Marvel's Midnight Suns Review - XCOM Superhero Squad

  • First Released Dec 2, 2022
  • PC

Marvel's Midnight Suns delivers strong tactical combat scenarios in a fun superhero romp where it's worth putting stock in the power of friendship.

Marvel's Midnight Suns' story draws clear inspirations from the original Rise of the Midnight Sons comic book series from the 1990s in which Blade, Morbius, and Ghost Rider--among others--unite to fight against a recently resurrected Lilith and her army of demons. Developer Firaxis Games' title, however, incorporates more faces from the current Midnight Suns series, such as Wolverine, Magik, and Nico Minoru. In making these changes, it distances itself from the source material's idea that to defeat a monster, you need a team of monsters. Instead, it is a story about the power of friendship between a bunch of misfits, which is forged and strengthed through battle as much as traditional social scenarios. Midnight Suns aims to combine relationship-building with memorable role-playing moments, and the result is a stellar turn-based tactical combat title driven by interesting characters.

Marvel's Midnight Suns begins with the Avengers in a tough spot--the prophesied return of an eldritch god is on the horizon, having been brought about by Lilith, who now leads an army of HYDRA soldiers and demonic children in a war against humanity. The Avengers aren't adequately prepared to tackle such a supernatural threat, so they turn to Doctor Strange and his newest apprentice, Scarlet Witch, for aid. After their first attempt at fighting Lilith goes sideways, Strange introduces the world's mightiest heroes to the contingency plan: the Midnight Suns, a group of young heroes who each wield magical, supernatural, or demonic powers.

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That's where your character, The Hunter, comes in. As the child of Lilith, you possess incredible magical abilities, which is what helped you defeat her 300 years ago. That final duel left both you and Lilith dead, but just as HYDRA managed to bring your mother back to life, the Midnight Suns are able to do the same for you. Not content to leave the fate of the world up to others, the Avengers also decide to set up shop in the Midnight Suns' headquarters, The Abbey, to join the fight against Lilith.

The major conflict in Marvel's Midnight Suns is explored through the tried-and-true formula of, "What happens when the old guard meets the new kids?" In Marvel's Midnight Suns, the Avengers have already overcome the likes of Ultron, Galactus, Thanos, and other would-be apocalypses, so they're not particularly eager to get input from a newly formed team of much younger heroes. And the Midnight Suns believe the Avengers are a bloated waste of space for the mission at hand, as the older team is ill-prepared to tackle a magical threat with the science they've relied on for decades.

Marvel's Midnight Suns doesn't do anything new with this kind of storyline, but it does create plenty of interesting moments throughout its 45-hour runtime. Heroes like Iron Man and Captain America find solace in their struggles with their figurative demons from the perspectives of those who have dealt with literal ones all their lives. What does it look like when Tony Stark, who's fully cognizant of his alcoholism and believes he's come to terms with all of the bad life choices he's made through the good he's accomplished as Iron Man, meets Robbie Reyes, a Ghost Rider directly impacted by the sins of Stark Industries that Tony has wilfully ignored? These are the types of questions that Marvel's Midnight Suns asks and answers, and the storylines are regularly intriguing if a little straightforward.

More enjoyable complexity is found in the combat missions the team embarks on to fight against Lilith and her army. Each mission is structured around a turn-based tactical combat system in which you guide the positioning, attacks, and defenses of your characters before the enemy has a go at you, and then you respond in turn. Firaxis Games' work on the XCOM series is strongly represented here, with Marvel's Midnight Suns trading in soldiers and aliens for superheroes and demons. However, it's not exactly a one-to-one replication. Unlike XCOM, character attacks and abilities always hit their mark--there's no way for an enemy to lower the chance of you hitting them. This ensures that the superheroes you're playing as always feel as powerful as they are depicted in other media and that, within the scope of a single turn, your actions will play out as you intend.

Removing XCOM's frustrating percentage system--which could cause even the most well-planned strategies to inexplicably fail--makes the turn-based tactical combat in Marvel's Midnight Suns a lot more fun. It's rewarding to see a plan come together as intended. In its place is a deckbuilding card system, ensuring that even if each individual turn plays out as you planned, you don't know what you'll be able to do on your next turn until it begins and you draw your hand. In this way, there's still an element of challenging randomness to every encounter, encouraging you to think strategically through every mission, but it's being used to test your ability to think and plan on the fly. That's way better than having to trust in an unseen dice roll that may screw you over and see you somehow miss shooting a bad guy who's two feet away because the hit percentage was only 98% and you just got unlucky.

There's one exception to the use of unseen dice rolls and that's knocking enemies off the map, whether it's over the side of a skyscraper or into one of Ghost Rider's pits into hell. If you try to push an enemy off the map, the game will inform you of the percentage chance of that happening. I can understand the intent, as successfully knocking an enemy off the map counts as an instant knockout, so giving players a way of cheesing tough encounters would have been a bit much. Instead, this one part of the game acts as a last-ditch effort lifeline. If your back is against the wall, you might be able to clear the field a bit with a few lucky shoves, but if you want a sure thing, it's better to strategize with the cards you've been dealt and rely on your heroes' abilities.

I preferred spending time with the members of the Midnight Suns, not the Avengers.
I preferred spending time with the members of the Midnight Suns, not the Avengers.

And Marvel's Midnight Suns gives you a solid lineup of heroes right out of the gate, feeding you new faces (and more cards for the existing roster) at regular intervals--your available strategies evolve at a steady pace and no character feels useless if you want to experiment. Each character fulfills a distinct role--Captain Marvel's cards allow her to build up shields and taunt enemies with powerful bionic attacks as an incredible tank, for instance. Ghost Rider, meanwhile, is a risky DPS with plenty of attacks that damage both enemies and himself, but also has cards that allow him to replenish health from the enemies he defeats. Missions have a variety of structures too--you may be tasked with saving civilians while also holding off enemy attacks, or told you to need to destroy wave after wave of enemies that are escalating in strength. Between the different mission types and numerous characters (all of whom possess dozens of cards you can put in or leave out of your deck, upgrade, or modify), Marvel's Midnight Suns doesn't get repetitive.

Each character can only bring a deck of 10 cards with them into battle. This keeps each individual character deck small enough to manage but large enough to diversify with a few different strategies so you can better adapt to the mission. Some cards allow you to build Heroism, which can be spent to play powerful Heroic cards. Cards can be upgraded to deal more damage or modified with different effects, allowing for even more customization. One of the best secondary effects a card can have is knockback, which allows you to push an enemy. That can be used to knock one enemy into another, damaging both, or to send an enemy into an environmental hazard like an explosive container or fuse box. Certain parts of every environment can also be used by spending Heroism--a loose rock can be thrown, for example, or a hanging stack of crates dropped onto a group of unsuspecting enemies. There's a great deal of choice in how you use your cards and the battlefield to your advantage, with dozens of potential combinations and configurations based on who you're bringing to the mission and what cards you have in their deck.

The game does a great job ensuring you're switching things up, too. Heroes can get injured if they take too much damage on a mission or suffer repeated wounds on several missions in a row, meaning it's best to constantly rotate who you're bringing into the next operation. And even if you don't and just want to muscle through with who you like (which is totally viable; it will just be challenging to only use injured characters), an auto-leveling system ensures that the heroes you don't use as often never get left too far behind. So if a story mission requires you to use a character you haven't played as much or you just want to try using someone you haven't played as in a while, they'll still be viable picks. The game ensures that all characters are at the minimum level required for the next story mission.

There's another interesting wrinkle to combat: The Hunter's morality. Throughout Marvel's Midnight Suns, The Hunter's morality will be questioned and certain cards in The Hunter's deck can cause it to shift, pushing them more towards Light or Dark. As you swing towards one or the other, you'll unlock new abilities and cards associated with those different moralities. Light cards are aimed at healing and buffing allies while Dark cards all tend towards dealing a lot of damage or twisting an enemy's mind against them. This gives you a tremendous amount of agency over The Hunter's deck, which features more cards than any other character's. The Hunter can be your squad's best support character, its most dangerous damage dealer, or some mixture of both. The choice is yours, and it's awesome to see how your decision to use certain types of cards unlocks more cards of that type. Similarly, you'll more quickly unlock new cards for whichever heroes you bring on missions to fight alongside The Hunter, meaning you're always earning cards for who you want to play.

Your mother, Lilith, will create all manner of monsters to stop you.
Your mother, Lilith, will create all manner of monsters to stop you.

Between missions, you spend most of your time at The Abbey, dividing the experience of playing Marvel's Midnight Suns into an easy-to-understand loop of activities. You wake up in The Abbey, talk to allies and make evening plans, find out what new cards you've earned, upgrade your deck, select and go on a mission, return to The Abbey for your evening plans, go to bed, repeat. There are enough steps to the cycle that no one aspect becomes repetitive, and it helps create time clearly devoted to learning more about the heroes on your team. The Hunter is promoted to an intriguing place within the hierarchy of the heroes--the members of both the Midnight Suns and the Avengers look to them for leadership given their role in Lilith's first defeat. Still, The Hunter is largely regarded as an outsider at the start of the game, with everyone initially looking at you with cordial respect, not casual friendliness. To change that, you need to spend time with each hero or sign up for casual group activities like Blade's book club.

When hanging out, you're regularly presented with dialogue options for The Hunter in conversation. How you speak to others will determine how The Hunter's relationship with them develops--speaking in a way a character finds favorable will boost your friendship score with that hero, while saying something they find disrespectful or foolhardy will lower your score. This means you have to take the time to get to know a character to best boost your relationship with them. Nico won't be a fan of yours if you tattle on her secret research to the adults, for example, liking you a lot more if you encourage her to work behind the Avengers' backs instead.

This method of building friendships with certain characters doesn't feel artificial at all, largely for how Marvel's Midnight Suns also ties The Hunter's morality to dialogue. Of the handful of dialogue options you have in every conversation, two or three are typically associated with Light or Dark, allowing you to influence The Hunter's morality outside of combat. And in most situations, those Light and Dark choices are what defines whether you raise or lower your friendship score with the hero you're talking to. Your teammates in The Abbey don't collectively view the world in black and white, so if you want to raise your friendship with certain characters, that could mean picking a Dark morality option when you're striving for a Hunter that embraces the Light, and vice versa.

The heroes exist on a spectrum of morality--Magik is the Dark extreme, Captain America is the Light extreme, and all the others fall somewhere in between, favoring Light or Dark choices depending on the situation. But you don't always want to pick the optimal option in every scenario to raise your friendship with a hero. It's not in your best interest to be a people-pleaser to everyone, as you'll neither grow especially Dark or Light and miss out on acquiring some of The Hunter's best cards. With friendship and morality mixing together, Marvel's Midnight Suns cleverly reflects how relationships work in real life, encouraging you to find your people, and in doing so, those characters' moralities rub off on The Hunter and inform the type of hero and person they become. If you want to get closer to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, The Hunter will naturally achieve a more Light-focused morality, for example, and their morality will become Dark if you prefer hanging out with the likes of Ghost Rider and Magik.

It's in these smaller interactions between The Hunter and the individual members of their team that the game manages to squeeze out those genuinely incredible moments. Building up your friendship with certain heroes unlocks additional cutscenes and conversations with them, many of which culminate in heartwarming reveals or devastating discoveries. Magik, in particular, is one of the best-written characters in Marvel's Midnight Suns, and her friendship arc with The Hunter--which sees the two bond over their respective struggles with their innate darkness--is my favorite part of the game. Laura Bailey should be applauded for how she brings the troubled Russian mutant to life, and someone needs to make a Magik or New Mutants video game with her in the lead role, ASAP.

Magik's legendary card, Darkchylde, allows her to tank an entire enemy team's attacks.
Magik's legendary card, Darkchylde, allows her to tank an entire enemy team's attacks.

In the story it tells, Marvel's Midnight Suns loses a bit of its emotional punch given the uncanny stiffness of the faces of every character model. Regardless of the emotion of a scene, every character's facial expression is only a small departure from their default--eyes slightly widen in surprise or curve down with grief but the rest of the face won't adjust to match, for instance. It's often unsettling and can ruin what would otherwise have been an especially touching or emotional scene. The vocal performances from the incredible cast save the story, though, especially for those who bring to life the members of the Midnight Suns team. Michael Jai White brings the badass attitude and hidden warmth that we expect from Blade, for example, and Lyrica Okano has effortlessly slid back into the role of the magically-gifted and brilliant Nico Minoru, a character she portrays in live-action on the TV show Runaways. Magik may be my favorite character in Marvel's Midnight Suns, but Nico serves as the heart of the game and the soul at the center of the Midnight Suns team, and Okano's performance elevates the emotional prominence of the blood witch. She steals practically every scene she's in--especially the more emotionally fraught moments near the end of the game.

The Avengers and other non-magical heroes' side of the equation feels a bit boring in comparison, and maybe that's an intentional choice to further highlight the mystical and demonic personalities that make up the Midnight Suns' side of the game. Of the lot, the Avengers you recruit early on in the game, like Iron Man and Captain Marvel, have more room in the story to grow and evolve, and their arcs are far more interesting as a result. Most of the Avengers are mid- and late-game additions to the team, however, and that doesn't leave much room for their arcs to develop into anything intriguing enough to pursue.

There are a bunch of nice gameplay incentives for investing in these friendships regardless of their quality. As The Hunter's friendship level with a character reaches specific tiers, you'll unlock passive perks for those characters. Befriending Captain Marvel gifts her the ability to regularly counterattack any enemy who damages her, for instance, which pairs well with the cards that allow her to taunt enemies. And upon reaching a character's maximum friendship level, you unlock the ability to earn a unique legendary card for that hero. You don't need these cards to beat the game--I'd only unlocked five ahead of the final mission--but each one is incredibly powerful, spurring you to take the time to befriend your favorite heroes and unlock more fun goodies to play around with and incorporate into your strategy. For example, Magik's legendary card, Darkchylde, sees her chuckle with demonic glee, taunting every enemy to only attack her, and gifts her temporary invulnerability--an outstanding card for late-game encounters, especially on the harder difficulties. There's been more than a few times when I just needed one more turn to bring my well-orchestrated plan together, and Darkchylde ensured my whole team survived long enough for that to happen.

Without spoiling the specifics, Marvel's Midnight Suns also cleverly rewards the friendships you've put the most time into in a narratively cool way in the final battle. The game tracks who you spend the most time with, creating a final scenario where every hero on the team gets a chance to participate in a multiple-phase-long battle, but your closest allies get the limelight in the epic conclusion--a strong final note for the game to end on.

There's a lot to love about Marvel's Midnight Suns. The combat offers a rewardingly tactical experience, with a deckbuilding card system ensuring that randomness challenges the player, not frustrates them. Plus, the mission variety and cast of diverse playable characters keep combat fresh across dozens of hours. But I most enjoyed the role-playing elements and giving The Hunter a chance to connect with the members of the Midnight Suns and Avengers, forging friendships that resulted in powerful abilities I could take back to the combat side of the game.

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The Good

  • The power of friendship leads to memorable story moments and excellent gameplay rewards
  • The card system allows for randomness to remain a factor, without getting in the way of a plan coming together
  • Healthy variety of mission structures and unique playable characters keep combat fresh

The Bad

  • Character models are uncannily stiff
  • The members of the Avengers oftentimes feel tacked on and largely develop narratively in uninteresting ways

About the Author

Jordan completed Marvel's Midnight Suns in just under 45 hours, playing the game on PC with a code provided by the publisher. In his game, The Hunter initially sought the path of righteousness but ultimately embraced her inner darkness, growing closest with Nico and Magik. He screamed with dorky glee at the game's post-credits scene and recommends you stick around to see it yourself.