Marvel's Midnight Suns: 7 Hands-On Takeaways
Marvel's Midnight Suns is poised to launch later this year (check out the latest Summer Game Fest trailer) after suffering a delay from its original spring release. The superhero RPG reimagines the events of the '90s "Rise of the Midnight Sons" comic event by joining Marvel's darker occult heroes, such as Blade, Magik, and Ghost Rider, with its heavy-hitters like Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and the newly revealed Spider-Man and Scarlet Witch. Players assume the role of the Hunter, an original customizable hero who serves as the key to taking down their parent and the game's villain: Lilith, mother of all demons.
We recently took a trip to Firaxis to play a few hours of Midnight Suns to see how it's come along since our cover story last year. After taking on Lilith's corrupted forces and battling Hydra, here are a few big takeaways.
The Card Combat Is Fun And Rewards Creativity
Some may see Midnight Suns as "XCOM but Marvel," but that couldn't be further from the truth. Firaxis describes the game as a turn-based role-playing adventure; the difference is that instead of selecting traditional commands, players use cards to dish out attacks, activate skills, and unleash special moves.
Firaxis told us it's well aware that card mechanics carry negative baggage from people who dislike deck-builders or associate them with microtransactions. While fair, the creators told us they chose cards because they wanted to find a way to make every turn fresh and unpredictable. The only way to do that was to ensure players wouldn't have the same combination of abilities each turn, a concept card games lends well to. Despite initial skepticism, I'm happy to report that it's a great choice.
Executing powers is as simple as drawing and playing a card, and each character sports unique traits that make both team and deck-building a fun exercise in strategy. Blade's bleed-inflicting sword attacks made him my favorite offensive hero. I found Doctor Strange's support-based powers invaluable, such as his ability to raise the damage output of all cards in hand. As a fan of trading card games, I enjoyed strategizing the best moves a hand offers, and thanks to the way decks are structured, I always had an option. Individual hero decks sport eight cards and must contain a certain number of each card type and up to two copies of the same card, ensuring players have a balanced mix of options. It also helps that you can redraw a card twice per turn, letting you ditch abilities you may be unable to use at the moment.
I also dig how combat encourages clever thinking by allowing players to combine a team's talents. For example, Ghost Rider can create hellish pits that instantly KO enemies who fall into them. Magik, another favorite of mine, creates portals that can teleport enemies around the arena (including into hazards). Feeling devious, I placed Magik's portal atop Ghost Rider's literal Hell hole, allowing me to knock enemies into an instant one-way trip to a fiery demise. I wasn't sure if that would work and was delighted to be proven right. Despite its presentation, both RPG and tactics fans should feel comfortable with Midnight Suns' action. If you love TCG, that's even better.
The Environment Is Your Secret Weapon
Battlefields contain many destructible objects and hazards, and I quickly fell in love with using them to my advantage. Certain attacks knock foes backward or toss them in different directions. For example, the Hunter sports a whip that can fling opponents wherever you aim. I soon realized a great target is often another enemy, letting me kill two birds with one throw. One warehouse area has a suspended palette of boxes that can come crashing down on surrounding targets with a well-placed ranged attack. Besides enjoying watching bad guys crash through crates, turning my surroundings into weapons let me get the most out of each card, as playing a single one can result in a chain reaction of extra damage if planned properly.
The Abbey Has A lot To Do
I spent a great deal of time roaming the Abbey, the Midnight Suns' headquarters, between battles. The area features an array of activities, big and small that wound up absorbing more of my attention than expected.
First off, you can customize your bedroom by hanging collectible paintings (scattered around the area) and purchasing furniture using in-game currency. That includes buying a comfy bed for your demon dog, Charlie, who you can totally pet.
You can upgrade cards and spar with teammates outside in the Yard. The Forge, where Tony Stark and Doctor Strange combine their talents to develop new toys for the team, is where you'll gain new cards and conduct research projects. The Abbey operates on a day/night cycle, with some tasks requiring a full day or more to complete. For example, you can send individual heroes off on special missions to earn additional goodies, though that teammate will be unavailable to bring into battle for at least a day.
Collectibles include over 20 tarot cards themed after various heroes. I found cards based on the Human Torch, Moon Knight, and Cloak and Dagger. I also located elemental rods that unlock one particular puzzle and several locked chests requiring keys. Thankfully, the map automatically notes these chests for you to revisit later.
Solving environmental puzzles, such as paying tribute to scattered statues, rewards additional goodies and secrets. The Abbey also has many sealed-off areas that can only open by using exploration-based spells. A quick-select menu displays four ability slots, though I only gained one during my session; a sort of force-push that opened doors bearing a corresponding symbol.
While the Abbey has a mild collect-a-thon element, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy seeking out lore notes, artifacts, or Easter eggs. I was pleasantly surprised by how involved it was and want to see how the Suns' home evolves.
You Must Build Friendships Selectively
The Abbey's most substantial activities involve socializing with allies in what Firaxis dubs the "Friendship System." Similar to games like Mass Effect or Fire Emblem, the more you ingratiate yourself with a character, the closer you'll become. The simplest way to build favor is through dialogue. Choosing a response that resonates positively with someone nets you a point in their favor. Saying something wrong has the opposite effect, and knowing your audience is critical. Tony Stark may appreciate a snarky comment, but the more hard-nosed Blade might take offense. Positive or negative responses earn points towards the Hunter's respective light and darkness skill trees, so there's some incentive to being a jerk if you want to obtain darker skills. Still, I had trouble wanting to be anything but an angel since it feels like there are more benefits to having everyone like me, but I'd have to go all-in on being a nuisance to know for sure.
Special hangouts offer the most substantial forms of relationship-building. These events can take up an entire evening, and multiple characters can be available to chill with at once. I spent one-night playing video games with Robbie Reyes as he chatted me up about his younger brother. You could spend another evening meditating with Magik. You can't hang out with everyone in a day, and Firaxis told us the adventure only has enough time for players to maximize relationships with three or four heroes, so you'll have to pick favorites. Whether you form your inner circle based purely on personality or combat prowess is up to you. The Abbey even has clubs based on shared interests within the team (such as a book club), but I didn't get to see this element in action. These interactions offer a light, sometimes humorous break from the action. I appreciated how they let me see the human sides of these titans, which brings me to my next point.
The Tone Is More Lighthearted Than You Think
Despite its darker, heavy metal-inspired vibe, Midnight Suns retains Marvel's signature sense of humor. Stylized Borderlands-esque title cards introduce characters (such as one for a random Hydra soldier subtitled "Joined for the dental plan"). Heroes banter with one another on and especially off the battlefield. For example, Tony Stark and Doctor Strange humorously butt heads over the merits of technology vs. magic. There's even a Twitter-like social media feed the Suns communicate over, and topics can range from the mission at hand to an inquiry about which person is using another teammate's shower loofa. Not every joke lands, but the humor generally worked based on what I saw. Don't worry; it's still not a total comedy. Midnight Suns gets serious when it needs to, so expect a balance similar to the average MCU film.
It's A Long Game
Firaxis told us that mainlining Midnight Suns takes around 40 hours. However, those who want to dig up every collectible and secret or spend as much time getting to know their teammates as possible should expect to pour 50-60 hours into it.
You Can Create Custom Comic Covers
A small but surprising bonus touch is that players can create custom comic covers post-missions. Each one comes with preset characters themed after the battle you just wrapped up, but you're free to change background art and titles, add various word bubbles, etc. I'm not sure what the purpose of this feature is other than messing around for giggles, but it's a neat touch nonetheless.
Overall, I had a good time with Midnight Suns, and the delay seemed to have done the game well in terms of polish. We look forward to experiencing the full adventure when the game launches on October 7 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. Be sure to also watch us battle Fallen Venom in our latest episode of New Gameplay Today.