Marvel’s Midnight Suns opens with Doctor Faustus and Hydra, using science and dark magic to awaken Lilith, the mother of Demons. Lilith is an ancient goddess and sorceress, one of the most magically talented demons in the Marvel Universe. Faustus hopes that with Lilith, Hydra will finally rule the world.
After battling the forces of Lilith and finding themselves outmatched, Dr Strange and Iron Man leave Wanda to defend the Sanctum Sanctorum, where they converge at the Abbey. This fortress safely hidden in a pocket dimension on the cliffs of Salem, is where they seek to resurrect the Hunter, a child of Lilith’s and her previous killer, to aid them in hopefully repeating the task once more.
People just never stay dead in the Marvel Universe.
To say there were mixed writings after the E3 announcement is an understatement. Reading the Youtube comments and further down the line, commentary on Twitter about the delayed launch date, some people had written off Marvel’s Midnight Suns before it even launched. I’ve got no problem calling franchise fan bases some of the most toxic you can get. Everyone wants “comic accurate”, and nobody is allowed to try something different. If that were the case, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, David Kraft, Steve Ditko and so on would have never written half of the graphic novels we read today.
Slated as a card-based strategy game, with Marvel characters, and with Firaxis on board, the resurrectors of XCOM with Enemy Unknown (one of my favourite games), I was hyped and instantly added this to my list of “games I must play”.
Now, if your journey was anything like mine, you were both pleased they took a little longer to polish the game and re-watched many trailers; you’d be forgiven for thinking this was very much like XCOM. Kind of.
In one recent interview, Jake Solomon said, “We started by saying that we’ll make something very much like XCOM; we’ll just put Marvel heroes in. And, of course, that did not turn out to work out very well… the fantasy of being a soldier fighting a superior enemy, and being all tactical, taking cover… sometimes missing your shots and sometimes your allies die. None of those things made any sense.’
Having spent days and months in XCOM, having Iron Man miss a shot or Captain Marvel cower behind half a crate doesn’t make sense to me either, and what we have works very well.
Countdown to Midnight
Covid has forever changed the landscape of the world. More people worked remotely, and so did the development of several projects. Working so disconnected from a team can lead to many issues. So March 2022 became October 7th and then finally released on December 2nd. Currently released on all next-gen and pre-gen consoles, the only one missing is the Switch, slated for 2023. However, playing the latest Pokemon game, I’d suggest they wait a little longer for newer hardware to get the best handheld experience it deserves.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
I’m pleased the delivery reflected my excitement to play Marvel’s Midnight Suns. The game does have some flaws, but it has many more enjoyable qualities. For someone who has been gaming from DOS on PC and has witnessed game styles and genres evolve, I genuinely feel the nostalgia of many games before. They intertwine in this title, whether intended or not.
Midnight Suns is a hybrid of Dragon Age Inquisition and XCOM Enemy Unknown with Marvel flairs. Those being a fleshed-out story, great dialogue, and a breadth of primary character abilities, alongside a genre-switching momentum from Tactical card-based turn choices to RPG third-person exploration and character development/interactions. Imagine it like that old friend you’ve known for years, where you pick up right where you left off, even though it’s been nine months since you’ve seen each other.
I’m currently 35 (game) days into the title, and it takes some time to learn the mechanics, but there is no penalisation for doing side missions, unlike XCOM, and no long-term character deaths. The main story difficulty levels with you, so you feel supported, offering a balanced challenge. There are, however, many (and I mean many) difficulty perimeters, much too many.
Like most games, you have character classes; Tanks, DPS, Magic, and Healers, and each Marvel character has a set style of cards and options for building those decks with different abilities and upgrades. Your character “Hunter” has a multi-disciplined deck where you can fine-tune the deck to your play style. There is also no requirement to take Hunter on every mission, but I find my balance of healer and enormous damage-dealing capabilities missed if I don’t. I also love some of the witty smack-talk when fighting. “Blade told me to mention your mother…”, being one of my favourites so far!
Hunter can also look and feel however you want. Various customisations and further options unlock more cosmetics, both facial and costume. So every Hunter should look different.
When it comes to the Marvel characters themselves, they exhibit every ounce of their charm as you’d expect. Strange is a well-spoken scholarly. Tony is a cocky and brash know-it-all, Magik is dark and closed off, Nico is plagued by her upbringing and Spiderman’s teenage quirks and exuberant attitude is ever present.
Each Marvel character also has their own “ability” in the game. For example, Ghost Rider consumes the souls of those he KO’s to increase his maximum health, which he can life-steal to replenish that health, but some attacks cost him health. Blade can deal incredible damage, inflicting bleed as a DOT effect, and consume bleed or break shielded opponents. Whereas Captain Marvel is a powerhouse of cosmic force, taunting and blocking, channelling her energy to “Go Binary”, a unique offensive state to double the damage dealt.
A Story of Three Acts.
Now there is a lot to do in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, so let me take you through both parts of this two-sided coin we call Midnight Suns, RPG and turn-based strategy. To do this, I will (as the game does) split the action into three separate sections.
Hunter starts his day with a few objectives. These can vary based on the mission you undertook previously or objectives the game has tasked you with, like companion tasks, more on this in a bit. So you start with your superlink. This is your in-game newsfeed/messenger app, as Nico so pleasantly says in an encounter… “you follow me on superlink.”
Superlink holds your private messages from companions who want to connect or reflect on your friendship level. This something the game urges you to build up to maximum with hangouts, gifts and multiple choice dialogue options, each offering a negative, positive or neutral attribute change in that section. Remember, only some people like the nice guy routine.
I love the nostalgic easter eggs and references, noting TV and Films like Ghostbusters, Pulp Fiction or the Monopoly board games. These happen during character interactions and reconnect the real world and the mystical in a nuanced way.
Secondly, there’s the forge, where you unlock new cards (abilities) and can research in-game upgrades, do challenges, upgrade areas around the Abbey and more.
After your daily visit to the forge, the next stop should be the Intel Cache, where you can unlock special operations that you can send heroes on to unlock cards and other items.
Next, there’s the training area, where you can upgrade abilities, spar with heroes, test out your decks and more.
Finally, before you embark on the missions, there are gifts to buy, embers to collect, glyphs to find, arcane keys to unlock chests, and so much more. Even talking to heroes or helping them with a dilemma is usually a choice with a dark or light balance. Remember those companion tasks I mentioned; they also fit here in various ways.
Oh, and don’t forget Gloss, the currency used to buy gifts and cosmetics.
With all that out of the way, you start a mission. Mission vary in difficulty from easy to hard and have different rewards, Intel, Artefacts, Coils, Coins and Attribute credits. Or, if you pick a story mission, you receive a reward that way, which is how additional heroes are introduced.
Whether side or main, each mission has a required hero, but the other two slots are the dealers’ choice. I always take Hunter; their balanced style and friendship gain offer a great middle ground if you, for example, use Blade and Dr Strange, two entirely different play styles.
The card-based system works on a three-card play style, with redraw options, environmental attacks, and hero points to deal significantly more damaging attacks or combos. The trick is to build hero points whilst playing tactfully. There might be better moves than eliminating an enemy immediately, but casting him into a more potent enemy to deal additional damage or stun an enemy against a generator can turn the tide of the battle in your favour.
Sometimes, like any card game, the odds are not in your favour, and even with re-draws, it can be a little frustrating, but this is where training time and additional skills come in. Some quick cards offer a free card play on knockout, others are free to use, and some come at a higher cost, like losing a random card or consuming health.
With limited card plays, fights can sometimes feel like they’re dragging on, especially when you need to use a card play to interrogate, capture or collect an objective. You are then ranked after each successful mission one to three stars. The quickest side mission I’ve completed is in three turns so far, and I got one star, but for one of my longest, I got three stars. I need help understanding the measurement used here.
You get one mission a day, and that’s it. So pick wisely. Some side missions offer consumables that you need or epic blueprints you could do with, and there isn’t a penalisation for forging that path away from the main story, as the character’s level with you and so does the primary mission. Their deck, however, does not.
Now that you’ve trashed New York or radioactively quarantined a dockside, you return to the Abbey, where background dialogue changes based on who you took with you and what happened on the mission. A nice addition.
You can no longer do most of the morning activities; it’s downtime, and whether Tony is at the bar or Parker is playing video games, there’s no shop talk. Unless you’re at the shop…
This is where you can join a hangout with a specific hero. These are seemingly random, but based on my experience, they are usually the people who went on missions that day. However, hangouts only sometimes appear, so pick your character wisely.
Or you can venture to the Abbey grounds, where you unlock the mysteries outside.
Picking ingredients for potions, yes, there’s a cauldron. Learning God words and finding new locations for hangouts.
However, traversing is clunky, you might find a small ledge that a child could step off, but Hunter cannot. There is no jump, roll, step up or down. It isn’t satisfying. Hunter’s true nemesis is not Lilith but small obstacles like a tree root.
Then when you’re finished with the evening activities, you can retire to your quarters and sleep, restarting your daily routine.
Behind The Masks
Before I share the niggles and final thoughts, I wanted to highlight the incredible voice cast in this game. Each character is cast perfectly, and this is where Marvel’s Midnight Suns shines.
Elizabeth Grullon the menacing voice of Trilla Suduri in “Jedi – Fallen Order,” lends her gravitas to the female Hunter, and Mathew Mercer, who recently showcased his vocal talents in “The Legends of Vox Machina” voices Male Hunter.
Spiderman is Yuri Lowenthal, recognisable immediately from the incredible Insomniac Games Spider-Man 2018, Marvel’s Future Revolutions and the upcoming Spider-Man 2.
Michael Jay White is Blade; a perfect Blade and my favourite since Spawn back in 1997. Brian Bloom reprises his role as Steve Rogers from a litany of Captain America credits.
Rick Pasqualone is Steven Strange, Josh Keaton is Iron Man, and Erica Lindbeck is Carol Davers. Darin De Paul is Ghost Rider, Laura Bailey is Magik, and Steve Blum adds to his many Wolverine credits.
Jennifer Hale is Lilith (Female Commander Shepard from Mass Effect), and Graham McTavish is Johnny Blaze (The Witcher, House of Dragon, Aquaman, The Hobbit), to name some of the no-expense-spared talents on show here.
These voices are recognisable in a way you will associate with one of their many credits, but through years of tradecraft, they bring depth and history to these characters.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns does have a few niggles for me that stand out.
There is a lot to do in this game, and the developers have packed a lot of content. Unsurprisingly each property intertwines with other sections of the game, so nothing feels disconnected. It’s just a lot.
Graphics outside of battling aren’t spectacular. The cutscenes and animations are superb, but some characters’ facial modelling is devoid of detail. The fact there is a lot to do can sometimes be repetitive. I want to avoid foraging for flowers and mushrooms or having the same dialogue when visiting a site I’ve visited 25 times before! “Has this always been here”? Yes, Hunter. It has!
There is no compass when walking the grounds, which twists and turns and is relatively large. I have to open the map and can’t toggle a waypoint anywhere, only to previous chests or fast-travel to significant locations and backtrack from there. A mini-map option and custom waypoints would make it easier. Maybe some automated foraging or seed growing in a garden would help long term.
Having to also salvage cards for resources, which are already limited and required in large quantities, is tedious. You need multiples of one card to upgrade it but might not have the resources to do so, and this can be a vicious cycle.
The UI could also use some updating. I want a cleaner way of editing decks and showing multiple cards alongside a better objective sub-section. The latter sometimes doesn’t load for me.
If my last section feels negative, don’t be disillusioned, I can’t stop playing this game! I am nitpicking because I have found a genuine fondness for this game.
It took me about 5 (in-game) days to find my swing and dig my claws into the dynamics of the card play element. Experimenting with cards in the training grounds and picking a balanced team should be at the forefront of your planning.
Before my last few nuggets, be aware there are 3 different versions of the game, each with cosmetic unlocks from the beginning. However, with DLC already announced and a season pass at £39.99, getting the Legendary Bundle for me was the best value for money, especially if it’s discounted.
I want to leave you with a few tips and tricks before signing off with the Marvel’s Midnight Suns rating;
- Each hero reacts differently to your approach. Magik, however, is very different. You can tell why if you’re aware of her Marvel origin. Think about who that character is, not who you are and make friends with everyone. Balance and consistency will help you long term.
- Bleed is one of the best attributes in the game for dealing with more considerable health-pooled grunts and bosses.
- Every mission has multiple ways of approaching the objective. Utilise movement and environmental behaviours to your advantage, and don’t always kill the easiest minion first.
- Oh! Pet your dog too. She’s a good Charlie.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5