Most superhero games give you all the power--you are, of course, the hero of the story. With Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, developer Eidos Montreal is taking a different approach, putting you into a superhero team with the focus on making you feel like part of the group. You can't deal with every problem on your own, but it's remarkable how, through the teamwork mechanics within the game, you quickly start to feel like you can work together with the other Guardians to handle any obstacle.
We recently got to spend about two hours playing a chapter of Guardians of the Galaxy, which gave a sense of both how the choice-based story will unfold and how you'll handle controlling the entire team of Guardians in battle. In both cases, your choices as the de facto leader of the Guardians is important, but yours isn't the only voice that matters. Through its mechanics and its character development, Guardians of the Galaxy puts its focus on being a single-player game that's all about teamwork.
The portion we played takes place on a Nova Corps station called The Rock, where the Guardians head to pay a fine in order to get the interstellar fuzz off their backs. It starts in typical Guardians fashion--the team doesn't agree on the best course of action, and as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, you have to deal with their different personalities and bickering. Gamora thinks it's a good idea to settle up on the fine, even though it's costly, so the Guardians won't have to keep looking over their shoulders. Rocket, on the other hand, wants to just make a run for it and keep the cash.
Quill agrees with Gamora and so the team is off to pay the fine, but even before you depart, you have a chance to spend time with each member of the team, learn more about them, and develop a relationship with them. That includes a heart-to-heart moment in which you make it clear to Rocket that his opinion is valued, even when you don't agree with him. It also includes a moment where you catch Gamora surfing the interstellar internet to feed her secret hobby of collecting extremely cute dolls.
Soon after landing at The Rock, the Guardians start to suspect that something is wrong. None of the space bureaucrats are at their posts, and the station appears to be empty, so there's no one to pay the fine to. The group decides to head further into the station, but to do that, you need Rocket to use his engineering skills to open some doors. That highlights the Guardian Request system: When you need someone else on the team to do something, you can ask them for help, but they might not always just follow orders.
Later, when you hit another locked door that requires Rocket's expertise, he straight-up refuses to open it, which demonstrates why Eidos is calling it the Guardian Request System. Rocket is tired of wandering around the station looking for people, and unless Quill agrees that he's not going to lead them through the entire station, Rocket won't be opening any more doors for the group. Decision-making is important to the story, but so is the interplay between the characters, and the Request system highlights how your interactions affect both plot and the puzzles you'll need to solve. Rocket eventually agrees to open the door, but only after Quill agrees to end the search after just one more room.
That one room is the turning point of the level, though, when you find a Nova Corps helmet and are able to listen into local communications. Here, you start to get a sense of what's going on when you hear some weird religious chatter between Nova troopers--and apparently, they're searching for someone. This also presents one of the major choice moments in the level, where you can decide to either speak up and ask the Nova Corps folks what's going on, or remain silent.
On our first playthrough in the chapter, we stayed silent, and past the next door we found an elevator with a glass wall. Through it, the Guardians watched as some Nova Corps soldiers, with weird purple halos of energy around their heads, executed some of their comrades. Seems like some kind of cultish mind control situation is happening, but since we didn't make our presence known on the radio, the Guardians were able to sneak into the room and take the cultists by surprise.
That kicked off combat for the first time, where we got even more of a sense of how teamwork permeates all levels of the game. Quill on his own isn't a particularly strong fighter. He carries a couple of guns and sports his signature jet boots, allowing you to run or fly around the battlefield to hit different targets or drop into cover. But while Quill's guns do some damage and he can also fight hand to hand, neither is always super effective against all enemies.
In an interview with GameSpot, senior creative director J.F. Dugas said Eidos Montreal had tried different versions of the game where Quill, and the player, were more powerful, but a more traditional superhero-like take on Guardians of the Galaxy didn't quite work.
"It's building an ecosystem between the player and the characters around [Quill]," Dugas explained. "And when you think about that, Peter is not the superhero, actually. He doesn't have superpowers, he doesn't have any of those things. So it was all a question of, how do you balance it to make it feel rewarding to play Peter, but also feeling that you need your Guardians and vice versa? Because if you, as the player, you're super powerful, then the Guardians or your companions are dead weight. And the opposite--if they're too strong, they steal your fire."
Quill's role, which Dugas and senior gameplay director Patrick Fortier described as being the team's quarterback, includes ways he can support the rest of the Guardians, though. His guns have elemental add-ons that give you different benefits. In the demo, we had access to an Ice element that allowed Quill to freeze enemies, which made them easy targets for the other Guardians.
In combat, the rest of your team will take on enemies on their own, with each fighting in their own way--Rocket sports an arsenal of heavy weapons, Groot ties enemies up with his roots, and Drax and Gamora close the distance to fight with melee weapons or hand-to-hand. But you can still use the Guardian Request System here, where you can call on each member of the team to use specific abilities on individual targets. So freezing a tough enemy with Quill's guns allows you to then call on Drax to hit that enemy with a big attack, doing massive damage. Gamora's assassin abilities are great for taking out distant snipers, while Groot can tie up multiple enemies with his vines and briefly take them out of the battle. Rocket has a powerful grenade that's great for damaging several enemies at once.
Alone, none of the Guardians are suited to every situation, but together, they're extremely formidable. As Quill, it's up to you to give orders in the fight, paying attention to what threats are the priority and knowing which Guardian can best deal with them. The demo quickly started mixing tougher enemies with the grunts as we fought our way through them, including a big guy who sported an energy shield that made him tough to shoot. Using Groot or Drax as a distraction was key, allowing Quill to flank him to avoid the shield. Blasts from the freeze gun left the enemy vulnerable so Gamora could get in and do some big damage, and if you attacked from the back, you could destroy the shield generator, taking away its defensive advantage.
Eventually, you can initiate a momentary boost called the Huddle, which also charges on a timer. The Huddle pauses the action and brings the Guardians to Quill for a quick pep talk, but you have to make sure you're paying attention to your squad in order to effectively pump them up. The different members of your team will talk about how the fight is going, using keywords that hang on your screen.
You then have two options for your response, and you need to pick the pep talk response that's right for the situation. If the Guardians are demoralized, you can reiterate that the group is capable of taking on anything when they work together. If they're fighting over who's kicking more ass, you can implore them not to get cocky and to support each other so everyone can kick even more ass.
The Huddle is a great emergency measure, because it automatically revives anyone on the team who was downed, even if you pick the wrong answer. But if you pick the right one, the Guardians are energized by Quill's coaching, and everyone gets a momentary damage boost when they get back into the fight. It's another way the game emphasizes the team over the individual, and reiterates that you're a key part of the group.
Playing through the demo a second time also showed how choices can impact combat encounters. If you choose to talk to the Nova Corps through the helmet, a group of cultists will come looking for you, and you lose the element of surprise when they show up, forcing you into a fight. In the next scene when you're in the elevator, the cultist enemies know you're coming and open fire on the glass window. So instead of getting the drop on the enemies, Drax literally leaps out of the elevator and starts wailing on people. Quill's jet boots allow him to follow, but the rest of the team can't jump down three stories. So the first part of the fight is just Quill and Drax while you wait for the other Guardians to catch up, and in order to make it through, you really have to step up your game as the leader.
A few moments later, the rest of the team joins the battle, and their banter reflects how you did. You might hear Rocket remark that the team owes Drax a beer for ripping through the enemy Nova Corps if you do well in the fight. So ultimately, your choices might lead you to the same places, it seems, but not necessarily in the same way.
While your decisions with the Guardians and how you treat them might influence how the story unfolds and their relationships with you, Fortier said they won't affect combat. Rocket might complain about opening a door because you haven't been listening to him throughout a mission, but that doesn't mean he's going to refuse orders while you're in combat.
"We wanted to find the balance between having those moments to keep players engaged and to tailor the experience to how you played it, that you have a story to tell at the end of your adventure that is different than mine," he said. "We went from point A to point B, we got to the same destination, but you had these things happen to you and you interacted with these characters and you had these different moments and I had something else. But we didn't want to go overboard with that. So we tried some combat where suddenly Rocket doesn't work anymore or things like that, and then it became a little too micro, because then you don't remember what it is you did exactly, and you start fearing how you're going to respond. So we wanted to keep it lighter in that way."
Working together well as a team builds a sort of combo meter that measures your effectiveness, which earns you experience points you can spend on any of the Guardians to unlock new abilities. You can add to Quill's arsenal of moves, like adding the ability to hover above the battlefield to get better sightlines on enemies, or throw more options to the rest of the Guardians for when you use the Request system in a fight. Each of the moves has different stats, so you can see how much an attack will damage enemies, how many people it can target, how long it will make your cooldown timer, and how much it contributes to filling up enemies' Stagger meters, which can stun them and leave them open to more attacks. Knowing what abilities are good in which situations is essential to winning fights, and the better job you do synergizing each team member's moves, the more experience you earn to buy new abilities.
There are also ways to make yourself a little more effective. Collecting supplies off the ground as you work through a level gives you materials you can later use at workbenches, giving you a chance to upgrade Quill's loadout. That lets you add to your capabilities, powering up your guns or equipping a better version of your scanner that lets you gather information about your enemies--which feeds back into your ability to make good decisions for the team, while making yourself a better fighter too.
The demo ended soon after a few more big fights with various enemies, requiring changes in tactics in order to deal with each. The team finally made their way back to the ship, with the Guardians constantly bantering and joking the whole way through. Through combat, character moments between fights, and the decision points throughout the demo, it was remarkable how much Guardians of the Galaxy captures the feeling of being a member of a team--even if the rest of the team is controlled by AI.
It all suggests that Guardians of the Galaxy is a superhero game that's not going to feel like other superhero games--but it does a great job of capturing the humor, dysfunction, and camaraderie that makes the Guardians of the Galaxy such a great group of characters.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is slated to release on October 26 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. A cloud version is also coming to Nintendo Switch.