Marvel’s Avengers is one of those fascinating games that I get the feeling we won’t truly fully grasp until it’s in our hands in September. I’ve been notably critical of it in the past. Each new thing I see about the game just begs more questions about what the experience actually is and how it all works together as a whole. This intriguing, yet difficult to communicate approach is what made me so excited to sit down with Crystal Dynamics Head of Studio Scot Amos, Lead Designer Philippe Therien, and Lead Combat Designer Vince Napoli to talk more about Marvel’s Avengers and just what we can expect.
My first question centered on the challenge of tackling the Avengers as a property, something that’s received its widest popularity most recently through the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Amos likened it to the way Crystal Dynamics redefined Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. It was balancing the source material with an injection of new creative ideas. Not only is the studio coming off of the success of the last decade of Marvel films, but off of 80 years of comic book history. He reminds me that once upon a time, the MCU adaptations of characters and storylines saw their own fair share of criticisms from longtime comics fans, so he knew that the team would face push back no matter how they chose to adapt the property. But it was important to the team to make Marvel’s Avengers their own unique adaptation, which in part led to the unique choice of villain: M.O.D.O.K.
More Than Your Heroes
While players may associate heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Black Widow with the Avengers, the main protagonist of this game is actually Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel herself. Yes, there are multiple heroes playable, with even more on the way post-launch, but the game’s campaign puts Kamala Khan in the central role, an Avengers fangirl who is given powers through the Terrigen mist and seeks to bring the team back together and restore their good name by proving there was a conspiracy against them.
Amos said that the natural foil to Khan’s brilliant technical mind was AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics), the corporation who has kind of taken over as the world’s protectors. At the head of AIM is George Tarleton, who we see slowly transform into the fearsome and terrifying Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing—or M.O.D.O.K. It’s a daring choice of villain, one who’s a bit more non-traditional. He’s literally a giant head in a mechanical floating chair/suit. His power is his mind and robotics, which actually becomes many of the enemies you fight in the game.
Synthoids are a variety of robotic synths, but Marvel’s Avengers isn’t just going to pit you against wave after wave of mindless robots. I asked about this, concerned about the enemy variety, and was reassured that there’s a lot of intriguing elements to the synthoids. M.O.D.O.K. projects his mind into them, so in effect, fighting the legion of robo-warriors is fighting the villain himself. Tarleton also folded Stark Industries into AIM when the Avengers fell from grace, so the synthoid tech is based on the Avengers themselves, designed to reflect their incredible powers. AIM can stand toe-to-toe with these heroes via technology.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Avengers without a cadre of villains to go up against. So far we’ve seen named foes like Taskmaster and Abomination, but Amos hints that there’s a lot more yet to discover, so the game won’t all just be fighting robots, no matter how varied their myriad abilities may be.
And post-launch? There are even more named villains coming—as well as heroes and missions and other things the team isn’t discussing yet—as they expand the story through additional content and an ever evolving world.
That online multiplayer and evolving world has been one of the most baffling aspects of Marvel’s Avengers though, the piece of the puzzle that isn’t quite coming into focus just yet. Hoping to get a better understanding of how all the pieces come together, I dug into the mission structure with the team. Lead Designer Philippe Therien walked me through how the world map is divided up into regions and missions are contained within those regions, so it lands somewhere between multiple “open-world” sections that house a variety of missions to undertake. All of that can be accessed from the main base (though I am still unclear if you can just sort of “free-roam” within a region without directly undertaking a mission there).
The missions are divided up into multiple types, the two biggest divisions being the Hero Missions that make up the game’s main single-player campaign, and the multiplayer missions which can either be played single-player with AI or via online multiplayer. The core approach to gameplay was creating and building your own Avengers team of heroes, which feeds into the overall endgame loop that will strive to bring players back for more once the campaign is over. However, Crystal Dynamics didn’t want to lock any content away behind needing to play with other people, so it seems like everything will be accessible via single-player. Your AI teammates will be comprised of the other heroes you yourself have customized, geared, and leveled up.
Without directly referencing Destiny, the team indicated that they didn’t want any players to feel gated from playing anything, so it doesn’t seem like there will be any mechanically challenging “Raid-like” endgame missions that require communication and precise coordination. But Marvel’s Avengers will feature an evolving online world with rotating events, missions that may only be available during certain times and days, and noted featured hotspots and missions that may be highlighted for one reason or another.
Crystal Dynamics wanted to shy away from the endgame being a simple grind of repetitive content looking for random drops. The endgame loop is then designed around building out your team synergy and congruency. At its core, it’s a team-based game, even if you choose to play it entirely solo. There are certain missions which will uniquely challenge your roster of heroes. And the studio wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for both single-player and multiplayer in the endgame. Everything you do will feel meaningful, with specific golas you can work towards, depending on what you are chasing. Maybe it’s resources, XP, or rare gear. Perhaps it’s a step in a mission chain for an special outfit, all of which celebrate pieces of Marvel’s vast comic history. But it all comes back to customizing and building your team of Avengers, both cosmetically and in gameplay through gear and upgrades.
And still, throughout this roundtable, there were multiple times when the team at Crystal Dynamics would remain secretive and mysterious. There’s still a lot they aren’t quite ready to talk about yet, including more details on some of the secret missions and challenges players will face. We’ve gotten a lot more pieces of the puzzle, but we’re still not quite sure how they all fit together or exactly what the picture will look like when its put together. And then there’s the consideration that this puzzle will continue to grow and evolve beyond launch, something else the team is remaining a bit coy on for now. While rather difficult to convey the unique nature of Marvel’s Avengers, my conversation with the team at Crystal Dynamics has me more curious than ever, eager to reassemble and build my own team of heroes this September.