Marvel's Midnight Suns - Superpowered Strategy
Turn-based strategy games are a bit of a niche product. It is a big niche but still limited to a dedicated core of gamers that love what the genre brings. But what if the game was more than just a turn-based strategy experience? What if it was a deck-builder as well? What if it contained a fully-fledged world to explore? What if there were a host of RPG trappings that focused on story and choice? What if it featured a cast of some of the most popular characters in the history of the world?
What if it contained all of these things and all of these things were put together with the care that only a top-flight development studio can achieve?
Welcome to Marvel’s Midnight Suns.
The fact that all of these elements have been incorporated into a game in such a manner is an achievement on its own. The whole experience, from combat to story to the fun side activities all feel balanced and approachable, without sacrificing challenge. There are systems that play off other systems in amazing ways, a story that pays off in exploration, quests that boost attributes and surprises that mix things up around every corner. All of this is perfectly in tune, never throwing any element of the game out of balance. It has created a game that, as a whole, is simply a wonderful place to spend time in and one that rewards players for doing so.
Turn-based combat is a very important part of the game of course, but I am not going to go over it in too much detail here. You can read all about it in my 15-hour progress report on the game. But I do want to touch on some of the things that become apparent after many hours of play. Despite the seemingly simple setup of 10 cards per hero, there is a huge amount of depth and customisation to be found in how you set up those 10 cards. Cards can be upgraded by combining two of the same type and then even further with random modifiers or effects at the training facility in the home base. This means that you can have a wonderfully tailored deck that suits how you want to play, choose cards that complement the other team members that are going into battle or even change your deck based on enemy types. For example, Ghost Rider uses his chains to great effect, slamming enemies into other enemies or environmental traps, but does lower damage on single, tougher baddies. He pairs well with someone like Captain America who hits single targets in a big way as well as offering protection to the team. It is these sorts of conundrums I adore and piecing together the perfect team for each scenario is a real joy.
The story of Midnight Suns is wonderfully pulpy and reminds me not of the mega beast that is 2022 Marvel, but the more innocent and cheesy era of the Xmen Animated series from the early 90s. There are equal parts bombastic action and quiet moments of levity and fun mixed into a tale that entertains from start to finish. You take on the role of Hunter (a brand new character in the Marvel universe), the daughter of chief mega witch Lilith. Lilith has been brought back from the dead by those pesky folks at Hydra to usher in the return of a nasty elder god and reign hell on all of humanity. Hunter, having also been resurrected, makes a wonderful player proxy in this world of superheroes and magic. There is some fantastic writing here as Hunter gets to know the cast of Marvel Heroes and the fish-out-of-water schtick plays well for some added levity to proceedings.
As Hunter, players can interact with all of the heroes outside of missions and by doing so increase her friendship with them. This grants combat and stat bonuses as well as combo cards that can be used in-game, so it is worth the effort. This can be done by completing small tasks (upgrading an ability, finding some resources, helping another hero, you know the drill), giving them a gift or simply hanging out and playing video games. It may seem a bit naff to be sitting down playing games with Peter Parker while the world ends, but these quiet moments offer some real insight into the characters and some genuine warmth and heart that only adds to the high-stakes story going on outside of the quiet periods.
The home base for Hunter and their companions is the Abbey, a pocket dimension near Salem (obviously right?) that houses a grand estate that can be explored by Hunter outside of missions. This area contains a host of secrets, added lore, combat bonuses and fun diversions that make for the perfect break between missions. It reminds me a lot of the old Konquest mode from Mortal Kombat Armageddon, though much more fleshed out. The cool thing about it is, apart from the occasional story requirement, it is all pretty much optional so players can tackle it as they please or not at all if they so choose. Within the Abbey building are all the things you would expect from a Firaxis turn-based game. There is the Forge which allows players to unlock new cards and research new upgrades, the training yard which allows for daily sparring and card improvements, the war room which allows players to send NPC characters on missions for bonuses and the mission table. All things that have appeared in Xcom, just with a Marvel flavour this time around.
The cast of Marvel characters is an excellent mix of old faithfuls and some newer, less-known stars. Captain Marvel, Captain America, Iron Man and Doctor Strange are all there of course but it is the fresher faces of Robbie Reyes (Ghost Rider), Illyana Rasputin (Magik) Nico Minoru and Blade that really steal the show. Blade is obviously fairly well known, but he is much deeper here than the rather one-dimensional cinema version of the character and he is voiced to perfection by B movie legend Michael Jai White. Nico is the drive and heart of the team, Robbie is unsure of his worth and questions if he is up to hosting the spirit of vengeance and Illyana has a troubled past that plays an important role in both the story and Hunter’s growth as the main character. I had a blast learning and loving these slightly less-known characters and finding out about what makes them all tick. That’s not to say that the big stars don’t have their moments, because they do. Tony Stark and Dr Strange in particular have some key moments of doubt and growth, while Captain Marvel has a fun little romance sideline, but as I know these characters so well already, the newer cast and their struggles were the real stars for me. One of the coolest parts of all these characters are the unlockable suits and looks for all of them. Each character has a range of super suits for action time and casual wear for downtime that can be unlocked and the game allows you to just set the choice to random. It is quite the fashion parade with some great throwback suits like the Spider-man Symbiote suit, to some funkier stuff like a futuristic set of armour for Blade. It is hardly a major part of the game, but I enjoyed seeing just exactly what suit in what colour each character was wearing every time we went into battle.
All this led to a game that I was just happy to exist in. The only thing that was pushing me to really finish the game was the need to write this review. I was perfectly content taking my time, seeing everything the game has to offer and basking in the world that Firaxis has created. That being said, even though I pushed (especially towards the end) it still took me 49 hours to finish the story on normal difficulty so there is a lot of game here to explore. I am excited to start fresh, at a higher difficulty and really take my time with a second playthrough. Much like Xcom 2, I can see myself constantly coming back to this one for years to come, spending hundreds of hours fighting, exploring and roleplaying as the Midnight Suns.
If there is one problem with the game it is a few technical issues that pop up now and then. On a few occasions, missions failed to complete, even though I had finished all the required tasks, forcing me to restart the mission. There are also some graphical clipping issues and some slightly janky animations on occasion. Finally, in the very last mission, the framerate absolutely tanked to almost unplayable levels. Thankfully a quick save and game restart fixed that problem. All of these things are relatively minor, with a day one patch very possibly fixing all of these issues, so I wouldn’t let them concern you too much.
Presentation wise the game looks great without pushing any boundaries. All the characters are sufficiently detailed and the game certainly has the feel of a 90s animation, which suits perfectly. The voice acting is, without exception, excellent and each character has a great performance behind every word spoken. It was however odd to have Bruce Banner voiced by the same actor who brought Doc Oc to life in Marvel’s Spider-Man, especially having played it recently. It caused me to do a double-take more than once. The game also runs well on a range of systems with my lesser-powered laptop handling the action just as well as my gaming rig with only a few minor adjustments to the graphics settings. It is also worth noting that while the game doesn’t have the Steam Deck stamp of approval, I did test it there and with all the settings down it seemed to work fine (the game works perfectly with a controller, perhaps even better than with a mouse and keyboard) though as with all games that aren’t verified on the Steam Deck, mileage may vary and I wouldn’t suggest buying the game if that was your preferred platform. At least until the game gets verified.
The final thing I want to talk about is the setting of the game. Firaxis was wise to choose the occult side of the Marvel-verse to explore. It has been mostly untouched during the Marvel explosion and it has allowed the writers to really stretch without stepping on stories that Marvel fans know and love. That’s not to say that it exists outside establish Marvel canon, events like World War Hulk and Civil War are referenced on occasion, but it is an area where there is the freedom to be creative and the game benefits from that.
Up until I got my hands on this game I was confident that God of War: Ragnarok was going to be my personal game of the year. That has now changed. Marvel’s Midnight Suns is very much a game that feels like it has been designed for my own personal sensibilities and preferences. The wonderful rollercoaster of a story, the tight turn-based combat, the puzzles and the exploration all tap into the things I love most about gaming. This allowed me to get lost in an adventure, that while sharing DNA with games that came before it, is an experience that I have never had before. Firaxis, in its first new IP since taking on Xcom 10 years ago, have only further cemented its position as perhaps the best strategy game developer on the planet. Midnight Suns is a must-play, even for those not used to turn-based tactics. It is welcoming, challenging, engaging and entertaining. Simply put, it’s a marvel.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by 2K Australia