The wait for a continuation of the story first started in Lego Marvel Super Heroes has been a long time coming, but it's finally on the horizon, and this time it's time itself that's the central theme.
Like they did with Lego Dimensions (and even more so with The Lego Batman Movie story pack for the same game), TT Games is mixing things up by blurring different Lego-centric realities. While Dimensions gives the company license to merge different Lego universes and third-party IP together in strange and sometimes beautiful ways, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (or LMSH2, as we'll call it from here on in) throws time into the mixer instead, and as a result we see our Marvel-themed heroes exploring different periods of history, as well as even meeting historical versions of themselves.
What this essentially means is lots and lots of characters to unlock over the course of the game. This collecting of digital characters has always been at the core of the experience for long-time fans, those who like to get the most out of the Lego games whenever they drop (and they drop with unerring regularity these days), and LMSH2 will include a "vast" number of characters to find and collect for those that way inclined.
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The story stars the usual smorgasbord of Marvel characters, including this time The Guardians of the Galaxy, here more prominently after their brief cameo at the end of the last game (because TT was onboard before they were cool), starring alongside some equally familiar faces. This ragtag assortment of heroes will be doing their damndest to undo the evil of Kang the Conquerer, a bad guy who's messing around with time itself. The story sounds bonkers, but in a good way, and speaking to Arthur Parsons from TT Games while at a hands-on event in London, it sounds like they've managed to tie it nicely into the fiction that comic book fans know and love.
The focus on time allows for new gameplay mechanics and even the odd paradoxical encounter. In terms of mechanics, you'll be able to use portals to access different eras, because why not, but you'll also be able to use time on a more granular level, rewinding and replaying events during both action sequences and when puzzle solving. It's going to be another element that requires players to think outside the box. The time mechanic also means that the open-world that links the story together is a mishmash of different Marvel realities (18 of them, apparently), and we saw what looked like Vikings and cowboys running around during the demo.
After our hands-on and during our chat with creative director Arthur Parsons, we asked what TT was doing to make sure that younger players are able to keep up with the time-bending story, and we were told how they're going to keep players up-to-date with the narrative by highlighting key events, keeping them in the mind of the player before a "curve ball" is thrown towards the end of the game. Kang's mischief making will have players jumping here, there, and everywhere by the sounds of it, and while of course there's a chance that this will confuse some of us, the benefits outweigh the risk.
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"The plan was always to use [Kang] because it opens up access to all of the different Marvel realities," Parsons told us. The time mechanic means that they "have access to everything. You can go Wild West, you can go Medieval England, you can go 2099, you can go anywhere, Planet Hulk, whatever you want to do. And that allows for a lot more fun. It opens that doorway to bring in those characters from all these realities into one story."
Much like time, fun is of course relative. Enjoyment of the Lego games has always required players to enjoy simple platforming, as well as light puzzles that sometimes get convoluted thanks to obscure logic. In this sense, LMSH2 looks like it's going to carry on the series' tradition for better and worse, with a generally accessible experience punctuated with puzzles that require the player to think outside the box. Characters each have abilities that draw on their unique powers, and often you'll have to experiment with all of the heroes at your disposal before you'll find the solution that moves the story along.
As per usual, sometimes it's not clear what you've got to do, and during our hands-on demo we found one scene, a boss battle, hard to navigate because the sheer amount of on-screen visual effects obscured our objective. In another scene, we spent a long time flapping around inside The Milano (Star Lord's ship) looking to progress the story. We needed to select a different character to pull the desired lever, it turned out, which was more of a frustrating oversight on our part, rather than an interesting puzzle to solve. We're not complaining too loudly, though, because occasional ambiguity is a Lego staple, and for the most part you can get past these bumps in the road without too much trouble.
We're also not complaining too much because Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 looks to be another charming entry in a series that has been remarkably consistent over the years. TT has always managed to deliver decent games, sometimes two a year, and the quality is always high, which when you think about it, is impressive stuff. The decision here to skip the old-gen consoles and focus solely on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and now Nintendo Switch, should ensure that the visual quality is higher than ever before (although thanks to the clean and crisp Lego style, these are games that age well and therefore you might not notice the upgrade straight away).
The original Lego Marvel Super Heroes was a fan favourite, and it stands out as one of the most popular entries in the whole series. The Avengers-themed follow-up failed to scratch the same itch, and TT will be hoping that this direct sequel is able to really satisfy fans of the Lego Marvel universe. Given the studio's general consistency and the richness of the source material from which they are drawing their story, we have every reason to believe that they'll succeed. With the game launching on November 17, time will tell if they've done enough.