When XCOM developer first announced Midnight Suns, I couldn’t fathom on the kind of approach they would take with the Marvel universe. How would their signature perma-death character feature work? Would we be able to customize the heroes, the same level as XCOM 2? Would it be dark and mature themed? All these questions swirled as the release date approached (yes, I did not watch trailers as I love the sense of wonder going into games – also, apologies for the month long wait of my review impression, this game is enormous). Thankfully, not only did Firaxis Games deliver on all my expectations but exceeds them in meaningful ways – albeit some technical setbacks. Midnight Suns is one of their best games yet, and utterly respectful to the Marvel branding. My 50hr playthrough left me at awe and I can’t wait to chase the platinum.
Hunter Being Hunted
Midnight Suns is set in Marvel’s present time where a new Hydra threat looms over the Avengers. After the Sorcerer’s Supreme’s Sanctum was attacked by Hydra, Dr. Strange, Tony Stark and Captain Marvel was forced to retreat after the Queen of Darkness, Lilith overpowers them, capturing Scarlet Witch in the process. Unsure on how to handle Hydra’s new leader, they seek help from the Midnight Suns, an ancient organization of heroes who fought against the Darkness for centuries. After learning that Lilith has been reborn, the Midnight Suns had no choice but to bring back the only hero who defeated Lilith hundreds of years ago, her only child Hunter. With the help of the Caretaker and Dr. Strange’s magic, together they conjured a spell that resurrects the hero of light which you customize your character to embark an adventure in stopping the Mother of Demon’s once again.
The cast of heroes is voiced by a slew of notable actors, making conversations a delight to listen to (and trust there’s a lot of talking) – which really helps with learning Marvel’s universe and its characters; actors such as Michael Jai White as Blade is so fitting, that I wish he would play the role in MCU. Then we have Josh Keaton, who voiced in Voltron and Hercules, playing Tony Stark wonderfully. The excellent Laura Bailey, known for her role as Abby in the Last of Us Part II plays Magik alongside Nolan North as Deadpool, and Steve Blume as Wolverine. Of course who can mistake Matthew Mercer as male Hunter, a voice so easily recognizable it leaves a smile on my face. Newer members such as Elizabeth Grullon who plays as the female Hunter does a splendid job as well – Midnight Suns features talent that makes listening to the dialogue feel immerse enough to get lost in the world, and with one of the core gameplay being social, it helps tremendously on progressing through.
Starlinking With Friends
As you awaken, you are greeted by the Midnight Suns Nico, Blade, Magik and Ghost Rider. They’re the youngest in the group who are eager to showcase their prowess, that also demands respect, which creates a sort of attrition between the Avengers who are currently housing the Abbey – a social place that’s hidden away from Lilith. You’ll soon find that there’s personalities to learn and relationships to upkeep, which leads to dialogue choices that introduces one core gameplay loop Midnight Suns has to offer. This game features rich and meaningful social gameplay elements I again did not anticipate. You will be making dialogue choices that affects how the team sees you, how you will build friendship levels with them, and how it’ll benefit you during gameplay – you won’t be given a hint on whether the dialogue choice is the right one to make, that is dependent on the player in learning their personalities.
As you progress through the campaign, you will find that days would pass by, which means social opportunities can be missed when building Friendship levels, a gameplay element that helps with bonding with your team. This benefits gameplay with enhancements such as stats boost, cosmetics and powerful team combos, cards that can turn the tide of any battle. As you progress with your friendship level, you will be invited to hangouts and eventually clubs. You can also earn the option to gift and compliment your team to further boost Friendship levels, which also unlocks other dialogue options that can help with gathering resources. On top of it all, there is a Balance Path system of Light and Dark, and depending on your choices, your relationship can shift because of it. That means, some Ligh dialogue choices may not work for a character who is inherently Dark attributed and therefore decrease your Friendship Level. Want to know how to implement Persona 5 into Marvel? Well Midnight Suns has you covered and I’m all for it.
Midnight Suns doesn’t feature an open world like Divinity, but you are free to roam The Abby, which you will soon find that it’s filled with loot boxes, resources and secret paths. It’s actually a large zone with multiple fast travel points and side missions – I was extremely surprised by this, though it makes sense given that the actual missions are just zones you are teleported to, to make battle in an arena setting. You will eventually unlock powers of the old gods that will help with unlocking blocked paths, rebuilding bridges and removing obstacles. As I mentioned, there’s loot boxes with different variants ranging from Common to Legendary that provides cosmetic rewards and resources at times. It is a nice element to the social core gameplay which adds density to the relationships I was building with the team.
Additionally, the Abby is customizable and upgradable – meaning each hero has their own room with some elements of alteration, with your room being fully customizable. You will find that there’s a training area, a forge, a station to send heroes out on missions and so on, all upgradable to further enhance your gameplay elements. This is coupled with the ability to customize each hero with cosmetics such as hero and social outfits.
Smash, Grab and Save
Firaxis Games is knowing for their Civilization and XCOM games – both absolute monsters in the tactical RPG genre. Midnight Suns adopts this by adding card play into the mix. This adds 2 more core gameplay where you prep your heroes and then take action. The system works similarly to XCOM as in the battle arena is wide open with environmental elements such as cover, crates, explosives and so on. Each team has a turn to take with specific actions available to them. By default, you are met with 3 Card Plays, which means you can play 3 cards per round, 2 Redraws which allows you to redraw a card if you chose to, 1 Movement and 2 Item usage for consumables. There are elements such as Free Plays that doesn’t consume Card Play and some buffs and debuffs such as refunding Card Plays, earning additional cards, Stun, Daze, Bleed and so on. There are 2 types of cards to play: one that earn you Heroism, and other that consumes it. Heroism are points you earn to use on cards that does enhanced elements like damage, status ailments, buffs/debuffs, special combos, environmental and objective interactions, etc. During some combat phases, you will be met with objectives such as stopping a vehicle from fleeing in a certain number of turns, rescuing a hostage, interrogating Hydra troops, defeating villains and more. It’s varied enough to test your tactics and deep enough to have to achieve great plays.
This is coupled with fantastic animations and flashy effects – you’ll be witnessing your heroes initiate slick attack moves and amazing looking power ups during your phase. There’s something about having your deck organized in such a way that synergizes with your team in ways you didn’t expect – there were moments where I would have a hand filled with the Quick perk that refunds my Card Plays, only to realize that the enemy troops were stationed perfectly around a bunch of explosives that would chain across the arena – creating massive damage all around me, then having realized I banked a bunch of Heroism to use my powerful card to then finish off the remaining brutes. That also means each hero play differently from each other. For instance, Dr. Strange shouldn’t be used as some sort of glass canon, instead utilize him as a support class.
I tend to use Captain Marvel as my aggro-centric hero that counters as often as possible, while Hunter is more like a Heroism gathering, balance act, especially given that my campaign is Light focused, so he heals often. Blending these elements together gives a satisfying sense of accomplishment that had me yearning for more. Thankfully, Midnight Suns allows for unlimited use of side missions to help level your heroes and gather materials to forge new outfits that benefits with stats and cards you can create to then combine it for enhanced versions of themselves. Combined cards are stronger variants of itself, but you can find ones with added perks for more potency. Firaxis Games did not fail in giving a dense and varied gameplay loop for players to indulge in.
Unreal Engine 5 Not So Utilized
Unfortunately, not everything is so perfect. Midnight Suns was developed using the latest Unreal Engine – and while some area of the game’s presentation is pleasant like the VFX and animations, others are left with way more to desire. Overall, the level design is decent, the arena is not as layered as XCOM, instead the designers opted for a huge square area that’s filled with enemies and environmental interactions. It works really well regardless, but it would have been nice to have vertical designs for more options and advantages. Overall shaders and materials are good enough, but the leather looks plastic alongside metal and skins. It looks dated at times, and mostly a set-back when compared to the excellent looking XCOM 2. Additionally, walking animations within The Abby is by far the most overlooked element I’ve seen in recent time – absolutely PS2-level that feels utterly floaty. I do appreciate the speed Hunter has when trekking the grounds, but man does he look goofy. Thankfully, The Abby overall looks pleasant during its day and night scenes, but still can see sharp polygon edging on stones, rocks, trees and its main building.
While the character designs, especially the Hero outfits, are great, the same can’t be said with the character models and Abby outfits. I can see that they’re going for the comic book feel, but when the environment is designed to look realistic, having Captain America stand around with shoulders that make his head look tiny while his side profile is overly wide puts me off at all times – you tend to realize that more work could have gone into the models. Anatomy is good enough, but arms are often clipping through the side of the torse because, for the most part, everyone is really blocky looking. Just like Hunters walking animations, they can all look goofy at times. Same level of care placed into the character models were also done for the faces – my goodness are they soulless. Except the eyes, they are properly shaded. Mouth animations when speaking has very little permutations so be prepared to feel like you’re talking to a doll or something. Also, I apologize for when Peter Parker takes his mask off – yeesh.
REVIEW SCORE: 9/10
The mixture of medieval and Marvel aesthetic fits really well within the Midnight Suns, which features a lengthy and deep story telling I did not expect coming into this game – it’s filled with great level of gameplay animation and dialogue that’s forward pushing and entertaining. Its 3-core gameplay loop compliments the tactical card-based RPG greatly even if the character models and overall graphics were left in the backburner during development; that doesn’t hinder the excellence that Firaxis Games has provided however – and I’m sure they will improve upon it in their next project.
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