Like all games based on a beloved franchise, Marvel's Avengers has a lot of mouths to feed.
It must cater to fanatical lore-hounds while keeping the barriers to entry low for popcorn-chomping casuals. The gameplay has to stand on its own two feet; the savvy Marvel fanbase will not turn out in droves for a generic reskin of a better game. (Not for long, anyway.) Crystal Dynamics has massive ambitions for its take on the world's most famous superhero squad, and an extensive roadmap of support to rival ongoing game titans like Fortnite, Destiny 2 and Minecraft. Will Marvel's Avengers live up to all that potential? With a steady string of War Table livestreams planned for months ahead of its September 4 release, we're about to find out.
Inverse spoke with three lead developers on the upcoming game — Crystal Dynamics Head of Studio Scot Amos, Lead Combat Designer Vince Napoli, and Creative Director Shaun Escayg — about its villain, the possibilities of next-gen hardware, and the ambitious future they've sketched out for Marvel's Avengers.
Marvel's Avengers won't rehash the same storylines as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor are there explicit plans to tie into any upcoming movie or Disney+ shows. Instead, Crystal Dynamics wants to blaze its own trail in the Marvel sandbox, crafting stories that are best experienced interactively, rather than read or watched. The team describes it as a "more grounded" take on the supergroup, which is why the recent reveal of the single-player campaign's villain, MODOK, came as a bit of a surprise. He's got a very big brain, hence his unconventional proportions. And while he's still got a big head in the game, it's been noticeably scaled down.
Escayg says the game's version of MODOK will tone down the "mustache-twirly" elements of the character to some degree, focusing instead on deeper questions about the threat that superheroes and Inhumans may pose to humankind.
"One of the great things about collaborating with Marvel is we work arduously to maintain that 80-year history, but we're allowed the freedom of putting this villain in our world. MODOK is a serious threat to the Avengers. He's intelligent, able to wield technology in ways no other person can. He's harnessed Inhuman power, even the Avengers' powers themselves, to use against them," Escayg tells Inverse. "But what's so insidious about him is his ability to divide the Avengers with a real question: are they dangerous?"
Marvel's Avengers will come to PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Stadia on September 4, and will get a free next-gen upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series X. While the team doesn't have plans for crossplay "just yet," there will be cross-gen play for PlayStation and Xbox platform users. So how will the game be different on those spiffy new consoles due out later this year? Amos tells Inverse the biggest benefit next-gen hardware will bring to Marvel's Avengers is reduced load times, which will make the experience all the more immersive.
"When you have literally no load times, it changes the way we think about the kinds of worlds we can make."
"When you have literally no load times, it changes the way we think about the kinds of worlds we can make," he explains. "It really does change that playability factor, and even how quickly you restart the game. There's no sense of 'let's wait.' You're right there. That will change how people perceive this game, that it doesn't have these hindrances between beginning the experience and just seamlessly playing it for as long as you want. It could be game-changing in quite serious ways."
Having played the A-Day demo of Marvel's Avengers at New York Comic Con last October (back in those halcyon days when in-person demos were still a thing), I was struck by how different each of the playable characters felt. In order to cultivate those distinctions, the team at Crystal Dynamics designed each character as if they were the star of their own standalone game.
"Each time we got to the heroes, we asked, 'What's the most difficult answer here?' It's to write a system, even if you're going to only use it once with one character," Napoli says. "That's how we pulled the core out of these heroes and make them each feel distinct. It's definitely not the easy route to take. But it is the most rewarding."
The team's ambitions aren't confined to combat. With a planned slate of online content in the vein of Destiny 2, Amos says there's "a very large roadmap" of events planned for the months and years ahead, which will touch on Marvel's biggest and most adored storylines. Expect no carefully laid Easter egg to remain unhatched.
"These stories set up a world state when you finish the [single-player] campaign, and you discover how it ties back to the comics. It's kind of a one-off, but some months later, suddenly it pays off," Amos elaborated. "We'll start kind of breadcrumbing those experiences for people, keep bringing them back to see where the story goes next. We desperately want people to get into this world, then stay in this world."
While the progression from single-player to online in Marvel's Avengers has consistently been compared with Bungie's wildly successful Destiny 2, the team also wants to cultivate a non-competitive social scene based in the Marvel universe, in the vein of Fortnite and Minecraft.
"There is an absolute desire to have that experience, to just hang out and experience this environment with friends," says Amos. "So yes, there are stepping stones in that direction, for that type of experience."
Marvel's Avengers comes to PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia on September 4.