Please note, this interview was originally published in July.
Marvel's Avengers, Square Enix's live-service action title, is due out on September 4 - and it has a lot to prove. Melding traditional single-player action with online co-op inspired by the likes of Destiny, the title is undoubtedly looking to offer the most complete Avengers package possible.
We sat down with Scot Amos, head of Crystal Dynamics, as the team prepares for the launch of their first title since 2015's Rise of the Tomb Raider. With the MCU dominating the box office, there are more eyes on the title than ever before, with many taking a "wait and see approach" to this latest incarnation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Speaking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the interconnected nature of over a decade of movies has thrust these fantastical characters into the mainstream, and fans are well aware of Iron Man's origins, or Thor's hammer. That gives the audience an attachment to these characters, even without decades of comic book history, making creating a new version of them a tough sell - something Amos is acutely aware of.
"Marvel’s collaboration with us and their intimate understanding of these heroes is our guide to creating our original yet authentic versions. Their over 80 years of history, their mastery of presenting these heroes in multiple mediums, and they know their fans better than anybody", he explains.
"Combining that experience with the opportunity to play an original Avengers story; introduce Kamala [Khan] and MODOK; and still tap into the familiarity with well-known icons like Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk gives us tons of canvas to tell new stories, explore customizations galore, pay homage to classic looks/moments of that history, and bring new surprises."
An Unlikely Hero
One of those surprises is undoubtedly Kamala Khan, who was revealed some time ago as the primary protagonist. Not only has Khan not been introduced in the MCU yet, but she's likely a character that would've surprised many longtime comic fans with her inclusion, let alone making her the main protagonist.
"When we started this game years ago, in the earliest planning stages, we wanted a fresh face in the blockbuster world of Marvel who could have both a great perspective on the world our game is set within and someone the players coming to this game could be synchronized with to be exploring this world for the first time" Amos reveals.
"Kamala is a fan of superheroes, and especially the Avengers; she is learning how to fit into this world; she is also finding her way to who she is meant to be since the events of ADay and her emerging powers - some things all of us can relate to."
This desire for a fresh spin also led Crystal Dynamics to look towards the comic-books for a new antagonist, settling on MODOK - a character previously characterised by being a floating head but perhaps not known to more recent fans.
As Amos explains, "Finding the opposing perspective on the world and looking for an equally fresh face for the world led us to MODOK".
"George Tarleton is, at the start, a partner with [Tony] Stark and the Avengers on the very same technology, the Terrigen Reactor that powers the helicarrier."
"George believes science can serve and save the world; that science wins over Super Heroes. Kamala believes that Super Heroes are here to serve and protect the world, so these two diametrically opposed points of view setup the core friction as you can imagine."
While MODOK is the "big bad" of the game's campaign, the rogues' gallery will grow over time with the addition of free post-launch content that adds new areas, new villains, and even new playable heroes to the mix. These live-service titles invariably end up with tough launches, and Amos confirms that the team is up for the challenge.
"This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done, and it’s an incredible responsibility and challenge" he explains, confirming that the team has grown to fulfil the needs to the project.
"We had to assemble a large team internally (Eidos Montreal, Square Enix Japan, our new Crystal Northwest studio, our long-time partners at Nixxes) and externally to take on this challenge and have multiple parallel pipelines of content being created and supported for new platforms. It’s a staggering machine that has taken us years to build. It’s transformative for how we make games now and into the future."
Earth's Long-Supported Heroes
This post-launch content may be free for players, but the money to drive its development has to come from somewhere. To that end, Marvel's Avengers will offer skins and cosmetics that are earned through in-game achievements and unlocks, as well as through paid microtransactions. It's a tough line to walk with over 80 years of history with each Avenger, something Amos explains led the team to view the value proposition from a fan standpoint.
"We’re fans; so we put ourselves in that spot as fans and asked what we’d want. What would be equitable considering all of the playable content coming at no additional cost?"
"We also want to reward players for their time investment, so we have actually put a ton of content into ONLY being earnable in-game. For example, you can only get certain outfits and cosmetics by playing the campaign and you can’t buy those in the marketplace. There are some favourite armours in both camps of buying and earning and that’s purposely done to let players choose how they want to invest…their time, their money, or both!"
On the subject of armours and cosmetics, fans noticed the Hulkbuster's appearance in the recent War Table stream. While Amos sidestepped the notion of a PvP element allowing Earth's Mightiest Heroes to square off against one another, he did confirm that Tony Stark's heavy-hitting armour is "not just another cosmetic skin" and forms a "full-fledged part of Iron Man's arsenal" with more to be revealed in the future.
Finally, the game will be launching on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions still to come as free upgrades within the same console family, and cross-play between PS4 and PS5 or Xbox One and Series X. That's an awful lot of plates to spin, but Amos was bullish on the team's commitment to supporting players wherever they play.
"We plan on supporting all platforms and players. Traditionally hardware generation launches like this overlap for several years," he notes, before pointing to the company's Chief Technology Officer Gary Snethen's PlayStation Blog post.
While that blog post confirms multiple graphical improvements as well as the opportunity to opt for resolution or frame-rate specific modes, Amos confirms that the team will "have more to say on platform enhancements as we get closer to the launch of those platforms."