Following the War Table live stream earlier this week, we have some further idea of the scope of Marvel's Avengers. What differentiates it from other Marvel titles like Insomniac Games' Spider-Man, is that Marvel's Avengers is a cooperative online game in the style of Destiny. That means loot, a full story campaign, and a long tail of repeatable missions for your and your friends to tackle as Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
The game focuses on the core of the Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, and Thor. The tale being told in Marvel's Avengers sees the team disband following a disaster that spread Terrigen gas across San Francisco, turning normal people into powered Inhumans. One of these young Inhumans, Kamala Khan, finds herself opposing the outwardly benevolent company AIM and tries to reassemble the Avengers to fight the looming threat. Kamala herself will become a hero, Ms. Marvel, over the course of her journey.
The primary narrative of Marvel's Avengers is told via Hero missions, key missions that focus on certain characters. These are marked on the War Table, the in-game map, with a big Avengers 'A' icon. The rest of the missions are Warzone missions. Seeing as players are going to spend a lot of time in Warzone missions, especially at endgame, I felt it was worth diving into them a little deeper.
Entering The Endgame
Warzone missions lean on the cooperative online nature of Marvel's Avengers. They're always meant to be played in a team of four. This can be comprised of a full complement of live players, but if you're missing a fourth friend or any friends at all, your roster of heroes will fill in the gap.
"[Hero missions] don't always allow co-op," says Amos. "Most hero missions are designed for the storytelling. All Warzone missions are team-based, so you can play them with your AI companions or you can play them with humans, or any mix of that. We're in the Quinjet, and Shaun decides to drop out, he will be replaced by one of our AI companions: whoever has the most powerful one will fit into that slot and we'll still go to the next Warzone as a team of four Avengers, but one of them will be an AI."
Crystal Dynamics also confirms that all loot is individual. In fact, even if you miss picking up certain loot, it'll all be gathered up and sent to you after a mission. No worries about missing a bit of rare gear.
The team at Crystal Dynamics sees the Warzone missions as an ever-evolving set of optional content. They unlock as players progress through the story and increase their roster of Avengers. You begin as Kamala, but once you've brought say, the Hulk back into the fold, you'll return to the War Table to find new Hero and Warzone missions. These missions also serve a narrative purpose, allowing the team to flesh out other parts of the world they've created.
Players aren't forced to tackle Hero or Warzone missions, though you'll want to in order to unlock more Avengers, which in turn unlocks more missions. "If you don't want to play the campaign, you can skip right into [Warzones]. We let you do that," says Amos. "It is our intention to let you continue having that progression and always moving you forward whether you're playing Hero Missions or Warzone missions."
Given that Warzones are endgame content, it was important that the development team created missions that could be repeated over and over without feeling rote. There are basic difficulty options that designer Philippe Therien says do more than make enemies into bullet sponges. Instead, higher difficulty levels make game mechanics like "blocking, dodging, using your abilities at the right time, and having the right defenses," all the more important. And you can change the difficulty whenever you want.
There are also missions with some random aspects. "You might see things like mission modifiers, you might see weather changes. In some missions, the enemies won't always be the same. Certainly, there's some missions that are more story-centric where you're gonna fight the same enemies, but there's some where it's just going to roll a certain type of encounter. That keeps it fresh," says Therien.
"From a content standpoint we also have a bunch of missions that are specifically high-level. You mentioned the Destiny Nightfalls, we have a very different take on missions like that," adds lead combat designer Vince Napoli, pointing to mission modifiers like Destiny's Nightfall Strikes. "We have things called Hives which make use of your entire roster, and allow you to get as far as you can before a certain reset."
There's also exploration within these Hero and Warzone missions that will lead players to further content. If you click up on the directional pad, you'll access a system Crystal Dynamics calls Tactical Awareness. This will pop up question marks on your map in a mission. And these could lead to even more things to do in Marvel's Avengers.
"This could be a special enemy that spawns, it could be secret resources, it could be a hidden SHIELD cache that will lead you to a Vault mission that you wouldn't have seen otherwise," says Therien. "On that Vault mission, there's even some hidden loot and some special chests that I can't talk about just yet, that you can only unlock if you have specific keys for them that you find somewhere else. So imagine this whole ecosystem."
At the end of the day though, Crystal Dynamics is building a game that anyone can play. The War Table is ultimately built to grow. "We even have one higher tier of content that we haven't even talked about yet," says Therien. "With the way that War Table is structured, because the regions are so modular, we can add to it. We've got so much Marvel content that we can fish from. It's not just gonna be endgame stuff for higher level players. We're always gonna be looking to add more stories, more heroes, so there's gonna be something for everyone."
The Costume Makes The Hero
At its heart, Marvel's Avengers is an online action game based primarily around loot, not unlike Diablo or Destiny. Sure, you're some of Marvel's greatest heroes, but you're still aiming for that next gauntlet, that specific costume, or that one emote you have your eye on. That's part of why players will be running Warzones in the first place.
Napoli says that the whole gear system is focused on getting your equipment to the "pinnacle point." "The highest rarity items, we call them Hero Sets; we have multiple sets that are spread across the different endgame content pieces. On top of that we have something called Prime Gear, which is when you get the highest optimal version of a piece of gear. It has a special notation and special properties to it," he explains.
But a number of players will more likely be focused on the visual look of their gear, not the performance. The studio has already revealed that costumes can be unlocked in-game, but some will only be available to purchase in the online store. That's how Marvel's Avengers will keep making money, even as it releases more heroes, storylines, and missions for free.
Avengers creative director Shaun Escayg points out that some costumes are locked behind the story itself. Amos notes that there are costumes only available through certain Warzones and more difficult challenges. If you want to be Mr. Fixit, an alias of the Hulk, you'll probably have to work a little harder than Thor's 'Donald Blake' civilian look, which unlocks simply via the campaign.
"We wanted to make sure that there's a breadth and scope in both the store and in-game," says Amos. "For us, the store is designed for people who want to invest and say, 'You know, I really love this game. I want to be able to get the coolest looking outfit. I have a certain sweet tooth for a very specific style that is available on the store, and so I will go spend that money.' [If] you don't want to pay any more money, you don't have to; it's only for cosmetics, it won't affect gameplay. It's up to you if you want to go that way to customize the look of your heroes versus playing, where you can get rewarded for the time you're investing."
One thing that might miff some folks: different color options for a costume count as a different costume. If you unlock the Iron Man Bleeding Edge armor, you only get the one "tint," to use the in-game parlance. "We don't have micro changes in that way. 'Oh, I like this particular armor, so I'm gonna switch the red to blue.' We don't have that kind of customization," begins Amos. "They're all separate outfits. Some of them can be earned and some of them can be purchased. I can't wait to get to the details because it will make much [more] sense when I can actually show you."
Amos does note that there will seemingly be smaller cosmetic items for your outfit that you'll be able to find out in the world. "'I like this one, but I want to purple sash.' Guess what? You can find that," he says, without providing any more details. He does stress that the studio has 80 years of Marvel history to draw upon, in addition to its own artistic vision. Players can already see some of that in the pre-order looks available for the entire launch roster.
The online store for Marvel's Avengers will expand alongside the additional heroes and missions. Amos promises that there aren't any paywalls for playable content and also no loot boxes. The focus is in allowing players to know what cosmetics are available to them at any one time, with no funny business.
The New Avengers
The team at Crystal Dynamics is coy about where Marvel's Avengers is going after launch. We have no idea what other heroes will be coming—though Ant-Man has already been teased and Captain Marvel appears on a poster in Kamala's room.
"We'll put it this way, we're only talking about those characters at this point. In the next couple months, as we ramp up to launch, we will start talking a little bit more about what our future plans are. Each hero that we add has to feel as compelling as the starting heroes," says Amos.
"Marvel will give us free rein as long as we can narratively ground the introduction of that particular character," adds Escayg. "We are bound to setting it up in the narrative, justifying it in narrative, and making it fit within our world."
Right now, the team is focused on preparing Marvel's Avengers for launch. It's coming to a host of platforms, though the studio is only promising cross-generational play—Xbox One to Xbox Series X, or PS4 to PS5—as opposed to full cross-platform play. One interesting platform for Marvel's Avengers has been Google Stadia, something Amos says has actually helped the team during development. Stadia sidesteps some of the issues of making games for upcoming platforms like the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
"Stadia has been one of those useful versions for us, because it's easy for a lot of folks to get that in a work-from-home scenario. I think that's one of the things that we learned," says Amos. "Trying to get a PS5 into your house, you call Sony and tell them, 'Hey we want to take your secret project and put that in Shaun's house.' While there are exceptions to it, that's a tough one."
He calls Stadia "a useful tool" for Crystal Dynamics, especially in certain divisions like QA where it's harder to bring a PS5 dev kit home. "They can open up a Chrome browser with Stadia on it and suddenly they're playing the game as a stream. It has been an amazing opportunity for us to be able to say this is a new way for us to make games," Amos says.
There's still more questions about Marvel's Avengers. How big are the environments? What other heroes and villains are going to appear? And how are teams going to handle map traversal when some of them can just fly? All those questions will likely be handled in the coming months before the game's launch on September 4, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia.