On paper, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a somewhat strange idea for a game. Sure, it makes use of one of the most popular franchises of our time, but rather than focusing on action-packed combat or a universally recognizable team, it’s a turn-based tactics game from the developers of XCOM that draws from a lesser-known team and crossover comic from the ’90s that general audiences likely aren’t familiar with. Add to that a card-based battle system, social simulation elements, exploration, and a brand-new customizable hero, and things start to sound bloated, even overwhelming.
Fortunately, all of these seemingly disparate elements come together to create a pretty satisfying package. Midnight Suns combines a lot of brilliant ideas in innovative ways, resulting in a game that pays homage to Marvel Comics while doing something fresh.
Rather than putting players in the shoes of Spider-Man or Captain America, Midnight Suns has players control the Hunter, the child of Lilith who died three centuries ago while sealing their mother away. After Hydra revives Lilith, the Hunter is also resurrected to help deal with the potentially catastrophic threat she poses. Not only is Lilith working with Hydra; she’s brainwashing and empowering other powerful beings to do her bidding. It’s up to the Hunter, the Midnight Suns, and the Avengers to work together to, once again, take Lilith down.
Each day in Midnight Suns is split into three part. First is battle prep, which sees the Hunter exploring the Abbey, unlocking new abilities, training for battle, sending other heroes off on missions, and more. This ends once players select a combat mission for the day, whether it’s a main story mission that moves the plot along or a side mission that nets resources and other rewards. After completing a combat mission, players will return to the Abbey and have the opportunity to spend time with the other heroes through individual hangouts or club meetings.
Most days give players plenty of options for how to spend their time, and just about everything has some gameplay benefit. Spending time at Blade’s book club or hanging out at the pool with Tony Stark boosts individual relationships, which unlocks powerful combo attacks and passive bonuses. Building up friendships also increases the Team Friendship Level, which provides even more bonuses. Even giving Charlie the hellhound some much deserved pets (she is a very good girl, after all) increases the Hunter’s bond with her, making her even more powerful when brought into combat.
There’s also the Abbey and its surrounding grounds, where players can find various materials and collectibles. As the Hunter explores, they’ll be able to unlock new abilities that open up new sections of the map and reveals more about the Abbey’s history, including Lilith and the Hunter’s pasts. Caretaker, Lilith’s sister and the woman who raised the Hunter, has plenty of secrets, and uncovering them provides a clearer picture of their family history and Lilith’s motivations.
The extra bits of lore are good incentive to explore, but the Abbey itself is much larger than it really needs to be in a game that’s as packed as Midnight Suns. It’s easy to get lost in the forest surrounding the Abbey, and finding or returning to any particular location can be frustrating. The game already has plenty of content, so a smaller map could have made exploration less tedious without really taking anything away.
As for combat, Midnight Suns has a unique approach to turn-based tactics that requires players to build decks of eight cards for each hero that fall into three categories: Attack, Skill, and Heroic. Playing Attacks and Skill build up the team’s heroism, which let players use more powerful Heroic abilities. Heroism is also used to interact with the environment, providing more chances to deal damage by throwing boulders or shooting explosives to deal area-of-effect damage. Typically, players can only play three cards per turn, so taking advantage of the environment is a great way to turn a battle around.
The developers did an impressive job of translating each hero’s unique powers and talents into their moveset, from Captain America generating a lot of block and taunting enemies to take the heat off his allies to Magik setting up portals that cause enemies to fly into hazards. While tactics games can get repetitive, the game keeps combat fresh with mechanics that forces players to think about what they’re doing and develop different strategies to deal with the situation at hand. It’s an innovative system that gives players a lot to work with, and Midnight Suns makes what could be overwhelming approachable by starting each hero off with a basis deck that gets them accustomed to their special abilities. Players who want more of a challenge will be able to unlock higher difficulty settings as they get better at the game.
The game also gives players plenty of options for making the Hunter their own. On top of deciding what they look like, players can shape what kind of hero they are through dialogue choices and ability selection. Each conversation is a chance to learn more about the Hunter’s past, befriend a hero, or embrace the Light or Dark side and the powers that come with it. Plenty of video games have tried to replicate the feeling of being a Marvel hero, but Midnight Suns lets players truly live as one. The novelty of spending time with beloved characters like Captain Marvel, Wolverine, and Doctor Strange never really gets old, and it’s great to see how the Hunter’s relationships develop over the course of the game.
Midnight Suns‘ story also deserves praise. It’s pretty standard superhero fare — everything is being threatened by an otherworldly threat with the potential to destroy life as we know it — but the stakes are made incredibly personal through its familiar characters and their efforts to save both the world and those they care about. Early on, the Sanctum Sanctorum falls, and Wanda Maximoff is taken captive by Lilith, giving the Mother of Demons the immense powers of the Scarlet Witch.
This brings into focus one of the central conflicts of the game: the tension between the Midnight Suns and the Avengers. While the Avengers want to take back the Sanctum, the Midnight Suns want to find a way to free Wanda from Lilith’s corruption, a feat that’s believed to be impossible. The young Suns feel sidelined by the Avengers, while the Avengers see the Suns as too young and untested to lead against such a dangerous threat. It’s up to the Hunter to hear each side out and, ultimately, bring the groups together to fight the real enemy.
What Marvel’s Midnight Suns really does masterfully is make players feel like they are part of a comic book storyline. The newly resurrected Hunter starts out as something of a legend to the other heroes, but as the game goes on, everyone gets to know each other as individuals — which mirrors the players own experience of spending time with these legendary characters.
The game is a true celebration of Marvel characters and their massive legacies, with plenty of references diehard fans will appreciate that are baked into the characters rather than feeling like fanservice. Marvel’s Midnight Suns wears its inspiration proudly, never shying away from the absurdity and silliness common to comics, while still telling a powerful story about found families, redemption, and the choices people will make to protect their loved ones.
Developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K, Marvel’s Midnight Suns releases Dec. 2 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch editions are planned for a later date. A review copy was provided by the publisher.