Turn-based tactical combat has always been at the heart of the games coming from Firaxis, creators of the Civilization and XCOM franchises. Before we got full details, the assumption was that the studio’s first foray into the Marvel universe would probably look and feel like a Marvel XCOM crossover. Even though turn-based tactical combat sits at the heart of Marvel’s Midnight Suns, the game is still something of a departure for the team. And it’s all the better for it.
In addition to strategic combat, it’s a team-based RPG where relationship development plays an integral role in progressing the narrative and individual superhero abilities. It has the air of an eastern RPG, with the flow and setup feeling a lot like the latest Fire Emblem - the one that took place at a high school
. The Abbey serves as the hub to launch missions from a war table but is also a place to train superheroes, develop new technologies, relax by the pool, watch movies, and even suggest a book or two for Blade’s Book Club.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is huge, not only in terms of the apocalyptic demons and Elder Gods story it tells over the course of several cinematic story missions but in how the relationships between all the superheroes and The Hunter develop over the course of dozens of hours. In Midnight Suns you take on the role of The Hunter, a superhero and partial blank canvas that you can define the look of, choose all of the various outfits they’ll wear, and even decide how best to decorate their room at The Abbey.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is huge, not only in terms of the apocalyptic demons and Elder Gods story it tells over the course of several cinematic story missions but in how the relationships between all the superheroes and The Hunter develop over the course of dozens of hours.
More importantly though, as The Hunter, you’ll play a major role in putting a stop to your mother, Lilith, who is going all out to try and bring the end times via that time-old method of dropping the veil between the plane of dangerously powerful Gods and the place we humans call home. And with that, you’ll be joined by the likes of Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Blade, Ghost Rider, and several more superheroes that make up The Avengers and the Midnight Suns.
Dealing with curses and witchcraft and demons and possession there are dark themes explored throughout Marvel’s Midnight Suns, and some deftly handled if not all together deep forays into subjects like mental health and personal trauma. That said the presentation and art direction are akin to a Saturday morning cartoon, with quip-heavy dialogue and non-stop banter adding a light-hearted comic tone. Consequently, Marvel’s Midnight Suns isn’t scary or even all that dark or violent. A conscious design choice on behalf of Firaxis, but one that gives serious moments a “on this very special episode of Family Ties” feel.
Visually, all of the costumes and environments look pretty good, and running on a high-end PC the added bonus of real-time ray-tracing creates some impressive backdrops for all of the action and cliff-side meditation. But, character faces and anatomies have a bland, slightly off, plastic figurine quality that doesn’t gel with the cinematic stuff. The good news is that brightly coloured easy-to-recognise action figures does wonders for the turn-based combat. And it’s here where Marvel’s Midnight Suns digs its adamantium claws in to deliver a steady stream of memorable and engaging tactical encounters.
There’s a lot happening when it comes to combat in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, and naturally, the game eases you in with a number of tutorial-like missions and regular objective breakdowns to let you know exactly what it is you should be working towards. Heading into battle with three superheroes (both pre-defined and those you pick and choose yourself) abilities and skills are presented as playable cards, and each turn you draw some more and play three before handing the action over to enemy factions. XCOM-style chance-to-hit is out, with actions playing out exactly as they’re prescribed on paperback.
Character faces and anatomies have a bland, slightly off, plastic figurine quality that doesn’t gel with the cinematic stuff. The good news is that brightly coloured easy-to-recognise action figures does wonders for the turn-based combat.
Again, there’s a lot happening and a lot more to it than playing skill cards and selecting ‘end turn’. Different superheroes fit different roles, some are better at crowd control whilst others are single-target damage dealers. There’s unit positioning, environmental damage options, defensive and offensive buffs, and little things like seeing who’s being targeted by whom so you can plan accordingly. It’s deeply rewarding, and playing non-story missions is a great way to learn new abilities, upgrade existing ones, and create bonds to further develop those battlefield options. Or to simply take a new trio out on the town.
In fact, even with the option to play the next story mission sitting there, I got hooked on playing randomised general missions over and over to get the right cards and develop heroes to the point where a few favourites started to feel like the powerful characters they are. The best part is that the use of cards is a simple way to present an RPG skill tree or item loadout for multiple characters without the need to overcomplicate things. Abilities are tailor-made for each superhero, in tune with their comic book origins, but even so, The Hunter gets enough cool toys so as to not feel like you’re missing out or tagging along.
In-battle animation and presentation are both wonderful, selling each hit and superhero ability with style to spare. Pulling off Heroic abilities like Ghost Rider’s death car steamroll move to take out a line of Hydra goons is never not satisfying. High-cost combo cards that see two superheroes join up for a beatdown are like watching over-the-top comic book panels come to life. Even smaller-scale plays feature lots of very cool tiny bits of detail. There’s movement and flow in a way that transcends the turn-based structure.
Interestingly the overall difficulty of missions doesn’t really change all that much over the course of the game, which means a well-tuned trio can easily mop up a Hard mission once you’ve developed abilities and come up with your own strategies. This is great because it sells the theme of superheroes working together and growing as a team. And for those looking for an added challenge, difficulty tiers unlock offering up more rewards by ramping up the challenge in a very videogame way.
In-battle animation and presentation are both wonderful, selling each hit and superhero ability with style to spare. Pulling off Heroic abilities like Ghost Rider’s death car steamroll move to take out a line of Hydra goons is never not satisfying.
Okay, so one of the reasons I got caught up playing through randomised non-story missions was due to the seemingly unavoidable problem you get with having a massive team of established superheroes as part of a single story. There’s a lot of establish. A lot of assumed knowledge, long-standing histories, rivalries, and countless world-ending threats. Stuff that could fill thousands of pages. Illustrated comic book pages. Paired with the earnest friendship and relationship systems that have you sitting by the pool for a chat with Captain Marvel or watching a movie with Iron Man, it comes across as an unrelatable soap opera.
Peter Parker on his own, is relatable. As a part of a massive team mentioning Aunt May or Mary Jane every now and then, it becomes bland. And a little boring when it’s now Dr. Strange’s turn to talk about whatever or getting to hear about how Captain Marvel was raised by aliens or something so profoundly character-defining that it feels like their time with The Hunter is but a footnote in a much larger story. Except for Blade, because, Blade rules.
Thankfully, the deep and rewarding combat more than makes up for the sometimes sexless superhero daytime soap opera and the sometimes engaging story you get to watch play out. Marvel’s Midnight Suns is at its best when it has all of the various superheroes do what they do best.