EA is in the early stages of developing a Black Panther game. According to industry insider Jeff Grubb, the project will take inspiration from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and act as an open world, single-player adventure with a focus on characters and narrative. No multiplayer, no live service, and no strings attached. I can’t believe it took them this long to figure it out.
After the success of Marvel’s Spider-Man, it was clear that mainstream audiences were after an experience that wasn’t trying to pull them into an overwhelming multiplayer jaunt with a focus on needless unlockables and co-op play, but solo outings with meaningful stories, developed characters, and freedom to be their favourite superheroes.
When these personalities are jammed into a corporate mandated formula, the lack of passion behind it quickly bubbles to the surface. Marvel’s Avengers was a failure on every metric, and will become a case study for all to learn from. Crystal Dynamics did and continues to do its very best under tough circumstances, but it has been clear since the game’s launch that it is never going to ignite the same enthusiasm as its contemporaries.
The campaign which focuses on Kamala Khan was decent, but largely because it didn’t follow the online template the endgame is positively rotten with. The second you roll credits the arduous grind begins, and this is exactly when so many players switched off. Aside from the Black Panther expansion I haven’t had any desire to go back, and it’s only a matter of time until the game goes free-to-play, or it fades into obscurity as player counts dwindle.
Electronic Arts has clearly been keeping an eye on this climate, since its newly rumoured Black Panther project isn’t a live service juggernaut, but a single player title much like Jedi Fallen Order. That game sold millions, single-handedly reversing the perception that games of its ilk were dead and weren’t capable of lighting the world on fire anymore. It did, and profits have clearly been loud enough for Black Panther to follow in its footsteps. That’s awesome, and absolutely the right call for a character like this.
Details are slight right now, and the project is apparently in the very early stages of development, but the blueprint has been set, and it seems ambitiously sensible. In the right hands, Black Panther is a character with plenty of nuance. He can do battle with the best of them, while using his natural agility and superpowered suit to leap across rooftops and scramble through dense jungles in search of baddies to battle with. I can already see Wakanda as an open world, expanded to represent its distinct culture while perhaps even incorporating other elements from the Marvel universe to ensure things don’t get stale.
I thought the film itself was fine, but the potential of the character and his home country are unparalleled, especially with the right team behind the reins working to bring it to life. Give us an overarching threat to deal with alongside a detailed world to explore, offering a level of freedom equal to Marvel’s Spider-Man in how we’re able to make it our own. Or perhaps it will draw from Fallen Order more than we’re expecting, with a more melodic focus on combat with different levels that are both open and linear in their execution. There are so many questions, but the fact my mind is already swimming with possibilities is absolutely a good sign. I felt none of this with Marvel’s Avengers because the initial pitch was so damn abstruse.
I was in the room when it was first announced at E3 2019, and the atmosphere was a mixture of indifference and confusion. Crystal Dynamics spent 20 minutes talking about this game without showing any actual footage or telling the audience what we would even be doing in it. We knew it was co-op, we knew it had a bunch of familiar characters, but beyond that it was all a mystery. This is a superhero game, it shouldn’t be that hard to explain exactly what the moment-to-moment action would entail. At that moment it was clearly still being pieced together, with the next several months featuring an equally cagey approach to marketing that did it absolutely no favours. The whole thing was doomed from the start.
Black Panther, at least from very distant first impressions, appears to recognise exactly what went wrong with Marvel’s Avengers and has no intention of replicating its failings. EA likely knows that the public isn’t interested in a live service superhero game, and there are now multiple successes in the single-player realm worth building upon. It can still use Black Panther as a springboard for additional content, but the base product will be an ambitious, standalone adventure that understands exactly what it wants to be. That’s what we like to see, and it shouldn’t be this difficult to capitalise on trends and create something that doesn’t seek to take advantage of consumers, but actively appeal to them in a constructive way.
This game is still years away, but I’m already excited because the pitch is simple, effective, and true to what a superhero adventure in the modern day should be. Enough appealing to damaging trends merely to maximise profits, read the room and recognise that superheroes are all about living out the ultimate power fantasy as characters we know and love.
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