It speaks volumes that, after completing my first 85-hour run through Marvel’s Midnight Suns, my first inclination was to head straight for New Game+ and start the whole fiasco all over again. It’s safe to say I’m hooked. Midnight Suns might be a game that’s simple on the surface – it’s superhero XCOM, right? – but has a ton of depth under the hood.
The whole point of the combat with superheroes is to feel, you know, super, and Midnight Suns translates this really well to the turn-based combat. One of the biggest changes is that your heroes cannot hide behind cover, a mechanic seen in many games of this genre, because why would you want your superheroes hide behind a wall? Your band of heroes can really take a beating, and respond in kind, also.
This is not the only difference Midnight Suns has going for it to a typical turn-based tactical game. Other examples will usually give action points to spend on moving, shooting and performing special actions. Here, your actions for your whole team are governed by your hand of cards, drawn randomly from each character’s individual deck. You get three card plays per round to try and maximise damage, which initially might not seem like a lot, especially considering how many enemies can be on screen at once, but there’s lots of tricks you can employ to push the odds in your favour.
Some cards, for instance, have the quick trait, meaning if you defeat an enemy with that attack, the card play is refunded, giving you an extra go. If you time and order things correctly, you can wipe out scores of enemies in one turn, really rewarding forward thinking.
Movement is similarly restricted to just one move action for the whole team each turn, meaning if you want to reposition characters, you have to make clever use of abilities which also move them as they perform. Because of this, there’s no grid to follow, making everything very open and the movement possibilities quite vast.
If you don’t like the cards in your hand, you do get two redraws each turn, throwing away a chosen card and replacing it with another from your deck. Almost every single time I did this, it improved my options – maybe I’m just really lucky? – but it can also play into how characters work, with some benefitting greatly from redraws. Iron Man has a card that explicitly says ‘redraw to add knockback’, so if you find yourself in a situation where you have nothing else you want to redraw, you might as well trigger this effect.
Each character has their own perks and styles of play. Captain America is the master of Block, adding a layer of protection to his health and stacking up to his maximum health value. That ties in with his signature shield attacks and certain cards that let him gain Block equal to the damage he deals. Combine this with another card of his that gives him Taunt and Counter, and he becomes downright ridiculous, tanking all the enemy hits while dealing damage back.
Then you have Blade, a character that naturally makes use of the Bleed status effect, dealing bonus damage to enemies with Bleed through his various cards, or just applying more Bleed. Or there’s Spider-Man who gets a lot of bonuses when interacting with environmental objects.
With twelve characters to choose from for your squad of three, you can already see there’s a ton of possibilities to mix things up to suit your play style. Also, if you get bored of a certain team comp, you can very easily change things up, making for some serious game time, as eighty five hours will attest.
The short and sticky of it is that, while there’s some big changes, Midnight Suns’ combat system is just as deep and enjoyable as Firaxis fabled XCOM series. This is only one half of Midnight Suns, though, with an RPG built around the tactical battles.
As the Hunter – the customisable main protagonist in the story – you’ll be able to explore the Hub world, The Abbey, between missions. Here, you’ll spend most of your time, roaming the grounds, uncovering its secrets and chatting to your super friends.
If you’ve played the Persona series, you’ll be familiar with the Bond system in which you do activities with other characters to raise your friendship and gain benefits from them. There’s a similar system here in which you are encouraged to spend time with the various heroes, playing cards, getting drunk and watching trashy movies, picking dialogue options to further increase your friendship rating.
There’s a strange charm to seeing Marvel’s finest in these ‘out of work’ moments, where you are able to get them to open up to you and become BFFs. It could be argued that it doesn’t really fit the dark nature of the Midnight Suns but then again, it’s a Marvel game, based on comics which are meant to appeal to everyone.
Still, I ended up becoming quite attached to some of these characters after spending time with them, especially some of the characters not seen in the MCU such as Magik and Nico. They had really decent story arcs and getting to know them in this setting was a lot of fun.
There’s plenty of benefits from levelling up characters, unlocking new costumes and eventually their ultimate abilities which are a sight to behold when used in combat. You can only get a few to max level in one run, but your friendship scores carry across to NG+.
Inside The Abbey, you can put the other heroes through their paces with daily training to give them combat bonuses, upgrade the various facilities in The Abbey via The Forge, and even decorate your own room! With the fact that you can customise your own character, it was nice to be able to personalise your own space as well, though I do wish there was a few more options with the character creation.
My one other nitpick is Tony Stark sounding a little too much like Robert Downey Jr. for my liking. Not that I dislike RDJ, but when none of the other characters sound like their MCU counterparts, it’s just a touch jarring.
There is a huge amount to discover in The Abbey grounds. The map is large, there’s secret doors to uncover, unlockable chests, potion ingredients to find and a ton of puzzles and mysteries to solve. It’s very easy to get sidetracked once you start exploring, as the end result always provides a bonus in the form of new abilities and cosmetics.