When rumors first started floating around that a Marvel X-COM was in the works, I was ecstatic. When it was revealed that Midnight Suns wouldn’t share anything in common with X-COM. I deflated. That bias stuck with me for so long that I even threw a tiny bit of shade at the game in my Phoenix Point review.
You can the video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
However, as time went on, I slowly started to warm up to the idea. I love Marvel, and I love card games, so it couldn’t be all that bad right? Well, after playing it I can say It certainly isn’t Marvel X-COM. But in an ironic turn of events, it ended up being my favorite game of 2022 anyway.
Marvel Midnight Suns features two very different styles of games in one. The first half is a very deep, and strategic turn-based combat game featuring card play. Then in a rather “Stark” contrast, the other half is a super-powered pow-wow social sim where you befriend various Marvel heroes through a hulking heap of dialogue.
|Gideon’s Bias||Marvel’s Midnight Suns Information|
|Review Copy Used: No||Publisher: 2K Games|
|Hours Played: 60+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: Xbox Series X||Platforms: PS4/PS5, Xbox Platforms, PC|
|Fan of Genre: Partially||Genre: Turn-Based Tactics, Social Sim|
|Mode Played: Variety (Highest one available at any given point)||Price: $69.99|
The amount of voiced dialogue contained in Marvel’s Midnight Suns is tremendous for a turn-based game. The lead engineer at Firaxis claims that it features 65,000 lines. For reference, Mass Effect 3 had 40,000 lines of dialogue. A good portion of the game is spent chatting with your fellow superheroes.
For a massive Marvel nerd like me, there is a great amount of joy in being able to interact with these characters. Learning about them, seeing their personalities come to life in-game, or even how they interact with each other. Having a picnic with Doctor Strange, or playing video games with Tony Stark invokes an almost childlike sense of joy in having a simulated friendship with those characters.
Many of the various characters are on point with their writing and dialogue. From Tony Stark’s snappy quips to Steve Rogers’s wholesomeness. At the same time, others explore the depths of their personality in unexpected ways. Blade is more than a brooding badass Vampire Hunter, he is also an avid bookworm in Midnight Suns, for example.
You create your own character in Midnight Suns. They aren’t a blank slate self-insert character, they are closer to the likes of Commander Sheperd in Mass Effect. The Hunter has a predetermined backstory and traits, but you still choose their dialogue options and mold them into your own personal version of the Hunter.
There’s a neat sort of role reversal with how the game lines up your relationship with the team. In most games, you would serve as a rookie being mentored by these legendary heroes.
Instead, you’re the legend. A mythical hero of the past. Many of the characters look up to you or at least look to you as the prophesied savior against the impending apocalypse being unleashed upon the world. It’s a neat twist that works well.
The Power of Friendship
Interacting with the various characters is for more than simply advancing the plot or soaking in the universe. You gain friendship levels with each of the heroes and the higher your friendship is with them, the more gameplay benefits you earn.
For example, you have an overall team friendship level that earns you rewards such as combo cards that allow heroes to perform team-up attacks in battle. But each individual friendship unlocks and strengthens passive abilities for these heroes. Such as Captain America gaining block each turn, or Wolverine healing when you redraw his cards.
When you max out a character’s friendship, you unlock a special Midnight Suns costume for that character and a powerful Midnight Suns ability. Whenever you send the Hunter on a mission, any hero that accompanies you gains friendship, but you also lose or gain it through various dialogue choices, hangouts, and by giving gifts.
It’s a slow-going process, by the time I finished the game I had only unlocked one character’s Midnight Sun ability. But you can carry friendship levels over into new game+. More on that later.
Through my initial playthrough, picking and choosing the right havens, hangouts and gifts was a lot of fun. Each reward is potent, so I was able to feel the effects of my efforts straight away. There are many avenues of progression in Midnight Suns, friendship is just one of them, and it’s certainly interesting, the first time anyway.
Shut Up Already
One of my inherent biases is that I view storylines as secondary in video games. I’m more interested in the gamey parts of a game. My love of Marvel superheroes did some serious heavy lifting to keep my interest in the social sim aspects of Midnight Suns alive. Any other game would have failed. You would never catch me playing the Persona series, for example.
However, even with my love of the characters, I found it to be too much quite often. There were several times I was just begging the game to please let me play as I had to go and speak to five different characters each of which seemed to have an infinite amount of breath to talk me to death.
There were times when I would play a mission and then put the game down because I didn’t have the mental energy to go through the next half-hour of dialogue before I was allowed to play again. You can quickly skip it, but the thing is, I was actually interested in what they had to say. I just would have liked it in smaller more digestible chunks.
The Hunter can also very much feel like the team’s therapist at times, where many conversations are spent reassuring superheroes that they are in fact still super. Tell Doctor Strange he is still magical, Iron Man that he is still a genius and Spider-Man that he is still cool. They have no qualms about overbooking your appointment schedule, and it can leave you with little energy (or real-life time) for much else.
A Card Combat Marvel
Imagine a game like Slay The Spire, but with three characters and a 3D destructible environment, and you have the very basics of the combat in Midnight Suns. Your deck is made up of 24 cards, 8 from each of the three heroes you chose to bring into a given mission.
The combat strikes an incredible balance between being simple to understand, and full of multilayered depth. It’s easy to grasp, and the game relays information to you upfront and in clear terms, but mastering the system is strategically satisfying.
You’re always outnumbered, reinforcements often arrive after every turn, and missions can also have a variety of objectives that need to be completed. Every turn you can play three cards. Twice per turn, you can also discard a card to draw a new one to try and line up the combos you want. Some cards generate heroism, while others require you to spend it to play the card.
Where it gets tricky is managing the different layers of combat; your heroism, positioning, and the attention of your enemies. For example, some enemies are considered minions and die to any amount of damage. If you take them down with a card that has the “quick” keyword. It refunds a card play. That’s just one of the ways you can bend the rules to gain an advantage.
Most enemies telegraph who they plan on attacking. This allows you to try and plan for it by either eliminating enemies targeting a weaker hero, granting block to that hero, or doing other various tricks such as concealing them for a turn.
Positioning is also a key factor, every card moves characters around the battlefield, and that can play a huge role in area of effect attacks. The destructible environment is also important, you can slam rocks into enemies, kick dumpsters into groups of them or topple steel beams onto their heads. Environmental attacks use heroism, but not card plays, so clever planning can give you an edge. It’s all gloriously strategic.
The combat in Midnight Suns feels physically heavy. Many attacks launch enemies across the map while crashing through objects and bouncing off walls. Both of which deal extra damage. Slam one into an explosive barrel for some extra boom, or into a generator to shock and stun them. Beware, however, the enemies can also do that to you.
The physical nature of the combat combines with the cinematic animations of each card to deliver a turn-based game that looks as good as it feels and truly captures the spectacle of super-powered beatdowns. Each hero is represented in great ways, both visually and from a gameplay standpoint.
Captain Marvel legitimately feels like the most powerful member of the team in both her abilities and visuals. When she blasts a line of enemies with her Photon Beam, it leaves a line of devastation in its wake with shattered floors and objects along its path. Once she goes Binary she can tank tons of attacks, and if you happen to put “counter” on her, she strikes back against each one.
At the same time, while she feels every bit as strong as the character should, she doesn’t feel overpowered, or better than the other heroes. It’s impressive just how well Firaxis was able to manage that balance. Captain Marvel has roles she’s good at. But she will also appreciate the aid of Doctor Strange’s magic, Spider-Man’s use of the environment, or Wolverine clearing a room full of minions.
Each team composition has distinct strengths and weaknesses, but no matter which heroes you bring into battle, whether they win or lose, they are going to look awesome doing it.
Battle the Apocalypse
The enemy design in Midnight Suns is great because each enemy type has its own quirks that require different approaches, but those approaches can also differ depending on the heroes you bring into battle. It really helps keep the game feeling spicy as opposed to repetitive.
For example, Hellhounds target a single hero as a pack. They can quickly knock out whoever they swarm if left unchecked. However, if you taunt one of them, you taunt all of them.
A hero such as Captain America or Captain Marvel might be able to draw their attention and survive with enough block. Heroes such as Spider-Man or Wolverine might be able to thin the herd of minions, or perhaps Doctor Strange can cast a concealment spell on their target and make the hounds waste their turn.
Another enemy has vicious attacks that inflict bleeding. But they also always target the last character who started bleeding. If Blade is in the party, he can cut open an enemy and cause them to attack their own allies.
Various villains also enter the fray and can show up in random missions once you have discovered them in the story. Each one requires its own tactical approach, especially when they interrupt a mission and you weren’t expecting them.
The game provides a satisfying challenge, especially on higher difficulties. There is a string of higher-difficulty settings that you can unlock, and each one grants higher rewards. I was annoyed at the fact you need to unlock them. I’d rather play on a harder difficulty straight away, and the way you unlock them is somewhat unintuitive.
You have to earn a three-star rating on a set number of missions. Higher ratings also grant you extra rewards. To get a three-star rating you can’t have any hero knockouts, that makes sense. But you also have to complete the mission as fast as possible, and that completely hamstrings certain compositions.
Tanking With Captain America or taking advantage of healing abilities is potent, but will cost you higher ratings, and that’s lame. Thankfully outside of unlocking the higher difficulty settings, the ratings have little impact on the game. I’m also very thankful that the higher settings exist at all.
Walking The Abbey
After each mission, in addition to a lot of dialogue, you also run around to perform various gameplay-enhancing benefits. Open any coils you earned to retrieve new cards, spar with allies for combat bonuses, craft items, and upgrade abilities.
The pre-mission prep is honestly a lot of fun because of just how customizable everything is. As you unlock more and more aspects of the Abbey, you can slowly upgrade and customize the decks of every character. The interesting thing is, no single character has an overwhelming number of cards, but there is immense freedom in how you build them.
The Hunter is the most moldable, with three distinct paths you can take them down, Light, Dark, Power, or a mixture of any of them. You can make your Hunter into a damage dealer, healer, tank, someone who throws enemies around the battlefield, and more. But what really surprised me is how much you can tune other heroes.
You can make Captain America a tank capable of defending his allies, or someone who uses that block offensively for a ton of damage. You can make Doctor Strange into a support mage or damage-dealing warlock. Each card can be upgraded, but there also comes a point when you can gain mods for them, and it blows the doors wide open on hero customization.
For example, Nico has a card called restore that fully heals an ally. It is removed from the battle unless the hero she healed was under 50% HP. I managed to get the “free” keyword on it, which means it never consumed a card play. A fantastic combo.
Decks aren’t the only thing you can customize. You can customize your room, and replace paintings in the Abbey with customizable post-mission comic books. You also can unlock new cosmetics for the various heroes and your hunter and a ton of color palettes. Some cosmetics are locked behind premium currency if you don’t have the season pass, and that’s a serious bummer to see in a full-priced game.
The Abbey is an open-world area to explore full of lore to find and puzzles to solve. It’s optional but does reward you for pursuing it. I’ll be honest, I would have been more interested in the exploration and cosmetics if the dialogue hadn’t eaten up so much time.
By the time I was done talking with heroes, I was always itching to battle again and was very much not interested in spending more time not battling. I did eventually explore the entire Abbey, but I was constantly rushing myself to do it, and that’s a bit of a shame.
It’s rare for a New Game+ to have such an impact on me that I bother talking about it in my reviews. But Midnight Suns gave me exactly what I wanted with New Game+
In most games, New Game+ has you starting with everything you unlocked, and I’ve always found that the games got stale fast after that. Midnight Suns strikes a careful balance with it.
You start with the entire roster unlocked, which is great because some characters only unlock toward the end of the game. Your friendship carries over, and all mission types are available. Not only that, all enemy types and villains appear straight away, giving you much more variety right from the beginning.
Everything else needs to be unlocked, cards, upgrades, research, and whatnot. It works great because it gives you the friendship boons, full roster, and great mission variety, but still allows you the satisfaction of unlocking new things and upgrading your cards and decks.
Since you have completed the story, you can skip most of the dialogue, and it feels much more like an X-COM run. Something replayable, instead of one-and-done. With New Game+, Midnight Suns is able to deliver both. A story-focused social sim, and a replayable run-based game, once the credits roll.
The things that grated me through my initial playthrough are gone, and I’m free to battle to my heart’s content, unlocking stuff as I go and with access to combos and situations that weren’t available in my first playthrough. I couldn’t be happier with the game’s New Game + implementation.
There are a lot of mixed feelings involved in this review. Midnight Suns had a lot of aspects that didn’t always sit well with me. However, in this case, my positive feelings not only outnumbered the negative ones but smothered them entirely.
This is largely due to the combat and customization. The turn-based combat is legitimately one of the best I’ve played. It combines so many factors that are simple upfront but have a ton of depth beneath the surface.
Every battle is a challenge to tackle based on who I brought with me, the mission at hand, and the enemy types present. If there’s a point in Midnight Suns where missions become mindless, I haven’t reached it yet. The higher difficulty settings kept me on my toes, and I constantly had to adapt and rethink how I approached each mission.
However, the New Game+ is what really set the game on the path to being one of my favorites. Your initial playthrough will have some pacing issues. The dialogue is lengthy, and it will be many hours before the game begins introducing new enemy types. Characters are unlocked at set points in the story, and some of them enter quite late into the game.
I was having a ton of fun, but during my initial playthrough, I never saw myself playing it again. The motions would have been the same. You would have these set characters against these set enemy types at this point in the story, etc.
New Game+ changed that for me. Starting over with nothing wouldn’t have worked for me. Starting with everything would have been as equally dull. The careful balance it strikes, giving you the heroes, enemies, and friendships, but not the cards or upgrades is brilliant.
In the end, Midnight Suns is a phenomenal tactical game with so much superhero spectacle that you will forget it’s being played with cards. The social sim aspects aren’t going to be for everyone, but there are a ton of clever nods and treats to enjoy as a Marvel fan. The dialogue can be excessive, but the cerebral joy derived from the excellent combat system more than makes up for it.
I’m giving Marvel’s Midnight Suns my Golden Shield Award.
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Pick up Marvel’s Midnight Suns from these stores
- Stellar combat with tons of strategic depth
- The combat looks and feels fantastic with awesome enemies, effects, and a sense of weight
- The environmental interaction helps elevate the combat system to even greater heights
- Tons of freedom in customizing each hero and your overall team and strategy
- Hanging out with Marvel legends invokes childlike glee if you’re a huge fan of the universe
- Difficulty Settings present
- New Game+ carries over just the right balance of progression to make the mode feel great
- Plenty of mission and enemy variety
- Great variety of distinct heroes
- The excessive dialogue can be grating when you really want to enter another battle
- You can feel like the team’s therapist at times
- Higher difficulty settings have to be unlocked
- Pacing can feel off on your initial playthrough
- Three-star mission ratings incentivize a specific playstyle.
- A premium currency in a full-priced game for certain cosmetics sucks.
- The optional puzzles serve as too much of a timesuck given the excessive dialogue