I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to take on Marvel’s Midnight Suns. From the same team that brought us XCOM, Firaxis Games brings to life — or should I say ‘revives’ — an old Marvel legend of a band of truly the most unlikely of heroes from the dark side of the Marvel universe to take on an even greater evil. There’s a lot to unpack with Midnight Suns, so we’ll just get right into it.
The original Midnight Sons (spot the spelling difference here) first appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) #28 by Andie and Joe Kubert and Howard Mackie. The “Rise of the Midnight Sons” storyline sees Lilith, the Mother of Demons, attempting to open a portal to Hell and taking over the world with her demonic brood, the Lilin. Doctor Strange and Danny Ketch, the new Ghost Rider, having taken up the mantle after Johnny Blaze, work together to assemble their motley crew to be known as the Midnight Sons, or the Nine. This team, if you could call it that, consisted of ex-Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze, Morbius, Hannibal King, Blade, Strange, Ketch and a few other characters. Together they defeated Lilith, with the Ghost Rider himself tossing her into her very own portal.
Now, this new Midnight Suns tells the story a little differently, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed. In this iteration of the story, Lilith had a child with a mortal man, the child simply referred to as (the) Hunter. When her lover passes away due to illness, Lilith is consumed by grief and turns into the crazy lady, wreaking havoc on the world. The Hunter is raised in secret by Lilith’s sister, Caretaker, who trains them to become the very force that will take Lilith down, though they ultimately fall with her. Centuries down the line, Lilith is revived by Hydra for their own nefarious little plans, and the Hunter is revived to take her down once more with the new Midnight Suns.
I’m sure you have also noticed that I did not specify the Hunter being a he or a she or anything in particular at all aside from the literal spawn of Marvel’s version of Satan. That’s because this time YOU, the player, decide who and what this new Marvel hero is. Upon being revived, you get tossed into a character creation screen where you get to decide what your Hunter will look like, though these customization options are pretty basic. I chose to just stick with the default Hunter. I’ve never really cared for deep character customizations and find the process to be overly tedious, but there are people out there who I’m sure will spend a good hour here to create their perfect Hunter.
After you’ve created your Hunter, you are immediately thrust into the madness, essentially being bombarded with information regarding the renewed conflict with Lilith. You are introduced to the new Midnight Suns roster, including Blade and a new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, as well as some new (to me) characters like Sister Grimm and Magik. Of course, Doctor Strange also makes his return and is joined by fellow Avengers Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Captain Marvel (but just call her Carol). You’ll meet a lot of other characters from throughout the Marvel universe as well, but that list is just too long for me to put here.
Combat gameplay in Midnight Suns mixes strategy card games like Hearthstone and Slay the Spire with a simplified version of the gameplay you see in XCOM.
Before each mission, you choose two of the Midnight Suns to accompany you. We’ll get to this more later, but team cohesion on and off the battlefield along with other factors can have an effect on how easy — or difficult — each enemy encounter will be, so choose your team wisely. Combat is turn-based, starting with the Midnight Suns and followed by the enemy forces, however there are some enemies who may be able to attack out of turn as well. Based on the characters you chose, you’ll have a deck of cards (8 cards per character) composed of different Attack, Skill, and Heroic cards. Attack cards are pretty self-explanatory, dealing the amount of damage indicated on the card, though some will have added effects, such as knockback to launch an enemy backwards or taunt to redirect an enemy’s focus. Skill cards provide some sort of resource or boost such as healing, attack bonuses, or opening up a fiery portal to knock enemies into for an instant K.O. Heroic cards are stronger Attack or Skill cards that can land devastating blows or provide tremendous support to your team. Heroic cards require a certain amount of ‘Heroism’ to be built up before use which you get by using Attack or Skill cards.
You are limited in how many card plays you can do per turn, though some cards may offer a ‘card play refund’ if certain conditions are met after that card is played. If you don’t like a particular card in your hand, you are able to swap it out a couple times to see if you can get a better/more useful one.
However, using the cards isn’t the only way to do damage to the enemy. The area around you can also be used to launch special attacks that don’t cost you any card plays, though they still require Heroism. For example, you can pick up a crate off the ground to bash over the head of a nearby enemy or kick a table or bin at another. Some of these environmental attacks may require you to use a ‘move’ play (having a character move to another spot in the playing field), but these are limited like card plays and card swaps. Some enemies have area-of-effect abilities that you’ll need to move a character out of range of before the end of the turn in order to stop them from taking major damage, so you should prioritize your move plays on environmental attacks for these situations.
As someone who doesn’t usually get into turn-based games or strategic card games — I mean, aside from UNO — I found this mash-up combat system fun to play out. Some of the attacks are downright incredible. Heroic card attacks are usually coupled with a really cool animation of the attack, like Ghost Rider summoning a flaming hot rod to straight up run a guy over, or multiple guys if they’re unfortunate enough to be standing in a line. Some character combinations may even trigger a combo attack card to appear in your hand, often taking an enemy to within an inch of their life. You’re able to move your ‘camera’ around as well, so you can see the playing field from a different perspective, potentially unveiling a hidden crate or a light pole you can tip onto someone or to better select an area for a character to escape from an AOE attack. My only gripe here is moving the camera angle is confusing to grasp sometimes, particularly rotating it, but you start to get used to it after a few battles.
I do wonder if there will be some rebalancing/tweaking of characters. I guess since it’s PvE and not PvP it maybe doesn’t matter as much, but Sister Grimm has some spectacularly strong attacks for someone who can sometimes go a little unhinged (maybe that’s why they’re so strong?).
After a successful mission, everyone heads back to the Midnight Suns base camp, The Abbey. The Abbey will serve a lot of purposes for the Midnight Suns aside from being their home. The Hunter is presented with their very own quarters, which are moderately customizable. Okay, you get to pick what pictures go on your walls, but aside from that the only ‘customizing’ is really just picking what furniture you want to purchase for the room and what color curtains you want. You can also pick different outfits for The Hunter to wear as well, more of which become available as you interact with the other characters.
Said interactions come in various forms, including daily sparring sessions, hangouts around the Abbey grounds, and random conversations to just discuss daily life stuff. Depending on how these interactions go, you may see your friendship level with each character increasing. On some occasions, this can result in a bonus for a character if you take them on the next mission with you, such as movement bonuses. However, not everyone will want to be friends — some of the Midnight Suns feel a little at odds with the Avengers seemingly taking over The Abbey — so you may have to choose sides.
The Abbey is an open area that you get to explore in the third person perspective. Aside from the main building structure, you can venture out to the Abbey grounds to find hangout spots, visit different shrines/statues, and discover many hidden secrets. I love hunting for pieces of lore in games, so I had a lot of fun running around collecting journal entries, tarot cards, and other things scattered throughout the area. There’s hidden pathways to discover where you get to learn more about dear mama Lilith and what happened over the last few centuries while you were… away. You also find ingredients for brewing different concoctions, however I rarely ended up using any of them.
This actually happened quite a lot for me. To be honest, it seemed to me like a lot of the things you are meant to do in terms of research, sending characters out on individual side missions, and even visits to the forge for ‘upgrades’ were more for cosmetic purposes and unlocking different things around the Abbey instead of actually helping the characters. Part of this feeling comes from how it also seems like you’re learning a new thing every time you turn around, almost as if they tried to jam pack the game with feature after feature after feature. This is a trap that I feel a lot of game developers have fallen into lately. They feel like they have to have all of these different systems in the game, little mini features — more and more content — for the player to interact with in order for the game to be good. For me it becomes overwhelming and whatever isn’t required goes ignored throughout much of the game.
I mean, you can upgrade cards if you have duplicates of them and you find/unlock new cards as well, but there’s no stat or skill tree system to progress through. It really is very simple in this regard. I do feel like there’s missed potential in this as even though combat outcomes are determined by strategizing with your cards, the fact that there’s no armor upgrade system or anything like that to make a lot of this side content more meaningful is kind of disappointing. I did like how one of the side stories literally says you can ignore it going forward, but I actually wanted to do that more than most of the other stuff.
On a visual level, Marvel’s Midnight Suns looks absolutely stunning. I’m not even running the latest GPU, but the world design, the character detail, and the level of cinematics are all a wondrous sight to behold. I did have some issues early on with game crashes and stutters, but once I lowered the graphics settings from ‘Epic’ to ‘High,’ that all stopped. Well, it mostly stopped. When stepping into Magik’s portal to move from the Abbey to the mission area, my camera does a random flip in direction, causing me to run back the way I came, so I usually have to wait a few seconds before moving around in the bridge between areas. I am also rather concerned with the load times for this game, particularly when starting up the game but also when coming back to the Abbey after a completed mission. Loading into a saved game takes literal minutes.
That all being said, the complaints that I have with the game have little to no actual effect on my enjoyment of the game. Marvel’s Midnight Suns has been… well, a marvel. The last superhero game I played and thoroughly enjoyed was Deadpool (2013), so I’m very excited to have found another that hits the spot while also introducing me to a genre that I’d previously ignored.
Marvel's Midnight Suns
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a really cool take on a classic story from the darker side of the Marvel comics universe. Gameplay is a pretty simple mashup between strategy card games and XCOM’s turn-based combat system, making for a refreshing way to experience being a superhero. However the game does have some performance issues, particularly loading times, and some of the side content lacks meaningful contributions to the mission.
- Good mashup of strategy card games and XCOM
- Wonderful game design/animations
- Love this new take on a classic story
- Really long load times, especially when first loading into the game
- Other more minor performance issues/stutters
- Superfluous side content, some can be easily ignored