Marvel goes tactical with strategic turn-based combat from the developers of X-Com. Become the Hunter in our Marvel’s Midnight Suns review!
Superhero video games tend to follow a fairly predictable formula; third person action experiences that rely on button mashing to spam flashy attacks with cool cutscenes. And it works, for better or worse. Most of the older Marvel titles have been merely competent affairs that satisfy that itch to feel mighty against woefully underpowered foes. Whereas newer titles like Guardians of the Galaxy or Spider-Man: Miles Morales offer a vibrant twist on the superhero formula. When Marvel’s Midnight Suns was first announced, I was initially unsure how this universe would translate into the turn-based tactical system that was proposed, despite being developed by genre veterans Firaxis, known for their work on X-COM and Civilisation titles.
I still find it a little difficult to wrap my head around it, but they’ve managed to take the Marvel universe, apply the turn and card-based combat system to it and deliver a compelling, layered and addictive experience that is beyond my wildest expectations. Packed with highly polished and cinematic cutscenes, an incredibly deep narrative with branching, optional quests to further expand on their story and addictive, satisfying and visually striking gameplay, Midnight Suns is a prime example of the right team with the right license and right experience can deliver in full. Find out why in our Marvel’s Midnight Suns review!
Marvel’s Midnight Suns Review – Story & Characters
From the get go, Marvel Midnight Suns establishes a dark, supernatural tone that envelopes the entire 25-30 hour campaign. The sinister themes are an immediately noticeable contrast to Marvel titles we’ve had in recent years and it’s safe to say that the level of maturity it displays pushes the experience to darkest corners we’ve seen a Marvel game go, and it nails it. There’s a dark grittiness to the presentation that one segment of the community would want to slap a hashtag on it and demand the release of the (insert name that rhymes with rider) cut.
Venturing into the dark and dangerous corners of the Marvel universe requires its cast of characters to be appropriately edgy in terms of personality and appearance, and Midnight Suns does an excellent job in creating a cast of characters that feel as though the belong in this apocalyptic power struggle. Our protagonist is referred to as the Hunter, resurrected to prevent our mother, Lilith, from turning over an evil spell book, the Darkhold, to an even more dangerous foe, Chthon.
Surrounded by fan favourite characters such as Captain Marvel, Iron-Man, Blade, Ghost Rider, Captain America and Wolverine to name a few. Some lesser known characters are also given the spotlight, including the likes of Nico Minoru and Magik. As the story progresses, new heroes become available to use, gradually increasing the total roster to 12 heroes. Their introductions are all cleverly executed, their relationships with other characters are well implemented and their styles are all so unique that they encourage experimentation to find the perfect trio of heroes to take onto the battlefield.
Outside of missions, players are able to wander the castle-like hub known as the Abbey in third-person. This is where the heroes reside and is full of collectibles to find, relationships to establish and enhance through conversations that make use of choosing dialogue that results in different outcomes, training and more. The Abbey is home to what could be deemed the more optional content of Midnight Suns.
Establish relationships with each of the heroes does strengthen their effectiveness in combat, but it isn’t actually required for progression. The dialogue in these relationship building encounters is covered in cringey, unrealistic and simply unlikeable, which is a shame considering the banter and conversations in regards to the story missions and cinematics are actually well written.
While the missions comprise the meat of the campaign, it’s surprisingly shorter than the unnecessarily long monologues and conversations make it out to be. Of my 26 hour campaign playthrough, less than 14 hours were actually missions, some of which I had to replay after defeat. The story itself is genuinely interesting and strong but it is overwhelmingly bloated and bogged down by painful and pointless conversations outside of it, as well as the insane amount of running around the Abbey that some missions require as a prerequisite.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns Review – Gameplay & Combat
In missions, the player is able to take three of their available heroes, some of which can’t be chosen as they are sometimes required for specific missions. As the combat is card-based, each hero has a customisable deck of eight cards. These containing offensive and defensive attacks and manoeuvres, support and healing buffs as well as card re-drawing, shuffling and destruction for example.
Every hero’s cards are unique, and the combinations are incredibly fun to experiment with and see what stacks to inflict more damage or what non-attack moves can be made to set an enemy up for an even bigger dealing of punishment in a few turns. There is a joyous level of satisfaction in learning how the different cards, abilities and movements work and mastering them feels incredibly rewarding.
A typical round consists of three card plays and one player movement, though both of these can be increased and decreased based on your own cards or the effects of enemy cards. What you do in these turns not only impacts this turn, but sets up future turns. Awareness of surroundings is critical, as there are numerous ways to inflict damage on your opponents by using cards that have knockback effects, sending them crashing into environmental hazards for additional damage, but these too can be used against you. Critical thinking is a must and despite being frustrating initially as you’re coming to grips with how the game actually works, it doesn’t take long to understand and begin to master.
Most missions require the player to simply eliminate all enemies, in most cases waves of enemies come, or at least one new enemy arrives at the end of every turn, tasking the player with forward thinking to maximise damage output and eliminations while still having enough in the tank for the imminent reinforcements. There are also other mission requirements such as rescuing people, capturing equipment or preventing enemies from leaving within X amount of turns for instance that keep the mission variety refreshing.
Combat plays out in small arenas, but expansive backdrops add a depth of field to the action, providing a grand and broader in scope than it actually is. The distinct environments all offer up roughly the same arena experience in terms of environmental hazards and ways to use turns more effectively outside of direct card use, but manage to feel completely different based purely on their aesthetics.
New enemy types are constantly introduced throughout the multiple regions on offer in Midnight Suns, most of which are repeated but with different elemental abilities and associated strengths and weaknesses. Boss encounters are understandably the most difficult and even mini-boss situations can prove challenging. Bosses typically require some other conditions to be met such as destroying an object or certain enemies before they will be open for attack, though the challenge lies in the fact that they can and will attack your heroes even though you can’t yet retaliate.
Saving cards now for later is the equivalent of retreating to fight another day and it’s a tactic that will inevitably be discovered the hard way, especially for players like myself who aren’t experienced within the turn-based genre. If Midnight Suns teaches players anything at all, it’s to plan, think ahead and calculate what your next move is rather than what your current move is about, it’s a thought process that becomes easier with time and progression.
Some missions can be quite long, especially the optional missions that players can undertake outside of the story missions. Some of these are regrettably forced, as every story mission seems to require an optional one to be completed prior to becoming available, likely a way to pad out the otherwise 6-8 hour narrative. The length of some missions based on either their requirements or the infinitely spawning reinforcements can lead to fatigue, particularly in longer play sessions, but by tackling the game in chunks it becomes much less of a problem.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns Review – Presentation
Where Firaxis have really flexed their creative chops is with the animations that accompany every single card. Whether it’s the web-slinging antics of Spider-Man, the mystical, cosmic incantations of Doctor Strange, the thrilling arsenal of Iron Man or the dominating, brute strength of the Hulk, every hero looks and feels cinematic, powerful and imposing on the battlefield.
Even the way each hero moves around the field whether its levitation, flying, swinging or teleporting for example, its unique to them and just further validates the confidence and experience of the creative minds behind Midnight Suns. These developers are not just capable in their genre, but have clearly undertaken extensive research to hone in on the traits and quirks of the Marvel brand.
The attention to detail is incredible, with every hero and every location feeling authentic to the iconic and storied source material. Characters looks great, their outfits are well designed, the animations are impeccable and the environments are just gushing with detail. An appropriately epic score and effective sound design compliment the presentation nicely, delivering a presentation worthy of the big screen.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns Review – Unlockables
Gloss is one of the many in-game currencies that can be obtained and it can be used to unlock new costumes and leisure attire for each hero, as well as decorating your room in the Abbey. Turning up the difficulty generates greater rewards from missions and is the best way to farm Gloss for those wanting to turn the Abbey into a runway for their heroes.
For reasons unknown, every hero has a variety of swimsuits that can be unlocked that they can wear around the Abbey as well as normal clothes they wear when not suited up to save the universe. Tony Stark in a shirt and jeans is cool, but I’m not sure why or anyone else needs to walk around like they are about to hit up the beach.
Midnight Suns offers a story that is epic and grand on every level, with relationships between the characters and choices paving the way through the campaign with fun, tension and mostly satisfying payoffs. Despite nitpicky issues such as random swimwear and obnoxiously cringey dialogue, Marvel Midnight Suns provides a universal threat, tells an apocalyptic tale of sacrifice and delivers an intricately layered and deep gameplay system that enjoyable, addictive and rewarding.
With more heroes confirmed to arrive in the near future, Marvel’s Midnight Suns offers a crazy amount of replayability as it is, additional content is going to further justify the player’s need to return and suit up as the unlikely group of heroes the universe never knew it needed.
Why should you play Marvel’s Midnight Suns?
- Excellent, deep and layered combat
- Visuals are stunning
- Striking, creative animations
- Offers a lot of replaybability
But why shouldn’t you play Marvel’s Midnight Suns?
- Terrible, cringey dialogue in the relationship conversations
- Numerous crashes on Xbox Series X
A review code on Xbox Series X was kindly provided by 2K Australia for the purpose of our Marvel’s Midnight Suns review. If you’re looking for more Marvel content, have a look through our other Marvel reviews and articles or join the official Qualbert Discord!