I wanted to like this more, I really did.

Marvel's Midnight Suns is an XCOM style tactical RPG with card-based combat and an almost Stardew Valley style friendship mechanic. It's a pretty pristine AAA release from a major developer (Firaxis) and publisher (2k) but it leaves a lot to be desired both in execution and performance. A better direction for this thing probably would've delivered a much more enjoyable product and maybe even two. Because ultimately, Marvel's Midnight Suns feels like two or three games glued together in ways that are never quite cohesive.

The meat of the game is, arguably, its tactical squad-based combat a la XCOM. In most regards, Midnight Suns delivers well on its combat goals. Each hero has a wide variety of skills and builds and the heroes synergize will in teams. There's a relative ease in team and deckbuilding that gives players ample opportunity to experiment and try different combinations of team loadouts to fit your preferred playstyle. But there's something off. There's something missing somehow.

The combat is usually easy. There's not much challenge. When there is, the challenge feels more annoying than it does engaging. You're not thrilled to overcome a tough challenge, your cranky that it was any hard to start with. I think most of this comes from how unrewarding the combat typically is. Missions that don't advance the story feel like busywork. They don't drop cool loot or weapons or resources. Most of the game the crafting and other mechanics are superfluous at their best and in the way at their worst. Building useful decks is simple and quick if you just follow the story missions and talk to heroes around the Abbey. The combat isn't fathoms deep as to engage you mentally so instead they just get repetitive and when it's not advancing the story it feels unnecessary.

And then of course, there's an entire game that exists outside the combat. Unlike XCOM, where combat is 90% of the game, there's an entire RPG and questing mechanic around the Abbey that feels like it's almost more at home in a Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing clone than it does in a squad based tactics game. When you're in the Abbey there are various quests and puzzles to solve all across the Abbey grounds. Mysteries and ingredients and fetch quests. The writing is haphazard but there are some highs worth experiencing out there. Then there are the relationships.

Each hero has a friendship level with The Hunter that can be increased by taking them on missions, helping them with questions, hanging out with them in any various methods of hanging out, giving them gifts or by taking them to special hangout events. It's very reminiscent of the SV/ACNH style of cozy game friendship building. And some of the stories are really quite good. Magik, Blade, Spider Man have great friendship storylines. Some others like Scarlet Witch, Ghost Rider and Iron Man are not quite as good. But they're all fun and engaging.

However, the friendship activities and Abbey upgrades don't feel synergistic with the combat. The systems do interrelate but not in a way that you can really /feel/. Sure increasing your friendship with heroes unlocks better cards and completing stories around the Abbey gives resources for upgrades. But if you're having fun with the relationship stuff for its own sake then it doesn't matter to you that it affects combat very much. And the combat isn't so challenging that you have to engage with the relationship stuff if you don't want to. And in the end the two just don't feel like they really talk to one another well enough. It puts you in a situation where it feels like the combat is in the way of the story stuff or it feels like the story stuff is in the way of the combat.

In this way, Marvel's Midnight Suns strongly reminds me of Ni No Kuni II. Another game with an overarching story and combat structure with a kingdom management city builder and friend relationship mechanic jammed into one package. It's just too much. Too many systems that feel too disparate, too many things to do that don't feel interrelated. Too many things that feel like they were made for different games. In the end none of these mechanics are as well fleshed out as they probably could've been if it represented a larger chunk of the game.

There could be other redeeming elements that still make it better than the sum of its parts. But the story is pretty generic feeling. A very generic macguffin filled mystery box superhero plot. It's got its moments but it's a generic uninspiring story with too much MCU/Deadpool-esque tryhardy jokey dialogue. Which again have their moments but overall it's just a weak point of the game. In a game that's so heavily plot focused, unlike a broadstrokes story in XCOM, it can be a letdown when compared to how engaging some of the one-on-one friendship questlines can be.

Then there's plenty of performance issues. The game is prone to crashes, missions can have their objectives break or not register properly, ally and enemy character models can sink through the floor and become invisible and untargetable, the facial animations are "release day Mass Effect Andromeda"-tier bad, the outfits clip (and sometimes disappear entirely!). There's just a large list of little bugs and blips which feel entirely unacceptable for a game of this price and this development tier.

The combat is pretty good. The card mechanic felt weird at first but fits really well. The relationship stuff with the Abbey heroes are generally pretty good and the Abbey mysteries are great too. But the systems just don't gel. They don't click. And because of how disparate they are the combat feels more aimless than it does in XCOM and the friendship stuff feels like a half-baked Stardew Valley. The game isn't helped by its price tag or its subpar story or its endless glitches. It's not a bad game. It's certainly above average. And it feels ambitious. Just kinda poorly executed. A missed chance. Worth the time but only marginally. Pick it up when it's on a sale for $10 a couple years from now and it'll feel more worthwhile.

Reviewed on May 20, 2024