Almost two years ago now, gamers all around the world were pleasantly surprised by the announcement of Marvel’s Midnight Suns. A card-based Marvel game from the creators of XCOM. While it seemed an unexpected combination at first, after several trailers the gaming community warmed up to it and steadily got hyped. We’ve spent a lot of time with the game, so read on for our Marvel’s Midnight Suns review.
Just like Star Wars, the Marvel brand is in a weird place when it comes to video games. Disney, owner of the Marvel license, has hardly done anything with the license apart from some mobile games. The greatest Marvel games were made by Sony in recent years, simply because Sony owned the rights to the Spider-Man universe. Marvel’s Avengers was their stab at creating a live service Marvel game which tanked considerably. So I was holding my breath for Marvel’s Midnight Suns, considering the game seemed really cool. Simply put, my expectations were blown.
A magical Marvel adventure
As expected from a Marvel game you’ll find a group of your favorite Marvel superheroes. Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine and many more fan favorites are represented, including some lesser known heroes. However, the story is unlike most superhero stories. Marvel’s Midnight Suns focuses on the more magical side of the Marvel universe. Of course, this is explored in various comics however if you’re not a hardcore Marvel fan you’ll find it very refreshing.
The story starts with Hydra as the initial bad guys. A scientist called Doctor Faustus attempts to resurrect a demon called Lillith, in order to help Hydra conquer the world. Once successful, Hydra and Lillith lay siege to Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Grouping up to defend it, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and the Scarlet Witch do the best they can. They soon find out they’re outmatched and are losing the fight. Leaving Scarlet Witch to defend it using a barrier, the remaining heroes go on to find help. They find help in the form of the Midnight Suns. However, this also leads to the loss of the Scarlet Witch and Sanctus Sanctorum.
Back from the dead
Now if this seems like you’ve learned about half the plot of the game, don’t worry. This is just the prologue. The Midnight Suns are an ancient organization spanning centuries, which is dedicated to stopping Lillith from returning. Current members of the Midnight Suns are Nico, Magick, Blade and the Ghost Rider. Familiar names to fans of the Marvel universe. The Avengers and other heroes must unite with the Midnight Suns in order to stop Lillith, who now lays siege on their beloved world. The ultimate warrior to do so, is you. Or well, Hunter, Lilith’s son or daughter (Depending on what you choose) resurrected from the dead to fight Lillith. Hunter is a completely new character you will be playing. At the start of the game, you get to customize the look of “your” Hunter. You can swap genders and are able to customize their look.
What follows is an intriguing story in the Marvel universe which felt fresh to me, due to its focus on the magical and supernatural side. It’s also interesting to see how familiar characters who are far from magical deal with this. The story is filled with superheroes and villains we love and hate, with a twist. They each get introduced through their own spotlights and missions and before you know it you’ll have a super team of your own.
There’s more to this game than you think
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a game of many faces. While I initially just expected a card based tactics game with some story, there’s a wide variety of genres represented in the game. Some are quite unexpected. But to paint a good picture, essentially the gameplay takes place in The Abbey, your homebase, or on combat missions. All weaved together through cutscenes and dialogue. And just so you know, the game is pretty dialogue heavy.
Let’s start with combat first. Firaxis, the developers of Marvel’s Midnight Suns, are a team experienced with tactical games. Their game series, XCOM, is considered to be the holy grail of the genre. It shouldn’t surprise you then, that Marvel’s Midnight Suns offers an excellent card based combat system. Card systems are often hit and miss, with well designed systems few and far between. The system in this game is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s varied, offers a ton of customization and most important of all: It’s fun.
Form your deck
On every mission, up to three heroes join the fray. Most of the time, your main character Hunter is required. The exceptions are general missions, which gives you free choice. Some missions have additional requirements in terms of heroes due to story reasons but generally you’re able to mix and match. You’ll be dropped in an arena with opponents and various environmental hazards. Hands are dealt and mayhem ensues.
Different from what you might expect, positioning isn’t grid based and not a combat phase. When your turn starts, your card hand is filled up to six if applicable. They are drawn from the player’s deck, which is composed of the decks tied to the three selected characters. It’s possible you’ll get two cards for each hero or six for one hero and anything in between. During your turn, you get three card plays to consume. You can also move one of your characters once and redraw a limited amount of cards to get what you need. Later in the game, additional options open up. This basically sounds simple, but there’s so much depth I could write 10 pages so I’ll try and keep it brief. The rest is for you to explore.
There are no cover mechanics in the game, everyone, including your foes, are out in the open. Movement is very important however. This may seem strange while only being able to move one character per turn. But this is handled by cards. In order to play a card, you target an enemy or an ally. Depending on the type of attack, the selected hero needs to move in range or not. This is part of playing the card and the hero moves accordingly. This is very important, because a lot of cards have knockback effects or AoE damage. So sometimes the best way is not to play a card at all.
The knockback effect is pretty important, because the game counts on you to use it to your advantage. Due to the many environmental hazards, you can use the cards to throw opponents into explosive barrels, walls and even holes in the floor (Some which can be made by ghost rider). But beware, this can be used against you as well. Although I often found enemies don’t really take enough advantage of this element.
Don’t just smash
By playing cards, you also build up heroism. Heroism is needed to play some of the more stronger cards. Super attacks or signature moves if you will. They’re a lot more powerful but also pretty limited due to needing heroism. Each card also has various effects. My favorite so far is Quick. Quick refunds your card play if you KO an enemy. So you can quickly take out weaker enemies while playing more cards in a turn. While combat is great, I did find that controls with a keyboard and mouse were very clunky. A controller worked better for me, which is ironic considering the game seems made for keyboard and mouse.
Missions have pretty varied objectives. Of course, there’s the simple “Kill all enemies” objectives. However, there’s also objectives where you have to rescue civilians, raid resources or simply subdue a villain. Some boss fights even offer very creative objectives, where simply killing the boss isn’t going to work. It’s something they’ve definitely improved over the XCOM formulae. While eventually objectives may seem repeating, I think it’s expertly handled especially in the story missions.
A different approach to enemies
There’s one feature in terms of enemies which is simple but amazing. An issue superhero games often have is the handling of minions or random enemies. We’re so used to them being taken out quickly but in games you often see a health bar. Marvel’s Midnight Suns solved this by introducing minions. Enemies have various tiers. Minions, regular, elite and bosses. Minions basically have 1 hp, deal less damage than regular mobs but still do a lot of damage in packs. There’s always a strategic consideration in taking them down. Do I spend a card play to kill this weak enemy and leave a stronger one at full health? But leave them for too long and you’ll get swarmed, because every turn the enemy team reinforces with some minions. At the same time, this does make your superhero feel actually powerful.
Now let’s talk about card decks. As I mentioned earlier, every hero has their own card deck. This consists of just eight cards, with at least one attack, heroic and skill card. When in combat, the three card decks are combined into a 24 card deck used in combat. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the game is making each deck true to character. Iron Man’s deck is full of cards which get stronger the more Iron Man cards are in hand. True to his ego. Captain America is all about taunts and blocks, Spider-Man about mobility and so on. They’ve nailed every character and with more than a dozen heroes that’s a big achievement.
Cards can also be upgraded using resources obtained through missions. When upgraded, cards do more damage or get additional benefits. As you get further on, you can also find and create modded cards which offer even more benefits. This allows you to further customize your deck, focusing on specific strategies for each character. Later on, you’ll find some characters synergize very well with each other. For example, using Magick to pull enemies close together and having Hunter mass AoE them after that is very effective. Deck building is a game itself and something I enjoyed doing.
Besides the combat missions, there’s also your home base. The Abbey. It’s where, in between missions, the heroes can relax, train and plan their next moves. In Firaxis earlier games, there’s always been home bases where you could research and customize your troops. If that is what you’re expecting here, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot more to do here. I dare say most of the game takes place here, in between missions.
I’ve got to get myself an Abbey
The Abbey is surrounded by the Abbey grounds. A huge area where you can explore to find materials, resources, lore items and chests containing cosmetics. I was really surprised by the scope of the exploration. When it first opened up, I spent a good hour just roaming around finding collectibles and the sort. During the course of the game, you’ll get various abilities to reach new areas and new areas will open up in Metroidvania style. Nothing as deep but still a fun side activity. It’ll also allow you to learn more about the lore regarding the Midnight Suns.
During your downtime in the Abbey, you’ll also get a chance to bond with your allies and build up your friendships. You can get into optional conversations, to learn more about their backgrounds if you’re not familiar. And by doing various activities with them, you’ll build your friendship level. Bigger friendship levels grant you new passive abilities. Your heroes will also level up, which yields more health and damage. With so many heroes, there’s a danger some will fall behind. To counter this problem, heroes automatically level up if they fall too far behind. Ensuring they’ll all remain useful.
You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to build up your base. Both visually and functional. You get to research new upgrades which give you all kinds of bonuses in combat and options for your characters. You’ll be able to craft cards, improve them and so on. All of this requires resources which are pretty sparse. You’ll need to think carefully how you plan to improve your base. In between the story missions, you can do general missions for resources or credits. They are just random combat missions, without any story attached. Sometimes, they are even mandatory before you can take on the next story mission.
One thing that’s good to know is that Marvel’s Midnight Suns is very heavy on cutscenes and dialogue. There are times when you’re spending most of your time listening to either of these. While that’s not a positive or negative thing in itself, it’s something to take into account. Some people love it, some people hate it. I personally very much enjoyed it and spent most of my time exploring the Abbey, talking to the other heroes and just upgrading my cards and base. It almost seemed like a Life Simulation game at times.
The game is also filled with cosmetics. Either for your base, your main character or the various heroes. It’s not surprising however. Especially for the heroes, there’s tons of source material for various costumes. Every character also has a different outfit for combat and downtime. There’s a lot to try on. Another awesome feature in my opinion, is you’re able to rotate outfits for every mission if you can’t make a choice.
Meaningful add-on content
I also had access to the add-on content, which at this point in time concerned three updates. Each brings a new hero to the team including a new story. They seamlessly fit into the narrative and great care was taken to make it feel as organic as possible. Usually they’re just tacked on standalone stories. However, it felt as if the add-on were actually part of the main story including their banter on the current situation. They were considerably tougher than the main missions however.
Graphically, the game is also stunning. I played the game through a GeForce Now Ultimate subscription and it was as crisp as you can imagine. The animations in combat and cutscenes are gorgeous and it’s clear a lot of time was spent on these. The heroic attacks for every hero are especially true to characters with a lot of special effects. One point of critique here however is that during dialogue, all characters are static. That may have been fine ten years ago however it just looks weird nowadays when a character is mad and goes on a rampage with his arms crossed standing still. With the budget this game has, it really feels out of place. There were also a lot of unnecessary pauses in dialogue. Despite the hefty GeForce Now rig, the loading screens were also incredibly long.
There’s still so much I could tell about this game, because there’s so much to do and experience. However, the review is already getting lengthy so it’s time to wrap it up. With the lack of Marvel games from recent years and a combination of gameplay which seemed uncommon at first, my expectations weren’t very high. But even if they were, I’m certain it would still be shattered. Marvel’s Midnight Suns turned out to be extremely good. I spent dozens of hours and still want to spend many more. Which is uncommon for me. The combat is excellent and fun, there’s a lot of side activities and the story is entertaining.
All I want is another game like this, maybe focused on the Avengers or X-Men (2K, are you reading this?) If Disney decides to only release a Marvel game every few years, all is forgiven if it is as good as this. Pick it up if you’re a Marvel fan, love card based combat, XCOM games or life simulation games. You’ll love it, I guarantee!
- Excellent card based combat
- There’s a lot of fun things to do
- Many customization options
- An interesting Marvel story
- Static animations during conversations
- AI could use environment more