I was pondering what pun to call the game, Midnight Duds or Midnight Bums, but in the end I discarded the idea. Why you might ask? Because the game is not as bad as it first seemed. Oh, it has bad aspects to it, don't get too excited. But it still manages to be a good game despite all of its deficiencies.
What are The Midnight Suns? I'll not go into the deep Marvel lore, primarily because I'm not qualified. My familiarity with the comic books extends to a half dozen Spider Man and Superman issues I read when I was twelve, and remember absolutely nothing of. This already answers the question whether you need to be a Marvel buff to enjoy the game. If it isn't obvious, the answer is: No.
Rather what is this game? It is a mix of two genres, which if you like both will not be a problem. But I fear it limits the audience of the game. Much as Mafia from 2002 was limited by being a car sim and a TPS, many TPS fans hated and struggled with the driving.
No, there is no driving in this game, but it is a turn and card based tactical game combined with a third person RPG. It is like a game within a game. All the happenings and the story is going on in the RPG, while each encounter forms an isolated island outside of that.
The RPG aspect is pretty straightforward: explore, talk to NPCs, get quests, find loot and hidden treasures, the usual stuff you'd find in an open world RPG.
The combat encounters are not complicated at first sight either, you fight waves of enemies in a limited size arena, using decks of cards for each of your heroes. I'll get into the nitty gritty of the mechanics later.
First let's talk about the RPG half of the game. The game world is limited to an abbey and it's grounds, which serves as the home base of the Midnight Suns. But calling it a base is being kind, college dormitory would be more apt. There are various hidden secrets and initially off limits areas on these grounds. Exploring here can either serve as a welcome distraction between encounters or an unwelcome distraction depending on your disposition. Initially it was the latter for me, but I warmed up to it after getting more involved in the exploration.
The exploration is optional, so if you don't mind missing out on some lore and the obtainable loot, then it is not mandatory to fully explore the area. Probably the biggest disadvantage of not exploring is not discovering "havens". These are secluded areas where you can invite heroes to perform various activities. The point of this is to increase your "friendship XP" with them.
Which brings us to probably the most debatable aspect of the game. In order to fully unlock the heroes potential you need to befriend them. Which mostly means stroking their egos, and always being on edge about not saying something they dislike in front of them. The game even has built in social media. What you think I'm joking? I'm dead serious, I swear. The game has a built in twitter look a like called "Superlink" where you can read the posts of your fragile snowflake heroes.
Usually conversations in RPGs is not a problem for me, I loved Mass Effect trilogy for all the characterization. But those were well written, complex characters with interesting backstories. Here the characters are mopey, narcissistic, fragile snowflakes who constantly need their egos boosted. And dare you say something that they even slightly object to: -1 friendship points instantly.
Being friends is not about agreeing on every single issue down to the last detail. No two people have the exact same views. Hell, I probably wouldn't agree on everything with me from a week ago.
50% of the dialogue is pure cringe that I could barely endure. Some of it was so bad that I couldn't even endure, so I skipped some conversations, something which I normally consider blasphemy. There were only a hanfdul of moments in the entire game where the characterization actually had more depth than a puddle.
Anyway back to the friendship system, there are 5 levels, and if you reach level 5 with a hero, that unlocks their challenge mission which is kind of a puzzle type encounter. Completing that unlocks their legendary ability, which depending on the character ranges from completely worthless to actually useful heroic abilities.
I did not reach max friendship with all heroes, only 4 or 5 of them, but the game already took over 70 hours as is without trying to be a completionist.
The abbey also has several facilities, that serve various purposes, that you'll need to use.
- The Forge
This is where you unpack your "Gamma coils" which is just a fancy name for lootboxes. For every encounter you complete you get one at least. These contain randomized play cards for the heroes that were actually on the mission. Which means if you want to unlock new abilities for a hero you must take them on missions even if they are completely useless dead weight.
It is also here where you can craft cards based on already unlocked blueprints.
And the research is managed here as well, which mostly results in various upgrades to the abbey facilities. Like the upgrade needed to craft your own cards for example.
There are other things here that I'll not go into as this article is long enough as is.
- The Yard
This is where you can combine cards, using resources to make one upgraded card from them. This is a must, and probably the biggest and most annoying chore in the game. As you need to make sure the right cards are available and equipped. You can accidentally use a modded which is much more valuable to upgrade a plain one, loosing the mod instantly without warning.
Plus you need to have enough essence of the appropriate kind for that card. There are 4 types of essence. Which makes this process unnecessarily convoluted.
In order to gain essence you break up cards that are unused, but you can only do it by quitting the yard interface and going into the inventory. And god forbid you miss a card for an upgrade, because then you have to run back to the forge to craft it.
After completing about 50% of the game, gamma coils rarely if ever yield unique cards. You only go through the motions like an automaton of opening them in the forge, then equipping the yielded card if it has a better mod than the one you have equipped, and then running to the yard to upgrade the new card as cards granted by gamma coils are never upgraded.
The yard is also the place for the daily sparring, where you can spar with other heroes, which really is a big nothing burger as you don't actually have to fight them. That would actually be cool, instead all you get is minor status bonuses selected randomly for the hero involved applied to the next encounter. Sparring also costs money for some reason which gets scarce by mid game.
This is where you start hero ops. These are missions undertaken by heroes in the background yielding some rewards. This is another fairly worthless activity as the rewards are usually just cards you already have. It makes some sense in the early game to get extra play cards, but completely worthless later.
It is also here where, after an upgrade, you can buy essence for credits, which is the opposite of useful as credits are hard to come by while essence is abundant from breaking up cards. Sometimes very rarely you can also sell, but only one type and only a specific amount. For example if they want to buy 46 but you only have 45 you can't sell any.
- Map Table
This is the simplest, here you choose your next mission. The side missions are randomly generated and there is always more than you'd be willing to do. You can't focus purely on story missions as even when all other requirements are met it is mandatory to complete at least one random encounter between story missions.
With that we wasted enough time on the abbey, there are various other things that I'll leave you to find out for yourself if you decide to play the game.
I already skirted the writing in connection to the characters, unfortunately the main story is not much better, it is neither novel or interesting. Surface level, predictable and anti climactic.
Your character is "The Hunter" an ancient demon fighter, who was resurrected after being dead for 300 years to fight the current threat in the game.
Since yours is a custom character that means character creator. Unfortunately one that is in some sense more limited than the soldier customization options in XCOM2. You can choose from more swimwear, that you'll see for about 10 seconds twice in the 70 hours of the game, than there are options for a face.
As someone who is 300 years displaced in time you are surprisingly well adjusted to the modern day, it is barely even mentioned or referenced, you use twitter as a natural, and don't act surprised at almost anything.
The giant twist of the story is that the villain is your mother, who you already killed once. This is no spoiler, this is openly known from the start. Your mother Lilith wants to bring back the Lilin, to help her steal the darkhold, to bring about the return of Chthon, pronounced cotton, the last living and most evil god, who is just evil, for the sake of being evil, who needs motivations? And in order to prevent that you must play councelor with a bunch of fragile superheroes. This is about the full depth of the story.
The more you try to think about it the less it makes sense. Characters turn from good to bad and back when the story demands it.
Sometimes the writing even contradicts itself, it references things that never happened, or characters get angry at you for things you already spoke to them about.
Speaking of which we need to mention the VO work on the game, which is almost as bad and uninspired as the writing itself. And not due to a lack of talented actors either, there are names like Jennifer Hale in the credits. It simply seems like it was recorded with bad or no direction with no second takes. Every line is spoken like an audio book, or possibly worse, and there are numerous mistakes where the actor goes completely off-script compared to the subtitles.
The turn based encounters
Finally we are here, the meat of the game, or what we expected to be the meat of it, only to be almost a distraction compared to all the moping and insecurity in the RPG part.
At first I was hoping for XCOM2 with superheroes, which could've been great I still insist on that. But then they revealed that the game will have card based combat with no movement, and I was devastated. Frankly I'm surprised I even took a chance on this after that revelation.
So how does the combat actually work? You start all encounters with 3 heroes, all of whom have a deck of 8 abilities. This deck must contain at least one attack, one skill, and one heroic card. But can only have a maximum of four of any, and no more than two of the same card.
At the beginning of the encounter cards are randomly drawn from all 3 heroes decks, which means you can end up with a hand that only has cards for one hero. And this happens more often than you'd think. Firaxis's RNG is still broken and unfair. Because 90% of your chance of success hinges on what cards you get out of the gate. It is entirely possible that you get a hand so bad that it doesn't even have any attacks. And ultimately the game is won on offense, regardless of the type of mission you are on.
So you have your hand, you have 3 card plays for each turn. Which means you either use one hero 3 times or you use them all once, no more. There is a loophole though, as there are so called quick cards, that do not cost a card play. But only if you kill an enemy with them. So the strategy is to use the quick cards on enemies that have less health than the damage of that card.
Attack cards which are normally used to damage enemies and skills that give various perks also generate some heroism depending on the ability. Heroism then can be spent on heroic cards or environmental attacks. Heroic cards usually do more substantial damage or give bigger benefits. And environmental attacks can be used as long as you have enough heroism and enemies in position where an environmental attack is applicable, they can be used even after running out of card plays.
By default you also have one move per turn. Meaning you can change the position of one hero once. This can be useful either to make some directional attacks viable, or to move them out of danger. But it can also be used for minor damage. If you move your hero where an enemy is standing the hero will automatically knock them over, which can be used to finish off enemies or even multiple ones by knocking them at each other or into an explosive.
So all in all despite the seemingly limited gameplay there are indeed a lot of tactics that you must utilize from what cards you put in the decks and how you use the environment and knockback effects to your advantage. This results in a surprisingly addictive and exciting game. And sometimes infuriating too.
Balance is the biggest issue. An encounter can become impossible if you don't have the right heroes or get bad hands. So be sure to create a manual save point before every mission at the map table. There supposed to be an autosave before missions but it is not reliable sometimes the game will only have an autosave from the previous day, meaning you loose every bit of progress you made at the abbey after the previous mission. As and this is the most baffling thing to me. You can only change difficulty at the abbey outside of combat, meaning you need to be some kind of seer to predict that the next mission will be too hard at the current difficulty level with the heroes you want to take.
And yes there are difficulty indicators for side missions on the map table easy/normal/hard, but this is almost completely meaningless. Some hard missions were a breeze, while even easy ones can be trouble with a wrong hero bad hand combination on higher difficulty settings. I went up as far as heroic III, which gives enemies +75% health, and reduces the number of revives to 1. The hardest mode is +125% health and 0 revives.
Normal is the starting difficulty which is certainly on the easy side already, but there is also a story mode which has infinite revives, but that's basically cheating.
Surprisingly due to the nature of the game even if you only have 1 hero standing, you can still win, because you still get your 3 card plays in turns, meaning you can theoretically do the same damage as with all 3, you just can't use combos.
There is a new game+ that I haven't tried yet, but it would only make sense to me if you could completely skip the RPG part in it and just do the encounters.
The technical details
The graphics of the game is not great to say the least, it is before last gen, meaning PS3 level or maybe PS4 non-pro if I'm feeling generous. It also supports ray tracing but it runs like crap anyway and they don't make a whole lot of visual difference, so better leave those off, unless IDK you have a 4090.
The worst is the last mission, which is probably bugged or denuvo interferes with it, as it runs at about 2 fps. But as soon as you are not in control and the camera changes the performance goes back to normal.
Outside of the last mission most of the stuttering happens during cutscenes, which is almost certainly a DRM issue.
I already mentioned that autosaves sometimed don't happen when expected. But to top it off you also have limited save slots, so you have to start deleting saves one by one when your reach this limit. It gave me PTSD about turning items to omni-gel in Mass Effect.
As far as bugs go, a few times enemies or heroes fell through the map for me, which is quite an achievement in a game with no player controlled movement. When a hero falls off that just screws up the camera, but when an enemy does that becomes a game breaking bug as you can't target them under the floor. Meaning you have to load a save prior to them going awol, or restart the encounter.
Another bug that occasionally happens is when you are supposed to talk to an NPC, but the cue isn't coming up. You have to run around them like a lunatic trying to find the right angle for the magic words to appear "Press E to talk"
- Addictive and exciting encounters
- Endless possibilities in combining environmental and other attacks
- The exploration can be a welcome distraction
- The friend system in theory
- Customization is a nice touch
- Uninspired, lackluster, sometimes self contradictory writing
- Mopey, narcissistic, puddle deep characters
- The friend system in practice
- Worse than last generation graphics
- Poor performance
- Too many repetitive chores after each mission
- Overstays it's welcome. This should be about a 40 hour game, not 70+.
- Balance issues, combined with inability to change difficulty during encounters
The game is certainly not worth playing for the story, especially if you are interested in the legacy characters. It seems that the writers only had superficial understanding of the characters themselves, which resulted in crude surface level representations. They managed to paint even the most sympathetic heroes as unlikable, let alone the ones who were already assholes in established canon.
But the actual combat encounters are fun, more fun than they have any right to be based on the sum of their parts.
Graphics and technical merits : 4/10
Story and writing : 3/10
Gameplay : 8/10
Overall impression : 6/10
I can't wholeheartedly commit to recommending it, you'll have to make up your own mind. Still this is the best new game I played in 2022, but that's more of a condemnation of the quality and quantity of interesting releases last year.