Revealed during the Marvel Games panel at New York Comic-Con, Kamala Khan is indeed the voice narrating the original trailer, and she’s much more than that as well. In the latest trailer for the game we see her confronting Bruce Banner and Tony Stark with evidence that could prove the tragic events from the game’s opening were a setup.
Not only does the character, voiced wonderfully by actor and singer Sandra Saad, urge the team to reform, she’s also a playable character. See her in action in the new trailer below.
It’s about damn time Ms. Marvel gets her due. I call dibs on playing her when Avengers launches on May 15, 2020. While we wait, here’s some behind-the-scenes.
Heroes from all corners of the Marvel universe unite to stop mad titan Thanos from collecting six Infinity Stones and unleashing their vast destructive power. What took the Marvel cinematic universe a decade and 23 movies to achieve, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order gets done in one game, and I didn’t sleep through any of it (looking at you, Marvel movies).
When last we visited the four-player, team-based action role-playing game series Marvel Ultimate Alliance, it was 2009, and the MCU had barely even started. The first Iron Man film and The Incredible Hulk hit theaters in 2008, with Iron Man 2 due out in 2010. Marvel fans who were eager to see Marvel heroes of all shapes, sizes and origins come together to kick villain ass outside the pages of comic books got their fix from 2009’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Lacking a series of interconnected films to take inspiration from at that time, the Activision-published game was instead based on Marvel’s popular Civil War comic book crossover, in which superheroes clashed over the idea of losing their secret identities and registering with the government. The setting and themes made for a gripping, dramatic game.
Marvel fandom has changed over the past ten years. Millions of moviegoers have watched the saga of Thanos and the Infinity Stones play out on movie screens around the world. Marvel’s Civil War is the Captain America movie where everybody fights at the airport and Spider-Man shows up. The Guardians of the Galaxy, a B-list superteam in the comics at best prior to 2014, are now one of Marvel’s hottest properties. So now we have Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, an action role-playing game for the Nintendo Switch that brings together Marvel’s greatest heroes to battle Thanos over the Infinity Stones, again. It’s what the people want.
The game opens with the Guardians of the Galaxy stumbling across all six Infinity Stones on an abandoned Kree starship, because this is a video game and no one wants to have to sit through Iron Man 2 or Thor again to get to the good bits. During a battle with Proxima Midnight, a member of Thanos’ evil Black Order, Star-Lord manages to grab one of the stones, teleporting his team to Earth and scattering the remaining five to random locations convenient to the game’s plot. The problem of getting Marvel’s cosmic team onto the planet with the rest of its heroes is therefore solved. After that point, an alliance is formed between heroes and the race to collect the Infinity Stones begins.
I am so tired of the Infinity Stones. We all know the deal with them by now, right? They’re colorful artifacts, each granting mastery over one of six cosmic forces—space, time, reality, power, soul, and mind. Should one user gather all six Infinity Stones, they gain ultimate power over the entire universe, though they never seem able to hold onto it long enough to affect any lasting change. They’ll always leave some of the heroes alive to change things back, or decide the power is too much for them and send them off to the corners of the universe to be found again later. Thus, the Infinity Stones are green, orange, blue, purple, yellow, and red herrings, existing only to facilitate epic crossovers.
Like so many Infinity Stone stories before it, then, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order isn’t really about the Infinity Stones. It’s about bringing together a diverse cast of heroes and villains and letting them play. It’s forming a party with Venom and Spider-Man and Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen and seeing what sort of webs they spin together. It’s taking common Marvel Comics events, like a breakout at super-powered prison The Raft, or Ultron attempting to take over Avengers Tower, and then seeing how those events get handled by your personal dream team. It’s the ultimate Marvel Team-Up. Oh, and Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are there, too.
The story isn’t great, but the dialogue is very good, giving each new character a moment in the spotlight. Occasionally we get little asides between certain groupings of characters, like Miles, Gwen and Ms. Marvel celebrating their first ninja temple after taking down the Kingpin in his Shadowland base. The game is filled with cute little interactions.
While set in its own pocket Marvel universe, Ultimate Alliance 3 draws heavily on the MCU. Characters are well-voiced, with many actors doing a fair impression of their live-action MCU counterparts. The entire Kingpin level is filled with references to the Netflix’s various Marvel TV shows, from Jessica Jones’ ripped jeans, leather jacket, and bad attitude, to Daredevil’s “I do my best fighting in hallways” line. When Iron Fist showed up, I wanted to take a nap until his section was over—just like the TV show. Developer Team Ninja really captured the spirit of live-action Marvel.
As they partake in what my co-worker Paul Tamayo aptly calls “fan service tapas,” players are forming a team of four Marvel heroes and running them through ten chapters of old-school action role-playing goodness. Utilizing a combination of light, heavy and special attacks, characters dispatch hordes of whichever faceless troops are native to each of the game’s locations—Kree soldiers, Ultron robots, escaped prisoners, ninjas and the like. Tougher versions of each enemy type feature stun meters that must be depleted before significant damage can be done.
Each character has up to four special abilities they can use in battle. These abilities can be combined with those of other characters, creating powerful combo attacks. Combining Storm’s whirlwind attack with Dr. Strange’s fire attack creates a controllable fire tornado that tears into enemy ranks. A meter that fills as characters use normal attacks allows them to unleash Extreme attacks that all four members of a team can join in on. These massive, screen-filling spectacles do massive damage to enemies and the game’s framerate alike.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is not a mindless hack-and-slash game. Spamming attacks might get players through the first couple of chapters, but enemies get strong pretty quick. Dodging and blocking is a must. Enemies appear in massive numbers, often making it hard to pick out the character you’re controlling in the chaos. Switching from the game’s default difficulty of Mighty to the lower setting, Friendly, mainly seems to make enemies drop more health and power orbs, giving players a slightly better chance of surviving.
Staying on your toes is especially important during boss fights. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s boss battles are like dungeon boss fights in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Attacks are telegraphed via glowing circles on the floor. Players need to learn and pay attention to boss movement and vocal cues. Positioning is important in order to avoid sweeping area-of-effect attacks.
I’ve died a lot playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, mostly in boss battles, but I’ve not gotten frustrated. Each time I’ve come right back, armed with a little more knowledge of what makes big guys like Ultron or Dormammu tick. While I’ve played a little online with my co-worker Paul, I’m really looking forward to going online with the public and seeing what a coordinated team can do against these challenging encounters.
No amount of outside help will help me conquer Ultimate Alliance 3’s greatest foe its camera. Sometimes it shakes when players turn corners. It gets locked behind a character from time to time, shifting perspective in disorienting fashion. A few times, the camera’s gotten stuck on geometry, forcing me to fight blind. It’s worse in handheld mode, especially when it pulls way back on a scene, making characters incredibly difficult to make out in a crowd. A day one patch will address some of the game’s camera issues, but not all. Here’s hoping for more patches.
One of the few disappointing aspects of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is it severely stripped down the role-playing elements from the 2006 original. There was barely any character and stat management, leaving players who enjoy fiddling with upgrades and enhancements in the cold. I’ve got good news for those players.
Ultimate Alliance 3 has a whole lot of management to perform between battles. There’s Alliance Enhancement, a multi-section grid where players can spend enhancement points and credits to boost the entire team’s statistics. Players unlock Infinity missions as the story progresses, bite-sized tasks that reward upgrade materials, alternate costumes, and a couple extra characters.
This is also the first Ultimate Alliance game to feature Isotope-8 (ISO-8), the mysterious power-enhancing material that’s been shoehorned into almost every Marvel video game since 2012. Characters can equip different colors and potency of ISO-8 collected in the story or through Infinity missions to provide a wide variety of enhancements. Some of these enhancements are straight-up stat upgrades. Others grant benefits in special circumstances, like increasing the damage a character does when their health is under 25 percent. Eventually players gain the ability to upgrade their ISO-8.
As with earlier games in the series, teams gain special benefits when formed with related characters. My party of Venom, Spider-Man, Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen gains an eight percent boost to their resilience stat for having four members of the “Web Warriors” sub-group. Three members are in the “Agile Fighters” sub-group, granting a two percent boost to the mastery stat. And since Miles and Gwen are in the “Ultimate Alliance 3” group of characters new to the series, they get a one percent boost to vitality.
Basically, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is menu management heaven, and every stat tweak makes a difference. Many of my deaths during the game’s story were immediately followed by a trip into the menu system to switch up ISO-8 assignments, unlock a few more spots on the Alliance Enhancement grid or swap around characters. Each time I felt a difference in how my team took and dealt damage.
I’ve got a lot more menu fiddling ahead of me. It took me ten hours to finish Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s story on Mighty difficulty. The credits have rolled, but since I spent the back half of the game relying on a team of Storm, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Ms. Marvel, they’re the only four characters I have beyond level 40. That’s four out of the 33 characters I’ve unlocked so far. I have Infinity missions to complete, several of which require solo characters I’ve neglected thus far. On top of all of that, finishing the story unlocks Superior difficulty, which starts at level 40 and ramps up from there. I’m not putting down this game any time soon.
Marvel is in a very different place in 2019 than it was in 2009. Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 were made for fans of comic books, cartoons and the early Spider-Man and X-Men movies. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is very much a product of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The characterizations are straight from the films. The game prominently features characters no one cared about back in 2009. In the game’s gallery, there’s a report section with biographies on heroes and villains with commentary by members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, to be enjoyed by people who had no idea what a Groot was prior to 2014. I love that characters I’ve grown up with have so many new fans. I’m just mildly disappointed it led to another Infinity Stone hunt instead of a game with an original story to tell.
But that’s fine. If an animated rehash of 10 years’ worth of movies and television is the framing needed to get me an action role-playing game as rich, challenging and satisfying as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, then so be it.
The Avengers, their friends and some of their foes are hitting the Switch this week with the release of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Pick your favorite hero and argue with your friends who is getting stuck playing with the right Joycon.
I really loved that first Ultimate Alliance game. Played a lot of it back in the day on 360. Never really got into the second game as much, for whatever reason. But that first game was great. Do you remember that section where you play classic Activision games, like Pitfall? And all the different endings and Easter eggs. Hope this new game is as fun as that first one.
For fans of European truck racing, lucky you. FIA European Truck Racing Championship is coming out later next week for multiple platforms.
Other stuff is coming out this week! Check out the list below:
Monday, July 15
Break The Game | PC
Kim Shooter | PC
Aura | PC
C64 & AMIGA Classix Remakes Sixpack 3 | PC
Tuesday, July 16
Must Dash Amigos | Xbox One
LOST ORBIT: Terminal Velocity | Xbox One, PC
Distrust | Switch
Let’s Sing 2019 | Switch, PC
Forklift – The Simulation | Switch
Defend The Keep | PC
Shrine Of The God-Ape | PC
ATRIUM | PC, Mac
Killsquad | PC
The Last Aura | PC, Mac
Moi Mei | PC
Nightmare Reaper | PC
Summer Catchers | PC
Wednesday, July 17
Initial2: New Stage | Xbox One
Night Call | PC, Mac
Let’s Go Nuts | Switch
8bit Pigeon Hunter | PC
Grizzland | PC
Thursday, July 18
Growtopia | Xbox One
Gabbuchi | PS4, Switch, PC
Etherborn | PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Warlocks 2: God Slayers | PC
FIA European Truck Racing Championship | PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Caladrius Blaze | Switch
Royal Roads | Switch
World Cruise Story | Switch
Battle & Crash | Switch
Tarot Readings Premium | Switch
Archlion Saga | Switch
Golf Defied | PC
Friday, July 19
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order | Switch
Redeemer: Enhanced Edition | PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.
Crystal Dynamics’ take on Avengers looks like a slightly skewed version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—just similar enough to pique your interest, but just different enough to make you feel itchy. Five of the most film-famous Avengers star in a 25-minute gameplay demo that Kotaku saw behind closed doors at E3: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Black Widow. In action, their moves look great, but visually, it all feels ever so slightly off.
In a meeting room at Square Enix’s E3 booth alongside other reporters, I watched a Crystal Dynamics rep play through the demo. It showed off each of the five characters and their different powers, like Thor’s hammer throwing and lightning strikes and Black Widow’s dual pistol firing and backflipping.
The campaign will feature a totally new and original story. In the bit we saw, the five heroes fought against a team of non-superpowered baddies wearing skull masks who had high-tech military equipment and who, apparently, had stolen some of their tech from Tony Stark himself, to Tony’s chagrin. Their leader turned out to be Taskmaster, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned mercenary who wants to blow up San Francisco for unclear reasons. The Avengers team up to stop him and his cohorts, but ultimately, they fail, and San Francisco gets melted by a bunch of sparkly sci-fi energy beams, which seems bad. Also, Captain America dies—or, at least, a memorial statue of Cap gets shown at the end of the demo, so he’s dead as far as we know.
Before the gameplay presentation, a Crystal Dynamics rep told the room that Avengers would have a single-player campaign with the option for cooperative play as well for some of the missions. The demo footage kept the characters on rails in a fairly linear progression of fights, most of which took place on and around the Golden Gate bridge. Aside from a brief moment when Iron Man joined Thor, not much cooperative or multiplayer team-based gameplay was shown—only individual superheroes from the team, each in separate areas, fighting their own fights.
The good news is that each character does appear to have a distinctive fighting style and lineup of moves that jibe with what you’d expect from them, which in this game does appear to be very inspired by their live-action movie counterparts. Even though their faces and voice actors are different, they’re wearing the same costumes and doing the same kinds of moves. Thor’s collection of moves looked robust and complicated; he can use his hammer for a variety of close-up melee attacks that appear to chain in a way that looks similar to Batman’s moves in the Arkham games or Kratos in the latest God of War. Thor can throw his hammer to pin down enemies, continue fighting with his fists, call back his hammer for more strikes, and even use a big, flashy lightning strike in the vein of the climactic final fight scene in Thor: Ragnarok.
At the end of Thor’s section, Iron Man flew in briefly to fire some blasts at enemies from his position in the sky. I thought we were getting a glimpse of what cooperative gameplay could look like in this moment, but it didn’t last long. Soon, the player’s perspective changed to Iron Man, who flew off to fight his own solo fight on the bridge. It wasn’t clear why the game chose to switch the player’s perspective from Thor to Iron Man, and that type of sudden switching continued throughout the demo without any narrative justification provided. While it did result in a tight E3 demo that showed off each of the characters, I’m not sure how this will translate to the final game. While playing a campaign like this, it’s not clear how much control the player will actually have over which character they get to choose in a given situation, or if they’ll just be forced to switch around according to the whims of the game.
Iron Man appears to have one set of moves on the ground and another set when he’s in the air, the latter of which looks a lot cooler. As he hovers above ground, the game becomes more of an over-the-shoulder shooter, allowing the player to aim Tony’s blasts at targets. He can also call in guided missiles to blow up enemy turrets. After Tony finished clearing out his section of the bridge, the Marvel’s Avengers demo did another quick-cut between characters, unceremoniously tossing our vantage point up into a jet with Black Widow and Bruce Banner, the latter of whom rose from his chair and hopped out of the jet to transform into the Hulk and commence the bad-assery.
The Hulk’s move set looks simple but undeniably fun, not least because of his massive, careening jump and apparent ability to toss cars off a bridge with a mere flick of a huge green hand. He has a move where he can pick up a bad guy and fling him down on the ground, the way the Hulk famously did to Loki in the first Avengers movie. The Hulk can also grab two guys and slam them into each other, which looks satisfying as well. He also has the power to clap his hands to generate a shockwave, a move that the Hulk actually did at the climax of that Edward Norton Hulk movie that no one besides me saw but which is technically also a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At the end of the Hulk’s section, as the green guy picked up a tank to throw at the remaining bad guys, the Marvel’s Avengers demo revealed its first of what would be several quick-time events. These are moments when a player gets thrust into watching a cool cinematic that can only be completed by pressing one button at the right time. Hulk throwing the tank looked cool, but it was also basically just a cutscene, and not really something the player appeared to have much control over.
Then, the demo shunted us off into Captain America’s perspective. His lineup of punches looked similar to Thor’s when Thor didn’t have his hammer on him, although Cap also has some cool kicks in the mix as well. Plus, he’s got that shield, which he can throw at enemies. It’s not clear whether Cap can target the boomerang arc of his shield, or if the player just lets go of it and the shield does the work. It looked more like the latter.
Cap’s section didn’t last long before transitioning into a segment featuring the fifth and final character, Black Widow. Since she’s a human, Black Widow has been tricked out with all kinds of tech in Marvel’s Avengers, even more than she got in the movies. Some of her moves are straight out of Scarlett Johansson’s fight choreography repertoire: She has dual pistols and thighs that can kill anyone whose neck is unfortunate enough to end up between them. Instead of a back-dash, she can do a backflip, and she can also roll out of the way of incoming attacks.
As a result, Widow seems much more acrobatic and fluid than the heavy, slow punching of Thor and Captain America, which fits her character and abilities given that she doesn’t have super-strength on her side. She does also have some new tech built into her suit, most notably the ability to turn invisible, which she whips out in her final showdown with Taskmaster.
Black Widow is the only Avenger who ends up fighting Taskmaster, which is weird because you’d think they would all team up to fight the big bad guy at the end of this ordeal. Where were the other four dudes while Nat was kicking this skull guy’s butt? Captain America was, apparently, flying back into San Francisco because he had figured out that the Golden Gate Bridge fight was a distraction from the real threat, the source of which was honestly unclear, but whatever it was, it ended up destroying San Francisco and Captain America with it. Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk busied themselves with saving civilians in vehicles from falling off the bridge, which was in the process of getting destroyed, but that mostly felt like an excuse not to show how powerful this lineup would be if they could only work together.
The dialogue didn’t ring true, either. Marvel’s Avengers felt like it wanted to be funny, but it couldn’t quite pull off the dense, back-to-back quips that unfold in a typical Marvel movie. At one point, Tony made a joke about not reading any mission briefs ahead of time, and another character responded, “Tony, those are important.” In response, Tony said, “Yeah, whatever.” It was delivered like a joke, but there’s no joke there, except that apparently this version of Tony Stark is wildly irresponsible—an odd choice for a character who is self-centered and self-destructive but who, ultimately, has always cared about taking responsibility for his work. Sure, Tony Stark has also dealt with alcoholism in the comic books, but he’s always been a high-functioning egomaniac whose work matters more to him than his personal relationships. And you’re going to tell me that he suddenly doesn’t care about reading mission briefs? It feels particularly careless given that this is a scene that ends with the destruction of a major city, due to the fact that the Avengers appear to have done an abysmal job of planning any of this.
That’s the really weird part about this demo: the total lack of communication between the Avengers. They each fight individually, perhaps because that’s all that the developers could show at this stage. In a game like Spider-Man or Arkham Asylum, the lead character is one who can work alone. The Avengers don’t work alone, though. The Marvel movies got better and better at choreographing and showing off fight scenes featuring each of the characters’ powers working in tandem with one another. That would be very difficult to show in a video game, but it’s also what most people would expect of a game like this, having been primed with the movies.
The real difficulty for Crystal Dynamics is that by choosing this particular lineup of Avengers characters and putting them in the exact same outfits and giving them such similar moves, this game will invariably live in the shadow of the live-action movies that clearly inspired it. The Crystal Dynamics rep told us that the team had been working with Marvel “for years” on this concept, and maybe this is what Marvel wanted.
Having seen the trailer and the footage so far, I think that choice was a big mistake. I’m not just saying that because I’d much rather play a game inspired by my favorite ‘80s era Avengers comic books, in which The Wasp assumes leadership of the team and taps She-Hulk and Captain Marvel (the Monica Rambeau version) to join the ranks. The mistake, in my view, is creating a game that so closely mimics the movies. There are some cool ideas in this gameplay demo: Thor’s hammer-throwing looks fantastic, and Black Widow’s blend of acrobatics and pistols looks bad-ass. But it’s hard to let any of those ideas stand on their own when they’re inevitably going to be compared to the movies.
The Arkham Batman games and the recent Spider-Man game had the benefit of being adaptations of characters who have been adapted many, many times. No one saw Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man game and thought, “Why isn’t that Tom Holland?” Okay, maybe someone did, but then there’s also Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and any number of animated TV versions of Spider-Man in the mix as well. By contrast, it’s weird that Black Widow doesn’t look or sound like Scarlett Johansson, yet is wearing her exact same outfit and doing the moves that we’ve seen her do in so many movies.
Perhaps Crystal Dynamics intends to introduce more characters from Avengers canon who are not intrinsically associated with the famous actors from the Marvel movies. The introduction of Taskmaster as a villain seems promising in this regard, given that he’s never been in any of the movies, which means that the game’s team can come up with their own way to bring him to life in this particular Avengers story (except for the part where Taskmaster was also in that Spider-Man game). Again, each of the characters’ move sets look cool, although it’s just not clear how they could all work together in a way that actually works and doesn’t reduce the game into being a series of boring, codified missions that only allow the player to inhabit certain specific heroes with the powers needed to get a specific job done.
Marvel’s Avengers comes out on May 15, 2020, meaning the Crystal Dynamics team has only a year left to make this work. I hope the final product gels together just as well as the Avengers always do in the movies. But, above all, I hope that the final product is able to escape the shadow of those movies and create something that can stand on its own.
E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order marks the first time Nintendo is publishing a game in this series, and the company has tapped Team Ninja to develop it. I and several of my Kotaku coworkers swung by the Nintendo booth at E3 to check out how the game plays. I found it to be as simple and satisfying as previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, plus the lineup of characters is killer. Any game in which I can play as Wolverine and slash the heck out of some ninjas is a good time.
I played as Wolverine; my colleague Gita Jackson played alongside me as Storm. In the video above, you can watch Stephen Totilo play as Thor, Paul Tamayo play as Miles Morales, and the Nintendo rep at the booth also play as Wolverine. As you can see, Wolverine is sick as hell in this game. Like all the other characters, he gets a light attack (slashing wildly), a heavy attack (big ol’ slash), and a synergy attack, which means he can combine forces with another character and unleash a cool new attack using both heroes’ powers.
After seeing that other Avengers game trailer earlier this week, I kept thinking about how all I really want from a Marvel-inspired multiplayer video game is something that reflects all of these different characters’ abilities and has the diverse lineup of my favorite Avengers comics. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does that exact thing. You can swing your tree arms around as Groot. You can toss your shield as Captain America. And, most importantly, you can slash the heck out of baddies as the one and only Wolverine.
Each of the heroes only has a few different attacks, and the overall gameplay is pretty straightforward: clear some enemies from an area, move forward, clear more enemies, repeat. Even so, every character feels different, and their moves reflect each of their different powers. Also, you can stop at checkpoints and switch quickly to a different character. The story didn’t seem very deep, nor did the gameplay, but the fact that you can play as a diverse handful of entrants in the usual Avengers lineup helped Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 really hit the spot for me.
Ever since Tony Stark exclaimed “That man is playing Galaga!” during the first Avengers movie, gamers have been waiting for another video game reference to show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Okay, not really, but Avengers: Endgame sure did give us a big video game scene, right? Let’s talk about it.
The first chunk of Endgame shows the Avengers finally confronting Thanos, who is relaxing post-victory in his new intergalactic summer home. Our heroes tell him they want the infinity stones back so they can undo the damage Thanos did, but the big purple Titan tells them that he’s already destroyed the stones. Before anyone can fully react to this horrible news, Thor swings down his axe and chops Thanos’s head off.
Then we get a “five years later” title card. None of the Avengers have been faring well in the intervening time, Thor perhaps the worst of all. He is depressed. He’s got a sizable beer belly (Chris Hemsworth is wearing an unconvincing fat suit). And he’s a gamer now. Specifically, he plays Fortnite.
Thor’s descent into depression, and his weight gain, is presented as a joke. Rocket tells him he looks like melted ice cream. In a later scene, his mother tells her son to “eat a salad,” a hollow quip that inexplicably follows an otherwise supportive pep talk. The extent of the thunder god’s downfall is also shown in his hobby of choice, which is gaming. He doesn’t fight in the real world anymore; he fights in a virtual one.
He’s not even very good at Fortnite. There’s some kid who keeps beating him. In frustration, Thor picks up his headset and screams into it that he’s “Thor, the god of thunder,” and that he could totally kick that kid’s ass in real life, if he could only find him.
Thor turning to games when he’s in a dark place, and also his unhealthy, though characteristic reaction to failure does more to illustrate his downfall than the bizarre and unfunny fat jokes ever could. I’ve turned to video games in times of defeat and depression—it’s not an uncommon panacea. It’s also a pastime that still requires you to learn how to deal with failure. This scene shows us that Thor still hasn’t figured that out.
Thor had already lost in real life by the time he confronted Thanos. Chopping off Thanos’s head presented the illusion of achievement, but not a satisfying one. Seeking a more tangible reward, Thor turned to video games. Maybe sometimes he wins. But this Endgame scene highlights a moment in which he loses, and refuses to accept that he has lost. It’s a moment that’s both funny and sad in the exact way that it needs to be.
In his real life, Thor hasn’t actually lost as much as he believes that he has. Some of the Asgardians are still alive. Valkyrie is right outside, doing the leadership work that Thor refuses to do. And the rest of the Avengers have cooked up a cockamamie plan to get the infinity stones back after all. But Thor is busy playing video games. And he can’t even do that right.
It’s too bad that this poignant scene happens in the midst of a collection of tired stereotypes of gamers: fat, lazy, surrounded by chip bags. Thor’s plotline almost manages to speak to some core truths about depression and turning to games in times of darkness, but then it whiffs the landing in favor of tired fat jokes. Still, though, it’s a lot better than that one Galaga reference.
Even if you’re not a Marvel fan (I’m not), Fortnite’s Avengers tie-in, Fortnite Endgame, is a lot of fun. It continues the game’s recent trend of unique limited-time modes that barely feel like Fortnite but still fit right into its world.
As my colleague Mike Fahey detailed this morning, Fortnite Endgame pits two sides against each other. One side is the Chitauri, which this Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki tells me are “cybernetically enhanced beings operating under a hive mind intelligence.” In Fortnite, they’re just gnarly purplish characters armed with some powerful guns and the ability to hover. The Chitauri have to collect Infinity Stones that drop around the map. The first Chitauri to collect a Infinity Stone becomes Thanos, who has a larger health pool, a super-powerful punch attack, and a laser beam. If Thanos dies, the last player to grab a stone respawns as him.
During my very first Endgame match, I got the first stone and turned into Thanos. I was a bit thrown at first, especially since Thanos moves so slowly and can’t build. Luckily, my teammates rushed to defend me, and I soon had fun stomping around the map and towering over my minions. Once I got the hang of playing Thanos, I was ground-pounding and laser-beaming enemies to death in droves.
The other team is made up of heroes who start with a treasure map that leads them to an Avengers-themed weapon. Other Avengers’ weapons can be found in chests, each of them doing what you’d expect. Thor’s hammer can be thrown a great distance to destroy structures, Iron Man’s gauntlets let you hover and shoot projectiles, and Captain America’s shield can be thrown like a discus and, as it bounces around, it’ll do immense damage on anything it strikes before eventually returning to its owner. In the midst of one fight, I found the perfect moment to hurl the shield at an approaching enemy, and it swung back around and eliminated them in one hit. I never felt like a superhero, more like one of Fortnite’s flimsy characters who’d found some sweet loot. Still, it was fun as hell to be a regular character who had somehow stumbled upon a power way beyond them.
The two teams have competing goals. The Chitauri need to collect all the Infinity Stones and then eliminate the heroes. The heroes need to deplete the Chitauri of their pool of respawns and then kill them before they can collect all the stones. This means that as the Chitauri, you have to be a bit strategic and not just rush into battle because you can respawn.
Heroes have unlimited respawns until all the stones have been collected, but you have to juggle finding the Avengers weapons around the map with contributing damage and protecting the stones. There’s a lot to keep track of for both parties, and all of the wild weapons and characters taking to the air makes matches get chaotic fast. I tossed all my Fortnite strategy out the window and just dove into the fray, enjoying the laser beams, hover sound effects, and colorful explosions as teams scrabbled for dominance.
I don’t care much about the Avengers or superhero franchises in general, so I was worried the event wouldn’t do much for me. The Avengers narrative elements in the mode sometimes felt intrusive, like when text would pop onto the screen, but the hero weapons were so fun and so unlike other Fortnite weapons, and the Chitauri responsibilities so frantic, that I had a great time despite being probably the only person on the planet with no plans to see Avengers Endgame.
Fortnite Endgame comes with Fortnite’s 8.50 patch. The patch brings some bug fixes, including placing an invulnerability effect on players respawning in a Reboot Van. There’s also this tidbit: “If a player is eliminated by fall damage while inside a vehicle, the player that last damaged that vehicle will receive the credit for that elimination.” I could see myself picking up a few eliminations that way, as well as giving some to enemies due to my tendency to careen around in the game’s vehicles and kill myself. Epic also fixed an issue with players not receiving XP for survival challenges. I booted up the game this morning to a chunk of XP progress, which was nice. You can check out all the patch notes here.
Between Fortnite Endgame and Air Royale, Fortnite has had some great limited-time modes lately. By featuring vastly different mechanics than the base game, the game’s development team creates modes that barely play like Fortnite while still fitting into its vibe. While playing Endgame, I told myself I’d just play enough matches to complete the currently available challenges, but even with those completed and two days to wait for more, I’m excited to jump back in.