Marvel’s Avengers Is Pitched as a Reboot Where You Make the Heroes Your Own (With Loot)
With a Destiny-like UI and structure, Marvel's Avengers wants to be an original take with fully customizable versions of your favorite heroes.
As a devotee of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I couldn’t help but feel massively underwhelmed by the E3 2019 presentation of Marvel’s Avengers. While it didn’t look particularly egregious, it had a look and feel that seemed too understated, and very much derivative of the 2012 film that popularized the superhero group to the mainstream. It likely didn’t help that all we’ve seen is that damn Golden Gate Bridge tutorial sequence for the past several months. Turns out, when you get off that freaking bridge, the pitch for Marvel’s Avengers becomes a bit more interesting, and the world gets a little wider.
As most of the New York Comic-Con 2019 presentation to the press trod the same ground as what my colleague Cameron Hawkins saw at PAX West, I’ll mainly focus on the newly-revealed elements, including the reveal of Kamala Khan as the sixth playable character and protagonist. Before that, I’ll prelude by saying that Square Enix repeated some keywords that never crossed my mind when I first saw Marvel’s Avengers: “authenticity,” “originality,” and “reboot.”
At the top of their presentation to the press, Crystal Dynamics reminded us that they had rebooted Lara Croft for Tomb Raider, a reimagining that many would likely agree was successful. Much like how the movies provided their own angles and interpretations of the comic book characters, so too does the Square Enix game, according to their pitch. Think of how Daniel Craig made audiences rethink James Bond with Casino Royale, developers told us. Like that film, Crystal Dynamics wants to mix familiar historical elements with some brand new original ideas and designs.
And I certainly hope that the game will deliver because while I don’t care much that how the faces of the characters don’t resemble the MCU actors at all, there was really nothing in the Golden Gate Bridge demo that popped out to me. That demo had no wonder to instill, only boring colors and vaguely familiar yet inferior character and costume design. But later in the presentation, after letting the Kamala Khan cat out of the bag, their display screen showed off character art of all six playable characters next to each other, and something stuck out to me for once.
Kamala Khan looked bright, with bright red, blue, and yellow popping out of her costume. It was such a small detail, and I’m reluctant to speculate on whether or not it was intentional, but something about seeing this relatively new hero amongst these drab-looking titans felt new and fresh to me. However, as with any live service game, cosmetics are essential, and players will have ample opportunities to customize these Avengers in many different ways.
It would be fair of me to mention that at the very least, those old Avengers don’t look the same way they did on the bridge after the large time skip. Bruce Banner is scruffy-looking and has lost some color, becoming a recluse. Tony Stark is depressed after losing his fortune and desperately needs a haircut. Thor no longer believes himself to be worthy and is nowhere to be found. Natasha is a full-on spy, a lone wolf ridden by guilt. Perhaps this game was taking more from Avengers: Endgame than we originally thought.
Once these characters are yours to play around with, you can drastically change their appearances and tinker around with their mechanics. While there are skins and outfits that can be earned in-game and other items that have to be purchased, everything is purely cosmetic. And with that promise to honor the Avengers legacy while also creating something new, skins will be a mix of historical and familiar ones plus a host of new, original outfits.
As Cam mentioned in his PAX West preview, characters have perks divided into separate skill trees, and Gear gives characters a “Gear Power” very much like the Power Level in a Destiny game. Heck, the UI has the same layout, a similar color scheme, and pretty much the exact same cursor as Destiny. Players create their own nameless, faceless characters as avatars in those other live service games, so I asked Crystal Dynamics if players will be as invested in crafting their own characters when they are preexisting from another world. I was given a succinct “yes” answer.
What the developers are envisioning is a player base in which different people have totally different variations of the same character. “My Hulk” may be different from “your Hulk,” for instance. The main example the presentation gave involved two different playstyles for Thor; one being long-range and all-seeing, using hammer throws and lightning strikes, and the other being melee-focused with close-range hammer attacks. One “right” way and one “wrong” way, the developers joked.
My last remaining large concern with Marvel’s Avengers was the script. While MCU films are known for their levity and banter, much of those films’ success comes from the natural comedic instincts of the actors, and the loose directorial styles of filmmakers like Jon Favreau and especially Taika Waititi. There was something very inorganic, over scripted, and straight-up wince-inducing about the banter and interactions on the Golden Gate Bridge. As this Avengers game assembled such a masterclass of video game performers, I asked just how much room the actors had with the dialogue.
While one developer in the room involved in the writing wouldn’t give too many details for obvious reasons, she assured us that the likes of Troy Baker and Nolan North had plenty of space to make the characters their own. Also vouching for this was Sandra Saad, the actress who plays the role of Kamala Khan. She was anonymously sitting in the back of the room until another press member asked who was playing the character, after which she introduced herself to everyone, charmingly flustered.
Crystal Dynamics were happy to tout their partnership with Marvel Games, mentioning creative director Bill Rosemann by name. While Disney-owned Marvel would be expected to be a company overly-protective of their IP, the developers denied that Marvel was ever breathing down their necks. Quite the opposite, they said. Here’s hoping that leads to some absurd outfits for our Avengers.
I went into that presentation cynical but came out of it at the very least more intrigued. Many were expecting Marvel’s Avengers to resemble a Destiny in some way, but the similarities were more blatant than I expected. Prospective consumers probably already know if they’re into that or not. Not all of my concerns are gone—while Kamala Khan’s interactions with the likes of Banner and Stark were admittedly funny, seeing Black Widow and Taskmaster dramatically call out “Taskmaster!” “Romanoff!” like Saturday-morning cartoons was hard to watch in 2019. Much has been said about the combat by others, but I didn’t quite feel that the hits connected as well as they do in an Arkham game; again, you’ve already decided if you like that or not.
One thing was for certain: Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics could sense the frustration from fans about the lack of information and some vagueness on how the game is played. While much was revealed at PAX West 2019 and NYCC 2019, we are urged to be patient as more details arise going into 2020. Hopefully, you’ll still like these characters by then.