Midnight Suns, review
Midnight Suns is a big game and it came to us late in the year. So we thought it was best to let Dylan and Guy have a crack over their Christmas breaks. They put their heads together and well, at the least, I feel seen…
As I entered my 20th hour with Midnight Suns, rolling another day/night cycle in which my controlled character, The Hunter, moseyed about the liminal Abbey, platonically hanging with other superheroes, partaking of lengthy, unrepeated, yet completely vapid dialogue – I was struck with a moment of clarity about why I was enjoying it so much. For me, Midnight Suns is pure comfort gaming, repetitive enough to allow for some auto-piloting, yet complicated enough to keep me hooked for each card-based tactical mission.
While I absolutely understand the critical reaction to the game’s almost comical Super Friends Sim structure, I have no problem with it. Yes, the Animal Crossing/Fire Emblem: Three Houses fluff is half the game, but I find it relaxing to have the option to go roaming about the extensive Abbey grounds for mushrooms for an hour, or to take Ghost Rider out fishing. It gives enough rubber between the deeply tactical missions and the nitty gritty of managing hero-specific decks and deciding which spandex uniform to buy and wear.
XCOM 2 proved that you don’t need much else beyond the tactics, as its ant farm base was just enough, but I like this expansion on the formula, even if it is somewhat pathetic in places. In fact, I don’t even care about what the heroes are talking about anymore. I simply appreciate that there is so much of it, that it is different enough from the MCU, and that I can see the Matrix code now to root through for the most friendship or light/dark points.
Unfortunately, I cannot speak as highly of Midnight Suns.I actually really dislike it for a myriad of reasons. That said, I am so pleased you have enjoyed it, Dylan. Mainly as I would have hated this “duo-review” to have descended into a nit picking exercise. And secondly, I just love the developer Firaxis. They so deserve success as they are, usually anyway, true masters of the strategy game genre.
Dylan, you touched on the totally “vapid dialogue” which is actually my primary complaint for the game. As you mentioned, the game has combat encounters, then RPG type dialogue sequences. I found these dialogue sections such a laborious element of the game. In fact, as I finished a combat sequence, I dreaded what rubbish I was going to be confronted with back at the Abbey. The ‘skip’ button soon got a hammering, I can tell you!.
For someone like myself, a narrative focus gamer, this ‘skip’ button use made me cringe. (I am not Richard, who skips any and all dialogue in every game he plays! (Editor’s Note: Except Naughty Dog games)) I adore games with story and characters… Mass Effect, Last of Us, Fallout. I love them all! The more talking and story the better. But alas Midnight Suns is shockingly bad, on this front.
I recall an exchange early on, after the second or third mission. It involved some of the greats of the Marvel universe. Blade, Ms Marvel and Iron-Man all invited me, The Hunter, to a “Movie Night”, with pop-corn and the works.
If I had rolled my eyes any harder, they would have fully rotated!
Just cringey, teen movie rubbish. As Dylan said…Vapid. This is NOT what I wanted from a Marvel/Firaxis strategy game. Let alone one set in the Midnight Suns universe, which should be demonic, dark and brooding.
The gameplay though, is good. Not perfect, certainly nothing close to the strategy and investment XCOM 2 engendered from me. But a fun time, with a clever implementation of a random card building system found in many mobile card combat games these days. I just wish Midnight Suns had a basic “Select Mission” menu to avoid the rubbish friends-simulator JRPG in the Abbey.
Dylan, what do you like about the combat?
For me, it’s the environmental interactions and pushing each turn to its absolute limits. I enjoy thinking about the battlefield in terms of ‘what can I bash this arsehole into?’. Poles, barrels, electrical hubs, and – most enjoyably – other enemies and heroes. Once I unlocked the research perk of heroes no longer receiving damage when you sling foes into them, my tactics regularly ran at shoving dickheads into the waiting bootheel of a pugilistic supe.
Sure, there’s a 3-card limit per turn (although this can be extended with card refunds on KO), but each round can extend to so much more once you utilise environmental explosions or get a hero to kick a bin into groups of static goons. So to answer your question, Guy, my enjoyment from this comes from, somewhat ironically, movement.
In a game about static heroes, the impact when they finally do move under my ruminated direction is always thrilling to me. This is a large part of why I’ve continued to tread water in the opening act for around 30 hours. Just levelling characters and cards, increasing friendships, maxing out abbey upgrades and researching everything possible.
Did you find yourself mainlining the story missions or hanging out for a while, Guy?
I just mainlined the core missions. I found myself smashing the cutscene skip button to get to the next mission, as the combat is good. But, I strongly suspect I cut off my nose to spite my face skipping all the cutscenes. As the ‘relationship building’ plays straight into the combat systems unlocks down the track.
As a hardcore XCOM fan, the size of combat areas took some adjusting too. They seemed very small. I initially missed the tactical, planning and execution of XCOM. But the same can actually be achieved in Midnight Suns. It is just more like planning out a melee heavy John Wick fight, as opposed to the Battlefield mission in XCOM. Once I understood the throwing into objects and the chain reactions you can create in combat, I changed my mindset. Smashing a goon into a power relay was always satisfying.
Overall, I did not gel with Midnight Suns. The terrible versions of my much loved Marvel characters, the uninspired dialogue and the card system, made zero inroads in the heart of this old-school Marvel nerd.
Frankly, I would swear Midnight Suns may have started life as a mobile game, which was then ported up to Console. But, as mentioned at the start of this ‘duo-review’, it seems you have enjoyed Midnight Suns more than I. So, what are your big takeaways?
I also got to the point where the story and dialogue didn’t do much for me. Yet I did appreciate how it created space between the handful of mission variants. The game definitely rewards you for repetition. As you receive new or extra cards for the heroes that you took on your last mission. So building a strong team is a combination of gaming both the relationships aspect and just grinding a heap of missions with characters to then upgrade their ability cards.
I really loved each new character who came to join the team, and experienced a feeling of, ‘oh this is my new fave’ several times. Spidey’s upgraded 4-chain card was so much fun, but then I got Captain America. He is just a tank, able to taunt multiple enemies while buffing his large health pool. Each new hero makes you think about how their moves and abilities will work in tight groups.
Overall, there’s just something about Midnight Suns that has cut straight through to the core of what I enjoy in tactical games, and I still can’t get enough. While I recognise its weaknesses, the comforting flow of strategy, unlocks, challenges and customisation makes this my 2022 game of the year.