Good party banter always gives me the warm and fuzzies. It's here, when the heroes (or villains, depending on your alignment proclivities) take a break to have a wee blether, where you really get to know your digital mates, forging bonds that will make the big story moments really land. They might be jokes, sarcastic asides or even the occasional revelation, and together they contribute to a tangible sense of camaraderie that every squad-based game needs. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is the new master of this skill.
BioWare is typically held up as the developer who's perfected this narrative trick. The studio's been doing it since the Baldur's Gate days, and it's consistently a high point in all of its RPGs. It's crucial, really. When Inquisition launched with a bug that cut out the banter, it really revealed how much we've come to rely on it. Can you really know someone if you've not had a casual chat while exploring a spider-infested cave? Beyond RPGs, though, BioWare has steep competition from Naughty Dog's oeuvre, particularly Uncharted.
Drake and Co's adventures really benefit from dialogue that sounds more natural, which is then elevated by context. In Dragon Age, most banter is random and relates to nothing you're actually doing, but Uncharted's bickering, jokes and conversations keep you in the moment, working together with the action to tell a cohesive story.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, we have the best of both systems. The Guardians never shut up, and I wouldn't want them to. Whether they're exploring an alien cave system or fighting corrupted space cops, they're constantly spouting one-liners, making wry comments or fleshing out their identities. There are chats that feel like they could take place anywhere, but just as many that are ultra-specific, like you've got an audience giving you a running commentary.
Among my favourites are all the times I went off the beaten track, only for my comrades to take the piss out of my navigational skills. Star Lord constantly getting lost or falling down holes pretty quickly becomes a meme, so simply going down a different path from the main one will reward you with entertaining insults and loads of callbacks. There's a practical component to this, too, as this banter usually means there's actually something worth looking for at the end of the path, like a new outfit or some crafting resources.
Though Guardians of the Galaxy is interested in the origins of these heroes and the traumas that made them decide to undertake their quest to save the galaxy (multiple times), it's not an origin story. At the start, we already find the team formed and characters with lots of history. The banter, then, serves us exposition with less awkwardness than most games, defining the space-faring heroes and their relationships far better than any flashback—of which there are, admittedly, a few.
After hardly any time at all, you'll know that Drax is frustratingly literal, Rocket only cares about himself and Groot, and Gamora, the deadliest woman in the galaxy, is wrestling with mental health issues. The banter establishes their personalities and pasts, but is just as deft at showing how they've grown. Guardians of the Galaxy is ultimately a story of people overcoming trauma and finding a new family, and it's through seemingly incidental dialogue that we really see this happen.
At the start, you can see the bonds forming, but none of them really get along—apart from Groot, who loves everyone. You know this is going to change and they're eventually going to have to squash their beefs and come together as a team, but the cliché goes down so much easier because it's earned. You see the relationships change in real-time, and when you compare the early banter with the way they talk to each other in the last few chapters, it's like night and day. And it's really sweet. Listening to Drax compliment Gamora's combat skills or Rocket open up about why he has a fear of water genuinely choked me up, because they really had to work through some stuff to get there.
It all gets pretty sappy, but never too sappy. There's always a joke right around the corner to stop the—still very welcome—sincerity from blotting out the good times and gags. But even that's meaningful. They deflect with jokes because that's the defence mechanism that they've learned, particularly with Star Lord and Gamora, the latter of whom loves a mid-battle pun. So when they do say something real, it's important. Even if it's followed up by groans from Rocket.
Guardians of the Galaxy is therapy. I've spent so much time alone since the pandemic began, and watching this group of broken outcasts finding a family together was incredibly cathartic. This is a big part of the comics and movies, too, but it's more overt here, and critically Eidos Montreal gives the gang more space in which to grow and explore themselves. Therapy is just as important as blowing up alien gods and spaceships.
The only place it doesn't nail the landing is combat banter. It's still mostly great, but like nearly every game that features it, repetition gets in the way. The exploration banter is unique, but there are a few lines that get repeated a lot during scraps, as well as some level-specific combat banter that gets thrown around too often. In one later chapter, Gamora quips about enemy costumes three times per encounter, and it's not quite as funny when you've been hearing non-stop for 20 minutes. This was the most egregious example, and seemed to be a bug, so it's not like this all the time.
After a pleasantly compact 15 hours, I finished Guardians of the Galaxy with slightly red eyes but a big smile on my face. After enjoying the preview build, I was expecting a quality comic romp, but I'm still surprised by how invested in it I became. The writing and character growth make it something special, and something that's better than any of the MCU movies—which I still like, even with their diminishing returns. I might even have to add this to my GOTY list, which I would never have predicted.