Why Marvel’s Midnight Suns Gameplay Has Fans Worried

Marvel's Midnight Suns is already upsetting fans who are worried about the implications of the game's card-based combat system.

Marvel Midnight Suns
Photo: 2K Games

Marvel’s Midnight Suns arguably stole the show during last week’s Gamescom Opening Night ceremony, but the reveal of the upcoming strategy title’s gameplay has already caused a bit of a divide in what recently seemed to be a pretty enthusiastic fanbase.

If you’re watching that gameplay reveal for the first time, you may be wondering what the big deal is. After all, most people assumed that Midnight Suns was going to be a strategy game set in the Marvel universe, and that’s pretty much what it seems to be.

However, much of the controversy surrounding Midnight Suns‘ gameplay at the moment is based on a brief line in that preview regarding the game’s use of a “card” system. It might not sound like much, but that one piece of information has already triggered a heated discussion regarding the game’s potential, its potential association with some especially unpopular ideas, and what all of that means for the considerable expectations fans had for this project.

How Does Marvel’s Midnight Suns Card Gameplay Work?

The video above offers a fairly comprehensive look at Midnight Suns‘ gameplay, but it does gloss over some of the specifics of the upcoming title’s card-based elements. Whether the developers are trying to hide something about that aspect of the title is really the heart of this particular controversy at the moment.

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However, the team at Firaxis has shared additional details about Midnight Suns‘ card-based combat system that do help explain how the whole thing will work. Here’s what Jake Solomon, Creative Director at Firaxis, had to say about the game’s card-based combat mechanics in a recent press release:

“In Marvel’s Midnight Suns, you aren’t learning how to fight or gradually grow stronger – you and your fellow heroes are already legends, and must combine everything in your arsenal to stop Lilith. Cards provide a new and refreshing way to approach tactics, allowing us to really go all-out in designing a combat system that makes every hero feel, look, and play differently.”

Elsewhere, IGN expands upon the specifics of Midnight Suns‘ combat system by clarifying it is not a CCG game in the style of titles like Hearthstone or Shadowverse. Instead, Midnight Suns is closer to a deckbuilding roguelike game like Slay the Spire or even a card-based RPG like Baten Kaitos Origins.

Some of the gameplay specifics have yet to be revealed, but it basically sounds like you’ll be dealt a random hand of ability cards at the start of combat. You can acquire new cards and build your own deck through gameplay and story progression, but it seems like part of the game’s strategy will be based on your ability to make the most of the cards you’re ultimately dealt.

On top of that, Midnight Suns allows you to weaponize parts of the environment and use special “team” moves that will maximize your squad’s damage potential. Again, it’s not entirely clear how much randomization will ultimately impact the combat experience, but it does seem like the idea is to add a little variety to every encounter by requiring you to manage different abilities/environmental opportunities. It’s also not entirely clear how movement in the game will work, though it does sound like it will be relatively limited and not nearly as important as it is in Firaxis’ XCOM games.

Basically, Midnight Suns appears to be a squad-based strategy game where your combat actions are determined by “card-like” abilities that you’re dealt at the beginning of combat. Those combat sequences will also seemingly emphasize managing your abilities over positioning/movement, but the game’s environmental damage mechanics and team-building features may add a little depth to the experience.

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So what’s the problem with all of that? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Marvel’s Midnight Suns Has to Overcome the CCG Genre’s Bad Reputation

As digital CCGs have become more and more popular over the years (or at least as they’ve become more successful), they’ve also acquired a negative reputation for perfectly representing some of the shadier elements of the modern gaming industry. Specifically, some gamers have been trained to see cards in a video game and think of two potentially major mechanical turn-offs: randomness (RNG) and pay-to-win features.

There’s a degree to which randomness is an unavoidable part of any card-based game. After all, the entire CCG genre is based on playing the hand you’re dealt. However, most fans are ok with that RNG element of the genre as there’s something satisfying about building the best deck possible and trying to outthink your opponent with the help of the cards in your hand.

The problem is that some card games take randomness too far. The prime example of this problem has to be Hearthstone: a CCG that has piled random mechanics on top of random mechanics in recent years to the point where victory can sometimes feel like a roll of the dice rather than the result of being the one who best played the hand they were dealt. While Hearthstone has gotten better about that level of randomness in recent expansions, it’s clear that CCG developers are still resisting the urge to tap into that sometimes addictive “gambling” quality that comes with such wild randomness.

That brings us to the dreaded topic of pay-to-win mechanics and CCG “loot boxes.”

Many CCG titles require you to build your own deck of cards, and most CCG titles require you to buy packs of cards in order to expand your collection. The problem is that you often don’t know which individual cards you’re going to get in a pack. That means your best “strategy” is to buy as many packs as possible in order to help ensure that you eventually find the specific cards you’re looking for.

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It’s an unfortunate element of the CCG genre made that much worse by the rise of loot boxes and the many ways that card packs perfectly represent how frustrating loot boxes can be. While you can win those games without spending a small fortune, it’s hard to deny that spending money makes things a little easier.

Will Marvel’s Midnight Suns Have Loot Boxes and Card Packs?

Thankfully, the definitive answer to that question is “No.” In fact, the Midnight Suns team was quick to address this particular concern via Twitter:

That brings us back to the idea that Midnight Suns is closer to a deckbuilding roguelike/RPG than a CCG game. While there’s always a bit of wiggle room here when you’re talking about microtransactions, it at least sounds like you shouldn’t expect to have to buy a bunch of packs just to be able to play Midnight Suns.

While that’s obviously a good thing, that tweet doesn’t exactly address all the concerns fans currently have about Midnight Suns

Marvel’s Midnight Suns Already Reminds Some Fans of a Mobile Title

Mobile games are undeniably popular, and mobile games are becoming much more complex/interesting, but it’s hard to fault anyone who thinks of microtransactions, shady mechanics, and generally simplified gameplay when they think of mobile games.

It’s the “simplified gameplay” concern that many are applying to Midnight Suns at the moment. Between Midnight Suns‘ use of a still somewhat vague card system and the title’s seemingly limited free-roam mobility mechanics (at least in combat scenarios), some fans are already worried that Midnight Suns is being developed to eventually become a mobile game or, at the very least, represent the more mainstream mechanics that typically make mobile games more accessible to wider audiences. For what it’s worth, no mobile version of Midnight Suns has been confirmed at this time (the game will instead launch for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S).

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While that may prove to be a gross oversimplification of what’s actually happening, it’s hard to deny that what we’ve seen of Midnight Suns‘ gameplay so far does feel a bit closer to what you might see in a mobile game than what you’d typically expect from a modern strategy title made specifically for PC or consoles. That doesn’t mean that Midnight Suns won’t be strategically engaging, and it also doesn’t mean that it will be “bad.” It just means that the first impression many people had about Midnight Suns‘ gameplay seems to be based on what kinds of games the project currently resemble as well as the games it doesn’t resemble.

Ultimately, Some Fans Are Disappointed That Marvel’s Midnight Suns Isn’t XCOM

One of the first things that Firaxis did after Midnight Suns‘ reveal was make it very clear that it will not be an XCOM-style strategy game. However, reactions to Midnight Suns‘ gameplay reveal have made it clear that not everyone got that message.

Actually, that’s a little unfair. It seems that some people do understand that Midnight Suns isn’t supposed to be an XCOM game, and they’re just not happy about that. There are quite a few people out there who seemingly just want to play an XCOM game set in the Marvel universe, and I sympathize with that desire. Those certainly sound like two great flavors, and it’s easy to imagine how such a game probably could have ended up being a lot of fun.

This is ultimately the burden of introducing something even a little bit different, though. Maybe Midnight Suns‘ will leave us all wishing it had just been an XCOM game, but it’s certainly interesting to see that the Midnight Suns team has had to spend so much time explaining what kind of game it “isn’t” as opposed to really talking about what kind of game it is. Some of the blame there lies with the quality of the initial reveal videos themselves (which didn’t do the best job of properly explaining how the game will actually play), but this might be a bigger sign of how brutal gut reactions can be at a time when having a gut reaction to nearly everything is becoming more of an expectation. In this particular instance, it doesn’t help that the game instantly reminded people of the gameplay/monetization sins of others.

Midnight Suns could be great, could be terrible, or it could fall into that dreaded middle-ground that is hard to make memes about and is therefore useless to a good chunk of the internet. Much as we saw in the case of Saint’s Row, though, first impressions are indeed worth a lot when they’re all we really have, and there’s a degree to which Midnight Suns already faces an uphill battle on the way to its March 2022 release date.

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