Firaxis has a reputation. Its games may not be at their 100% best at launch, but they’re usually compelling and offer some degree of challenge. We’ve seen them tackle tactics with XCOM before, and Marvel’s Midnight Suns tasks the team with a major IP and more approachable mechanics. A few hiccups that will be ironed out with patches aside, the result is a pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable affair with mass appeal.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns begins with HYDRA engaged in an assuredly ominous ritual. Upon its completion, Lilith is resurrected. The results of such power, puts the world in peril, especially as she’s begun a process to bring Chthon to Earth. Dr. Strange and Iron Man begin building a team of Marvel heroes like the titular Midnight Suns, which consists of Blade, Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes, Magik, and Nico Minoru, as well as mainstays like Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, to fight back against the forces of evil. This also means the revival of The Hunter, an original character customized by the player. They happen to be the daughter of Lilith who previously died defeating their mother in another battle, and they’re destined to “end” things again.
While this is a dire situation, Firaxis handles it with the sort of levity someone would expect from a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Even though Dr. Strange and Iron Man are aware of how critical things could be when meeting with Johnny Blaze after the opening scene, it doesn’t feel “heavy.” It’s a nice nod to accessibility, as it takes a number of factors into consideration. If people aren’t up to date on Ghost Rider lore, it establishes who Johnny and Robbie both are. Intro segments make sure you know who each hero is as they appear. While it does reference characters and concepts from the comics, someone doesn’t need to have kept up with any series to enjoy it.
That accessibility comes through with its gameplay as well. This is a turn-based tactical game, with each battle involving a deck with cards featuring abilities of the three characters you picked for the team that time around. All information is constantly, clearly displayed on screen. It also makes selecting actions less complicated for a newcomer to the genre, by not overwhelming with options. While the implementation isn’t complex, fights get more challenging as time passes due to stronger foes and more cards. Also, regardless of whether it is a standard encounter or one involving a boss, battles involve waves of enemies appearing. Which means your tactics often take crowd control, area of effect assaults, and knockback effects into account.
You’ll be dealt a “hand” of five cards when a turn begins. You can then play different actions. Some attacks could feature an area of effect, or help send enemies into certain positions. Others might involve buffs or other benefits. You can also reposition an ally on your town, to alter attack positions or be in a certain spot. Even when out of cards, it might be possible to use environmental objects to trigger collateral damage to foes. The challenge builds in such a way that someone who goes for an easier mode to enjoy the story will gradually build up the tactical awareness to handle tougher fights. If you go with a standard difficulty, like I did, the intensity grows in a satisfying way.
I really love the implementation of the card mechanic. Every character starts with certain ones immediately unlocked. As you play, you can earn additional ones to customize your deck. One way of earning them in Marvel’s Midnight Suns even involves relationship building with Marvel heroes. Each deck can be altered at the outset of a mission, so you can build around certain party members or situations. There’s a lot of freedom here. Especially since you can redraw a card, exchanging one that won’t work for you at that moment.
But wait! I mentioned a relationship system with Marvel Midnight Suns, though it involves friendship instead of romance. As you go through the adventure and take part in hangouts in the Abbey hub, dialogue options will appear with Marvel heroes. You can even give them gifts, a la games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. I didn’t expect trying to hunt down comics for Spider-Man so he’d be friends with me, but I like it. Doing so builds friendship XP. This, in turn, unlocks things like a Midnight Suns outfit or a legendary ability that makes them more powerful in battle. While the otome fan in me wishes there were relationship options, as I think a Blade dating sim would be great, the system and its limitations make sense and will likely be fun for fans.
Really, the whole experience is generally solid. The only times I had any issues involved with some character design or animation issues. While characters have a lot to say and seem to have feelings, it struck me that their facial expressions felt a bit stiff. This is especially true for The Hunter, but that makes sense for a custom character. More importantly, I also noticed some bugs and glitches. For example, sometimes a mission would cause the game to crash. I did find the work-arounds of reloading past saves or heading back into the game and selecting a different mission before heading back to it would usually do the trick. However, Firaxis is aware of the issue and working on patches, so this shouldn’t be a problem for long. (It may even be remedied by the time this review runs.)
Even though the world is in danger and Lilith is a force to be reckoned with, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a popcorn flick of a game purely designed to entertain its players. It can be silly! Sometimes, it will be serious. You don’t need to think too hard about it. No experience with Marvel series or Firaxis games is needed. You can hop into it, play for a few hours, and save the day alongside major and minor heroes.