We spoke with the team behind the Marvel tactics RPG, and how it sets itself apart from other superhero games.
Marvel's Midnight Suns, a new video game by Firaxis, the brains behind strategy games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, offers up an interesting concept. It takes a tactics, turn-based RPG ruleset and adds a roster of superheroes like Captain America, Iron Man and Wolverine.
But Midnight Suns isn't totally the "Marvel XCOM" game fans may have been expecting. No, it's a full-on dark-fantasy, choice-driven role-playing game inspired by one of Marvel's more high-concept comic events of the '90s.
While Marvel team-up events are almost old-hat these days, following event films and TV shows like Avengers: Endgame, Loki, and Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Midnight Suns is going in a different direction -- one that will lean further into the darker, more supernatural side of the Marvel universe. Taking cues from The Rise of the Midnight Sons comic event from 1992, the Midnight Suns game brings together anti-heroes from the darker corners of Marvel lore and other well-known members of the X-Men and Avengers to face off against demons and other monsters that invade the mortal realm.
We recently interviewed Marvel VP of creative content Bill Rosemann and Firaxis Creative Director Jake Solomon about the making of Midnight Suns, how it embraces the darker elements of Marvel lore and how different this game is from the XCOM series Firaxis is famous for developing.
"Jake and I both read The Rise of the Midnight Sons back in the '90s, and we loved it," Rosemann said. "That's where they really developed the supernatural side of Marvel in a big way, and it kind of took an X-Men take on it with the entire line-up.
"You had characters like Blade and Ghost Rider come together to face Lillith, the mother of demons, and so that was an event that is near and dear to Jake's heart and the team's heart. We really looked to those dark, '90s comics for inspiration, but we put a modern, Firaxis spin on it."
Midnight Suns made its debut at Gamescom this year. It became immediately apparent the game was more than XCOM with a Marvel spin. Midnight Suns is far more story-driven. Taking on the role of an original Marvel character, named The Hunter, players will bond with established heroes throughout the story and make important choices throughout their campaign to stop the villainess Lilith. Solomon stated that Midnight Suns is going for a more action-oriented and accessible take on tactical combat, deviating from the XCOM series' notoriously challenging gameplay with punishing consequences.
Midnight Suns blends tactical, squad-based battles with deck-building gameplay -- which essentially works by allowing players to bring a select set of abilities for each character into battle. Each of the characters has numerous support and offensive skills to use in combat, and in some instances, you can execute team attacks with other members of your squad. It's an unusual approach to focus on card-based actions. Still, early gameplay shows intriguing ways to chain together attacks that can take advantage of the battlefield's terrain. It's a different style of tactical gameplay, to be sure, but the creative director of the game believes it was a necessary change due to the focus on superheroes--moving them away from the cover-based combat from the XCOM series.
"Midnight Suns plays a lot faster than XCOM, and that's not in service of the mythical idea of accessibility, but rather that it fits what the game is trying to do for the player," Solomon said. "You're still obviously making tactical decisions, you're weighing your choices on the battlefield, but the idea is to get players to jump in and make decisions quickly once the battles start. From that standpoint it is more accessible. XCOM has the idea that stress and making mistakes was part of reinforcing a certain type of fantasy. But with Midnight Suns, it's more about how well are you going to clear the board of enemies? There's a lot of choice in terms of how you win."
Even from the short gameplay we got to see, it was clear that the tactical RPG element Firaxis has been known for is still present, but with a manageable, fast-paced approach. This relaxed style also means that permadeath and those awkward and unintentionally tense moments from the XCOM series are not present in Midnight Suns. So rest assured, there won't be instances where Captain America somehow misses a 95% strike with his shield and suffers a counterattack that results in his permanent removal from your campaign. With that said, Solomon stated in our interview that the team plans to have Midnight Suns offer a set of difficulty options to tune the challenge to your liking.
Even from the debut trailer we saw, Midnight Suns embraces the attitude and dark atmosphere that was the norm in '90s comics. That could make for an interesting change of pace from most other Marvel projects as of late. We'll be keeping up with more of Midnight Suns the months ahead of its release in March 2022, and Firaxis will release new videos of the game, which will showcase new footage of the heroes that will join your squad in the game.