That’s the kind of jargon it would take to explain “Avengers.” Except this game will have microtransactions.
“Avengers” is a descendant of what Bungie’s “Destiny” popularized in 2014: High-fidelity action experiences dressing up a loot grind similar to the “Diablo” games. You run missions alone or with friends as different “classes” of characters, defeating mobs of enemies while finding chests of new items that increase your powers or give you a new look. At it’s core, “Avengers” is the latest in the long line of similar past titles like “The Division" and “Borderlands,” and upcoming games like “Godfall.” Play it. Run from it. “Destiny” arrives all the same.
But it’s also a game that’s trying to be so many things to so many different tastes, especially coming after Marvel movies tore up theaters with a historic, decade-long string of films. Everyone has their own idea of why they like Marvel heroes, and developer Crystal Dynamics is trying to cater to as many folks as possible, all the while building a long-term road map for players to stay engaged for years with future story lines.
That’s why the game looks like a Hollywood production, invoking the movie designs while putting its own spin on things. It’s why special moves have crowd-pleasing elaborate and explosive animations. It’s why the heroes almost fight like their more developed video game peers Batman and Spider-Man, but just not quite.
“People are going to be in from the comics, people are going to be in for the characters, or come into this wanting to relive scenes from the movies,” Phil Therien, a combat gameplay director for the game, tells The Post. “That’s a similar challenge to where they make the movies with six main characters. How do you write that? It’s the same kind of challenge with us, except it’s in gameplay.”
This precarious balancing act is why it might take some time to acclimate to how this game defines the Avengers. After beautifully constructed power fantasies like Batman’s “Arkham” series or “Spider-Man” on PlayStation 4, “Avengers” will feel limp at first blush. It might look like those games, but it doesn’t play like them at all.
Those games worked not just for how well the characters fought, but also how they moved across the world. Batman sailed the skies with his cape, while Spider-Man’s swinging felt liberating. Each of the Avengers, meanwhile, have their own means of traversal and style of fighting, none nearly as robust as the aforementioned heroes in other games.
That’s the nature and possible trap of a “live service” game. All the different characters are different but not too different. Fortunately, there’s enough in “Avengers” so far to differentiate them. Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel with the “stretchy body” fights a bit like Kratos from “God of War,” while Black Widow feels the closest to the snappy combat of the Batman games.
Iron Man flies exactly like an “Anthem” hero, which is actually a good thing since that’s one of the few things the otherwise beleaguered game got right. The animations from his lasers and rockets feel fast and powerful. In fact, Iron Man feels so good, you’re going to see a practical Iron Legion of players wanting to just be him.
The two other marquee heroes, Thor and Hulk, don’t fare as well. Thor feels incredibly loose and ineffective. The impact on his hammer Mjolnir feels and sounds weak, a disappointment after Sony’s own “God of War” hit the mark with its own throwable ax weapon. Same goes for Hulk’s punches. Hulk runs slow, but that’s because it’s meant to balance how far his leaps go. But anyone who knows the Hulk knows that he’s incredibly fast. When it comes to depicting the mightiest of Earth’s mightiest heroes, “Avengers” struggles thanks to this commitment to balance.
But once people adjust to this new superhero reality of grinding out levels, you can start to see how the game could be tremendous fun with friends. Turn your brain off, punch bad guys and fly around as Iron Man and Thor. It’s an easy sell.
The role-playing mechanics is where player expression will matter, and it was hard to gauge this in the beta. But the intention is that as the heroes gather new loot and level up, they learn new combat skills and gain new tweaks to their abilities.
“If your version of Iron Man is to fly around and shoot rockets, you can do that, or if it’s to do the super cool dual laser,” Therien said. “You’re really wanting the players to feel like the heroes are rebuilding.”
We asked Therein how Crystal Dynamics hopes to avoid the pitfalls of previous live service games. Practically every high-profile live online loot game has struggled within its first year. EA’s “Anthem” proved to be a disaster, while games like “The Division” and “Destiny” took a year before making players happy.
“We’ve been playing this [Avengers] game for years now and a lot of it is our own internal feedback,” Therien said, adding that he’s played and still plays many of these games. “We’re really looking at what we want out of this game. I look at it the same way that we did with ‘Tomb Raider.’ We also want to make sure that our game is accessible, so some of the big design decisions that we’ve made is allowing matchmaking on every type of encounter in the game that supports multiplayer.”
It’s also worth noting that “Avengers” is innovating in the genre. If you don’t want to play with other players online, the game will provide AI-controlled Avengers to roam with you through the levels. Imagine if “Diablo 3” allowed you to run its chapters solo, while having a Necromancer and a Paladin alongside the Wizard you control. This is potentially gamechanging for the looter genre, and would require a massive amount of work to balance.
“Fundamentally you’ve got health, you’ve got enemies, you’ve got damage,” Therien said, when talking about other role-playing loot games. “It’s just how to mitigate that and apply damage is different. That’s the root of that design decision. I’ve seen a lot of online games go that route because frankly it’s a good design decision and it’s expensive to do otherwise.”
Crystal Dynamics is going the expensive, busy route, handcrafting animations for each character.
“You have to make them feel different. There’s no reuse of animation between heroes. There’s no reuse of powers,” Therien said. “These heroes are so well known and their moves are so iconic, even though we’re putting our own spin, they still have to feel familiar. It’s a higher challenge but for us it’s critical.”
Writing in Kamala Khan as a new member of the team was a smart choice. As a young woman still struggling with newfound powers, she’s a great audience surrogate to reintroduce the Marvel universe. Her banter with other heroes contextualizes them as icons and gods to friends and coworkers.
“It allows us to tell a story from the viewpoint of someone who is an outsider to the Avengers,” said Shana Bryant, senior producer and a lead on the narrative team, who stressed that this story is an original one, completely removed from the comics and films.
Bryant said she’s been eager for players to experience the story after years of mystery and speculation.
“We’re excited people are able to talk more about the game and we can see how people respond to it,” Bryant said, adding that Marvel gave Crystal Dynamics free rein to use any of over 9,000 characters in the Marvel cast. “And they’re getting behind it say, 'OK, look, now I understand this is not the MCU game. It comes from all of that stuff."
This also means needing to expand the story beyond the game’s threat of a theoretically dead Captain America and a disbanded Avengers fighting an evil corporation. This means adding more characters, including the now-infamous reveal of Spider-Man being available exclusively to PlayStation 4 users.
The announcement created backlash, particularly since many players interpreted the news not as exclusivity, but that PC and Xbox players will have a game missing an entire class of character, who just happens to be Marvel’s flagship and most popular hero.
While Spidey is to Marvel as Mickey is to Disney, he’s historically not been a full-time member of the Avengers, so it makes sense in the canon that he’d just pop in for an adventure or two. The Post asked Therein how Spider-Man and other characters (only Hawkeye has been announced for all platforms) would factor into the game after launch.
“Some of the heroes are going to come with big stories are own, some of the heroes may come with smaller personal stories,” Therien said. “That’s really going to depend on which of them and when. Obviously our goal is to try to get people into as many heroes as possible. But there’s always going to be a reason why these heroes are showing up. They won’t be just dropping in.”
This also means the game will introduce new enemy factions, new villains and enemy types in the future.
The beta is available early for players who preordered. PlayStation 4 players get access to the beta Friday, while Xbox and PC preorders get access the weekend of Aug. 14. Beta access will be available to everyone, even without preorders, on Aug. 21. Crystal Dynamics said they want feedback because even if the game is a month from release, it’ll also evolve.
It’s really the best way to determine whether an “Avengers” game made for everyone was also made for you.