It's been three long years since Marvel's Avengers was first announced, but it's finally here - next week marks its official release on Xbox One, with an Xbox Series X version to follow later this year.
In collaboration with Virgin Media, which is headline sponsor of the game in the UK, we had the opportunity to speak to War Zones director Philippe Therien at Crystal Dynamics about the massive co-op portion of the game - and he even gave us some hints about what to expect from the mode post-launch!
We've slightly re-worded some of the following questions for clarity purposes.
Pure Xbox: Hi Philippe! First off, could you introduce yourself and give us a bit of information about War Zones in Marvel's Avengers?
Philippe: Sure! My name is Philippe Therien, I'm the War Zones director on Marvel's Avengers. War Zones are basically open-ended levels, so it is the majority of the content that you're going to be experiencing when you're playing The Avengers Initiative, and really War Zones are what takes place after the events of the campaign.
The cool thing about War Zones is that they also continue the story, so if you've finished the campaign you get to find out how The Avengers deal with everything that AIM has been up to, which is really cool.
Pure Xbox: What are the types of missions available in War Zones?
Philippe: There's all sorts of different types of War Zones. We've got short War Zones like Drop Zones that are good for a little five-minute play session, we've got longer War Zones that are called Villain Sectors which are closer to about a half hour, and then we have some much more challenging War Zones which we're going to be announcing pretty soon, that can take upwards of an hour and a half - and a lot of commitment from a full group of human players.
Pure Xbox: What was the intent when you first began building War Zones in Marvel's Avengers?
Philippe: The idea was to have a play space where all sorts of different heroes can really flex their abilities and traverse and use the space. That was a pretty big challenge because not only are we designing for the heroes that we have right now, but we're also trying to think, what else are we going to be adding down the line?
We built spaces to be as flexible as possible, and that's always challenging because [in the case of] a very directed single-player game or even our campaign, you tend to craft things very tailored for specific heroes. So when you're making a space that's accommodating a lot of different heroes, therein lies the challenge - to make it as flexible as possible. But I think we've done that.
Pure Xbox: War Zones is obviously very co-op focused - how is teamwork involved?
Philippe: At the fundamental layer, you've got the fact that all the different heroes have different status effects that they can apply to enemies. You've got different skills, you've got different ways to disable the enemies. And a lot of those can be combined organically. So when we thought about these super cool co-op moments, one version of this is these super cool synced-up moments, but one version is just players organically doing things by themselves and trying to come up with some cool combos.
We wanted to be able to do things, like - Iron Man knocks someone up in the air, Kamala grabs them with her fist and then throws the enemy up, and then Hulk jumps into the air and Thunder Smashes the guy, comes down to the ground and Thor pins him with Mjolnir against something, right? Which you can all do, naturally in the game.
So there's that layer which is basically just systemic combat that supports doing those cool co-op moments, and then you've got cool synced-up animations... we wanted to have both - we want to make sure that you're getting to experience those cool Marvel moments.
And then on top of that, we also have all the things that you can benefit from using heroic abilities. You have somebody like Thor that can use his Bifrost, and then after you've used the Bifrost it will leave behind an area of effect that can be beneficial for the other players, and there's even skills in the game that modify what that effect does.
Pure Xbox: How will players be rewarded for playing War Zones missions?
Philippe: As you're playing through War Zones you're going to get new outfits for your heroes, you're going to get some gear, you're going to get some upgrade materials, but that's just the beginning really. After that you're looking at getting artefacts, you're looking at getting special prime gear. There's all sorts of different ways to get what you want.
If you decide one morning what you really want is some upgrade materials, there are some War Zones that have that as rewards. If you're looking for a new artefact, there are some harder War Zones that are made specifically for that. There's different lengths of content as well, so there should really always be something available for you to do on the game. It really depends on what you're trying to do at any given time.
Pure Xbox: It's been mentioned that Marvel's Avengers will be supported for a long time - how are you planning to grow War Zones in terms of post-launch content?
Philippe: It starts with the relationship that we're building with the community right now. So, we want to make sure that we're listening to the feedback that people are giving us on the game. We've already reacted to a lot of things that people saw in the Beta, so we're hoping that a lot of our further development is going to be influenced by what players are actually wanting - what they like.
Past that, it's new regions, new stories, new heroes, new villains. We want to keep telling stories in this world and we want to keep growing it, and we want to keep escalating the threat so as the Avengers are getting stronger, they're going to start facing bigger and bigger threats.
Pure Xbox: Is there a chance we'll get new features in the future of Marvel's Avengers War Zones such as mid-mission drop-in and cross-play between platforms?
Philippe: Right now we're really focused on all the launch features for the game which has been keeping us very busy, but we're definitely keeping a list of all the improvements and changes that we'd like to do, and a lot of these come from player feedback.
We've been pretty vocal about the things that we're putting on our list with players on our different channels that we have, [and] we're excited to tell people what we're working on next. All of these things are things that we're going to be evaluating, so we'll talk about the new features and things of that nature pretty soon.
Pure Xbox: How was the internal reaction from the studio to the recent Marvel's Avengers Beta?
Philippe: We've been dying for people to get their hands on the game, and to me that feeling started even as early as going to places like E3 and Gamescom a little while ago. Every time players would get to play the game, they would see all the good things about it, and honestly it's the kind of game where you have to play it and get your hands on it to really feel the depth and impact of the hits, and all those good things.
And for us, we wanted people to have a chance to get their hands on it, so doing an Open Beta was the best way to do it. That way, anybody that wants to see what the game is like - they can play it. And we've gotten such a good, positive response from people, it's been really exciting. And we've also been having a lot of fun reacting to people's feedback.
Over the last few Betas, we've made some pretty good changes, we've had pretty consistent patches, we've been pretty transparent with our patch notes, so it's been exciting for us.
Pure Xbox: There's been a lot of discussion (and some confusion) about PlayStation exclusive content for Marvel's Avengers recently. In terms of War Zones, can we as Xbox owners still expect to enjoy plenty of great content?
Philippe: SpiderMan is the only exclusive content that we've talked about so far, and all the information we've given is what we have to say at the moment on that topic. But everything that we've talked about since then... that [content] is available to everybody.
Everything that comes out after [launch] that we're announcing right now is for all the platforms, so I think people are pretty excited about seeing fan favourites like Hawkeye, and we're going to be announcing some other new things pretty soon (very soon actually) that I think everybody on all platforms are going to be very, very excited to hear about.
Pure Xbox: Finally, the game launches next week - how are you feeling?!
Philippe: It's always a really exciting time but also a really scary time. We've taken every step that we could to make sure that the launch would be as smooth as possible, and the Betas have really been a good indicator of how things are going to go. You're talking about a moment where millions of people are going to play the game we've been working on so hard for so long.
It's exciting, it's exhilarating, and it's our opportunity to join the world of people that tell these amazing stories in [the] Marvel IP. So for us it's an amazing time, and I'm equally as excited for post-launch.
It's crazy times, but we're super, super stoked.
We'd like to thank Philippe for taking the time to talk to us. Marvel's Avengers releases on September 4th for Xbox One (Early Access begins September 1st for Deluxe / Mightiest Edition owners), and the game is also coming to Xbox Series X with Smart Delivery this Holiday, which includes a free upgrade for existing owners.