Geek Interview: Firaxis’ Jake Solomon On Marvel’s Midnight Suns’ Place In The Turn-based Strategy Genre

Sometimes, history can do more than just be lessons to learn from – a legacy can also weigh heavy when it comes to traversing new ground. That is essentially what Firaxis Games is facing with the recent reveal of its latest project, Marvel’s Midnight Suns. After years of dominating the turn-based tactical genre with the XCOM series, the team is targeting a new frontier, with superheroes and forces from hell battling it out for dominance.

To help us understand more of what Marvel’s Midnight Suns is about, and how Firaxis Games is approaching development, Creative Director Jake Solomon was kind enough to speak to us about the upcoming game, which if it sounds familiar, shares more than just a phonetic resemblance to the popular Marvel Comics supernatural superhero team, Midnight Sons.

Jake Solomon, Creative Director

On the surface, Marvel’s Midnight Suns represents something entirely different for the team, especially one with roots as deep as Firaxis. To allow this new project to stand on its own, it was vital to add more layers to what fans were used to already.

“We still have turn-based tactical combat, we’re still scratching that strategic itch, but obviously we have some pretty big changes,” Solomon teased.

Tapping Into Marvel’s History

The biggest draw is that this is a darker side of Marvel, all about the supernatural, magic, and demons. Firaxis wanted “to tell a story that people haven’t seen or heard before” and everything clicked when the Rise of the Midnight Sons comic book series came up.

With the threat of Lilith looming large, an extensive roster of heroes was drafted into the fight, with lesser-known characters joining the more familiar faces, and that is also the central theme for Marvel’s Midnight Suns. The likes of Nico Minoru, Magik, the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider and even Blade are joined by the older guard of Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Captain America, and more.

“Heroes like Iron Man are used to handling apocalyptic threats, but Lilith’s supernatural powers set them on their backfoot,” Solomon clarified. “Meanwhile, these supernatural heroes are eager to join the fight, but they haven’t earned their way in yet in the eyes of the Avengers. And you as the Hunter, you’re set in the middle of this to try and bridge the generations.”

“On the villain side, expect to see a similar story where we will feature a wide range of Fallen versions of iconic Marvel characters.”

Counting The Avengers, X-Men, Runaways, and more for players to pick from, combat is all about empowering the player and let the mayhem ensue. This way, the fun stuff starts straight from the off, which should suit newcomers just fine.

“Looking at everything together, I think Marvel’s Midnight Suns is really going to deliver a new and fresh experience for Marvel fans and I’m confident tactics players will enjoy the strategy of abilities through cards.

As to the challenge of maintaining the same or even better quality – I think this is true for many people who create games. We’re never aiming to just create the same thing twice, or maintain some quality bar and call it a day. We always want to make the best game possible, and I’m really excited to be able to work on what is a dream project for me and many members of my team in Marvel’s Midnight Suns.”

Jake Solomon, Creative Director

Refining The Formula

Although an XCOM sequel is something that fans would love to have, the same addictive formula is returning in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, albeit in a different form. Look beyond the surface of the comic book coat of paint, and there is much to be excited about for fans of the genre.

Players are still going up against destructive forces hellbent on annihilation, but instead of being at a disadvantage, you have the fun of superpowers on your side.

As Solomon explained, “In XCOM, you face a superior enemy. You’re outgunned, you’re outmanned and you’re really just hanging on the edge, trying to prevent an alien invasion. In Marvel’s Midnight Suns, you’re a superhero! You are incredibly powerful and when you step on the battlefield, you should feel like you’re the coolest person.”

Trying to achieve that meant things had to change, which brings us to the “different mechanics and combat systems” found in the game.

Most notably, abilities are being represented through cards, adding another layer of strategic thinking into the proceedings. It is not just changing for changes’ sake, however, as Firaxis wants players to feel the significance of a team facing down a common threat.

“First, we have a really wide roster of heroes, each with different power levels and abilities, and we wanted players to be able to do cool stuff right away. Because Cards are drawn at random, this allows us to design awesome abilities right from the start, but still balance them in a way that keeps things interesting and challenging since you don’t know when you’ll be able to use those abilities.”

Not only that, it is about giving players the keys to customisation, bringing iconic abilities to the fore for fans of particular heroes.

“With Cards, not only can we capture and represent many of those hero abilities that are really iconic – Iron Man’s Repulsor Blasts or Captain Marvel going binary – but we can dig in deeper and let the player select which of those abilities are in each of their hero’s unique deck, greatly expanding the type of customisation and strategic options you have to play the game your way.”

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

Getting the right squad composition greatly increased your chances of survival in XCOM, and that line of thinking still largely holds true in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, but there is added flexibility in every team setup.

With the ability cards, players can tailor each hero to fulfill different roles, but the characters are still specialists in their own right. Each hero gets a unique set of cards that truly captures their essence.

“Nico Minoru, for example, is a powerful witch, and she has really strong support and debuff abilities – as well as unpredictable magic that requires set up to really draw out the full potential,” Solomon pointed out.

There is also Captain America, who can taunt opponents and act as the tank, while Blade is all about damage-dealing with the added bonus of Lifesteal and Bleed damage. As such, synergies between heroes are going to matter, and any gaps can then be filled up by the Hunter, the first-ever original hero that is fully customisable.

Depending on how you want to play, the Hunter can be “everything from a powerhouse sweeper to a skilful support character” thanks to her unique heritage. Her access to Light and Dark abilities plus her martial prowess make the Hunter a force to be reckoned with in any situation.

If you prefer to be more of a support hero, then Light abilities will suit you just fine, whereas Dark abilities are all about causing damage and debilitating effects on enemies. What makes things even more interesting is how players can get more Light/Dark abilities.

This will come down to choices made in The Abbey, Marvel’s Midnight Suns‘ hub area. Skewing your balance towards either side will see new abilities unlock, but you are never locked into decisions, change up your approach and you still can flip your alignment.

Home Away From Home

Speaking of The Abbey, it was paramount that Firaxis Games cater to the superhero fantasy.

“There’s being one during combat, where you should feel powerful, explosive and awesome. There’s the other part, where people want to see how superheroes interact with each other outside of combat. This was something super important to sum” Solomon shared.

The hub area is where base and hero management happens, but also a space where heroes live and coexist with one another.

“Building out a robust Friendship system was an important pillar for the team, and also making sure it ties back into combat was a key part in making it feel not just fun but also very useful. We wanted to reward players who put in the time and effort in getting to know characters not just narratively, but also reward them in gameplay.”

All in all, everything that has been shown so far of Marvel’s Midnight Suns hints at something approaching greatness, marrying the expertise of Firaxis Games with the undeniable appeal of Marvel’s comics history.

It remains to be seen just how fans and newcomers alike will receive the major changes to the gameplay formula that the studio has honed over years, but their commitment to innovate and break new ground could invite a whole new generation of fans when March 2021 rolls around. We await with bated breath.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns is slated to launch in March 2022 for the PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.