The next game from Firaxis’ XCOM team is set in an obscure corner of the Marvel Comics universe. Titled Marvel’s Midnight Suns, development of the turn-based role-playing game is led by Jake Solomon, designer of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2.
The big draw here are the heroes and antiheroes, many of whom have never worked together before in any previous Marvel storyline. Firaxis confirmed that Iron Man, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Blade, Nico Minoru, Magik, Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider, and Wolverine will all be playable. There will be a total of 13 allied heroes in all, drawn from the Avengers, X-Men, Runaways, and beyond.
Revealed Wednesday at Gamescom 2021, publisher 2K Games plans to bring Marvel’s Midnight Suns to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC (via Steam and the Epic Game Store), Xbox One, and Xbox Series X in March 2022.
Polygon sat down with Solomon ahead of time to learn more about the ambitious new game.
The Rise of the Midnight Sons arc began in 1992 with a series of Ghost Rider comics. In it, a rogues gallery of anti-heroes, including Dr. Strange, Frank Drake, Morbius, Jonny Blaze, and Blade, must come together in order to stop Lilith, Mother of Demons, from taking over the world. Solomon told Polygon it’s his favorite arc from that period of Marvel Comics history, but the game itself wasn’t really his idea.
“It was Marvel that reached out to us after we made XCOM 2,” Solomon said. “When I had a call with the Marvel team, there was an executive vice president from Marvel on the call and they had very specific feedback about [that game’s notorious] finale mission, and a bunch of people started chiming in, and I was like, well, these guys are actually really are big fans. Right away, they understood the kind of games we make.”
During the course of the game’s design, Solomon said that his team had to throw away most everything that had come before.
“There are zero mechanics shared between XCOM and the Midnight Suns,” Solomon said.
In Marvel’s Midnight Suns, players will take on the role of The Hunter, an all-new character designed in partnership with Marvel Comics. The Hunter is there to stand in for the player, and will be highly customizable in both appearance and combat ability. Solomon said that there are over 40 different superpowers available to the player across a wide spectrum — from light (mirroring the most traditional of the superheroes in the game, like Iron Man and Captain America) to dark (mirroring more occult anti-heroes such as Ghost Rider and Blade).
Players will embark on turn-based missions with three other superheroes. They and their compatriots’ skills will level up and improve over time. How those skills are advanced is perhaps the biggest departure from the XCOM franchise. In between missions, players will have free rein to explore The Abbey, an all-new headquarters area designed in partnership with Marvel Comics, and its grounds. Solomon said players will explore it in third person, using their time to develop relationships with the other superheroes.
“Robbie Reyes, the new Ghost Rider — he may want to play video games. Captain Marvel may want to go spar with you. Tony Stark may want to go play cards,” Solomon said. “You choose how to hang out with them, choose how you talk with them, give them gifts. There are [also] social clubs around The Abbey that you can join, and that affects your friendships with heroes. [...] Some of these are pretty lighthearted [since] the story is dark enough.”
As the newly resurrected Hunter, players are the only ones capable of stopping Lilith and her minions from destroying the world. But, while the stakes are high, the game will not include permadeath — yet another departure from the classic XCOM formula.
“We don’t have permadeath because the fantasy is very different,” Solomon said. “The fantasy in XCOM is the fantasy of soldiers holding on for dear life against a superior enemy. And in Midnight Suns very, very quickly — early on — I realized that the superior enemy in this game is the superheroes. So instead the bad guys are terrified of you.”
Focusing fire in order to take down a single powerful enemy was key to conquering the puzzle-like missions in XCOM and XCOM 2. This time around, players will be taking down multiple enemies at a time with powerful attacks that have a much larger impact and range than traditional plasma or laser weaponry. Solomon said players will also be interacting more with the environment, leaping off cars, pulling down light poles, and kicking objects all the way across the map.
“You’re doing these very large moves, these epic moves, and so the mechanics are just completely different,” Solomon said, “which results in you still scratching the same itch, because it is turn-based tactics combat where you’re controlling the team. But the fantasy is very different. And that means the mechanics are 100% different.”
Solomon said that high-flying style of combat wasn’t initially in the game. Over two years ago, his team sat down to create something that hewed much closer to the original XCOM formula. But the theming of the game itself and the characters on the map demanded that they change course, in the end developing something very different. In fact, when refactoring the gameplay, his team spent lots of time hacking together their own tabletop game with an assortment of collectible HeroClix figures between them.
“That was surprising and terrifying in the beginning,” Solomon said, “to realize like, ‘Oh man, we’ve gotta do a whole different game.’ But it’s cool, because it gives you this different feel than XCOM, for sure.”
Today’s announcement was accompanied by an elaborate CGI trailer. Firaxis plans to show gameplay for the first time on Sept. 1.