Marvel’s Midnight Suns Review
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is the latest offering from Firaxis, the minds behind strategy classics such as the Civilization and XCOM games. When it was first announced, many were quick to call it “Marvel XCOM,” and while that is partly accurate, it also does not paint the full picture.
Midnight Suns tells the story of a group of heroes that have banded together to face off against Lilith, an Omega-level threat and the Mother of Demons. You are The Hunter, the first fully customizable Marvel character, and you are tasked with the challenge of taking the fight to Hydra and Lilith to save the universe from destruction.
In our preview, we spoke about 2 main sections that will be the basis of this review – The Abbey and Combat, both vastly different experiences. Your overall enjoyment will rely on how much you can get out of both parts, but depending on what you are looking for, it might boil down to one or the other.
Classic Firaxis With a Twist
Midnight Suns combat is, without a doubt, the best part of the package. This is the classic Firaxis strategy and tactics we are talking about here, with deep systems and strategic elements, but the formula has changed in fun and creative ways that make this outing a delight to play. If you’ve been hankering for a solidly built tactical RPG, this should definitely score good points.
One of the most welcome changes is the removal of the percentage-based hit systems. This means that all your attacks have a 100% chance to hit all the time because you are superheroes, eliminating the chance of those meme-worthy 95% point-blank misses.
You could say that Midnight Suns has pretty much tweaked every other facet of the XCOM systems to best suit these heroes. Moving around the level is no longer restricted to a certain distance, and your team shares card plays, redraws, and movement among each other. Additionally, each character in your team can move more than once should you choose to do so, as long as your resources allow for it.
Perhaps the biggest change in combat is the implementation of a card-based system, where players are forced to act according to the hand they’re dealt with. Instead of placing the RNG element in its chance to hit, Firaxis puts it in the cards because you won’t know what you’ll have in your opening hand and what you’ll get next. While some may appreciate this change like I did, others may find the unpredictability off-putting.
That said, deck composition is extremely important in Midnight Suns. You’ll need to find a good balance between your basic cards that build up a resource called Heroism, to more advanced Heroic cards that use up said resource. You’ll constantly want to update your deck to fit certain situations, especially as you unlock more abilities and upgrade your cards, always finding the best combos that synergize well with your chosen team.
Each usable hero has a distinct playstyle, and most of their moves are really well-thought-out, slotting them into roles that emphasize teamplay and combos. A personal favorite, Magik, has the ability to jump in and out of portals, knocking opponents back into each other. Line enemies up and let Captain Marvel unleash her Photon Beam on every enemy caught in the blast. There’s a lot to experiment with here, and coming up with these combinations is a big part of the experience.
Unlike XCOM, where combat areas emphasize cover, Midnight Suns places your heroes smack dab in the middle of everything. This new style is very heavily reliant on positioning and taking advantage of environmental hazards, offering intense engagements right off the bat and action at every turn. You’ll always want to be aware of the limited moves you can make and how the surrounding conditions are best used to your advantage.
All things considered, Midnight Suns is not merely “Marvel XCOM.” Far from it, in fact. All of these systems work together so well, culminating in a fresh take on the Firaxis formula that makes it an easy to get into but deeply strategic affair. Midnight Suns really solidifies Firaxis as one of the best in the business when it comes to tactical RPGs, landing a great experience even after all of the changes made.
To Abbey or not to Abbey
For all the things Midnight Suns does right with its combat, it is hard to say the same about the other part of the game, which is anything and everything Abbey-related. I understand that this part of the game might be a point of tension, and while some may like or even love it, I didn’t enjoy it as much.
The Abbey is basically your hideout, and apart from battle preparations, you also get to explore this area and uncover many of its secrets. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and the pacing of revealing things drip-feed style really works well to always keep you wanting more. The idea sounds like it would make for a nice break in between combat sequences, but there are some key things that make the whole process very tedious.
In the Abbey, you’ll get to do things you’d normally expect in an RPG: upgrade your abilities, forge and craft new items, send heroes out on missions, etc. Basically, the whole shebang. It’s a one-stop shop for all of your battle preparation needs, so it would not be wrong to say that everything you do here is ultimately required to progress further in Midnight Suns.
Upgrading abilities is something you’ll want to do often because the stronger versions give them additional effects that will prove to be very useful in battle. This really ties well to deck optimization, because these additional effects will oftentimes bring a usually underused card to the spotlight, something minmaxers will appreciate.
Midnight Suns also introduces relationships between the Hunter and other characters, and this is where things get a little divisive, depending on your tolerance for boring dialog and cringe humor. If you can look past both, then this section of the game could be a pleasant one.
Midnight Suns will allow players to forge relationships with other superheroes, which is an important aspect because you’ll get to unlock powerful abilities as your bond is strengthened. You’ll roam around the Abbey and start up conversations that have choices, affecting how fast your relationship level rises and even giving you a light or dark alignment. You can even go on hangouts, a sort of one-on-one engagement that allows for a more intimate setup, and even give gifts to your Abbey-mates.
Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with this, and it can prove to be quite enjoyable. There are a lot of places to explore, secrets to unearth, and things that lend themselves well to the overarching systems of the game.
My main gripe about it is that with all of the talking and reading going on, one consideration to keep engaging with the feature (apart from the obvious upgrades) is if the writing and dialog are good. Spoiler alert: I didn’t find them amusing.
There’s a lot of forced comedy in Midnight Suns, with jokes that don’t really land the majority of the time. Most of these characters can’t seem to help themselves but offer comedic quips every so often, which really magnifies the bad writing of the game. For a section that hinges on a lot of reading and dialog, this will really hit a nerve over the course of the 50- to 60-hour playthrough.
Midnight Suns works well when it takes itself seriously and sprinkles in a bit of light-hearted moments in between. Some of its plot points are interesting and worth following, but it’s really hard to hop aboard the train when Tony Stark and Doctor Strange start throwing around puns and jokes every chance they get.
What this does is not make you care about these characters, since their personalities border on annoying and insufferable rather than endearing. The voice performances of some characters, particularly Yuri Lowenthal (Spider-Man) and Michael Jai White (Blade), are pretty good, but you get the feeling that they’re making do with the lines they are given.
I also experienced some minor performance issues paired with inconsistent frame rates during my playthrough. Take note that I was playing on a decent PC at adequate settings, so this could have been patched by the time the game launches. I haven’t tried out the console versions of Midnight Suns yet, but I’ll definitely be comparing them soon enough when I get the chance.
What we liked:
- Combat systems and mechanics are Firaxis-levels of good
- Highly strategic and dynamic battle sequences
- Cosmetics look stellar and really look great during battles
What we didn’t like:
- The art style won’t be for everyone
- Abbey sections of the game are tedious due to bad writing and dialog
- Minor performance issues and inconsistent frame rates
Verdict: Buy it!
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a stellar outing from Firaxis, and it’s a great choice for those looking for a deeply strategic game that has layers of systems working together to provide an engaging combat loop that will keep you looking forward to the next one. Battles are fast and heavily rely on positioning, ensuring there’s almost always action from turn one.
Depending on your tastes, the Abbey section may or may not be to your liking. Due to the fact that it was a section that required a lot of reading and dialog, the bad writing really struck a nerve with me and made the whole experience quite tedious. In the end, though, the fun of the combat sequences can make you overlook all of this, giving you that “one more game” itch to scratch.
Overall, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a terrific effort that will please tactical RPG fans looking for that next game to sink multiple hours into. If you can look past the parts that made me shake my head, you’re in for a good time.
*Marvel’s Midnight Suns was reviewed on a PC (via Steam) with a review code provided by the publisher.