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To put it nicely, Marvel video games have a bit of a reputation. We very occasionally get a shining beacon of greatness, like 2018’s Spider-Man, but are mostly confronted with lifeless piles of content, like 2020’s Marvel’s Avengers. That being said, when I heard that Firaxis – the studio responsible for some of the best strategy games ever, like the XCOM and Civilization games– would be making a Marvel turn-based strategy, I was cautiously optimistic.

Having now spent about 12 hours with the game, I can say that it hasn’t been quite what I expected, but I’m enjoying it.

If you’re looking for a simple “XCOM but Marvel” game, this isn’t that. A lot more thought has gone into how to bring all of these wildly different superheroes together into one cohesive system. The choice to make the game a deck-builder was initially strange to me, but now I think it was probably the best solution to keep every hero feeling powerful in their own unique way.

Rather than putting together one big deck for each fight, each hero has their own deck of eight cards, and they all get shuffled together when you pick which three heroes you want to take on a mission. It means you can prioritize each hero’s strengths without worrying about adversely affecting other characters. It makes composing teams simple too, as everyone has clear utility.

Having so many heroes at your disposal can be a bit much at times – someone’s got to be your least favorite. There are systems to negate the problem, but when you try to fill the roster with as many iconic characters as you can, not everyone can shine.

Marvel's Midnight Suns, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Scarlet Witch ready for battle

However, there is an upside to having lots of heroes as, unlike XCOM, these aren’t just blank slates for you to mold, they’re proper characters. Having so many personalities around brings the non-battle side of the game to life, and lets you have a lot more Fire Emblem-style interactions among the roster.

The characters can be quite hit-and-miss in terms of likability. On the one hand, you have Tony Stark, who’s a fairly lame caricature of his MCU incarnation, with a voice actor who does a flat and lifeless impression of Robert Downey Jr. On the other, you have characters like Blade and Nico Minoru who stand out as very fun to be around with vibrant personalities. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the characters with minimal presence in the MCU are the best either.

There’s a lot to do outside of battle, almost to the point of being overwhelming. Researching, crafting new cards, unlocking new cards via loot, training, sparing with heroes, hanging out with friends, sending heroes on solo missions, and you’ll continue to unlock more as you progress, but the game is good at keeping track of everything, and notifying you when there are things to be done. You’ll eventually settle into the rhythm of going to each place every day.

Marvel's Midnight Suns at the mirror table selecting a mission

On top of that, the Abbey where you make your base is a surprisingly large area with a lot to explore. Collectibles galore, resources for various things, and some hidden areas locked behind special abilities. It makes for that nice feeling where both sides of the game feed into each other nicely. Going into battle gives you more to do in the Abbey, and expanding the Abbey gives you greater potential in combat.

The combat is where the game really shines – Firaxis just knows what it's doing when it comes to strategy gameplay.

With all three of your heroes being mixed into one deck, you can’t rely on any one of them to dominate the battlefield and have to make effective use of everyone to use your best cards. On top of that, the game knows that things are most interesting when you have an objective other than “defeat all enemies”, making sure you have to use up your limited actions on rescuing civilians or recovering key items.

Marvel's Midnight Suns, Captain America, Blade, and The Hunter in battle

It’s always a tough choice between keeping yourself alive and going for your objective, and it’s led me into some down-to-the-wire situations – especially in the harder difficulties, which annoyingly have to be unlocked.

I’m hoping that things expand further as the game goes on. I’m already having a blast with it, but I can see the potential for things to go even deeper as I get my hands on more characters, facilities, and abilities. If you’re a Marvel fan then you’ll be satisfied by what’s on offer, and if you’re a squad-based strategy game fan, then this will scratch an itch that nothing in the triple-A scene has for a while.