The Marvel brand is a juggernaut that has pretty much owned the film side of things for several years now, is slowly creeping into streaming content services, and its influence on the gaming space has also not gone unnoticed. The likes of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Guardians of the Galaxy have impressed, and the upcoming Spider-Man 2 and Wolverine games are highly anticipated, so it is no surprise that Firaxis Games and 2K Games’ joint creation, Marvel’s Midnight Suns, has all the ingredients of an all-time great in the turn-based strategy genre.
It is already a hard enough task to follow in the wake of the successful and revitalised XCOM series, but to do so by utilising a rich story, iconic characters, and redefining the tactical and roleplaying aspects makes Marvel’s Midnight Suns a joyful and entertaining ride into the darker side of all things Marvel.
With the demonic forces of Lilith threatening the stability of the world, it will be up to The Hunter, the first fully-customisable original Marvel hero, and the rest of the Midnight Suns to right the wrongs and banish all traces of evil. This is a task that is easier said than done, but thankfully, Firaxis knows what it is doing when it comes to providing players with everything they’ll need when facing down an overwhelming threat.
Essentially, the entire Marvel’s Midnight Suns experience can be broken down into three major components, namely battle preparation, the actual encounters, and spending some downtime with your newfound companions.
Each morning, players will find themselves awakening in The Abbey, the last bastion of safety against Lilith and Hydra. It is in this safe zone that Marvel’s Midnight Suns springs its first surprise, in that the entire area can be explored freely through a third-person perspective, a departure from the menu-heavy approach of old.
The Hunter can head to The Forge where technology meets Hellfire and paves the way for new Abilities cards to be unlocked, Artifacts to be studied, and valuable Research to be conducted with the help of Tony Stark and Doctor Strange. If you much prefer to refine your current skills, Blade is awaiting in The Yard where Abilities can be upgraded and sparring with your teammates bring a host of benefits.
Information is key in the battle against Hydra, and that’s where the C.E.N.T.R.A.L workstation, where Captain Marvel stands guard, comes into play. Any Intel Caches retrieved can be decrypted here, making it possible to send dormant team members on Hero Ops for upgraded or modded Abilities as rewards.
It is not just all work at The Abbey either, with the mystical location hiding plenty of secrets of The Hunter, the Midnight Suns, and the enigmatic Caretaker. Exploration can open up new paths and areas, improve certain abilities of the team, and generally fleshes out the backstory of the original character. One could argue that it is window dressing, but in the grand scheme of Marvel’s Midnight Suns, it works quite well in establishing The Hunter as a living, breathing character.
With all of that preparation done, the time to head to the War Room and the Mirror Table to choose your next mission arrives. Aside from the requisite Story Mission, there are always going to be General Missions that can be undertaken for a variety of rewards, and offer great opportunities to build up the whole team rather than the chosen trio. Speaking of which, the combat in Marvel’s Midnight Suns is truly where the game shines the brightest.
Although the turn-based system is familiar to fans of the genre, this game does do things in a slightly, if not better way. As Senior Producer and Creative Director Garth DeAngelis and Jake Solomon shared, the fantasy is being a superpowered team taking on Hydra, and with that comes some necessary tweaks to make sure the formula works.
Gone are random chances of success when taking an action; instead, the randomness is replaced by the various decks of the trio you have chosen to take on the mission. The unique combinations that can be thrown up ensure that no one encounter in Marvel’s Midnight Suns is ever quite the same, and it forces the player to think more tactically about their team setup, and the obstacles that are in the way.
In addition to that, there are several systems in play that need to be considered if you want to emerge victorious. As a general rule, the team only has three Card Plays, two Redraws, one Movement, and one Item Use per turn. Cards used can generate Heroism, which is a resource needed to utilise the more powerful Abilities at your disposal, and there are also a bunch of other modifiers that can come into play.
Using a card with the Quick modifier means any play that knocks out an enemy is refunded, while status effects like Stun, Dazed, Weakened and more can drastically reduce the effectiveness of both your team and the opponent. Even Redraws can be used to bolster your Abilities, such as strengthening certain Iron Man attacks or bestowing other benefits when the card is removed from your hand. The importance of mastering Knockback and how it affects both the heroes and the enemies will surface sooner rather than later.
Movement is also a departure from the usual grid system that accompanies Firaxis titles, with Marvel’s Midnight Suns embracing free movement to a certain degree. Any hero that is moving is free to do so without limit, allowing for the finding of the perfect angle to launch an attack or to avoid tricky area-of-effect damage. It can be integral in chaining attacks together, making sure your own AoE attacks are maximised, or that interactive environmental objects hit the right folks.
Enemy variety in terms of their types further adds to the fun, with Minions and Elites forming the bulk of Hydra’s threat before the Bosses make an appearance at certain junctures. Minions are just that, cannon fodder that drops dead from any attack, but can still be a real pain if you do not deal with them.
Elites are obviously harder to contend with, with unique Abilities of their own to wreck your well-laid plans. Thankfully, the pair tend to telegraph who they will be targeting, giving players the chance to prepare preemptively or counter accordingly during their turn. Bosses will offer the biggest challenge to your heroes, requiring more understanding of the underlying systems and effects to overcome, which only serves to make Marvel’s Midnight Suns more of an enjoyable tactical experience.
There is no doubt that all of these can be daunting to the uninitiated, but it is to the game’s credit that the information relayed is easy to understand, and once things get in motion, everything a player can and will do becomes second nature. As a nice bow on top, the friendships you forge with your allies back in The Abbey will confer passive bonuses and certain Combo Abilities as well, and as such, it always pays to make friends.
That is exactly what players will be doing once an encounter is finished and the team retire to The Abbey. The Friendship system permeates throughout the game, both on an individual and team level, but is most notably present in the downtime after missions, where it becomes possible to hang out with chosen allies.
By making the right dialogue choices, giving suitable gifts, and making sure you have their back, teammates become close confidants, and open up new developments in terms of their story and their relationship with The Hunter. Training and missions also do their part in improving relationships, but nothing quite beats spending quality time together. Of course, there is every chance you’ll mess up by choosing the wrong activities and gifts, so make sure you are prepared when choosing who to spend time with and on what.
This engaging loop of preparation, combat, and relaxation keeps Marvel’s Midnight Suns moving at quite a decent pace, always prompting players to explore something new and getting rewarded for it. While you can certainly put off story progress to get more closely acquainted with the systems and your allies, the auto-scaling of enemies guarantees that no battle is ever too easy.
At the end of the day, however, none of this will work if the characters in Marvel’s Midnight Suns are not up to the task, and largely, the team at Firaxis has provided an extensive roster of heroes that should cater to all sorts of play styles.
The Hunter is more malleable than most, giving players the option of veering towards the Dark or Light, or maintaining a more balanced disposition and fulfilling different roles in a team. As for the rest of the cast, you will definitely be able to find characters that work well both on their own or as part of a synergised team. The damage-dealing capabilities of Blade, Captain Marvel, and Ghost Rider go well with help from tanks like Wolverine and Captain America, and magical support via Doctor Strange, Magik, Nico Minoru and more can tip the balance with effective use.
A particular favourite and pivotal piece of the puzzle is Minoru, whose support abilities can be devastatingly powerful. If you fancy reducing Heroism costs down to zero, cursing your enemies and empowering your attacks, she’s your gal. Despite the random nature of her damage output, the upside of powerful attacks like Witchfire more than makes up for it with consecutive KO bonuses.
As much as we can wax lyrical about Marvel’s Midnight Suns, there will be areas which not all players will be on board with. The Abbey exploration is certainly one, where the incentive to explore and immerse yourself in the world may not always be tantalising, as will the more comic book-like writing. Conversations tend to delve not too deeply, which makes sense for a game where the action and strategy are kings, but it is a point of contention that can work against Marvel’s Midnight Suns, especially when the game features tons of voice acting that perhaps could be used to better effect.
The mileage of the missions, maps, and enemy types will vary for each player as well. While things can often be spiced up with the appearance of a boss villain in General Missions, it is usually the exception to the norm. Counting on players to constantly move the story along to alleviate the potential repetitiveness may be a stopgap solution, but it is not exactly foolproof.
To sum it all up, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is everything a licensed game can be with a sprinkling of Firaxis magic in many areas. The action is bombastic and great to see in action, the top-tier tactical depth and strategic play deliver near-infinite replayability, and the narrative does consistently surprise in the most pleasant of ways. While there are areas that can be further refined, it shouldn’t take too much away from what is a quintessential turn-based affair, and a true superhero fantasy come to life.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Making a mark against the backdrop of legendary games, Marvel’s Midnight Suns stands tall and proud, powered by the iconic heroes of the Marvel universe and a breakout star in The Hunter.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 10/10