E3 2011 Preview: X-Men Destiny
I'll tell you right off the bat that X-Men Destiny is going to be a hard sell if you're used to traditional Marvel games. It plops you down into Marvel's universe as a previously-unknown character, a mutant that has just unlocked new powers. You'll be getting help - and having to battle - many of the best characters that the X-Men mythos has to offer, but you're going to be playing as a character that, at least at first, starts out as a nobody. Sure, you have a choice of three nobodies to pick from during character creation, but that's it.
Told you it'd be a tough idea to get behind.
But there are some really good ideas here, too. With a clean slate of a character comes a customizability that you simply can't get out of a more rigidly-defined X-Men universe. Many of the past games have allowed players to swap out one character for another whenever the developers thought the player might get bored of one particular fighting style; instead of allowing Wolverine to start firing lasers from his blades in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the developers would just let you use Cyclops instead. And that's all the designers can usually do; having well-established characters go too far outside of their boundaries wouldn't likely be popular with the fans, so designers of comic book games are always working inside constraints imposed by the lore.
Not here. Since you're a brand new mutant, your journey involves bringing in tons of characters for all kinds of roles, and there are even relatively new characters here that haven't been seen in Marvel games in the past. You'll be combining special X-genes, borrowed from popular mutants, and can combine up to three of them to power up your character's standard set of abilities. Then there are the costumes to unlock, and combining all three X-genes from one licensed mutant along with the appropriate costume will add special powers; the example we saw was with Quiksilver's full set of X-genes and costume against a slow, hard-hitting boss, and the added super speed allowed the player to easily dodge the big dude's devastating, but sluggish attacks. Things got tougher as this boss kept ingesting genes and taking on the traits of Quicksilver, Surge, and Colossus while getting bigger and bigger.
Each of the three characters you can choose from has a unique set of attacks and abilities. There's Grant, a young American with a focus on melee attacks; Aimi, a Japanese teenage girl that specializes in ranged attacks; and finally there's Adrian, a stealth-oriented character that hits hard but takes lots of damage. Each character has his or her own full set of basic and empowered attacks, and as you add various mutants' X-genes to power up these base attacks, they each combine for a distinct final product. If I'm doing my math right, we should have many thousands of combinations of moves and X-genes to play with. We saw a few examples of the effects, and it seems like the game's lasting value might center around just how diverse your arsenal really does become with the outfits and gene additions. Fighting isn't the only thing you'll affect with your choices, however, as you'll also go through a storyline that allows you to decide the fate of mutants on Earth by picking one side or the other. It remains to be seen how different the game winds up being by picking one side over the other, but it's important to point out that this is relatively new no matter what - branching storylines are not something we've seen much of in big-license comic book games.
X-Men Destiny is certainly a departure by Beenox, the developer that has at least partially become the new steward of Marvel games, and they're going to have to deliver a pretty solid set of action-RPG elements to keep players interested as they go. You'll have an indirect, once-removed access to your favorite Marvel characters' powers, or at least as they're channeled through your created characters' standard abilities, but it's important to point out that from we saw during the E3 demo, it just wasn't quite the same as controlling the real character. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough content shown at E3 to convince me that X-Men Destiny will work after the initial novelty has worn off, but if it winds up bringing in enough fun mutants while still allowing you to feel like you're a part of the story and not just an accessory to it, then this could certainly be a winner. If not, then I wouldn't expect much. X-Men Destiny is set for release this fall on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and 3DS.