The fact there's a new Guardians of the Galaxy game from Eidos Montreal may not come as too much of a surprise. Its existence, as the second game in Square Enix's big Marvel deal following Avengers, has been an open secret for some time.
But what you may not have expected, and what I will be a welcome surprise to those who bounced off of Avengers' controversial live game concept, is how this Guardians game will actually play.
Guardians of the Galaxy will launch on 26th October for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S as a single-player, story-driven third person action-adventure. After launch, developer Eidos Montreal has promised, it will not have DLC or any microtransactions. Huh!
Throughout a half hour presentation on the game made available by Square Enix last week, I kept waiting for the 'but'. As of yet, I'm still to hear one. Marvel's Avengers wasn't mentioned once, but every decision here feels like a learning from the response to that game's online live service loot grind and its delayed post-launch updates. It also feels an acknowledgement that, actually, Avengers' Kamala Khan-led story campaign was well-liked, and that Square Enix's teams are best doing what they're good at.
Developed by Deus Ex, Thief and Shadow of the Tomb Raider studio Eidos Montreal, Guardians of the Galaxy has you play solely as Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord. Other members of the Guardians will appear on screen, but are controlled by AI. In battle, you'll be able to direct them to make specific attacks.
There's still a bit of oddness to seeing roles so well and so currently defined by their Marvel Cinematic Universe actors being played by others. But I think this is smoothed over here far better than in Avengers - and not least because Star-Lord does look different enough without aping Chris Pratt's face (and he often has his visor on anyway), while both Groot and Rocket could stand in for their MCU versions.
Guardians' story picks up this new version of the dysfunctional sci-fi family less than a year after they start working together. The group has bonded, but members are still squabbling amongst themselves. An early sequence I saw involved the Guardians planning to trick Lady Hellbender into a trade. They need cash, so decide to "sell" either Rocket or Groot to Hellbender, the Monster Queen of Seknaf Nine, with the intention of breaking their team member out afterwards and making off with her money as well.
Dialogue options let you choose which of the two Guardians will be offered up for sale, with you as Quill getting the deciding vote. This feels a good example for how decisions in the game will work: to flavour the story, while not suddenly splitting it down a wholly different narrative path. There will be "repercussions" for your choices, Eidos Montreal said (being mean to Rocket at one point displayed a Telltale Games-style 'Rocket will remember that' message), but the game will ultimately end in the same place, having told a story with a defined beginning and end.
Overall, the tone of the game feels very MCU-like, with quips and a licensed score you'd expect to hear in a James Gunn movie. Drax is stone cold deadpan, Rocket is grumpy but adorable, and Star-Lord is left to act, as usual, like an overgrown kid, cassette tape Walkman blasting away. Battles with enemies play out with the option to call in what look like charged attacks accompanied by tunes like I Need A Hero or Bad Reputation, while other '80s artists namechecked by Eidos Montreal include Kiss, Iron Maiden and Blondie. A couple of battles were shown, where our heroes fought gelatinous cubes, and a brief level up message was displayed at the end. Exactly how the progression, gear and skill systems will work was left for another day.
Apart from the core quintet of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot, I saw glimpses of Mantis and Cosmo the Spacedog. The main story of the game is still a little unclear, but will involve the Guardians accidentally creating something which takes on a life of its own and ends up threatening the galaxy unless they do something about it, senior narrative director Mary DeMarle teased. Eidos Montreal said it had worked with Marvel on the story, including with Guardians of the Galaxy writer Dan Abnett, to feature a mix of familiar characters and others even comic book fans might be surprised to see surface.
Pre-order Guardians of the Galaxy and you'll get a set of "Throwback Guardians" skins, including Rocket in a suit and shades. A snazzier Cosmic Deluxe Edition includes the game, an artbook, soundtrack download and Steelbook case, plus Sun-Lord and City-Lord outfits for Quill. Other than these, cosmetics will exist in the game but be unlocked by playing it - not sold separately.
"There isn't going to be any DLC for this game, there isn't going to be any microtransactions," DeMarle said, "and that's because, for us, it's very important that on day one, when players get this game, they can have access to everything there is about this game and experience it. So right off the bat, they can get all of the costumes or outfits that are available. They can find all the abilities as they progress through the game. It's all there."