Every now and then, a video game comes along that feels like home. I don’t mean that playing a game feels similar to sitting around my house with my wife and kids. Rather, certain games exude a feeling of warmth and comfort, creating a welcoming space full of characters that I want to spend time with. And shockingly, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is one of those games.
I didn’t know what to expect from Midnight Suns. I certainly didn’t expect a game where I would be lounging by the pool with Illyana Rasputin, like some knockoff ‘80s Kitty Pride. I didn’t think that I would be working in “shop class” with Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Robbie Reyes, hanging out and building cool new gadgets to carry into battle. And I certainly didn’t think I would have the opportunity to endless tease the stoic and always-cool Blade about his secret crush on Carol Danvers. But here we are, and it turns out that I enjoy these activities every bit as much as I like hauling these characters into battle against evil forces that would do them harm.
Nothing in this game is what I expected from the early reveals, from the fact that the battle system is card-based to the fact that the time spent on the social and exploration aspects of the game almost outweighs the time spent in combat. It is a sheer delight that a character-based franchise game actually gives the player a ton of time to interact with and get to know these beloved characters, with every moment in the game carefully calculated to contribute to their growth and the momentum of the story. It almost feels like a Marvel-ized Fire Emblem game, which falls squarely into the “Oh my God, why did no one think of this before?” category.
Some Marvel heavyweights are present in the game, but it’s a testament to the strength of Marvel’s deep bench that heavy hitters like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange are actually some of the less interesting characters in the game. Midnight Suns is all about the mystical side of the Marvel Universe, so the Avengers are strictly moonlighting in the territory of a lesser-known team, consisting of Blade, Magik, Ghost Rider, and Nico from the Runaways. In fact, a bit of a rivalry erupts between the know-it-all Avengers and the you-don’t-know-nothing-about-this Midnight Suns, which is delightful to watch play out. Many of the Avengers (Tony Stark in particular) feel out of their element in the world of magic and spirits, which is used to great comedic effect.
The player takes on the role of Hunter, a long-dead hunter of the undead who is resurrected at the beginning of the game to help fight Lilith, her evil and very-long-lived mother. Lilith has recently reappeared on the scene, gathering a bunch of various baddies from around the Marvel Universe – including the entirety of Hydra – in some mysterious plan to do bad things. Don’t think about it too much. She’s bad, which means that other bad guys can show up as part of her team. Just go with it.
The newly revived Hunter is a fish out of water, a bit like Cap was in The Avenger, but instead of being gone for 70 years, she’s been gone for 300. As a relative newcomer (or a super-oldcomer), Hunter has the opportunity to form new relationships with all of the modern heroes, which in turn gives the player to the chance to start from scratch with heroes that are beyond famous. The result is a fun game of getting-to-know-you with these legends, which can be both hysterical and enlightening. It is great fun to watch her try to navigate video games with Carol Danvers, or watch movies with Nico. But, as the other characters quickly discover, this old-new hero possesses a quiet strength and wisdom, perhaps enough to bind the two teams together into a single force for good.
Events in Midnight Suns plays out in a day/night cycle, with the good guys all bunking together in a mystical castle that exists somewhere outside of our reality. The player wakes up and makes the rounds in the place, chatting up heroes in the lounge, building up powers with a bit of sparring out in the yard, taking strategy around the war table. Every castle activity the player chooses to engage with has in-battle rewards, slowly increasing a staggering number of stats that impact the powers players can use, and how they work together in the field.
When the player has had enough of chatting and exploring, they can hop into battle. Battles are fought once per day, and there is usually a choice between five-or-so side battles and one story battle that will advance the narrative. I was consumed with side battles for the longest time, endlessly toiling to build up my characters and relationships before I finally realized that I was never going to get anywhere with Midnight Suns unless I did a story battle now and then. So yeah, you can grind, but the game constantly adjusts the difficulty to your current levels, and it never lets any heroes fall too far behind, so play how you want.
After battle, it’s back to the castle for some evening unwinding, which usually takes the form of hanging out in the lounge or attending a meeting of one of the clubs(!) that organically form among the heroes. Then it’s off to bed to start all over again. It’s wild how comfortable this rhythm becomes, and I found myself in no rush to get through any part of it. I was perfectly content to meander around the castle doing my daily chores – building my decks, powering up my cards, researching new super suits - before moseying over to initiate a battle. It all feels nice and homey, and the rewards for taking your time and engaging with the other heroes in their downtime are significant enough that you don’t feel like you are wasting your time on pointless cut-scenes.
The battle system, as mentioned above, is card-based, which sent a thrill of excitement through me when I first saw it. Battles are fought with three characters, each of whom bring ten cards to the deck. A good deck will mix building cards - less-powerful attacks and buffs which build up your heroism meter - with more powerful abilities that use heroism points. There is a bit of push and pull to the heroism meter, as you may find yourself with a handful of cards that can’t be used and no way to build enough points to use them. In this case, you can redraw up to two cards per turn to try to loosen things up a bit.
In addition to card-based attacks, you can also perform some environmental attacks using heroism points. This is where positioning comes in; your cards can reach any enemy anywhere on the field of battle, but you need to be in a good position to pick up a box and fling it at a baddie, or kick someone into a nearby electrical box. These environmental attacks are less powerful than your card attacks, but still a good way to chip away at baddies’ health.
The battle system is far less complex than it sounds, and certainly much easier to manage than those found in many turn-based strategy games. That said, there is surprising complexity in the strategies you can unleash on your hapless foes, and you may find yourself flat on your back on occasion, as simplicity and difficulty are not the same metrics. Playing on the default difficulty, I never wiped, but I did see the letters “KO” quite a bit as individual heroes took an unexpected dirt nap in the middle of a heated battle.
There are a ton of systems in Marvel’s Midnight Suns that are too numerous to cover in one review. Hunter has a morality system, for example, which builds light or dark points depending on dialogue choices made. These points eventually unlock some hyper-powerful abilities, so it’s best to commit one way or the other early on. And each hero in the game has a huge number of abilities, cosmetics, and relationship-based combos that can be unlocked. And I haven’t even mentioned the sprawling grounds that the castle sits on, which can take hours to explore (and you guessed it…you get rewards for doing so). Midnight Suns is an enormous game with a mountain of little widgets for players to fiddle around with, all of which contribute to the cohesive whole of the experience.
My primary emotion while playing Midnight Suns – beyond the pure enjoyment of it all – is a weird, nagging wonderment about how it could possibly be real. Anyone working near the Marvel/Disney exec that signed off on the making of this game ought to swing by their office to deliver a quick high-five, because it must have been a bit stress inducing to approve a AAA title where the main characters are some B-listers and one of the Runaways. Midnight Suns feels niche in the best possible way, and like the Guardians of the Galaxy films, shows that there are amazing stories to be mined in the lesser-known corners of the Marvel Universe.
Marvel fans and Firaxis strategy fans alike should consider taking a look at this game. It might be one of the less-flashy offerings for the holiday season, but it might be the one with the most longevity; this is a big, big game. And once you settle into its circadian rhythms, it is also one of the most pleasurable games to release this year. It is fun and rewarding just spending time in this world.
I’m delighted that this game exists, and I hope to see many more in the series as time goes by. Midnight Suns is a rock-solid foundation upon which a franchise could be built, and there’s a mighty big Marvel universe out there for Firaxis to explore.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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