This article was first published for the launch of Marvel's Midnight Suns, but we're sharing it again for Valentines' Day. Enjoy!
Marvel's Midnight Suns is an excellent strategy game; combat is tight, but offers plenty of room to mess around; the card system does a great job of bringing each hero's strengths and personality to bear; slamming a goon into another goon to kill them both will never not be fun. But for all its focus on super-powered tactics, Marvel's Midnight Suns is also another kind of game, and in that aspect, it falls notably short in one key way.
The team behind Midnight Suns is the same studio that made XCOM, so its tactical chops come as no surprise. But in the game's first few hours, I spent less time smacking Hydra around than I did wandering around the Abbey - the isolated, towering piece of gothic architecture that's home to your character, The Hunter. A cross between Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and Notre Dame cathedral, its dorm-room vibes provide a home to your host of heroes, with everything that might require - Dr Strange and Tony Stark need space to practice their arcane and scientific arts, respectively, but Midnight Suns' Gen Z contingent is also clearly in need of a spot to kick back and hang out.
It's that social space that transforms Marvel's Midnight Suns from 'superhero XCOM' into something that you might be forgiven for thinking BioWare had designed. Instead of simply taking your allies out on missions, you're encouraged to build an entire found family around them. Every morning, Marvel's Midnight Suns Friendship levels encourage The Hunter to instigate a friendly sparring session, or offer life advice to a troubled ally. Every evening, after returning from a mission, you can pick a friend for a Hangout - so far, I've had a movie night with Runaways member Nico, played cards with Captain Marvel, and been stargazing with lesser-known X-Man Magik.
Some of those moments are cuter than others - Magik did dare me to try some potentially vomit-inducing candy - but they are cute. These are moments that wouldn't feel out of place in Life is Strange, a series so deeply embedded in Gen Z yearning that it tugs at my heartstrings even now. The witty back and forth you have with your hangout companion is flirty, the conversations you have with them fill up a friendship meter defined by a literal love heart.
If you really want to push your relationship with a specific character forward, you can take them to a special daytime hangout that you can't revisit with anyone else. Go painting by the creek with Doctor Strange! Forage mushrooms with Iron Man! I don't care how chaste Midnight Suns thinks it is, these are dates. I told my girlfriend of six years that these moments exist and she demanded to know why I'd never taken her foraging for mushrooms. These moments are so deliberately romantic that they're making me look like a bad boyfriend in real life by comparison.
And yet all they don't amount to some great emotional payoff. If you were to decide, say, that you wanted to spend all your time with Robbie 'Ghost Rider' Reyes - you know, pay him compliments every day, hang out by the pool in the special trunks you picked out for him, ply him with gifts, all that classic dating sim stuff - you would improve your friendship, sure. But that would only serve to improve the friendship rating of the whole team. Somehow, your moonlit stroll through the grounds with the Spirit of Vengeance will make Spider-Man and Blade get on a little better. Max out that friendship, and your relationship won't go to 'the next level' - instead, you'll get to unlock Robbie's true Midnight Suns costume. It's a swanky black, white, and gold number, there's no doubt, but it won't mean Ghost Rider invites you up to Makeout Point in his Dodge Charger.
For what it's worth, I'm really liking Midnight Suns. From combat to character development, Firaxis has nailed it, and the new narrative stylings feel like a welcome new arrow in the studio's quiver. But it almost feels as though something's been torn out of the heart of some of those characters, as though at one point in development a Marvel exec demanded any lustful thoughts be stripped from the game, leaving a developing romance system a shell of what it once was. Looking past the fact that some of these characters have canonically been intimate with each other, there's a much more gentle emotional hole at the center of Marvel Midnight Suns, making its most unexpectedly enjoyable feature feel just a little hollow for its absence.
Learn more about Firaxis' comicbook foray with our Marvel's Midnight Suns review.