Marvel’s Midnight Suns Director Says XCOM With Superheroes Felt “Terrible”

Many were hoping Marvel's Midnight Suns would be a superhero-themed version of XCOM, but the game's director explains why that idea just wasn't as good as they hoped it would be.

Marvel's Midnight Suns
Photo: 2K Games

When fans heard that Firaxis Games (the team behind the brilliant XCOM reboot) was making a Marvel strategy title, many assumed that project would basically be XCOM with superheroes. Indeed, some of the first rumors regarding the project suggested that it was shaping up to be exactly that.

So, when Firaxis confirmed that Marvel’s Midnight Suns is actually a card-based strategy game, many of those same fans seemed to be pretty upset. Some simply wanted an XCOM game with Marvel characters and didn’t understand why the game would deviate from that idea. Others heard the word “cards” and immediately thought of microtransaction-filled CCG games. While Firaxis has made it clear that Midnight Suns is absolutely not that kind of game, the buzz around their project has cooled down considerably since the first details of its gameplay were confirmed.

However, it turns out that Firaxis did try to make Midnight Suns a bit closer to XCOM during the early days of the game’s development. As Midnight Suns creative director Jake Solomon told Gamespot, though, that project just wasn’t as good as you may suspect it would be.

“At that time, we realized, as we kept putting randomness in the abilities of heroes, it felt terrible. It just felt terrible,” Solomon says. In an interview with Eurogamer, Solomon expanded upon why that seemingly perfect mash-up just didn’t work.

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“At the very beginning, I thought okay, well, we’ve made XCOM now we’ll put some superheroes in there,” Solomon explains. “And within two weeks, we were like, well, that’s not gonna work for like a billion reasons: no superhero is gonna take cover and no superhero is gonna miss an ability. Thematically, none of this fits with what we’ve done before. So, we were like, oh I guess we’re gonna build all-new systems from the ground up. So the theme drove us into this place where we were like, okay, we’re gonna have to invent all-new mechanics to fulfill this fantasy of you becoming a super-powered being, and that’s how we ended up with the mechanics we did.”

While Solomon admits it was terrifying to realize that the studio wasn’t going to be able to make “XCOM with superheroes,” what he’s saying about the reasons behind those changes makes a lot of sense. While it can be equally amusing and frustrating to see if an XCOM soldier is going to land a percentage-based attack, it would be a little odd to watch Captain America straight-up whiff a punch because some digital diced rolled the wrong way. Indeed, Solomon explains that the realization that Marvel heroes are all fully-formed characters rather than soldiers in training was another season why they had to pivot away from the XCOM formula.

“The fun of cards, what it allows us to do, is from the very beginning of the game, the heroes have very, very powerful abilities,” Solomon says. “And again, this fits the fantasy, but the idea is, Iron Man is Iron Man from the beginning. He doesn’t have to train up to be awesome.”

Ultimately, Solomon says that the team realized that removing a few key elements of the XCOM formula meant having to make peace with the fact that they were making an entirely new game. As for why they opted to use a card system for the game’s battles over pretty much any other alternative, Solomon says the decision ultimately came down to finding the simplest way to convey some of the most complex ideas they were going for.

“I think that’s the great thing that happens when we represent abilities as cards,” Solomon explains. “People go, ‘Yeah, I get that, I know how card games work.’ So we’ve packed in all these complex mechanics that are very accessible to people because they’re like, ‘Yeah, I get what a random hand of abilities is now and I get that this card says draw three more abilities.’ But if it wasn’t cards, people would be like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.'”

For what it’s worth, nearly every gameplay preview of Midnight Suns that has been released so far has ranged from “optimistic” to “glowing.” Indeed, the bulk of the praise the game has received so far has been reserved for the ways the project distinguishes itself from XCOM games (whether that be its card-based combat or its deeper RPG/character interaction systems).

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Time will tell if Midnight Suns lives up to its potential, but those who chose to write the game off because it’s not as close to XCOM as they would have liked may be eating their words when Midnight Suns is released on October 7.