I’m a sucker for card and strategy games, and I am a big fan of Marvel, so when I heard about Marvel’s Midnight Suns and how it combines those loves, I was instantly excited. Midnight Suns is developed by Firaxis games, the same studio that brought us the beloved XCOM series, so my expectations were very high.
Players are required to customise the main character, a hero named The Hunter. The customisation options aren’t as varied as some titles, but there is enough flexibility to allow the player to mould the Hunter to fit their identity if they wish. Customisation options include hair style and colour, skin tone, gender build and more. Once further into the game, more options in the aforementioned categories can be unlocked, as well as options such as make up, masks, head gear, clothing, and more.
All the non-standard options for customisation are unlocked using Gloss, one of the many in game “currencies”. Gloss is collected as a pickup, and as a reward for quests and missions. Gloss is also used to purchase upgrades to rooms and areas in the Abbey.
Midnight Suns takes place all over the world, but the main area the player will find themselves outside of missions is the Abbey. Originally the childhood home of the Hunter centuries ago, the Abbey acts as the base of operations for the Midnight Suns. It is located in Old Salem; however, it is outside normal space, essentially in another dimension. The Abbey is the only play space where the player will control their character completely outside of turn based battles. It is a mid to large area that contains beautiful scenery, from forests and bubbling brooks to cliffs and waterfalls. Littered and hidden around the play space are collectibles, chests, and side quests, including optional expanded story information and cutscenes. It also provides access to game mechanics such as upgrades, deck building, crafting, training, and more. The majority of these can be skipped if the player prefers a shorter experience and isn’t worried about attaining 100% completion. Designing the game to revolve around the Abbey was a smart move by Firaxis as it provides some third-person adventure gameplay to what is at its core a turn-based strategy game. This along with the Marvel IP helps Midnight Suns reach a wider audience, and potentially introduce some players to their first experience with the genre.
Going into Midnight Suns I was already aware of reports that it has an average playthrough time of about 60 hours, which is very high compared to my usual undertakings. After playing through the game, and hitting 55 hours of playtime, I was able to pinpoint a fairly large amount of that time that is wasted in unnecessary cutscenes and mechanics. An example of this is that for each loot box ie. Gamma Coil, Artifact etc. that the player collects, they must go to a specific area in the Abbey in order to open and collect the contents of said loot box. On top of manually walking to each station, each box opening triggers a very short cutscene of a character opening the box and examining the contents. At first this was not an issue but considering the player will open hundreds of these loot boxes in a playthrough, it gets tedious at best, and downright aggravating at worst. There is no way to bulk open boxes or open them without manually going to the area required. Another example of unnecessary time wasting is that most of the time when the player selects a mission to play, they are required to walk through the portal that takes them to the area, this consists of a roughly 50 in game metre walk to reach the portal, and another 20m or so to go through it. The whole process probably only takes 30 seconds, but it is completely monotonous and serves no purpose once the player knows that this is how the heroes get around. I can’t fathom why the latter was added/included in the game, but it is extremely irritating, and again adds to the already lengthy play time of this title.
With the above issues out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty of Midnight Suns. For players familiar with the XCOM series, the gameplay will be someone recognisable, but it is far from a copy paste. The battle areas for each mission are only small, there are no height or cover advantages or disadvantages, and the game revolves around playing cards rather than utilising built in skills and classes that the units possess.
Each hero’s deck consists of eight cards, each of those cards fit into one of three categories: Attack, Skill, or Heroic. Decks must contain at least one of each category and can’t contain more than four of any category. Attack cards allow the hero to damage or otherwise affect an enemy unit or units. Skill cards are used to perform non attack based abilities such as healing and buffs. Heroic cards are special cards that require an extra cost on top of the standard card play cost, Heroism. Most attack and skill cards provide heroism to the player when played, which can be banked up to a total of 10 during a mission. Heroic cards vary in heroism cost depending on the power of the effect of the card.
There are other card types that are not included in the players deck, these are usually mission specific cards that are provided to the player upon completing mission objectives or defeating specific enemies. They can only be used during the mission they are acquired within.
Other actions players can take include moving one hero to anywhere in the play area (the selected hero can move as much as the player wishes until another action is taken), inspecting enemies and the play area for more information on lingering effects or potential upcoming actions, and finally, interacting with environmental objects, which are usually (but not always) used to damage enemy units without using cards. The latter generally requires the hero to be in the right location in the play area, and costs heroism to activate.
The player can choose three heroes to take on any given mission, the choice is sometimes locked to specific heroes depending on the story or mission details. Missions start with the player taking the first turn. Each turn the player will draw cards until they have five in their hand. Without any modifiers, players can choose to play up to three cards, move up to one hero, and interact with as many environmental objects as their banked heroism allows. As a modifier to these limits, some card skills such as “quick” allow the player to extend their turn, or otherwise affect how much damage and enemies the player can defeat before relinquishing their control to the enemy.
Once the player has exhausted all available actions on their turn, they pass to the enemy, and the enemy units will perform their actions. Most of the actions performed can be predicted by inspecting enemy units during the player’s turn, but some units mask this information. After the enemy turn, and before control passes back to the player, reinforcements may be triggered which causes more enemies to arrive on the battlefield. If the enemy count is not sufficiently managed, the player can be easily overrun by units and fail the mission.
It’s inevitable that there would be some repetition of units and mission objectives when the gameplay is as simple as it is. Boss characters or supervillains are sometimes faced in story missions, and once the player has a few hours of game time under their belt, they will have fought the first main story boss a few times across multiple missions, with little variation in gameplay or enemy behaviour. I found this jarring, and honestly rather lazy on the developer’s part. The multiple battles do make sense in the scheme of things, but the fact that they barely differ at all is disappointing. On top of this, once a boss has been defeated for the first time there is a chance they will pop up instead of standard reinforcements during side missions, adding even more of these battles to the game.
The gameplay and mechanics of Midnight Suns are smooth and well written, the large card pool and generous hero roster provides ample variety to keep the player interested, even over the hundreds of available missions. If the generous card pool wasn’t enough, each card can be upgraded by combining it with a duplicate copy. The player can also apply modifiers to cards that add extra effects.
Throughout the campaign, the player will unlock an expanding list of heroes to take on their missions and interact with in the Abbey. Unlockable heroes include fan favourites such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America along with many others. There are 13 playable heroes in the base game with more planned for DLC. In addition to playing as heroes during missions, once unlocked, each hero has a friendship level that can be increased by interacting with them around the Abbey. Friendships can be levelled up by joining “hangouts” with each hero among many other similar mechanics. The player can also join clubs such as the book club that involve different sets of heroes and activities. Leveling up friendships with different heroes gives the player and the heroes buffs and special abilities that help make missions and objectives more achievable.
Every time the player completes a mission, an in-game day passes. After returning from a mission, it will be evening at the Abbey, and the player can explore the grounds, interact with heroes, or complete other side objectives. The player will then need go to bed. Once they wake, they are again free to roam the Abbey until they decide on their mission. Like the previously mentioned tedious time-wasting additions, this day cycle can get annoying after a while, but didn’t detract from the core experience enough to ruin it.
Graphically, Midnight Suns is about average for games of this calibre, it doesn’t deliver anything spectacular, but achieves what it needs to. There were some graphical glitches such as screen tearing, and the camera did pop through assets a few times, but these were only minor and not common.
The story is typical of the Marvel universe, a new big bad has emerged and the heroes must come together to defeat it and save the world. The characters are likable and while some of the voice acting is better than others, and the story is spread over a long play time, it is well told and executed. The addition of The Hunter and their backstory is great, giving Marvel fans something new to experience rather than the tried-and-true origin stories or overused tales.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is appropriate for all ages, depending on their exposure to mild cartoon violence, however the strategic nature and slow pace of the game will likely turn younger players off.