Marvel’s Avengers first year didn’t quite go as expected. The live service game seemed like it would be an easy hit, putting players in control of Earth’s mightiest multiplayer party. The game suffered at launch, however, as a laundry list of bugs threw those plans into disarray. The developers at Crystal Dynamics were forced to delay DLC, new characters, and even the game’s next-gen upgrade just to get it under control. The unforgiving gaming world was quick to dogpile on it, putting it on the path of failed games like Anthem.
That’s why the game’s new War for Wakanda update, which launches on August 17, is so crucial. While this is the game’s third piece of free DLC, it’s easily the most high-profile one yet (no disrespect to Hawkeye and Kate Bishop). With a culturally hot character like Black Panther attached, it’s likely that new and old players will flock to the game to see if it’s managed to clean up its act and make a No Man’s Sky-sized recovery. That’s a lot of pressure for one update.
After watching an hour of footage from War for Wakanda’s new story content, it’s clear that Crystal Dynamics is ready to turn its story around. The new DLC looks like the game’s most exciting chapter yet thanks to a fierce new character, a gorgeous recreation of Wakanda, and a commitment to what makes Black Panther one of Marvel’s most exciting heroes.
War for Wakanda is no small update. It brings a new set of story missions to the game starring Black Panther. Players will travel through an entirely new biome, the Jungles of Wakanda, and discover locations like the Wakandan War Room and Royal Palace Outpost. It’s full of familiar characters and villains too, like Ulysses Claw.
For fans of the comic series’ rich history, it’s the closest fans have gotten to a Black Panther video game, despite being DLC for a larger game. Marvel’s Avengers writer Hannah MacLeod says that the DLC was written knowing full well that it might draw in a completely new player base.
“From a story side, we knew Wakanda would be big,” MacLeod tells Digital Trends. “Wakanda comes with a lot of important lore. It’s never going to be just about Black Panther. So we knew going into it that we wanted to show more than just Black Panther. In terms of overarching story, Wakanda is one piece of the puzzle but we knew that it was going to be the kind of thing that people might come in and play having not played the rest of the game.”
A painstaking amount of detail went into bringing Wakanda to life, both visually and thematically. The team studied the comics, specifically its two most recent runs, to get a full picture of its lore beyond the movie adaptation that brought the character to mainstream prominence. The version of Wakanda featured in Marvel’s Avengers is an isolationist nation cut off from the world. While its borders are closed off at the start of the DLC, the gates soon open up as a Black Panther decides to team up with the Avengers to fight off Claw’s invasion.
Visually, the team didn’t just look to the comics for inspiration. The team did extensive research into African architecture, looking at countries that were developed entirely without outside interference. The game’s version of Wakanda is technologically advanced thanks to Vibranium, but it still coexists with natural spaces. It doesn’t feel like a military base plopped into the middle of a jungle.
“One of our lead artists had an entire deck about the inspiration for the fact that there are way fewer harsh angles in the architecture of Wakanda,” MacLeod says. “It’s much more curved. That has to do with the natural curvature of nature. There are ancient structures built specifically with trees bent in particular ways that are more in coexistence with nature, rather than tailoring it to whatever you need it to be.”
Wakanda is far cry from the city streets and barren wastelands of previous Avengers content. It’s a lush, varied landscape that makes the DLC feel like the game’s most significant creative swing yet. That’s an important step for live service games, which live and die by their ability to keep players hooked with new experiences.
Long live the king
The biggest hook of War for Wakanda is that it introduces the game’s ninth playable character, Black Panther. The game’s writers have had a story in mind for the character since the early days of development, though the team wanted more time to dig into the character and do him justice, which is why he wasn’t one of the game’s first two DLC characters.
Naturally, it’s hard to discuss the character without some tragic context. Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, passed away last August, just a week before the game’s release. At the time, rumors sprang up that the development team had shuffled plans in response, though MacLeod implies that this was always the timeline for the character.
“I don’t think Chadwick Boseman’s passing necessarily changed the story; it just reaffirmed how important it was for us to add this character to the game,” MacLeod says. “He’s become a pop culture icon and a hope for a lot of people. He’s an idealization for what a hero can be.”
From a gameplay perspective, Black Panther has a particularly fierce move set. He’s able to slash enemies with his claws in a quick display of acrobatics. His gameplay closely resembles combat in the Batman Arkham series with more fluid, close-range attacks. He has a few long-range options as well, as he’s able to throw daggers at enemies or toss a Vibranium spear. He also has a special mechanic where his suit can absorb energy, just as it does in the comics and film. Senior Game Designer Scott Walters explains that players can build up a meter by blocking and attacking and expend energy to perform upgraded moves or create a supercharged kinetic blast.
“A lot of players are more the evasive type, so we wanted to give those players a reward,” Walters tells Digital Trends. “Through his attacks and heroics, he’s the most buff- and debuff-oriented hero we’ve done so far. With his whole overcharge mechanic, we envision players doing that loop and trying to stay in it as much as possible. They’ll go through the rotation to maintain all of their buffs on allies and debuffs on the enemies. It’s obviously a big part of the comics and movies, so we wanted to make sure that was a core gameplay mechanic.”
Just as the team looked beyond the comics to bring Wakanda to life, similar research went into creating Black Panther’s move set. Walters explains that several weapons in the game are rooted in real-world history, including the ones used in the character’s basic attacks.
“With all of the weapons and props, we looked at different daggers, shields, and spears from African culture and history,” says Walters. “We used those as a basis for all of our stuff. Black Panther has three distinct dagger shapes he can use and those are all based off of real weapons.”
Details like that are what set War for Wakanda apart from standard video game DLC. While some game updates will recycle assets and mission types to generate additional content, there’s a real sense that War for Wakanda is an entirely new chapter for Marvel’s Avengers. There’s a real chance that it’ll slash through the cynical reactions that damned the game in its first year and deliver on Square Enix’s superhero-sized promises for its long-term future.
Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda launches on August 17 for all versions of the game. It’s free to all players and can be played regardless of whether or not you’ve started the base campaign.
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