I’ve always imagined what the perfect comic book team-up game would look like.
How would so many iconic characters fit into the story? Could the game capture the finesse and explosiveness of the comics’ action panels? Would less-popular names get left out due to the success of the MCU? Marvel’s Midnight Suns answered my questions by pointing me toward a genre where even superheroes fear to tread — strategy role-playing games.
Suddenly I was pushed headfirst into the panels of a comic book. For the first time, I got to witness and interact with my favorite heroes on and off the battlefield. It felt like I was seeing everything — just like reading a comic. Midnight Suns is the exact game I’ve been waiting for Marvel’s faces to star in.
Don’t let a lack of familiarity with the comic continuity scare you off. Midnight Suns is totally approachable for those familiar with Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a thrilling new direction for Marvel’s heroes, though bogged down a bit by overcomplicated base-building mechanics.
A slight Marvel
Marvel’s Midnight Suns doesn’t have a particularly unique or deep story, but it feels ripped straight out of the comics. An ancient evil named Lilith is coming to Earth, transforming heroes and villains into minions called Fallen. You play as The Hunter, the half-human half-demon child of Lilith, trained in secret as the only weapon to defeat her.
It’s a transparent excuse to get all these heroes together, but it does the job. And the mysteries surrounding The Hunter and Lilith are consistently engaging. However, when that storyline didn’t do the job, the developers’ endless love and reverence for the source material did.
The minds behind Midnight Suns are clearly massive fans of the comics and it shows through countless character inclusions, plot beats, and callbacks. The way the past of this world pushes to the creation of the Midnight Suns and the mystical characters of Marvel teaming up and the inclusion of lesser-known characters. Not to mention the references to past events and other fanservice bits that kept me mirroring that meme of Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the TV screen. It’s enough to make a Marvel comics fan shed a tear.
Midnight Suns was advertised as a Marvel RPG with XCOM battle mechanics, and it’s great to see that the Marvel element is more than a simple coat of paint. 2K and Firaxis took a pre-existing mold and completely customized it to fit the world of these larger-than-life heroes perfectly.
Like other turn-based tactical strategy games, your heroes are placed on a field full of enemies. You’ll move your characters, attack the enemy’s troops, and interact with various elements placed around the field.
Bringing superheroes into the action makes for some interesting riffs on the familiar XCOM formula. For instance, there’s no cover option to hide from enemies, and no blocking out of fear of a spray of bullets. Also, your attacks don’t miss. To compensate for this, there are tons of enemies to take on instead of roughly even numbers. It sounds like a simple change, but it elevates the familiar strategy RPG experience in a way that feels fresh and new.
Midnight Suns is all about taking out as many enemies as you can in as few turns as possible. Each mission is like a large-scale battle puzzle, and the chance element of the card system enhances the experience. You draw a random selection of six cards for each hero. These random draws balance out the might of heroes whose attacks don’t miss. It’s the perfect usage of an RNG mechanic and transforms the game from another RPG into a grand single-player card game.
The random element of this system can lead to some truly weird and memorable battle scenarios. In each mission, you’re constantly thinking about what works and what will get you destroyed. It’s all about maximizing what you’ve got, and it makes pulling that favorite combo of cards on a first draw all the more satisfying.
Missions will task you with a variety of objectives. Sometimes you’ll be disarming bombs, other times you’ll take on a random boss encounter with Venom or Sabertooth. The gameplay loop never drags thanks to these variations keeping the card mechanics fresh.
But that doesn’t mean it’s without its shortcomings. There’s a lot to do with very few buttons, so if you miss something during the tutorial phase you may feel lost for a while. It’s also far too easy to accidentally waste a turn by moving a character to the wrong location. Along with this, there’s the lack of a grid overlay on the field, which can make choosing attacks more confusing than it needs to be.
Is that you, Fire Emblem?
The other side of Midnight Suns is a surprisingly deep slice-of-life base builder. When you’re not in battle, you’ll be chilling with your buddies back at headquarters. Similar to the Persona and Fire Emblem series, you have the option of deepening your bonds with your party members to unlock abilities and stat boosts or raise your friendship level. This sounds like a lot of fun, but it quickly becomes overwhelming.
But unlike Fire Emblem and Persona, there’s just too much to do in the slice-of-life side of the game. You can forge items, look for crafting materials in the rather boring exploration world, complete tasks for Agatha and other heroes, send heroes out on solo missions, find tarot cards, upgrade your base, and more.
After a while, I got tired of having to be such a busybody and ignored all this to focus on the missions.
I appreciate that Midnight Suns attempts to create a larger experience beyond battles, but too much of it feels like boring padding. While I loved finding deeper lore and references to the comic book source material, I doubt I’d do any exploration if I were to revisit the game.
Midnight Suns is easy to recommend for fans of comics, strategy, and roleplaying games. While Firaxis does go overboard with the base-building and crafting side of the game, I did enjoy getting to know my heroes better. This game truly shines thanks to its unique and memorable combat system. Thanks to the mission structure and DLC on the way, it feels like a game I’ll revisit again and again.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is available now for PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC. Inverse reviewed the Xbox version.