I get to make an official review! I never like making “reviews” because I rarely finish a game; most of my posts talking about any game are usually “first impressions” covering the first hour or so, but let’s face it: this is the time when a game is either going to grab you or let you slip away under cover of the night. This time, however, I have put almost 19 hours into Guardians of the Galaxy and managed to complete it — end to the very end — this morning.
I am kind of sad that I posted my initial impression of the game, because it really was indicative of what the rest of the game was like and that leaves me with very little to talk about aside from anything that was discovered during the rest of the 17 hours I’ve played.
Note that the end of this post recaps the story of the game, so I’ll let you know when it’s free to bail if you don’t want to have the story provided to you.
There was some consternation at launch around the fact that we only play as Star Lord. Coming online after the Marvel’s Avengers game which allowed players to assume the roles of several individual characters, it seemed that limiting control to just one member of a team was going to be a let-down. On the contrary, I found this to be a lot better than if I were expected to jump between characters during a fight.
Quill has one basic attack to start, standard blasters. Over time, Rocket can upgrade his guns using crafting materials found in the world. This will allow for a few additional attacks, like a double-tap-and-hold to charge, or the addition of a “quick reload” feature that boosts damage when the guns start to empty. Eventually, though, story beats unlock elemental properties of the weapons, giving Quill four different attacks: ice, heat, wind, and electricity. Some enemies are more susceptible to one type of elemental burst than others, and each one can be used in select locations in the game world to freeze water or gas, melt ice, pull distant levers, or overload circuits.
When enough XP has been earned, we get points that can be spent on unlocking special attacks for each of the team members. Each character has four different attacks, one of which is automatically unlocked at specific story beats for each character. In combat, the player can switch to a radial menu of other characters, and can choose to order the character to execute one of their unlocked abilities. These generally fall into three categories: heavy damage to a single target, moderate damage to a group of targets, and moderate damage to a single target with some spillover to nearby targets. Naturally, there’s a synergy to be had here, so knowing each character’s abilities is important to get the biggest bang for the buck. After a command has been executed, there’s a cooldown before that character can be called again. Quill also has his own command menu, giving him a whopping 10 possible attacks or abilities that can be used in combat.
Every now and then the team will come across workbenches. Using the crafting items found in the world, Rocket can upgrade not just the blasters, but Quill’s scanning visor or his shields. By the end of the game I had only two or three options that were not unlocked (because I didn’t have enough materials), so hunting these items is certainly in any player’s best interest.
There are also outfit unlockables to be found in the world. I only found a handful and never actually changed anyone’s outfit (except Groot’s), but if that’s something that interests you, keep an eye out for those little boxes.
Unfortunately, there are a few annoying quick-time events. Sometimes in melee combat Quill can attempt to dodge an enemy’s attack using one of these button-mashing activities. There’s also the usual “press a button repeatedly to prevent X” like falling into a chasm. Thankfully they are few and far between, mostly happening during melee combat.
There’s also the occasional dialog choice for the player to decide on. This game has an amazing amount of voice over work, and at certain points Quill will be able to chime in by selecting from two, three, or four options. In a lot of cases, the choice that the player makes will have repercussions later on. Some choices color how the team and other characters view Quill, and in one case the team will get locked into a very annoying loop unless the right choice is made. Still, choosing an option that I would like, as opposed to “what I think the game wants me to choose for maximum effect”, and then realizing the maximum effect anyway, is a pretty good feeling.
Finally, I ran into some actual show-stopping bugs. I’m usually extremely lenient about issues in games, finding that it’s easier to just work around them than to throw the whole thing out the window and bitch on social media. But there were a few issues that could not be worked around, like getting stuck inside geometry, falling through the world, or somehow ending up unable to move, fight, or issue commands to the team. 99% of the time, reloading from a previous autosave cleared things up. Thankfully the autosave intervals are frequent enough that I never lost any progress between the save point and the issue point, and issues almost never resurfaced the second time around.
The Guardian’s claim to fame in their popular representation is that they are, somehow, despite themselves, a team. At the start of the game we find them already together, but none of them seem to really want to be together. It’s an alliance of convenience as they are either wanted by Nova Corps for a litany of crimes, or they are unwanted by pretty much everyone else. Riding that line between living up to their name as “guardians” and doing what they have to in order to make enough money to survive, the team relies mainly on Peter Quill’s fast-talking abilities to get them out of whatever trouble they get into. If that fails, then there’s always Drax’s fists, Gamora’s blade, Rocket’s arsenal, and Groot’s…horticulture.
But the long-term selling point of the Guardians of the Galaxy is that they are really less a group of “misfits of convenience” and more a dysfunctional family that grows together as time goes on. We’ve seen this in the MCU movies, and I’m sure this is played out repeatedly in the comics over the years. Although the universe that the Guardian’s inhabit is fully-fleshed and very well done far away from the backdrop of the more-well-known Marvel characters who are generally back on Earth, it’s really the individual journeys of each team member from damaged goods to finding a place to belong that drives the Guardian’s story.
This in my mind makes this game less of a “MCU superhero game” and more of an ensemble ARPG like Mass Effect. That the characters have been brought into public consciousness by the rising tide of the MCU is really just giving the Guardians a leg up. As I mentioned in my impressions post, because the Guardians stories take place far, far away from the Earthly concerns of the better known Marvel heroes, it’s extremely easy to simply treat this game and these characters as their own entity (although they do mention the “pajama wearing heroes” on Earth briefly and with appropriate sarcastic scorn that I smiled a bit) and not “just another Marvel superhero story”.
As the entire Guardians schtick is about “becoming a family”, it bears mentioning that this is not just an internal struggle for the team, but is a major point in the plot, coming from a possibly-not-so-surprising source.
A Word On Wrapping Up Before The Spoilers Hit
The one Marvel-y thing about Guardians of the Galaxy is that, just when you think you’re getting the end credits, you get another chapter. It’s not difficult to see it coming, as without it, there would be some story loose ends. Once that is complete, however, there’s a pretty fun extro, and then the credits, and then the mid-credits scene. At the honest-this-is-really-the-end credits, we get to see Star Lord’s handwritten journal, covered in crappy art and stickers, recapping the entire plot we just experienced, complete with the decisions that we made during conversations and the outcomes that happened as a result. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is accessible once we get back to the main menu, so read it from cover to cover if you really want that 110% completion satisfaction
If you plan on playing the game and don’t want story spoilers, this is where you can jump from the train.
We open on the Guardians violating a no-fly zone in search of what they believe to be a rare and powerful creature. They intend to capture this creature and sell it for big money to a powerful warlord named Lady Hellbender. Unfortunately, the creature they find is an underwhelming purple llama they name Kammy.
Picking up after the Guardians get “arrested” by Nova Corps for violating their quarantine zone, Quill meets Nikki, a 12 year old half-Kree who we quickly learn is the daughter of Ko-Rel, the Nova Commander who had the honor of picking up the Guardians on their way out of the no-fly zone. As Nikki escorts Quill through the Nova Corps ship on their way to the brig, there’s an unexplained explosion that damages the ship, forcing Nikki and Quill to take alternate routes, including a brief passage through Nikki’s secret “get away from Mom” hideout.
It’s around this point that Quill starts to do math, because according to some of the several conversations about events prior to the game, 12 years prior both Quill and Ko-Rel found themselves fighting on Mercury during a war with the Chitauri. As things were looking grim for their side, one thing lead to another, and suddenly Quill believes that Nikki might very well be his daughter.
Putting that aside, Quill convinces Ko-Rel to let the Guardians pay a fine for their trespass. To ensure that they do, a disabler is installed in the Milano that allows Nova Corps to find and disable their ship anywhere in the galaxy should the need arise.
With a 7000 unit fine needing to be paid and a whole lot of repairs needed on board the Milano, the team realizes that Hellbender is not going to pay for the llama, so the player gets to decide whether to sell Groot or Rocket for the cash, with the plan being that they would break whomever out in the middle of the night and get away before Hellbender knew what hit her. Naturally, this does not go as planned, and Hellbender puts a bounty on the Guardians once they mount their rescue and escape.
Intending the pay the fine, the team arrives at a Nova Corps base only to find that it’s been mostly abandoned. The only people remaining appear to be members of some cult, and to make matters worse, they have somehow taken over the minds of several Nova Corps members. The team has to fight their way through the base and escape to Knowhere, where they are (once again) arrested for getting to a fight with Hellbender’s mercenaries. Here we meet Cosmo, the psychic Russian cosmonaut dog who runs the station. He agrees to let the team investigate what’s going on with the cult and Nova Corps, because he’s the “best boy”.
Once the Guardians find Ko-Rel’s ship, they find it under the control of the Grand Unifier Raker, pro tem leader of a Church that seeks to make good on The Promise: in exchange for their “faith energy”, the Church’s “Matriarch” will reunite everyone in the galaxy with the loved ones they have lost. During this time two major events take place.
First, the team experiences The Promise. We see this through Quill’s eyes as he returns to where we left off in his 1980’s flashback. We see that his mother presented him with a special gift for his birthday: the blasters he now carries, a gift from his father who (unlike in the MCU) was a prince from a planet called Spartax. We also see how Quill’s mother dies, as a Chitauri raiding force lands in their back yard, kills his mother, and kidnaps him. Eventually, Quill manages to break free of this Promise by seeing it as false, as do the other Guardians, but Drax is not so lucky. The death of his wife and daughter during the rampage of Thanos still weighs heavily, and he does not fully reject The Promise, but otherwise seems fine.
Second, the Matriarch is revealed to be Nikki. Back on the Nova Corps station, Quill happened to find — of all things — the Soul Stone of “familiar Marvel callbacks” fame. Later, we find out that when Ko-Rel had been on board that station, something had been released from the Stone, killing Ko-Rel and taking over Nikki to serve as it’s vessel for universal assimilation.
With the Church gaining steam, the Team appeals to the Worldmind, the sentient AI that presides over Nova Corps, for help, but there are no calculations that the Worldmind can perform that lead to a favorable outcome. Quill attempts to reason with the AI, but it ultimately jumps to another part of the galaxy to wait for a more opportune time to get involved.
It’s at this point when Drax’s resolve fails and he succumbs to the Promise. He attempts to take on the Guardians, but the arrival of Mantis and her psychic powers allows the team to enter Drax’s mind and convince his psyche that his loved ones are gone and the Church cannot bring them back. It’s also at this point where the team encounters Adam Warlock (who is supposed to show up in the next GotG or Doctor Strange movie, I believe), a godlike entity and former owner of the Soul Stone. Warlock tells the team that he had been working with the Grand Unifier, who believed that Warlock himself could reunite him with the deceased son. But Raker either conned or convinced Warlock to remove the Soul Stone, which released an entity named Magus that was imprisoned within. Magus now inhabits Nikki, and is using her and Raker’s Church for it’s own ends.
As civilizations come under the sway of The Promise, the Guardians realize they only have one potential ally to turn to in fighting Magus: Lady Hellbender and her planet-wide zoo of deadly creatures who are immune to Magus’ mental prisons. In order to appease her wrath, the team sets out to capture Fin Fang Foom, a massive, deadly dragon that was a popular target for Drax’s people to hunt. Although the team takes down Foom, they end up killing it instead of subduing it. As Hellbender arrives at Mantis’ request, Groot must resurrect the dragon as an act of good faith. Hellbender agrees to join the team’s fight.
With Hellbender’s creature army and the reappearance of the Worldmind taking on the fleets under Magus’ control, the Guardians board the Church’s flagship, rescuing a captured Warlock and defeating Raker as Magus begins the final stage of using Nikki as a conduit. With Mantis’ help, Quill enters Nikki’s mind. Here, he must convince her that Ko-Rel is dead and that Magus cannot bring her back. Quill also learns that Nikki is not his daughter, but a half-blood Kree orphan who Ko-Rel found and who would have been killed by the Accusers for violating their racial purity. By freeing Nikki from the hold of Magus, she undergoes a powerful (and unexplained) transformation, giving her special abilities. Meanwhile, Warlock takes her place and channels Magus back into himself.
Although the battle seems won, without the Soul Stone to properly imprison Magus, Warlock is taken over. Once again the Guardians must fight on the astral plane, this time against Magus itself in the form of a galaxy-sized Adam Warlock. The team has to basically piss off Magus so that it slips up and allows Quill to once again imprison the entity inside the Soul Stone.
And that’s the main story. The epilogue sees the Guardians on board the Milano with Mantis, Warlock, Kammy, and Nikki. It’s agreed that the Soul Stone should be returned to the care of Warlock, as Drax wants to destroy it, and Rocket wants to sell it, both of which are assumed to be Very Bad Ideas.
Cue the credits.
But wait! Mid way through the credits, we see Quill in his quarters, talking to himself in the mirror. We get to choose his responses to himself as he weighs the pros and cons of keeping a 12 year old Nikki on as part of the team. I don’t know if this has any bearing on anything aside from maybe setting up a sequel, but there was one last laugh left in the story for me (your mileage may vary).
Suddenly, the power on the Milano went out, and after leaving us in the dark, we cut to a scene of the ship gently tumbling out of control in space. Way back when, I had chosen an option to skip out on paying that fine to Nova Corps because hey! They were all under the control of Magus, so why spend the money when the galaxy wasn’t guaranteed to be around in the next week, right? Well, turns out the Worldmind didn’t forget that we had that disabler beacon installed in the ship, and decided to call in our debt.