Seeing Firaxis' take on a new franchise with a more casual viewership may lead one to believe that they'll give up their roots for something with a broader appeal.
Somehow, Marvel's Midnight Suns is a game that is open to newcomers but just as deep as their previous projects.
Taking a spoonful of XCOM and adding it to the likes of Fire Emblem and even Slay the Spire gives a potent cocktail that is fresh, exciting, and very thoughtful. That cocktail is also alluring and can keep you up until 2 AM if you're not careful. You wake up a little too late with a bit of a headache but the memories you earned still feel worth it.
The early hours
As you may have read in our preview, I wasn't fully on board with the first few hours of Marvel's Midnight Suns. It sets up a pretty generic Marvel story, with a few twists that give you players to interact with and scenarios to uncover.
To put it simply, Lilith, the mother of demons, has returned and wishes to wreak havoc on the land. Her magic is corrupting and manages to take over bodies and minds to use for her own. She will use your allies, citizens, and more to get her way.
She has taken control of major figures like Venom and the Scarlet Witch, making her a powerful foe. This is a fine narrative for you to struggle against but isn't too different to Marvel stories we've seen before. Where the game does manage to shine is its characters. Shying away from the movie likeness, characters like Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel are different to what you might expect - giving you the opportunity to meet them once more.
When I first started playing, they fell victim to the uncanny valley, being just close enough to what I expected that they ended up oddly creepy. The more time I spent with them, the more I began to understand them as their own heroes. This led to some surprisingly strong writing, letting me really connect with the universe.
Not a house but a home
As the Hunter, an old resurrected demon hunter, your home is The Abbey. This is where the Midnight Suns, your band of odd heroes can assemble. In The Abbey, you can explore the grounds, uncover new stories, and hang out with all your friends.
Combat is what is done to split up the story, not the other way around. This is a great move and leaves me constantly waiting for the next bit of dialogue. In a sense, the ebb and flow of days reminded me of playing Persona. I could take on a difficult enemy now to get gear for the next major battle or rush through something lighter to start talking to the Suns again.
The Abbey is a small open area in which you can explore and find new secrets. You are constantly looking around to find resources to craft new abilities or upgrade your home. Essence is used to help your combat, credits are used to upgrade facilities and train with friends and Gloss is used to buy cosmetics. This includes making your bedroom look better or buying new clothes.
Though there are constantly new things to pay attention to, this all works together to leave you planning out your next three steps before the current one. Once you get a few days into the game, you start to really piece together your next couple of hours.
The best defence
Almost every inch of the game feels this thought-out. Combat is no exception. Every mission puts you on a single battlefield with three heroes. All heroes have a deck of cards that determine their abilities and the player has a heroism meter that affects all three. Some cards are made to attack or build heroism, others are used to support or set up the next move, and the last set is used to spend your heroism on big plays.
When you draw cards, you draw from all three decks at the same time, meaning you have to think about where cards land your heroes and how best to synergise attack. Some might inflict knockback, allowing you to push enemies into each other or the blades of your allies. Others may carry effects or give you small bonuses. The whole game is built around deadly combos, making combat feel smooth and rewarding.
You combine cards with the ability to redraw more, items to affect the field or movement that can put you in a better position for the next attack. Marvel's Midnight Suns isn't as hard as XCOM but it can feel just as tactical at the right moment. It's welcoming to new players but rewarding to those who know what they're doing.
The systems that be
There are so many little systems at work in Marvel's Midnight Suns. You have a forge that can build new abilities while researching new gears for your characters, an intel agency capable of sending heroes on new missions, and tonnes of little side quests to get lost in.
The time automatically moves to night after every mission and here is where you can advance little side quests, partake in a hangout, or just talk to some of the heroes around the Abbey. The game revolves around a day-night system but never forces you to really engage with it. It uses scenarios to push the day forward but never a timed system, allowing you to stroll around at your own pace.
This being said, pacing can be a little bit of an issue. Some major missions require you to just wait an extra day (and take on a more general mission) to get through. This can slow down progress and make you feel like you're wasting your time. As well as this, dialogue can occasionally feel a little basic. It's fun to figure out character motivations but the moment-to-moment conversation can be a little grating.
In this same sense, the story meanders somewhat throughout the game. I often felt like I was being pulled into ploy after ploy without much agency. The story developed but the scope rarely did. This makes the game lose some steam as you get through it. The gameplay and characters are good to carry you through but there are some noticeable drops.
There are hangups that seem to be an effect of the Marvel universe and not so much the game design. The characters are fundamentally limited by how one-dimensional they have to be for the universe they're in. It tries more than that and manages to deliver but it can't escape the Marvel formula.
A copy of Marvel's Midnight Suns was provided by the publisher