Last month, when I reviewed Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, I mentioned that I have been suffering from Marvel Cinematic Universe fatigue. While it will take a bit more effort for me to watch another MCU movie or series, it is not the same when it comes to video games. In fact, I have been yearning for a fun game based on either DC or Marvel heroes as the last comic book-based game I played and enjoyed was Insomniac’s Spider-Man.
So why did I wait four months before purchasing Firaxis Games’ Marvel’s Midnight Suns? To be honest, the idea of a tactical role-playing game with card-based and relationship-building mechanics just did not appeal to me initially and I thought the gamble Firaxis made would not pay off. However, Firaxis had an ace up their sleeve and its name is Venom. The moment they released the trailer for the DLC and put the game on sale on Steam, I knew they would call my bluff and take my ‘chips’ on the table.
It was also a gamble on my part as I was still apprehensive even after making the purchase. But after spending over 40 hours playing Marvel’s Midnight Suns, this was one gamble I was quite happy to lose.
Here are my thoughts on why Marvel’s Midnight Suns should have had a bigger payoff for Firaxis instead of becoming yet another commercial flop.
Prototypical comic book story
Regardless, if you are an avid comic book reader or someone who just reads them occasionally, you would know the standard storyline trope–a villain threatens to conquer or destroy the world and the heroes band together to stop them. It is no different for Midnight Suns where Hydra has resurrected the mother of demons, Lilith, in the hopes of using her to conquer the world. Her resurrection is then followed by the emergence of the star known as the ‘Midnight Sun’ which not only destabilises magic but also heralds the return of Lilith’s master, the evil Elder God Chthon.
After failing to retrieve an artefact known as the Parchment of Power from ex-Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze and almost losing the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doctor Strange, Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) travel to the Abbey to recruit the Midnight Suns, a team consisting of Runaways’ Nico Minoru, the X-Men’s Magik, current Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes, vampire hunter Blade and Lilith’s sister, the Caretaker.
Knowing that the combined might and magic of the Avengers and Midnight Suns will not be enough to defeat Lilith, the heroes then resurrect the Hunter, Lilith’s only child and her killer. With the Hunter now alive and kicking again thus begins the fight to stop Hydra, Lilith and Chthon.
As I mentioned earlier, the premise of the story is very much standard fare for a game inspired by Marvel comics and there are some interesting twists along the way just to keep the suspense and unpredictability going. I would even say that the overall story would make for a very fun comic run.
A multitude of gameplay elements
On the gameplay side of things, Midnight Suns retains a fair bit of Firaxis’ XCOM DNA albeit with a few mutations here and there. Essentially, the gameplay can be broken down into two parts. The first takes place before and after Missions in the Abbey, which essentially serves as your base of operations similar to the aptly named Avenger in XCOM 2 or even the Normandy in Mass Effect. The second is the aforementioned Missions which are available in three categories–General, Story and Endgame missions.
The gameplay loop follows a day-night cycle whereby in the daytime, while you are in the Abbey, you will usually be assigning research projects to unlock new equipment and items to use in missions or upgrade the Abbey, sending heroes on Hero Ops which are automated missions, taking part in sparring sessions, upgrading skill cards and updating your card desks or just roaming around the Abbey grounds collecting reagents for crafting and opening chests to unlock new cosmetic items.
Besides that, daytime in the Abbey is a great time to increase your Friendship level with the heroes by inviting them to hang out at a haven, chatting with them or assisting them with requests. At night after missions, you can also initiate another hangout session with one of the heroes you went on a mission with to further increase their Friendship level.
Once you have gotten all your Abbey chores out of the way, you can then head on over to the Mirror Table to choose a Mission to do. Story Missions move the story along (naturally) and will usually require the Hunter to be part of the squad or will already have a team selected for you. General Missions won’t require the Hunter to be part of the team but you can always bring them along just so you can increase Friendship levels.
After completing missions, you are usually rewarded with a Gamma Coil, which unlocks new cards for your heroes; Artifacts that increase your research level so you can research more advanced equipment; Intel caches that unlock more Hero Ops and in-game resources in the form of Credits, Attack-, Skill- and Heroic Essences used to either purchase items, upgrading cards or crafting.
Besides all the rewards mentioned above, you will also earn Gloss (another form of in-game currency mainly used to purchase cosmetic items and gifts) after a mission. However, this isn’t a set amount as how much Gloss you earn is based on your ratings and also difficulty level. You will be rated one to three stars based on parameters such as how many heroes got knocked out or how many turns it took to complete the mission. The higher the rating and harder the difficulty, the more Gloss you get.
There are also a variety of mission objectives which help to reduce that feeling of monotony for missions. Most objectives are straightforward enough requiring you to either defeat all enemies, capture an enemy, destroy or protect an object or retrieve an item in a set number of turns or survive a set number of enemy waves. Combine this with the fact that you can also keep experimenting with different trios and skills, it will take a good while before you start feeling bored.
Seeing as we are on the subject of missions, combat is where I feel Midnight Suns really shines as the tweaks made to the XCOM formula really help make it feel different and to a certain extent require even more strategic thinking, especially since the random nature of the cards you draw each turn will force you to make the best out of the turn and improvise. The card-based mechanics actually doesn’t take long to get used to, it can be frustrating but when you managed to score a high rating, it is extremely satisfying.
Combat is still turn-based but instead of having individual action points for each hero, points are shared among your chosen trio. You have points for card plays, redraws, moves, Heroism and items. All of these points except the item points are replenished after every turn, so you do have to choose what you do each turn wisely. All heroes have cards in three categories, Attack, Skill and Heroics. Attack and Skill use card plays points while building up Heroism points, which will then allow you to use Heroic cards. So to put it simply, you just have to play your cards right.
Another big change to the XCOM formula is the fact that there is no longer a cover or chance-to-hit system. There is also no longer the need to move or position your heroes around the map as the moment you use a card, your heroes will automatically move to the right position and range required to attack or use a skill on allies or enemies. Finally, the combat arenas are a lot smaller compared to XCOM and do lack a bit of diversity in terms of not having elevated platforms or chasms to cross. But, they are littered with environmental objects that you can use for added damage or trigger status effects.
Again, coming back to a comparison with XCOM, combat is also a lot more fun to spectate as heroes will throw out quips and banter but more importantly, the attack animations are very well done and some are awesomely over-the-top, which is par for the course in a game with superpowered characters. The fact that you will be experimenting with different cards also means, you get to see a whole bunch of different animations.
The astonishing adventures of Hunter and friends
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for cutscene animations as I felt that characters have a very action-figure-esque quality to them. Most of the time, characters just stand around with their arms crossed or on their hips and sway a little and they also have a very glazed look in their eyes. This is a shame because you will be interacting with your team of heroes a lot especially when you are in the Abbey.
The saving grace here though is the voice acting because Firaxis assembled some of the best in the industry and the cast is made up of Michael Jai White as Blade, Jennifer Hale as Lililth, Laura Bailey as Magik, Yuri Lowenthal as Spider-Man and Steven Blum as Wolverine just to name a few. Even Nolan North reprises his role as Deadpool in The Good, the Bad, and the Undead DLC. From the heroes to the villains, no one really feels out of place.
The stellar voice acting really helps with the friendship-building side of things. Other than levelling up your heroes through combat, having a higher friendship level with them also leads to better stats, new cosmetic items and even unlocking their ultimate abilities. The friendship-building activities also provide a nice break from all the combat and in a way, humanise these superpowered beings as they then tell you about their past, seek advice from you and confide in you. It really makes it feel like you are actually bonding with them because you will learn which activities and gifts they like or dislike.
Another nice touch is the fact that while in the Abbey, heroes will interact with each other or react to you as you pass by wearing a certain cosmetic item or if you bump into them. Heroes will also ‘move around’ the Abbey and won’t be in the same place all the time. They can be reading by the fireplace one moment and the next, they will be practising at the training grounds.
Fun with the Suns
Just like a comic run that doesn’t seem to make sense at first (ala Savage Avengers), since most fans will find the turn-based and card-based mechanics not as action-packed or fast-paced but Marvel’s Midnight Suns actually surprised me with just how much fun the entire package is.
From the storyline to the gameplay loop and to the characters, Firaxis Games has really done a good job of putting everything together and creating a game that should please not just Marvel fans but also gamers who want a fun strategy game. There are some issues here and there such as animation bugs and it can be a bit of a grind at times but I found myself overlooking all of that the more I played the game.
And as the cherry on top of the ice cream cake, there are still two more upcoming DLCs that will add Storm and Morbius into the mix and will extend the game’s playtime. Plus, there are also Endgame missions which you can take on after you finish the game or start a New Game+ for an even more challenging run.
Overall, this is yet another game that I think deserves more attention from gamers.
- Interesting card-based twist to the XCOM formula
- The variety of missions types and unique heroes keep the game fun
- Storyline worthy of an actual comic series
- Friendship mechanic can get a little cringe but provides beneficial results
- Plenty of customisation options in terms of aesthetics and tactics
- Requires a bit of a grind
- Character models in cutscenes are very action figure-like
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is entertaining due to its epic comic book storyline, unique strategy and fun friendship-building mechanics that will please more than just Marvel fans.