Marvel's Midnight Suns comes in with numerous qualities that could make it a GOTY but the game is held back by the technical side that could use a lot of improvement.
What you need to know
- What is it? An RPG set in a Marvel universe
- Reviewed on: PC
- Developer: Firaxis Games
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Release date: December 2, 2022
- Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch
Marvel's Midnight Suns review copy provided by 2K Games.
Firaxis Games ventured into a semi-unknown territory to deliver a turn-based superhero RPG and nailed almost every aspect, with the main drawbacks being related to performance with only an occasional annoyance in the actual game design.
Instead of the turn-based tactics we got used to with XCOM, Firaxis delivered a fantastic turn-based RPG that uses a card system to illustrate the superhero flavour further.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 had stories that did the job well but didn't prop their respective games to the top of the narrative ratings in the video games industry. All of our squad members were anonymous and not characters established elsewhere, with the missions they undertook serving as the background that would get us invested in them, leaving us with emotional scars when they miss a 95 per cent shot, only to get popped by a Sectoid from the other side of the map.
With Marvel's Midnight Suns, Firaxis were presented with the challenge of doing the exact opposite - the only character that is a blank slate is our protagonist, The Hunter, while the rest of them are well-established heroes and villains from Marvel media. Making such a switch in character storytelling is a pretty big deal, especially when the narrative team had to dive in and learn the best way to present dozens of these personalities and make them both engaging for newcomers without alienating longtime fans.
I am glad to say that Firaxis did a great job in that aspect, with each character staying true to the traits that made them beloved or hated, depending on who you are interacting with.
Tony Stark is still the genius billionaire that means well but his vanity can get in the way, sometimes leading him to make decisions detrimental to the team's efforts in a classic "road to hell is paved with good intentions" moment.
Meanwhile, Sabretooth is the sadistic creature we all know and love to hate as his violent tendencies often mean it's hard to discern between the human and bloodthirsty animal sides. Sometimes it's hard to figure out whether there is any humanity in him left.
This is all very well presented in the numerous cinematics in the game as well as their interactions, be it direct or indirect, with other characters that you speak with on a daily basis. The same goes for the entire hero and rogue gallery that include two superhero teams under one roof, a gaggle of villains that formed an unlikely team and even some outside influences that I can't talk about without spoiling the game.
Overall, the characters are all fleshed out and that includes The Hunter, which is a rather pleasant surprise since this is a hero that was made from scratch just for this game. You get to create this character that starts as a blank slate that then proceeds to integrate with the other superheroes seamlessly, making you feel like Hunter always had a place among these legendary personas.
A few nitpicks might find their way into a player's thoughts when it comes to storytelling as there are no romance options and despite being an RPG, the dialogue system doesn't offer real choices, besides increasing or decreasing friendship points. Even without a branching storyline, the game does offer a pretty good immersion factor so the lack of certain dialogue choices is not as terrible as it may seem on paper.
Additionally, the voice acting is generally good, with only an infrequent dip in the quality of the delivery. The good parts make up the overwhelming majority of dialogue so even if you notice the lower-quality bits, they are easy to ignore.
While storytelling is solid, it is not the highlight of Marvel's Midnight Suns - gameplay is. Numerous XCOM fans, myself included, found themselves sceptical when Firaxis revealed the card system that would dictate the way one would approach combat.
With card quality being dictated by RNG, many suspected monetisation would worm its way into the core gameplay system, ruining the game in the process. Thankfully, this did not end up being the case and the gameplay loop that is based around drawing cards each turn is actually really good.
Firaxis' statement about the decision to go with the cards was that the superheroes don't actually miss so having a similar hit chance system as in XCOM wouldn't make sense. Therefore, the RNG component of turn-based combat had to be transferred elsewhere, hence the limited hand size which would gain random cards each turn.
This was not a lie and the devs delivered exactly what they promised - superheroes do feel like superheroes with powerful moves and abilities, instead of feeling like stormtroopers that stumbled into the wrong universe.
Each character has a strongly defined gameplay style, so the devs used the opportunity to bake immersion into gameplay. Iron Man can adapt his cards in the heat of the moment, making them more powerful if the situation demands it, Blade will specialise in making enemies bleed while using lifesteal for his own gains and Spider-Man will zip around the battlefield, utilising the environment itself to gain the upper hand.
This was no easy feat to achieve, especially when you consider that there are 13 playable heroes to bring along on your adventures. Hunter, one of the 13, can even specialise into various playstyles which meant even more variables for the devs who did their best to make everything feel immersive. Despite the overwhelming odds, they completed the Herculean feat, which is one of the best parts of the already great game.
Players who like experimenting with different abilities and builds will also have blast because you get to combine three heroes for each mission and the game doesn't hold your hand by explaining every tiniest detail about hero synergies and who pairs well with whom. There is joy in learning and Firaxis recognised this since basically, all hero combinations can get the job done if you play them well enough but team members that complement each other well are invaluable.
If you have someone who can deal an immense amount of damage with Heroic cards, logic dictates that someone who can improve them will pair well. A hero that can chain attacks benefits from someone who will enhance each hit and so on. Finding these synergies throughout the game is one of the highlights of the journey.
When you are on the battlefield with the chosen team, the situation can be altered regularly due to the placement of the environment that can be weaponised, positions of the enemies and your own heroes. As such, the randomisation component is well done, allowing for a ton of replayability to ensure you don't get bored after a large number of missions.
The other half of gameplay is in the Abbey where Hunter can socialise with other heroes, supporting characters and two animals - your faithful hound Charlie and the sneaky cat, Ebony. One thing that gamers wished for in countless RPGs so far is to pet and interact with animals and Firaxis delivered spectacularly.
Not only do you get to pet and compliment the animals regularly, but the game also encourages you to do so. The more bond you have with Charlie, the better she will perform when you need her most. On top of that, each day you pet either Charlie or Ebony, you will gain bonuses that are significant for your customisation and even Abbey exploration.
Socialising with teammates is mostly a pleasant experience as you get to learn more about each character, with some of them showing a lot of development throughout the plot while others might be too stubborn to change. The two teams under one roof, Midnight Suns and the Avengers, have their disagreements but individuals often find common ground and hang out with each other, regardless of their team affiliation.
Hunter, being the central figure in the plot, gets to experience all these intimate moments and conflicts first-hand, which lends to the cinematic experience that the game ultimately ends up being.
Speaking of cinematic experiences, some of the characters were easily more engaging than their MCU counterparts, which is anything but an easy task to accomplish. There is a bit of a gaffe with some writing in combination with marketing material for the game though, with Nico being described as the glue of the team but she often undermines others and drives wedges between the two groups instead.
Abbey Grounds also feature fairly interesting exploration and puzzles, which culminate in a chunk of lore that shines a new light on the events that preceded the beginning of Midnight Suns, with twists that can genuinely provide a new outlook on the entire plot. Due to the density of map markers, one could easily confuse Abbey Grounds exploration with the dull Ubisoft formula but the game never forces any of it on the player and I never felt bored while exploring as the tasks aren't as menial, repetitive or dragged out.
Story and gameplay are some of the strongest selling points for Marvel's Midnight Suns but there are glaring issues with the game as well. First of all, this is a singleplayer title that stands at the full AAA price point of $60 / €60 but that didn't prevent additional monetisation schemes that will leave a sour taste in the player's mouth.
Some of the game's cosmetics are locked behind premium currency so if a certain skin you like is only available for Eclipse Credits and not purchasable with Gloss, you will have to pay extra. If you are thinking "but it's only cosmetic", the excuse really doesn't hold up because the players have already paid a premium price for the video game that is not a live service. Besides fixing what shouldn't have been broken at launch, there are no ongoing costs for keeping the game up and any new content that comes in the future will be paid separately.
A portion of these paid cosmetics are also stuffed in a season pass that costs $50 / €50 which is 83 per cent of the actual game's price and it contains some costumes with four playable characters - Deadpool, Morbius, Storm and Venom. Venom is not even a new character for the game as he is present as an enemy but he has been chopped out of the base game and placed into the season pass, much like the aforementioned costumes.
Graphics and performance
Another weak point in Marvel's Midnight Suns is the absolutely horrendous performance.
Played on PC with
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600
- GPU: RX 5700 XT
- RAM: 16GB RAM
- Samsung 980 NVMe M.2 SSD
The specs of the PC I played on slightly exceed the recommended ones listed by Firaxis and 2K but I just can't understate how bad the performance was throughout my playtime.
Initially, the stutters, slideshow-worthy FPS and crashes were so unbearable to the point where I was pondering whether the leave the review for later when the game becomes optimised into a playable state. However, I remembered that other games started having performance issues when 2K Launcher became mandatory for them so I went and bypassed it to see whether anything would change.
Lo and behold, the game's stability and frame rate soared as soon as I disabled the launcher but even with that thing gone, there were several parts of the game that need updating.
First, a handful of performance dips persisted and I couldn't do anything about them but the occasional drop in FPS was tolerable. On the other hand, even though stability was much better in every other part of the game, it remained woeful in Hero Ops.
Once you reach a certain part of the game, you will be able to send a single hero from your roster to complete a solo mission off-screen in exchange for ability cards that are modded, upgraded or of better quality. Unfortunately, whenever I got to the results screen that shows a debrief for the hero and the card they received, the game would freeze and every second results screen would also crash the game for me. It was so bad that I eventually stopped using Hero Ops entirely, despite their in-game benefits.
Marvel's Midnight Suns is a video game that offers a lot to love but it is dragged through the mud by 2K Launcher and terrible optimisation. When going through the game's highs, of which there are plenty, I found myself enjoying it immensely and whenever I wasn't playing it, I couldn't wait to boot it up again.
The aforementioned negatives have a detrimental effect on the overall experience so if you are looking for direct advice on whether to buy the game, I would suggest you wait until post-launch updates roll in and fix the performance issues so you can get the most out of it. When the game becomes smoother and more stable, it will be well worth the price of admission but we have a feeling that the first round of discounts will not be far behind the updates that bring the performance to the actual AAA standard.