Judging by comments in news pieces and forums around the world, I wasn't the only one who thought that the unveiling of Marvel's Avengers at Square Enix's E3 2019 conference was somewhat disappointing. The few gameplay-snippets we got seemed like restrictive set-pieces, while the combat looked kind of stale. Fortunately, the game has come a long way, and each trailer we've seen since then has been progressively better. I've was still on the fence, at least until I got an early peek at today's War Table presentation and had a chat with Scot Amos (head of studio at Crystal Dynamics), Shaun Escayg (creative director and writer on the game), Vince Napoli (lead combat designer) and Philippe Therien (lead designer). That video and talk have made me a believer. Here are five reasons why.
Dynamic and Deep Combat
I'm not a fan of turned-based combat or the classic MMO-style where you're just standing in one place doing the same attacks over and over again, which is why I got nervous when there were talks about cooldowns and what almost seemed to be quick time event-centred attacks in Marvel's Avengers. How could I believe such a thing when the combat team is lead by the man that gave us a cool multiplayer mode in God of War: Ascension and God of War's astonishing combat system? This first War Table presentation makes it clear that our beloved Marvel heroes will be far more dynamic than that. Where many games with online components have fairly static enemies that don't react to every attack, the Thor gameplay shows enemies reacting to each swing from Mjölnir, lightning attacks and the cinematic finishers. Very impressive, especially as we get to choose between characters with very different abilities. To quote Napoli's answer when asked about how it's been going from the fairly limited characters in Ascension to a more customisable Kratos in God of War and now a group of Avengers:
"Building really good combat games is always about servicing the characters first. You want to make sure that what you're doing is true to the characters. That mechanics and everything feels like those characters. And when you're dealing with something like the Avengers, some of the most iconic characters around, there's so much to work with."
"We look at each character and we ask ourselves: what makes this character tick? What are the mechanics that we absolutely have to have? What does everyone really want to see? And then we really just tackle those first, even if that means writing new systems or creating new combat mechanics from scratch. What we really did was wrap the combat system around the characters rather than the other way around, so what you end up with is that when you play as the different characters it almost feels like they're playing their own game. You have stealth mechanics, ranged, really quick agile grappling stuff with Widow, and no one else has that. When you get to Hulk you get to weaponise the environment. You're able to run around wielding enemies as weapons, multiple enemies as weapons - giant boulders and rocks. Sprinting and leaping with those in your hands. Then, when you get to Iron Man, you're flying, shooting as if you're playing a jet shooter."
The War Table shows this as well, as it's quite clear that Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Kamala Khan can be played very differently and have extremely different attacks and ultimates.
Top that with skill-trees that will let you give the different characters abilities and upgrades best suited to your playstyle, and it seems like Marvel's Avengers will offer both quality, diversity and quantity in its combat.
Enticing Loot System
What seems like an intriguing loot-system can take some of the credit for that. Sure, it's a bit disappointing to learn that I won't be able to make Iron Man look like something my nephew drew by using different parts from different suits, but it sounds like the system will make up for that with variety in terms of attributes and stats.
Because we've all been there. Getting a gun in Destiny 2 or piece of armour in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with the exact same damage, perks and so forth as one we already have is so boring. We all want to see those numbers get higher and our characters change. An easy way to make that far less likely? Explore the entire percentage scale, make your gear change the colour of lasers, have a large selection of perks to choose from, and a whole load of other things that make for an extensive range of different combinations available.
You won't just have to rely on a generous random number generator either. It's possible to improve your favourite gear's stats by boosting it with the resources you collect. This way you won't necessarily have to replace something with a great combination of stats, perks, and attributes after increasing in level a couple of times. One thing that takes things to another level is a gear type called Artefacts. These are special items based on Marvel-lore that have an even more robust boosting system that will let you unlock special perks and activations and stuff like that - it's a nice quality of life-implementation, and it's not the only one.
Quality of life
I'm going to cheat a bit here by highlighting several small details I learned during my talk with the quartet:
There's no doubt that a developer wants to deliver an incredible story when it hires someone who used to work at Blur Studio, was the lead cinematic animator on The Last of Us and both wrote and directed Uncharted: Lost Legacy, so I shouldn't be a surprise that the story in Marvel's Avengers has grabbed my curiosity when you consider that Shaun Escayg is writing it. I say "writing" because this adventure won't stop after seeing the credits. Crystal Dynamics has made it very clear that we'll get more story content, new characters, new missions, more loot and lots of other things long after the initial launch. Making George Tarleton aka MODOK the main antagonist has definitely increased the chances of some cool twists and an elaborate plot, so it's understandable that some of the best actors in the industry are involved as well. I can't wait to see if this is one of few live-service games that keeps pulling me back in with its story.
Another thing that will probably keep this game on my radar for a while is the multitude of secrets the developer has hidden in both the marketing and in the game itself. Scot Amos has made sure that I won't leave my PC for a while by stating that the first teaser trailer we got from the game back in January 2017 includes an Easter egg that nobody has found yet.
"It's heartbreaking that nobody has found it", Amos told us. "But when we actually get to a point when we can tell people about what that was they'll be like "Oh my God!" from that moment. This stuff was set ages ago and we've actually been building up towards this, so it's fun for us to look back and say that there are a couple of things even in that very first asset that laid the groundwork and breadcrumbing for that moment. All the things we're revealing could have been uncovered back in that time."
Philippe Therien made my puzzle-itch even worse by revealing that there will be SHIELD caches hidden in certain Warzone levels, and we'll have to find a beacon and use a proximity meter to find these and the coordinates inside. These coordinates will lead us to what he calls vault islands that can only be found via the coordinates. Now, he doesn't want to say exactly what awaits us there, but we can look forward to "some very interesting stuff and really good loot".
Vince Napoli decided to tease a bit more about what we actually get in the war table, namely the Hulkbuster. Personally, I thought this could have been Iron Man's ultimate, but that's not the case.
"You saw Hulkbuster. That's been near and dear to my heart for a while now," Napoli says eagerly. "That's probably the accomplishment I'm most proud of. The battle-spots... to pull off that crazy character... I can't go into a lot of detail about it other than saying that it's very, very flexible. You can use it in any level, anytime you want." He goes on to specify that we'll have to unlock it in some way first, but that it'll be worth the effort when we do, as it has some of the craziest abilities in the game.
Amos had another interesting tidbit that he wanted to share and it sounded a lot like some kind of Raidesque missions: "Then, inside the game, something that is a very late-game-unlocking-thing you find after completing the campaign and after you've gone through the factions we've been talking about (...) It'll unlock these areas we haven't really shown the world yet we call Hives. These are very specific AIM bases that have an incredible amount of depth and combat. They are hardcore. Get your friends. We're going to go in deep here on a Friday night." They'll start to talk more about this very challenging late-game content "soon".
Hopefully, they'll also share a few other details then, because I still have a few concerns. One of the biggest is enemy variety. Seeing an abundance of very similar robots makes me worried that there won't be much incentive to mix-up your attributes and skills. It'll also be interesting to see how they balance the game. Many developers have a tendency to nerf skills and such if they become popular. We're playing as super-heroes here! Buff everything instead. I want to feel like a real powerhouse. Finally, we have the somewhat concerning restriction of not being able to have two of the same character in your party. Let's face it, many will find one or two characters they prefer, so what happens if the others in your team have the same favourites and don't want to budge. Sure, you can just play solo, but that's not a good enough solution for some. Especially in the more challenging levels. I really hope the developers just aren't showing their entire hand yet, and that these concerns will get Hulk-smashed this September. If they do - I'll definitely become an Avenger.