Marvel might be the name at the top, but my first few hours with Midnight Suns proved to be a quick reminder of everything I love about Firaxis games – especially the part of Firaxis that makes XCOM. For one thing, there’s tactical depth to the battlefield, giving you plenty of options for getting out of traffic jams or accidentally getting into them. There are upgrade choices that make you frown as you pick and choose, not between what you desperately want, but between what you least care about. And then, of course, there is a certain sense of wisdom in all things, and the belief that wisdom is easy to find. This is a team that isn’t afraid to write a word like “proportionate” in a tooltip.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns Publisher: 2K Developer: Firaxis Platform: Played on PC Availability: Coming to PC, Xbox X/S and Playstation 5 on December 2.
Another thing too: XCOM games are surprisingly rich dollhouses. You fight aliens, sure, but then you peg it into the house and decide which rooms to build and where to place your bedroom. Midnight Suns is an excellent dollhouse, at first glance. For the past hour, I’ve been fighting Hydra guards and talking to Tony Stark. At one point I actually hit a helicopter. But I also came home and had a few happy moments deciding where to put a bookcase and choosing the best bedside table.
The reason for this dollhouse is that ancient magic and evil have returned to the world in Midnight Suns, and a group of heroes have retreated to The Abbey, a rambling mansion, where they can regroup, recruit new members, practice and all that kind of jazz. It’s basic XCOM, in a way: you get to choose what to spend resources on and what to research next. But it’s also different. You’re asked to make friends with other heroes – movie night here, ice cream there. I’m making up that last part, because so far I’ve only done the movie night. It doesn’t matter: you bond to unlock new combat synergies between people.
5 Things We Loved About Marvel’s Midnight Suns (And 3 Things We Didn’t Love)
You do this because while the house is riddled with famous Marvel names, and you control the likes of Iron Man and Captain Marvel on the battlefield, for the Abbey sections, and in the story in general, you play as a new Marvel hero, built just for this game. I keep forgetting their name, which isn’t the biggest sign – it’s The Hunter; I just watched it – but the promise is still very rich: equip your very own hero, from their face and haircut to their powers and the color of their hero boots. The story campaign even lets you take them down a light or dark path, both, this being Firaxis, with their own rewards.
On the battlefield, the game is also XCOM, but different. Type of. At first, I felt rather disarmed. Where was the cover? Where was the radius of movement and what should I hide behind? In truth, of course, superheroes don’t stoop. Although the combat is turn-based and very similar to an XCOM encounter, it is quite different in detail.
For one thing, it’s card-based. Instead of two action points per unit, each turn sees you play three cards from your hand, regardless of, I think, the size of your team, which tends to be quite small so far anyway. Cards can be an attack – an Iron Man palm blast or Dr. Strange knockback – or they can do something good, like create a lava hole in the ground for other heroes to hit. people. I’m still learning this stuff, but one thing is key: some maps give you Hero Points, and some maps require Hero Points to play. But you can also use hero points for things outside of maps, which actually means you can do more than three things per turn if you manage your resources.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns trailer.
So maybe it’s your turn and you play three cards – two attacks, then use a limited pool of redistributes to get yourself a heal card. But you still have one villain to eliminate. Besides playing cards, you can also move one of your heroes once per turn. So you can move Captain Marvel to a couch and then use heroism points to place the couch in a group of Hydra guards.
There’s such obvious richness to this stuff, even in the early stages of the game. Despite the lack of a grid, I’m already learning that placement is key here. Knockdowns allow you to pick up extra knockouts, and you also want your heroes to generally be near the interactive gadgets like couches scattered throughout each level. Target prioritization is key too, as some enemies have huge health bars, while others will crumble once they’ve been damaged even slightly – although they can still damage you quite heavily before that.
Then there are cards that do cool things, like fast action cards, which give you a card to play if you manage to kill someone with them. One of my biggest surprises from the first few hours of play isn’t how much I like picking shelves, or how much Firaxis’ Tony Stark looks like Chopped host Ted Allen. That’s how much of a real card game it is. It’s not XCOM, but your weapon menu is made up of maps. You are dealt a hand and many cards affect other cards – they shuffle or redeal, or strengthen certain cards.
All of this before getting to the heroes themselves and those synergies towards one movie night at a time. Reader: So far, I love it. The stream is pure XCOM, but the details are new and delicious. It’s as fun and colorful as a Marvel comic, and as dense and interconnected as the best Firaxis has to offer. I look forward to playing more.
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