Marvel’s Midnight Suns is based on a sacred promise. Take the studio that rebooted XCOM for stunning results, merge it with a card battle system inspired by titles such as kill the arrow and Registration, then add the Marvel superheroes who have defined the last 15 years of pop culture. And while these pillars stand on their own, Firaxis Games uses them to underpin a completely unique title, full of personality and steeped in clever systems.
The first thing to clarify is that this turn-based strategy game is not, in fact, XCOM. You don’t micromanage positioning, you don’t deal with constant roster rotation, and you don’t hold your breath on the fine line of shooting percentages. Overwatch is not a thing and solid tactical maneuvers do not exist. Instead, all the compromises, tensions and gnashing of teeth are framed around a hand of cards.
Within this system, there is a duality between strict restriction and wild creative independence. You’re limited to three characters per battle, chosen from a roster that starts out a bit small but blossoms over the 60-hour campaign. Icons such as Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Wolverine and more are fully controllable. Each hero brings a deck of eight cards that represent their various, sometimes iconic, abilities. Each battle turn, your hand is randomly drawn from this combined pool of 24 character cards, giving a sense of uncertainty as to what turn-based combat options are available to you.
Individual character decks are the cornerstone of midnight suns. It’s how you connect with the battlefield, yes, but also how you exercise creative agency over the tactical experience. New cards are continually earned, and the constant flow of new abilities proves to be a strong motivation to embrace deckbuilding. By building up each deck throughout your campaign, you can recreate the great personalities of the Marvel Universe: Spider Man squeezes enemies with his linked attacks while Blade inflicts copious amounts of bleed damage, to name a few some. But you also have enough leeway in your builds to fill certain niches in your three-person teams. As I delved deeper into deck building, natural pairs or groupings of heroes emerged, and I started to lean on them: Captain America can tank moves in binary form while Ghost Rider inflicts massive damage.
At the start of the game, everything seems mundane and small. You play three cards each turn, kill a few grunts, and take out maybe a bigger enemy with prolonged effort. In fact, I was not impressed by the first hours of midnight suns. The card system seemed competent but measured. It went well, but the limitations of fully flat environments with only a minor focus on positioning left me wanting more. I was skeptical how well a card battle setting would combine with Firaxis’ turn-based battlegrounds. My opinion changed drastically as the card pool grew and I was able to string together six and seven card decks in a single turn. The first time I dealt several hundred damage from a single attack was exhilarating. This round where I was at death’s door, but managed to knock it down by triggering lifesteal and landing several huge combo attacks to fully heal – it was intoxicating.
While the exaltation of the card system is steadily reinforced, it contrasts with the lackluster overall narrative. The Plot: A demon named Lilith teams up with the eternal evil organization Hydra to threaten the world. On the opposite side, the Midnight Suns are a group of young misfits led by a veteran hero simply named Caretaker. The story has obvious parallels to Professor Xavier and the X-Men, and it undermines the novelty it sometimes gains elsewhere. But while the plot itself can be sloppy, the emphasis on the personal stories of the heroes locked away in the abbey, the center of the game, creates a spark and keeps things going.
Initially, you create an original character named The Hunter, a lukewarm avatar for dialogue choices and behavioral decisions throughout. midnight suns‘ Duration. Ultimately, The Hunter’s backstory and plot are just distractions (it’s hard to create an evocative hero through mere cutscenes, and Firaxis fails in that regard), but the character plays a role. important in the charming social interactions that take place in the Midnight Suns. Headquarter.
This free form Persona 5-esque relationship building brings The Hunter to life. You can participate in Blade’s book club, work on Ghost Rider’s hell in a store group, or even play video games with various allies. Relationships are ranked with a friendship rating, and engaging in these activities will gain experience and unlock new perks. It’s impossible to devote time to all the devotees of the abbey, so it becomes difficult to decide who to get comfortable with and exchange war stories. Fostering strong relationships with characters is strongly incentivized, as it’s a source of unlocking new passive abilities as well as cards. After spending many hours chatting about books, fishing, and wandering the field with Blade, I’ve built a ridiculous deck that combines bleeding and healing with a large area of effect. These advancements encourage character development and exploration, fueling interactions at the Abbey.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a game full of rich texture. The voice acting is superb, and the Abbey’s relationship building is the perfect interlude for the tactically sophisticated card game. The two formats are beautifully intertwined through the buildup of additional cards and abilities, and there’s a genuine sense of satisfaction in deepening both battlefield prowess and role-playing social bonds. midnight suns isn’t XCOM – but that’s ultimately its greatest strength. It is something quite distinct and quite exceptional.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns will be released on December 2 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by 2K. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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