It’s a real treat when things that at first glance seem like a weird mash up end up coming together to create something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Marvel’s Midnight Suns delivers on what I like to call a peanut butter/chocolate moment by mashing the Marvel universe with methodical strategic combat to create a game that has an engaging and evolving combat loop and highlights some of the lesser seen sides and characters of the wider Marvel universe. While it’s not perfect in every regard, the game nails the mashup of universe and genre and provides ways for any player to jump in and enjoy the strategic side of things that developers Firaxis are so known for.
The story plot of Midnight Suns kicks off with HYDRA resurrecting Lilith, the Mother of Demons in an attempt to use her powers to further their goals. When the knowledge that Lilith is back and attempting to revive her master reaches the Avengers, members of their team reach out to other teams of superheroes to form the Midnight Suns and plan their defence against these elder god threats.
Their first step in building up their defences consists of them reawakening The Hunter, the being responsible for previously sealing away Lilith and also acts as your customisable player character. This character can be male or female and you have quite a number of skin, facial, hair and voice options available to tweak to create the character you desire.
The game does start off a little slow, pacing-wise as the game does have a bit of a learning curve. Especially when it comes to the many mechanics available during the combat sequences. Thankfully I was invested enough after the opening sequences and the premise of the story that it wasn’t too much of an issue but prepare yourself for a front-loaded set of tutorials when you start the game that you’ll have to get through before everything starts to open up a lot more and grants more freedom and progression options. The campaign itself is far lengthier than I expected it to be and also has plenty of opportunity for side quests, activities and conversations to happen that can really help extend the overall experience. I would have just loved the pacing to flow a little better in the opening act especially to help the story side of things hit as hard as the characters do while in combat.
Speaking of combat. That’s where Midnight Suns really shines. I’m a sucker for turn based strategy combat and also card games, so when you combine them, and combine them well, I’m all in. It’s a surprisingly deep and fun system that is different from anything Firaxis has put out in the past. For each mission, you’ll take your selected team of heroes and each character has their own customisable deck of cards that can be tweaked to fit your preferred playstyle and each turn each character gets to play 4 cards and also has a movement action that can be taken to manoeuvre into the best possible spot to either deal the most amount of damage possible, or perhaps get to a position on the field where they make take less damage on the next opponent’s round.
Being card based, the combat system is diverse and randomised enough so that it can never become boring. Each character has their own deck of 10 cards that can be drawn from in battle and you never know what the next turn may hold. You could potentially draw just the card or ability you needed, but you’re just as likely to draw something that isn’t quite useful yet. If this is the case, you do have a limited number of redraws at your disposal, but I found it more fun to typically try and work with what I had and save the redraws for the most critical times of the encounters, or when things get a bit tougher. There are some card abilities that can only be used by spending Heroic points which can be obtained by taking out enemies or via using specific cards that reward it. These moves differ character to character, are always flashy and impactful to watch and are also able to be spent to perform environmental attacks that can differ stage by stage that utilise damaging parts of the stages against your enemies. I loved this additional risk/reward layer that this system also provided, as spending your Heroism in the wrong areas can often be the quickest way to fail a strategic encounter, so use them wisely.
Cards are earned for the characters you primarily choose to bring into battle with you which is great, as it directly rewards the characters you want to use. Midnight Suns also implements a morality system for The Hunter and using certain cards can influence The Hunter’s morality to either light or dark. Using cards more focussed around healing and supporting increase the light side whereas cards focussed around causing damage and chaos file the dark side. And much like rewarding you with cards suiting the characters you’re playing, using more light or dark themed cards reward more cards of that type. This alignment can affect your dialogue choices available in the Abbey sections of the game while talking with other members of the Midnight Suns. These choices you make will also further influence if your version of The Hunter leans more towards the light or dark.
The missions themselves are quite diverse and offer interesting change-ups and optional side objectives within them to keep things interesting as you play through the lengthy adventure. Obviously the main objective of most missions is to eliminate the enemy team, but making up the teams are varying enemy types, units the need to be weakened by certain types of attacks, hazards within the stage itself that don’t just affect your team but also be cleverly used to provide additional damage to enemy units, among many other tweaks that prevents each encounter feeling just like a repeat of the last one. This, along with the randomised nature of the battle system ensured that I never felt bored while in combat in Midnight Suns.
Being a strategy game, I found the experience actually quite challenging. Not in a bad way, but in a way that rewards you for coming up with efficient strategies and letting you see how downhill things can go if you make the wrong choices. The game also has multiple difficulty options, so for those players that are quite experienced with strategy games and enjoy a challenge, Midnight Suns allows you to increase the difficulty. Typically playing out as health buffs for the opposition and limiting the revivals available for your team by certain amounts/percentages, for the benefit of rarer rewards and xp when you actually come out on top and win. It’s a pretty great risk/reward system that not only rewards those that are great at strategy games, but also encourages players to try out these modes as they continue to play or do subsequent playthroughs, with clear awards for why they should attempt it.
Outside of the combat side of things, the other core side of the game has you hanging out and interacting with other members of the Midnight Suns at their home base, The Abbey. These sections let you explore the grounds, find new cosmetic items and costumes, speak to the characters from your party as well as key characters from the wider Marvel universe who play into the story portrayed in this section of the game. It’s also where you’ll craft new items and upgrade abilities you’ll be able to then take into future battles.
The Abbey provides another side of the game to explore outside of just being back to back battles, but some of it, outside of some great character interactions does feel like tacked on busywork and it’s hard not to notice the stiff character movement and animations that The Hunter has as they move around, which do feel quite rigid and dated compared to many other games releasing at the moment. The voice performances though are top notch and see many of the greatest voice actors of today bringing the characters to life and also some notable ones returning to voice iconic roles they’ve done before.
I also liked that Midnight Suns includes a really wide range of characters. Sure, it does have a great mix of the well popularised side of the Marvel universe like Iron Man and Spider-Man but I really appreciated the game having more obscure characters like Nico and Magik (among others I won’t spoil) having considerable contributions to the team and overall story too.
When it comes to the story and interactions side of The Abbey, it was something I enjoyed for the most part. It brought to mind some of the best parts of BioWare character driven RPGs that are impacted by dialogue choice and relationships. Finding out the back story of the characters you interact with and their individual likes and motivations is genuinely interesting, and like other systems within Midnight Suns, also comes with it’s own rewards too. Doing these segments and levelling up the friendship level with individual members of the Suns will grant more powerful abilities when going back into the combat side of the game. So even though some of the encounters are awkward or take a lengthy period of time to get to, they do often lead to rewards when it comes to the strategic combat side of things, so even if you’re invested solely for the cool battles, there’s still incentive there to explore all of what the game has to offer.
My biggest gripe with Midnight Suns is it’s visuals. They’re highly inconsistent when it comes to the fidelity of the character models. Some characters, such as Lilith for example look absolutely fantastic. But many of the more human characters such as Ms Marvel, Logan’s un-costumed form, and even occasionally The Hunter (possibly varies based on the customised look of your own design) have moments where they look really dated by today’s standards. The worst part about it is that it appears to be inconsistent. Some cutscenes, these characters look fine but others, they looks strangely lit, flat and dated and this stands out more when they’re in scenes communicating with characters that look absolutely fantastic.
Firaxis have another hit on their hands with Marvel’s Midnight Suns. They’ve shown once again that they’re the masters of tactical, strategic combat mechanics and have blended an addictive and deep combat system with the Marvel Universe to create a game that feels rewarding to players of any skill level. While it does have some pacing issues getting going and some inconsistent character models I did really enjoy the card based combat system and that the game highlighted a number of Marvel characters that don’t get enough focus these days. I’m looking forward to jumping back into the game in the months to come as further additional characters get added.
A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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