Marvel’s Midnight Suns is the unlikely package of a superhero-themed combo-focused card game and a slice-of-life role-playing relationship game from developer Firaxis Games. Lilith, the mother of demons, has been awakened from her tomb by Dr Faustus and the forces of the Marvel Nazis, Hydra. As the player-made daughter of Lilith, you will take groups of three supernatural-slaying superheroes into small card-driven arena fights to fend off Lilith’s apocalyptic havoc across America.
Fans of developer Firaxis’ previous XCOM titles will see similarities in the top-down visuals driving the card-driven combat arena skirmishes. Instead of the dramatic close-up kill animations in XCOM, Midnight Suns opts for slightly-too-long close-up animations to accentuate every single card action, resulting in unskippable, drawn-out, and repetitive scenes breaking up every move during combat. The XCOM crowd also need to know that Midnight Suns has almost none of that game’s tactical grit. Other than using the party’s single allotted move action per turn to position a character to knock enemies together or into explosives, there are almost no tactical movement or cover systems here.
Pacing is an issue that arises early on in Midnight Suns. Where the game suitably introduces generic Hydra goons as the introductory enemy to get our three-person squad of heroes initiated, they remain the only flavour of enemy for the next 20 hours of encounters outside of perhaps two mini-bosses. This pairs poorly with the fact that the game is very hesitant to dole out gamma coils (booster packs), with initially one three-card deck of uncommon cards rewarded for every 30–40 minute encounter during the first dozen hours.
Main mission battlegrounds have more comic flair than the generic backlot side missions
The boring default cards in a deck hold a lot of doubles and do little more than introduce players to the theme that represents each hero’s deck, but gradually become the game’s strength. Captain America is all about building up a block meter and taunting all the enemies in order to be the team’s punching bag. Ghost Rider begins with some boring low-efficacy life-steal cards, but combining duplicates and later card unlocks allow him to burn his own health for huge damage and then recover it with life-steal. For a player adept at building a small deck of 8–10 cards from a growing pool, the thematic options presented to each hero allow for some extraordinary combos. Alas, the grinding required to get the game’s late-stage heroes to this point can take many dull hours and may render party latecomers such as Scarlet Witch consigned to the ‘too hard’ basket.
For the cult following this game is sure to get for its exceptionally solid yet initially slow and often boring card play, prospective players are up for dozens of hours of atrocious writing and bloated side-game distractions between solid (if overlong) deck-driven duke outs. Characters will occupy a hub location called the Abbey between missions, which is effectively a glorified menu, splitting up the locations where characters train heroes, begin missions and unlock cards. A fast travel system between these locations would have been appreciated, but instead, the constant running around between combat missions feels like more busy work.
There are a lot of light, prescriptive customisation options around the Abbey
While moving between these locations in the Abbey, other Midnight Suns heroes will loiter about and try to get your attention to initiate a dialogue. These conversations have no bearing on how events play out in the combat missions but instead form their own dialogue-heavy side game. And boy, is the writing something else. Characters like Tony Stark and Dr Strange are always having little tantrums about who is the alpha male between them, and each wants you to build up their respective egos. Choose the right response based on nothing more than your gut feeling, and a heart pops up letting you know if their friendship alignment has improved by a couple of points. Level up the friendship meter and special combo cards may appear in combat. It is not quite a worthy reward for the dozens of hours of conversations you will participate in, ranging from awkward sitcom dialogue sans laugh track to godawful daytime soap opera. Some players might reach a point where they find this writing and monotone voice acting to be so bad it’s good, but I found it initially groan-worthy and then actively abrasive by the 40-hour mark (with yet another 20 hours to endure).
There is also a pretty archaic binary alignment system that pops up during the socialising side game. Tell Peter Parker he’s effectively a whiny, insecure bitch (which he is in this game) and you’ll likely lose some friendship points but may also gain points in the dark moral alignment. Consistently role-playing one of the indicated binary moral alignments in conversations will cause a special type of alignment-related cards in your hand to appear in battles. Unfortunately, trying to engage the dialogue choices dynamically, as a role player is likely to do, will cause your gains on either end of the morality tracker to cancel out.
All heroes have unlockable underwear for the poolside social activities
After such thrilling, repetitive social activities such as chilling poolside and playing video games with every member of the team, I can safely say I hate all of these characters. Peter Parker is the worst of the bunch, easily getting the dunce award for the most hopeless man-child featured in any medium. It is disappointing and perhaps even borderline offensive to see these heroes depicted as such awkward, unlikeable, and emotionally immature brats. If you thought the wince-worthy banter in Gotham Knights was tough, Midnight Suns takes the cake for the worst superhero dialogue in an interactive medium in years.
There are far too many systems crammed into the social side game, all serving to bottleneck progression and further slow the game down. The social activities, such as afternoon book club (as thrilling as it sounds), much be persevered through in order to unlock valuable card upgrades. Upgrading cards by combining duplicates requires large amounts of currency which comes in three types and is sparingly rewarded in most combat scenarios, forcing players to grind generic combat scenarios in order to produce viable decks for the tough story missions. There are also systems borrowed from XCOM that don’t make much sense, such as a research tree where everything takes one combat mission to develop and usually just unlocks ‘item cards’ which have a single use and may offer an extra move or card redraw in combat.
Fucking knee-slapping humour, that is
Finally, if we must draw similarities to XCOM then we must discuss the bugs. Even today, XCOM 2 is far from the most stable package and many of those issues remain here. I have encountered everything from multiple crashes, visual artifacting, t-posing models, missions refusing to launch, cards being unusable or used without my input, and invincible enemies derailing exhaustingly-long boss fights. Over the course of the game’s 60-odd hours, these are probably infrequent enough to be forgiven by some, but with a game already this slow, repeating content due to crashes and bugs made the marathon more tedious.
This romantic, card-battling Marvel superhero title presented through a millennial sitcom, developed by turn-based tactical masters Firaxis has everything I want on paper – corny, visual novel-esque dialogue to break up tight and challenging card fights against lightweight Marvel goons. Instead, I began to abhor everything to do with the terribly unfunny Abbey social side game and was disappointed by this game’s chronic time-wasting and lack of variety. Midnight Suns is sure to generate memes and some polarising criticisms while hopefully getting folks reinstalling XCOM2 and Marvel Snap.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Firaxis Games
- PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
- December 2, 2022