It was a much-maligned decision to release back-to-back Hawkeye characters to help put food on the table for players hungry for more Marvel’s Avengers content. Marvel’s roster runs incredibly deep and those riding out the road map of Crystal Dynamics’ divisive live-service platform have been waiting for another big name to join the roster. With Spider-Man still in the wings for PlayStation users, it seemed Black Panther would be it.
Whether the sad passing of Chadwick Boseman prompted Crystal Dynamics to, out of respect, pop the expansion on the backburner to focus on the remainder of the roadmap, we’ll never know. However, the resultant expansion already feels like it’s set to add more to Marvel’s Avengers than anything that has come before it, with a big marquee superhero story promised. It’s a role that Christopher Judge had reservations about and while it isn’t Boseman, which feels like a sacred betrayal of his legacy, Judge slips into the role with a cool, stoic delivery, giving this particular T’Challa, inspired in part by the film and by the comics that bear his moniker, real dimension.
Though the narrative will involve the expanded cast of Avengers from the base game, the narrative at the heart of War for Wakanda sets focus on the conflict between T’Challa and Ulysses Klaue, a king and a would-be conqueror whose histories and origin stories are more alike and more entwined than either would care to admit. Through the adoption of corrupted Vibranium and sciences unbeknownst to even Shuri, Klaue infiltrates the confines of Wakanda, turns their technology against them, and presents a threat worthy of both Black Panther and his Avengers chums.
T’Challa’s absence from the base game is fast explained away as him shutting Wakanda away after the loss of his friend, Captain America, and there’s plenty of exposition that introduces players to the city’s origins and how its people leveraged the Vibranium at its heart to advance through the ages. As with the film, there’s a rich and lively mythology that makes Wakanda a cultural touchstone for so many and it’s a relief all of that is still here.
One of the great parts of Black Panther was its strong, female warriors. If the first two missions are any indicator, the Dora Milaje and Shuri should both have prominent roles in this T’Challa tale. We see plenty of Okoye wielding her signature spear, cast from Vibranium, and we’re treated to plenty of Shuri over comms as she guides T’Challa throughout the city rescue. It’s hard not to love her quick wit and just how openly she tends to mock the king.
The expansion is expected to clock in at around eight hours, making it the very meaty piece of content that those in the Marvel’s Avengers ecosystem have been wanting since launch. As well as offering plenty of new story content, War for Wakanda will introduce players to an all-new outpost, increase the game’s level cap at last, and introduce even more costumes for the game’s heroes.
I feel like Crystal Dynamics has been hit and miss so far when it comes to nailing the fight and feel of each of these iconic heroes, with Black Panther, too, looking a little mixed. The speed and agility he’s known for doesn’t ring true with the systems in place, he runs like he’s in knee-deep mud and his double-jump feels laborious. The one aspect of his mobility that feels even remotely like Black Panther is when he’s dragging his claws across any of the predetermined rock faces he can wall run across.
From the impressions I got from the two missions demoed, Black Panther is painted as more of a pugilist than anything else. Aside from summoning spears, throwing knives, and the literal panther spirit Bast from the ether, T’Challa’s moves look pretty painted by numbers and there’s not a lot that sets him apart from other brawlers based on early showings. That said, it’s so visually pleasing and badass to see a panther spirit stampeding Klaue’s men alongside T’Challa that an uncomplicated move set probably isn’t the worst thing.
With new superheroes come new villains, and I expect War for Wakanda to probably offer up the goods with Klaue. The expansion’s generous length means there’s time to flesh him out, so provided he’s given air-time and doesn’t hide behind his corrupted armies, I think we’re in for a treat. T’Challa’s first challenge comes courtesy of Crossbones, a minor hurdle in the Black Panther’s task of neutralising Klaue’s cannon-led barrage on the ‘Golden City’. His glacial attack pattern renders him no match for T’Challa, though his timely escape means it’s not the last we’ll see of Crossbones.
While I found a lot of Marvel’s Avengers’ base campaign to be a bland, vanilla mess where each hour blended into the next, Wakanda looks as though it has been beautifully realised in this expansion. The jungled outskirts of the city are gorgeously canopied with treetops that light the ground in spots, while the first sweeping views of Birnin Zana were a sight to behold. It’s an exotic, beautiful change-up to the cold, unwelcoming facilities of the base campaign.
Due to a number of reasons, I fell off Marvel’s Avengers after a short while of trying to make it stick. Until now, not a lot has left me wanting to return to Crystal Dynamics’ interpretation of these heroes that are so ingrained in our culture that to see them out of context feels wrong. That said, War for Wakanda feels as appropriate a reintroduction to a character that’s so important and so pivotal for millions, and it’s fitting that Black Panther’s expansion is as feature-full and realised as it is.
It almost feels like the perfect time to assemble and try again.
Marvel’s Avengers: War For Wakanda launches on August 17 and will be a free expansion for all current owners of the base game.