope to put in an easily-readable form. At the end of the day, all I needed to see was the level of enthusiasm and genuine love for the property that I saw here to know that this is more than just about expanding the Marvel media empire or making big bank on nickel-and-diming fans. It’s probably still both of those things, sure, but it’s first and foremost a game made by Marvel fans looking to tell an original story, for Marvel fans looking to experience one.
Marvel’s Avengers releases May 15th, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia.