As part of our IGN First coverage of Marvel’s Avengers, read on for how the team is crafting each hero’s playstyle, and be sure to check out our exclusive hands-on with Thor and Ms. Marvel for our thoughts on how two of the heroes play.
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Napoli explained that Natasha Romanoff actually was the team’s starting hero because of her unique difficulties.
“We actually started with Black Widow. She made the most sense [to start with] because she provides so many challenges, especially going up against some of the crazier, god-powered, god-tier heroes,” Napoli said.
And so the team honed in on a few aspects of Black Widow to make her feel truly unique and fun to play — namely, making her more agile in combat than any of the other heroes.
“She’s incredibly fast. She’s incredibly agile. She has the fastest melee attacks and melee combos in the game. She is also able to alternate between her electric batons as her heavy attacks, and you use those differently than her melee attacks on the light button [and] switch between multiple ranged weapons as well,” Napoli said, noting she can choose from automatic pistols, dual-wielding rapid pistols, and a heavy-caliber Magnum pistol.
But a defining aspect of this version of Black Widow is her stealth, and the ability to enter and exit an invisibility mode while in the midst of combat. Napoli explained how playing as Nat well, and really making use of her intrinsic stealth ability, is the key to success in battle with her.
“Some of the most interesting and fun play we see with her is the ability to enter stealth. You stealth very quickly, get out of it and then enter it again,” Napoli said. “If you’re playing her well, you do feel like you’re constantly escaping the battlefield, entering the battlefield, tricking the enemies constantly.”
The focus on stealth allowed the team to crack the code of Black Widow’s arsenal and the many abilities that could be layered onto her customization options. From her weapon arsenal to abilities to do multi-takedowns, instakills, affect teammates from stealth, and even possibly have them enter stealth mode — Black Widow became this unseen force among the Avengers roster.
“Then you add in her grapple ability to quickly move between targets, and you combine stealth, you make her this ninja on the battlefield where she’s rapidly moving between enemies. You can’t see here, she’s disappearing, she’s reappearing. Once we had all of those elements in place, she definitely started to play as something really, really special,” Napoli said.
Steve Rogers is the elephant in the room, the team member whose presence we don’t quite know in the scope of the full game because, well, as the A-Day demo shows…Captain America seemingly dies at the onset of Marvel’s Avengers.
Still, Crystal Dynamics created what is clearly a deep combat system that, presumably, we’ll eventually get to play in full. And while however Steve may re-enter the picture is being kept under wraps, Napoli did offer some details on how he plays, and how the team is making good use of Cap’s iconic shield.
“Throwing the shield is obviously so iconic and needed to feel so special,” Napoli said. “His shield throw actually has its own built-in ranged combo. It’s a unique characteristic the other characters don’t have, which is that his ranged attack actually works like a combo.
“So perfect timing as you catch it and throw it will increment his throws and create different throws and reactions on the enemies. He also has a special counter kickback, which is when you use his charge throw, after it hits the last enemy, if you can time the kickback ahead of time, he’ll jump up and kick the shield back and meet it as it’s returning and he’ll kick it back out and hit once again all the targets that you were able to target with his charge throw.”
That depth and nuance came from, according to Napoli, a desire by the team to add skill and a sense of mastery to Cap’s abilities for players.
“How can you really feel like you’ve mastered the shield throw, what layers can we do where there is some amount of practiced and learned ability to the point where you actually do feel like an expert Captain America player?” Napoli said the team asked one another.
When I began speaking to Napoli about Hulk, I mentioned how perhaps the strongest and best gaming memory for myself and many others of Bruce Banner is the PS2-era Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. And Napoli noted that he has fond memories of that superhero outing and even went back to get a feel for what that game did for the character.
But in devising their own Hulk, the team at Crystal Dynamics wanted to think about a larger question — how could they imbue this force of strength with strategy?
“Other than being able to utilize his rage and smash through stuff and feel that overwhelming sense of power, what would my gameplay strategy be as Hulk, what would a realistic gameplay strategy be as him if you were a Hulk player?” Napoli said he and the team considered.
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“What if we took the idea of weaponization. Hulk is basically all about weaponizing the environment and weaponizing the enemies, or weaponizing the combat scenario around him. And what I mean by that is that that’s actually why he’s able to pick up and wield enemies as weapons,” he continued.
Napoli pointed to a specific example of using the environment as a giant boulder before going into a fight.
“I’m going to prepare at the beginning of this fight because I’m going to rip up part of the ground and turn it into a giant boulder,” he said. “And then I’m going to start the fight by leaping off the highest thing I can and dive bomb into the fight with my giant boulder. And for example, using the status effects, you can make that a cosmic-infused boulder. You can radiate the boulder with gamma,” he continued.
“[Playing as Hulk] rewards a little bit of preparation work there, which is a little bit of an antithesis to Hulk, but it does reward a little bit of slight preparation with even more over-the-top destruction.
Hulk can of course also grab enemies, and Napoli explained that picking different enemies will change Hulk’s swing with them, allowing players to further plan their combat by choosing which enemies to go after first.
A lot rests on Iron Man’s shoulders. After kickstarting the MCU into one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, the character and his moves have become a lot more iconic to a lot more people. Napoli said that leaning into that iconography, rather than limiting the scope of his moveset, allowed the team to figure out their take on Tony Stark.
“What if he could use his weapon selection, not just in his range attacks, but integrate that into his melee combat, really make that a part of who he is?” Napoli said.
He explained how they took Iron Man’s repulsor gloves and, instead of limiting them to a couple of moves, integrated his iconic weapons into his entire combo system.
“That way you can actually see him do a lot more of the iconic posing that you see in the movies and the comic panels,” Napoli said. “And once we had that down, I was like, ‘Well, let’s do the same thing with lasers. Let’s give him two dozen laser attacks that he could use in melee combat.’
“So for example, his heavy combo finisher you can unlock is a pinning missile, which pins the enemy and takes them off and propels them into the air and then does different like loops into the air and runs different patterns and sends them flying,” he continued.
Napoli estimates that there are about 36 different attacks incorporating his ranged moves, which can be brought into combos that focus on his standard hand-to-hand combat abilities.
Kamala Khan, who serves as a major entry point for the story, offered a unique challenge for Crystal Dynamics.
“Her abilities for a melee game are a dream and a curse at the same time, because you can do anything with them. You can make any weapon attacks and motions with them, but at the same time… you can do anything with them,” Napoli said, noting how that freedom offered a unique set of challenges.
But in aiming to stay true to the characters within combat, Napoli and the team found that honing in on Kamala’s fandom for the other Avengers offered a special opportunity for her moveset.
“One of the approaches we took was to look for any influences we could from the rest of the Avengers with her actual moves. Almost all of her moves are based off of attacks that the other Avengers can do,” he said.
“So you’ll notice, she’s got a version of Black Widow’s light trip kick, where she sweeps the enemies. She’s got a version of Hulk’s shoulder ram attack. She’s got a version of almost every character’s attack [with] the Kamala spin on it; just to give it that feel of, ‘She is learning, and where would she be learning from? Where would she actually draw inspiration from? Of course, it’d be from the other Avengers.’”
Having gotten to go hands-on with him a couple of times, Thor undoubtedly shares some DNA with Kratos in the recent God of War, with his Mjlonir hammer standing in for the Leviathan Axe. That’s assumedly no mistake, given Napoli previously worked on that PS4 exclusive, and it’s a great lineage to see continue in the god of thunder.
But, of course, in playing within the Marvel sandbox, there is plenty of comics and film inspiration to pull from. (I noted in my preview how Thor’s Odinforce powers wonderfully channel the Thor: Ragnarok action scene set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”) And in designing Thor, Napoli noted that Ragnarok played a large influence not just in his playstyle but in the studio’s pitch to Marvel for the character.
“There’s a scene in Thor: Ragnarok where Odin tells Thor that he’s not the god of hammers,” Napoli said, explaining that the team pitched, for Marvel’s Avengers, that he would be both the god of hammers and the god of thunder and lightning.
“The coolest thing about his combat is that you can trigger his Odinforce and [Thor can] electrify himself, protect himself, counter enemies,” Napoli said. “But it also has a unique property that it adds to every single one of his attacks. And it isn’t just as simple as, ‘Oh, it just adds lightning damage.’ It completely changes the impact or the effect that it will have on the enemy. So you can see what it does and modify each of his attacks.”
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Napoli explained that the Odinforce “starts to create a storm of lightning everywhere,” that offered both defensive and offensive opportunities for Crystal Dynamics to build into Thor. And as for his hammer attacks, Napoli said they took a similar approach when it came to creating various uses for Mjlonir, rather than just hueing to one possible mode of combat for it.
“You can change [Mjlonir] into this lobbed grenade-style toss, where it creates a lightning explosion and creates cluster bombs. Or you can change it into the ability to seek out targets in the battlefield, which is not the way its base throw works,” he said.
Marvel’s Avengers is set to hit PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 4, and all throughout July IGN will have an in-depth look at what Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel adventure will deliver. In the meantime, be sure to check out the full Avengers War Table presentation for more details, and stay tuned to IGN for more.