Marvel’s Midnight Suns exceeds expectations. It delivers a wonderfully rewarding, XCOM-topping combat system and a world full of larger-than-life characters you can’t wait to learn more about.
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I was enamoured with Firaxis Games’ Marvel’s Midnight Suns announcement cinematic, The Awakening, in August 2021 and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this game since. So, to say I jumped at the chance to review this game is something of an understatement – and I couldn’t wait to check out what Firaxis Games had to offer with this supernatural, superheroic tactical-RPG. However, I am keenly aware of how easy it is to get burned when going into a game as hyped as I was – Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers was a prime example. But, you’ll be pleased to know that Marvel’s Midnight Suns doesn’t suffer the same fate, as it lives up to the hype and then some – even if there are a few performance issues that need ironing out.
When it comes to a tactical title like Marvel’s Midnight Suns, it’s safe to say that combat is the lifeblood; it’s something that just needs to work, and work well. Despite my initial reservations at the card-based combat system employed, as someone who isn’t too big on card battlers as a genre, I am pleased to say that this is Firaxis Games firing on all cylinders. The combat in Marvel’s Midnight Suns doesn’t just exceed expectations, it’s a far more rewarding tactical experience than what XCOM offers and a system I hope to see more of in the future.
So, why is it that Midnight Suns can trump the mighty XCOM in the gameplay department ? Well, it’s all about the lateral thinking that’s required in the absence of randomness and luck that XCOM’s combat offers up. In this game, everything does exactly what you expect it to do – but you can’t just spam attacks and win your fights, as much as I wish you could sometimes. You need to make the most of each turn by taking advantage of environmental hazards, combining cards to buff your heroes, and even by knocking weaker enemies into one another. You can only play three cards a turn (most of the time, anyway) and more often than not, there are other things to think about besides attacking, like healing your teammates, the mission’s objectives, and building your Heroism.
Combat encounters in Marvel’s Midnight Suns are always high-risk, high-reward situations where things can go wrong at the drop of the hat, and you can’t fall back on percentages and randomness to save your skin. When you couple this with the fact that Firaxis Games has expertly captured the superheroic nature of the characters in play with fantastic attacks and abilities unique to each hero on the roster, it’s hard not to get excited about embarking on even the most simple missions.
However, combat isn’t the only area where Marvel’s Midnight Suns shines. Exploring both inside and outside The Abbey and engaging with the members of the Midnight Suns in their downtime is just as compelling, if not more so at times, than the fight against Lilith and her army of demons. I must admit, I was surprised at just how much depth there was to this side of Marvel’s Midnight Suns – and how important exploring The Abbey actually is to your effectiveness in combat. It’s not just about unlocking and upgrading your combat abilities, either. You can actually unlock powerful hero-specific and team-wide bonuses and buffs by taking some time to talk to people and making some friends as The Hunter.
If there was one part of Marvel’s Midnight Suns that was a little lacklustre, though, it would be The Hunter. However, this feels like something of an unavoidable issue for Firaxis Games. Despite being, as you might imagine, a central part to the narrative of Marvel’s Midnight Suns and a character that’s fun to use in combat, I can’t help but feel as though they’re ultimately overshadowed by the larger-than-life characters surrounding them. There’s nothing wrong with what Firaxis Games has done with The Hunter, and I am actually quite a fan of the ‘choose your own adventure’ approach to conversations they offer. I just can’t seem to stop myself from being more invested in the other heroes, particularly those we don’t often see in the limelight – Nico, Magik, Blade, Ghost Rider all capture my attention more than the protagonist I’m playing as.
But, that’s really what makes Marvel’s Midnight Suns so special. Not only is it a fantastic card-based tactical combat game, it’s also offering players a wonderfully rich cast of characters – each with their own unique stories and relationships that players can learn about and ultimately shape, to some extent.
For example, you learn that Blade has a thing for Captain Marvel early on and he doesn’t know how to approach the situation. You can encourage him to pursue this, if you want, and a series of shared experiences and hilariously misread situations lead to Blade starting a book club. I won’t go into too much detail, as these hilarious conversations are something you should discover for yourself, but it’s a prime example of where Firaxis Games has really nailed it. These characters have been torn from the pages of a comic book, but they’re three-dimensional and the world of Marvel’s Midnight Suns is much more than the dramatic overarching narrative that Firaxis Games has used to bring them together.
This overarching narrative, while fresh for Marvel’s Midnight Suns, is not exactly revolutionary when it comes to Marvel Comics – but, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a game that’s going to win Best Narrative at any awards shows, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. The main narrative is exciting and packed with dramatic moments, even if some of them are quite easy to see coming. There are divisions in the team that must be overcome, stakes that seem to only get higher, and more than a fair share of Tony Stark one-liners. It’s everything you could want from a story set in a Marvel Comics universe – and it’s more than enough when it comes to giving the characters in this game an ultimate goal.
Still, while said characters are all wonderfully three-dimensional when it comes to their personalities and the acting performances on offer from the Marvel’s Midnight Suns cast, they’re decidedly not as faultless when it comes to their appearance in-game. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about Firaxis Games’ character designs at all, although Peter Parker’s face reveal was comically underwhelming given the trepidation he has in-game about removing his mask. I am talking about Marvel’s Midnight Suns’ performance, something I desperately hope improves.
I have been playing Marvel’s Midnight Suns on PC via Steam on Medium settings – something my setup should and can be able to handle. However, I can’t help but notice some strange inconsistencies – and anything VFX heavy triggers stuttering and lag (something that I have found isn’t an isolated experience). Thankfully, the stuttering and lag is only intermittent and doesn’t always impact performance. It’s just an unfortunate interruption that lessens the spectacle of superheroic abilities like Captain Marvel’s Photon Beam or Ghost Rider’s Hell Ride.
In addition to this, the quality of graphics when it comes to characters who wear a mask in combat (Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Captain America – to name a few) seem noticeably worse than the quality of graphics when it comes to characters who don’t (for example, Nico, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, and Blade). I know it’s something of a minor issue, but it’s hard to ignore when Peter Parker looks decidedly more blurry than Magik when they’re standing side-by-side.
During combat, however, and most scripted cutscenes, this isn’t so much of an issue. So, this minor stain on an otherwise spotless experience remains as such. And, there’s nothing to say that these issues aren’t limited to the PC port of the game. I can’t comment on the console release of this game.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a game you can get lost in, like any good RPG or strategy game. Both inside and outside of combat, there’s so much depth to this game and so much heart. Everything clicks and Firaxis Games has done a stellar job at bringing together a varied cast of Marvel Comics characters in an adventure I won’t soon forget. If there’s anything Firaxis Games should be remembered for going forwards, it’s Marvel’s Midnight Suns – not XCOM.