Marvel’s Midnight Suns is full of surprises, but none are more impressive than the unique combat system that makes it feel like a fresh addition to the Marvel game lineup.
I’ve been a little skeptical of Marvel’s Midnight Suns since it was announced, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. For all of the hours I’ve sunk into Firaxis’ prior titles like Civilization and XCOM, I struggled to envision a way to translate the kinetic nature of superhero combat into a turn-based format.
It gives me great pleasure to say that I was wrong, though, and Marvel’s Midnight Suns not only bends the tactical RPG combat of its alien-battling lineage to its will but builds out an exciting roster of Marvel heroes that pull from more than just the biggest names.
Superheroes and Demons
Marvel’s Midnight Suns picks up with the return of Lilith, the mother of demons. She’s an established character in Marvel canon, but not someone you’re likely to see in the MCU anytime soon — something that’s a common theme throughout the hero roster, too.
Awoken by those dastardly Hydra folks, Lilith attacks the Sanctum Sanctorum and overpowers the starting squad of Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and Doctor Strange. We won’t delve into the opening too far, but the game does a good job of setting up exactly why this one antagonist can’t be destroyed by a single Captain Marvel punch.
The encounter leads our heroes to seek out The Caretaker, Lilith’s sister, and her entombed child, in a pocket dimension. It’s here that the story truly begins, with the player character, The Hunter, responsible for putting Lilith on ice centuries prior, being resurrected.
Of course, this is all content you’ve seen in the trailers, but it’s worth noting that the inherent preposterousness of the Marvel world brushing shoulders with what is essentially occult legends actually comes off really well, in a campy sort of way. The voice cast is self-aware to the point of being a little cheesy, but it works — Tony Stark is smarmy but out of his depth, Doctor Strange is regularly surprised at new developments he can’t foresee, and Blade just kind of grunts his way through in a way that feels infinitely more enjoyable than Gotham Knights’ similarly stoic Red Hood.
Perhaps the biggest surprise though is in how Marvel’s Midnight Suns handles combat. There’s XCOM DNA here, for sure, but it actually plays out somewhere closer to indie hits Slay the Spire or Fights In Tight Spaces.
Your party of heroes is dealt a series of cards at the start of each turn, with abilities assigned to each. Some are straightforward, like dealing damage to an enemy, while others can offer buffs or status effects to friends or foes.
You can play a maximum of three cards per turn, but you’re also allowed to redraw cards if they don’t fit your current situation. Knowing when to play, and when to dive into your deck, can give you an advantage, but it also adds a random element that feels fun in the early hours — although we’ll see how things advance in the coming hours.
That helps add a little bit of a gamble since XCOM’s “hit percentages” are gone, and being dealt a fresh hand each turn makes you feel like a superhero that’s constantly adapting to the battlefield.
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Aside from playing cards and shuffling them, your team moves as they initiate abilities, but you’re reserved a single move to reposition each turn. In an early boss fight, this came in handy for getting my Hunter away from the boss when he was on low health, but you can also use the move to line up environmental attacks that don’t count as card moves.
That means you can hit an enemy with an explosive barrel, throw furniture, or leap off a raised surface to do additional damage. When it all comes together, which didn’t take long thanks to an extensive tutorial, the combat felt less turn-based and more like a dance of overlapping actions, particularly when paired with “Quick” cards that refund the chance to use a card if they take out an enemy.
A big part of XCOM’s charm was building your squad in the shape of people you know and seeing who would survive longest, but Marvel’s Midnight Suns’ metagame is wholly different since there’s no permadeath.
Tougher difficulty options increase the damage dealt by your enemies and buff their health, but you won’t find Iron Man being removed from your playthrough after a disastrous mission. That changes things up between missions, as you’re instead encouraged to build friendships with heroes to eventually bring out the best in their combat potential.
In the early hours, it’s easy to see the appeal, with relatively simple dialog trees opening up some fun interactions amongst the demon-slaying, but I’m curious to see how Midnight Suns grow the gameplay options outside of introducing new heroes to the roster and upgrading cards in the Yard.
Still, the roster is a really fun mix of iconic characters, with household names like Iron Man teaming up with X-Men legends like Wolverine, and more mystical heroes like Blade and Ghost Rider. Each gets their own time to shine, too, with fun introductory cutscenes.
Many fit into traditional party member categories, so Blade is a damage dealer, while Dr. Strange is a support type, but these can be expanded through the abilities in your deck. I can’t wait to see how they can be customized as I play further.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns looks poised to offer some of the most satisfying tactical combat of 2022, and it’s been a great year for it, too, with Triangle Strategy and the upcoming Front Mission Remake.
By mixing its superpowered household names with an inventive new combat system, though, it offers something that’s as deep as it is varied, and I’m looking forward to playing more ahead of our review.
Previewed on PC