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At E3 2019, Square Enix finally showed off the long-awaited Avengers Project from Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal. The trailer played up Square Enix' version of Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers, facing off against faceless soldiers and Taskmaster on A-Day. But what was missing in the presentation was specifics: What type of game would Marvel's Avengers be?
At PAX West 2019, Square Enix finally answered some of those questions. Following a hands-on demo, Crystal Dynamics head of studio Scot Amos sat down and directly explained the scope of Marvel's Avengers. As I said before, the demo is the opening of the game, but it's clearly not the core loop. Amos laid out exactly how you'll engage with Marvel's Avengers on a moment-to-moment basis, whether you're playing solo or in online co-op. "We've heard more than enough questions since our announcement. We want to make sure that everybody gets this: how you get in the game, how you play the game," said Amos at the beginning of the presentation, which covered the story campaign, additional missions, gear, and customization.
The story campaign picks up five years after the end of the A-Day demo. The Avengers failed, with their prototype Helicarrier falling into the San Francisco Bay and poisoning it with Terrigen. In their place, Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) has stepped up to keep the peace with an army of soldiers and drones. Marvel fans will know that AIM is likely up to no good, and the company is beginning to roll out its line of Adaptoid automatons. An army of robots is always a great idea, huh?
The campaign is largely about bringing the Avengers back together. Captain America supposedly died and the rest went in different directions. (Concept art shows a Hulk with an intriguing human skin tone.) "You have to rebuild each of them, and then reassemble them, and then customize them to bring them back to the power that they need to be to save the rest of us," explained Amos. Once you start on this journey, your missions will be based in a derelict helicarrier, which will evolve and rebuild as you continue playing. In the helicarrier, there's a war table—somewhat like Dragon Age: Inquisition—from which you will launch all of your missions.
There are two types of missions in Marvel's Avengers: Hero and Warzone. The Hero missions are single-player only and focused on a specific hero, built to highlight their playstyle. The story campaign is comprised of this type of mission, and as you play these, you'll unlock more Hero and Warzone missions. "These Hero missions are great canvases for us to say, 'This is an Iron Man mission.' We can custom-make that area for Iron Man. Show off his skills, talents, and abilities," said Amos.
Warzone missions are the 1-4 player cooperative missions that Crystal Dynamics mentioned at the original reveal. You can play these with any hero in your roster. "They're also where you have much more expansive areas to explore, gear to acquire, all kinds of upgrades to find, enemies to battle, and secrets to uncover," Amos told us. Warzone missions do have their own narrative as well, they're not necessarily a part of the story campaign, but they do expand the world Crystal Dynamics is crafting. Warzones have different objectives, and the videos we were shown had each mission with a selectable difficulty, gear reward, and an additional reward as a performance bonus.
All hero progress is shared across both types of missions. Marvel's Avengers has a dynamic scaling system that takes your current gear level into account, though Amos did not go into the details of this.
The Armor Wars
Next up was a look at customization, both in terms of costumes and equipment. Costumes are purely cosmetic, changing up the look of your hero. The costumes shown in the demo included Thor in a more Norse-theme Odinson outfit, Captain America sporting his (much better) Secret Empire outfit, or Hulk as the grey Joe Fixit. All costumes will appear in cutscenes, but there was no mention of different colors for each outfit. Many are earned through gameplay, but some will be exclusive to a marketplace where Square Enix will sell unique looks.
"We have 80 years of history to look through. There are probably more outfits than we could possibly make for these characters," said Amos. "And beyond that, we're being pushed again by that word: originality. What new things can we add? What custom new designs? What do you guys want?"
The first level for tweaking how your character plays is gear. This gear is character-specific comes in four different slots on each hero, with six different levels of rarity: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic, Legendary, and some undisclosed level. Gear has a specific power level, not unlike the gear in something like Destiny, and some perks. Rarity determines how good the perks are and how many are available on that piece of gear. Perks can affect general attack and defense, specific heroic powers, or provide buffs to yourself and your team. There are also gear sets, with additional bonuses for a full set. It's Avengers as an RPG.
Amos also promised that players wouldn't be getting useless gear during the course of playing Marvel's Avengers. "We are very much pro-player. These are superheroes, we always want them to feel like you're making that forward progress. The idea is to give as much choice to the player in a positive direction," he explained.
I did notice a set of resources at the bottom of gear menu, and some of the gear had resource requirements. Two resources shown included Reagent and Isotope. It's currently unknown whether this system is for further gear crafting, or simply a gate that prevents you from equipping the best stuff immediately.
And if you're worried about the power backtrack from the tutorial, Amos did confirm that the intro mission versions of the characters are their starting baselines, not their final, customized forms.
Contest of Champions
Skills are the second layer of mechanical character customization. Each character has a series of available skill trees. There's the overarching categories— Primary, Speciality, Capability, and Utility—with up to three skill trees inside of each category that are more character-specific. As you level up with heroes, you'll get skill points you can use to unlock new skills, which include various Heroic abilities, buffs, and combos. There are a lot of possibilities here, with the number of skills seemingly providing a lot of depth to each character.
"Depending on how you've invested versus me, you might have different trees and a different set of combos you can pull off. This is just an introduction to all of this. We want to give you as much player agency as possible, to be able to turn your hero your way," said Amos.
"We had to build a very flexible combat system to account for multiple playstyles and multiple players. This is Riley playing as Thor," Amos said, gesturing to an image of internal multiplayer tests. "He likes to float above the combat, and invest his skill points into his Heroics so they charge faster. He has more lightning attacks, more crowd control. I am much more about Thor on the ground, melee in-your-face. I make him more like a tank. You have your choice, it'll always still feel like Thor. Thor will never feel like Widow or Iron Man."
All of this is just the opening salvo of Avengers. There's more stuff that Amos would not talk about, including further systems around gear, and the additional missions and heroes coming post-launch.
"We do desperately want to talk about co-op, but we're going to talk about that at the beginning of next year. There's tons of questions, everything from 'How do we matchmake?' to 'How do we match power levels?' In the next few months, we're going to talk more about AIM and the bad guys, and a deeper look into some of the characters and costumes," Amos said, ending the presentation.
It was a hefty drop of information about a game that was previously shrouded in a heavy layer of unknowns. I came away from the presentation with a few more questions—how big are the Warzone missions and how does the game handle different types of traversal—but I was pleasantly surprised to see at least some enjoyable play in the demo. Now I know what Marvel's Avengers is, which is far more than I knew at E3 2019. This honestly is the information that should've been revealed then, but hopefully Crystal Dynamics can tweak, improve, and build upon what I've already seen.
Marvel's Avengers won't be launching on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia until May 15, 2020. The game will be making money for all that free post-launch content by selling premium costumes, which is good because fans weren't entirely happy with the default looks for the Avengers. Ms. Marvel is also a part of the game, even if she isn't any of the previously-announced heroes. And if you want to know how all the heroes play, check out our first hands-on feature on Marvel's Avengers.