Marvel’s Midnight Suns | Developer: Firaxis Games | Publisher: 2K | Year: 2022
While it is overly talky, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is an original RPG-card battler expertly balancing mechanical thrills with license-friendly storytelling. In a word, marvellous.
Marvel's Midnight Suns featuring superheroes posing

Marvel’s Midnight Suns

It was all going so well. After failing my goal of writing two posts every month in 2022 because of Elden Ring — the fault is never my own, you understand — I regrouped and succeeded in 2023. Only I’ve failed again now in 2024 because of Marvel’s Midnight Suns!

So yeah, I find it hard to write about video games when I’m having so much fun playing them. Marvel’s Midnight Suns fits that bill just as it fits the classically absorbing Firaxis Games formula. This is a game of many interesting little decisions ensuring the usual promise players make to themselves of “one more turn” (or “one more mission” in this case) is frequently broken. What Midnight Suns promises though is a tactical adventure reminiscent of XCOM 2, only with card battling missions inspired by Slay the Spire and character-driven adventuring segments resembling an old BioWare production.

It begins when Lilith, The Mother of Demons, raises an army en route to waking a foul god from its eternal slumber. The Midnight Suns posse consisting of Blade, Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, and other mystically-themed superheroes, respond by calling The Avengers to help them resurrect the only person ever to defeat Lilith, that being her centuries-old offspring who takes the form of a custom and fully voiced avatar, “The Hunter”.

Midnight Suns is a long game which starts slow. The opening six hours is heavy on plot, and while things eventually settle into a more even rhythm, the initially sedate approach is rough going to begin with. Irritatingly long loading times exacerbate the niggles of there being no undo button during combat and hard game over screens forcing players to reload an earlier save upon mission failure.

Thankfully, those same turn-based missions are fantastic fun. Each participating hero has a constructed deck of 10 ability cards which players are free to customise in line with certain archetypes. Captain America can protect the team with blocking abilities, Ghost Rider sacrifices health to fuel flashy attacks that send enemies flying, and Iron Man does his best work when players are, rather fittingly, drawing and playing as many Iron Man cards as possible.

The three person teams, miniaturised maps, and diverse objectives create a setup similar to Into The Breach, and like that game, players can exploit the environment to gain tempo during battle. Enemies can be bonked by barrels strewn across the map, or knocked into each other for bonus damage. Even better is pushing them off the edge of cliffs to score easy eliminations. Either way, it’s vital to maximise the damage potential in any given combat arena so you can outpace the rate of enemy reinforcements coming in between rounds. If you’re treating every new encounter like a puzzle to solve, then you’re doing it right!

Players have a limited number of card plays per round, but certain “Quick” cards refund their action if used to KO an enemy, and since weaker minions always die to a single hit, players can launch incredibly satisfying combos to sway the tempo of battle in their favour. Punching and zapping multiple enemies in a turn also just has the benefit of feeling cool, thus adding to that all-important heroic vibe comic book games like this thrive on.

The actual mechanics of play are remarkably straightforward, but there is a consistent thrill in gradually optimising your squad. Upgrades typically make cards much stronger and later they can be enhanced even further with randomised modifiers including extra damage and bonus draws — perks guaranteed to supercharge any battlefield strategy. Players are free to grind resources and upgrade their Abbey home base for as long as they want, so there’s plenty of time to learn the nuances of each character.

For example, Magik (former member of the New Mutants) is a fun hero who uses her infernal Soulsword to create two-way portals she can slam enemies through to create unique attack vectors. Magik herself is also a good example of how true these characters look and feel to their comic book counterparts. It’s a crucial point because the mission segments and associated card mechanics are only half of what’s being offered here.

The other major side of the game sees The Hunter adventuring and developing friendships with their team members. The expansive and story-rich Abbey grounds can be explored for crafting bonuses, costume skins, and treasures to be gifted to other heroes to raise their approval meter. Additionally, the friendship system encourages players to pay attention to what activities other heroes like doing around the Abbey. Is Scarlett Witch always meditating in the exercise yard? Invite her to a meditation session later and watch those friendship points flow in, doubly so if you gift her the mystically-themed book you found on your travels. Some players won’t enjoy the sheer amount of talking involved in these segments, but friendship levels can’t be easily ignored either because higher tiers reward useful passive bonuses for your squad.

The characterisation in these conversations is largely on point, but Firaxis does expose themselves on occasion with their “trendy” dialogue. Hearing Captain Marvel describe a cat as “adorbs” doesn’t feel right to me, nor does Tony Stark instructing the team to “feel the feels later”. There’s also many obvious pop culture references reminding me of the poorly-written (and poorly researched) tech descriptions in Civilization VI. Firaxis Games aren’t the best writers is my point!

Nevertheless, The Hunter does feel like a meaningful character in the world they’ve created here. Marvel Comics lore is also smartly explored, especially in the weekly events bringing together like-minded heroes for extended story breaks. I initially rolled my eyes when Blade approached me with the idea of starting a book club, only to be genuinely engrossed when Captain Marvel was later discussing the intricacies of the Kree battle strategies we’d just read about. And returning to Magik — her traumatic childhood and journey to becoming the ruler of an infernal dimension arguably gets a sharper focus here than it does in some of the actual Marvel comics featuring her!

The one thing that really undermines all the talking and character conversations is not the amount of focus it gets, nor the quality of the writing, it’s actually the character animations which feel too basic for a game with cinematic aspirations like this. Character models have a tendency to look a little strange (especially in the knee joints) and the stiff facial animation makes some conversations feel wooden. Maybe the game engine designed for top-down tactical views was the problem here, but either way, some more budget in this area would have dramatically enhanced an integral part of the presentation.

Firaxis have still done a superb job of opening up a traditionally complex genre. Again, the formula here resembles a lighter take on XCOM: Enemy Unknown, with no sudden failure points or permadeath to catch players out, and an ultra flexible difficulty system players can change whenever they want. If only the higher difficulties were less boring. Inflating enemy health and damage numbers does the job for those seeking a greater challenge (my record is beating the final mission on Ultimate II), but some general missions do become a slog under such rules.

Overall, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a generous and rewarding game bearing its developers’ trademark flair for originality. I sincerely hope the disappointing sales don’t mark the end of weird and wonderful experiments like this because as far as the Marvel franchise is concerned, this stands alongside Marvel vs. Capcom 2 as one of the most enjoyable Marvel adaptations I’ve ever played.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns on Steam »