15 Hours of Midnight Suns
To say I am a fan of Firaxis is an understatement. They consistently put out games that seem to speak to me in a way that other titles don’t. It would be fair to say that I have put more time into Civilization and Xcom than any other franchise ever. So when I heard they were branching out from their two core IPs and into the madhouse world of Marvel Comics no less, I was instantly excited. It seems that excitement was not misplaced, because after 15 hours of game time I am happy to say this is a game that feels like it was very specifically made for me.
I want to preface this all with, as per the heading I am 15 hours into the game, a game, that according to the developers, sits at around 60 hours for a standard playthrough. I can feel that time already. It gives the impression of a grand, sweeping experience that goes on and on. This isn’t something that can be consumed over a weekend, but is designed to play for as long are you are having fun with it. At the same time, I don’t feel like it is too much as yet. The game is quite gentle in its lead-in, which is something of a surprise considering the type of games Firaxis is known for. There isn’t the immediate wall of complexity that Civ presents, nor the brutal punishment that Xcom hands out when you get things wrong. This, by nature of being a Marvel game, has to take things a little gentler, simply because the focus for this game has to be a wider audience. I can say they have achieved that admirably because at the normal difficulty I would say most people should find the perfect balance point between challenge and frustration.
It is important to know that this is not an Xcom clone either. The DNA is there for sure, but it is a very different experience for the most part. Cover, missed shots and movement tiles don’t really make sense in a world with flying robots, spirits of vengeance and half-vampires so Firaxis has wisely gotten rid of them in favour of a card and environment system. Each turn players draw a series of cards that consist of attack, skill and heroic types. Attack cards are pretty much what you would think they are, though they do have various effects like bleed, knockback or stun as well. Skill cards are buffs or debuffs like healing, taunting and skill boosts. Heroic cards tend to be bigger attacks or combo moves but they cost Heroic points to use. These points are earned through the use of normal Skill and Attack cards. During each turn, players have a limited number of card uses before they have to end their turn and let Hydra have a crack at them.
The environment also plays a massive part in combat, with potential traps littered all around the battlefield. By using some of the Heroic points earned, heroes can throw crates at enemies, explode barrels, kick a skip bin at baddies or even drop overhanging cargo. None of these actions counts towards your card usage, so it is a great way to get as many hits on the enemy as possible in a single turn. Players can also use knockback attack cards to great effect, knocking enemies into electric boards, poles, cars or even other enemies and heroes for extra damage. It really pays to use the battlefield as a weapon and can mean the difference in a tight contest.
The last thing I want to talk about in this preview is the wide variety of mission types I have come across. I have had to keep an (even more) mutated Venom at bay while stealing tech, destroy the escape vehicle of a Hydra Scientist, rescue civilians from falling debris and (it probably goes without saying) wipe out a whole heap of Hydra goons. There is even a puzzle mission type which involves out-of-the-box thinking and the use of limited resources to solve a particular conundrum. There really is a huge variety, especially for this sort of turn-based affair. It really is impressive to see and I am sure it will go a long way to ensuring I am deeply involved for the 60 or so hours it is going to take me to finish.
There is so much more to talk about, to rave about, but to do so would cause this preview to be ridiculously long and ruin my eventual review. But let me say the story, metagame and exploration components of the game are just as interesting as the combat. I will go into more detail in the future, but for now, know that Midnight Suns is shaping up to be a truly special title, a game that through its excellent use of the Marvel licence may just be a gateway game for people to get into turn-based strategy titles while at the same time offering more than enough to keep seasoned veterans like myself happy for hours upon hours of fun.