24

A Sure Thing

January 4, 2023 by Tim

I love turn-based tactics games, and I’m a big fan of XCOM. The past month, however, I’ve been playing Midnight Suns and… I think I may have a new favorite Firaxis tactics title.

XCOM will always have a place in my heart, but many of the changes in Midnight Suns have grown on me to the point where they’d be missed going back to the standard XCOM formula.

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In XCOM, I always felt like I fell into a general pattern for most missions. Take a comfortable team comp, advance a little, overwatch my sniper, move people into position. Deal with what came up, and then inch forward a little further, getting everyone into place, rinse and repeat.

Your tactics become predicable, and the RNG enters the picture once the bullets start to fly. And that makes some sense, no matter how good you are with a gun, there’s always a chance for a miss, right? But I don’t think any of us consider that seething urge to save scum after whiffing a “95%” sniper headshot to be particularly “fun.”

Midnight Suns flips that around. Working from the concept that super heroes don’t whiff their shots, your attacks (in the form of cards), always hit, and always do exactly what they say they will. That sounded odd to me at first, but it works brilliantly. Instead, the RNG comes in terms of what cards you draw into your hand each round.

You bring three heroes into an encounter, and each of them brings a deck of eight cards you’ve constructed. Shuffled together, you have a total deck of 24 cards for the encounter. This does mean that on a given turn, you may not have cards for all three heroes. What it also means is that every turn is a unique puzzle that you have to unravel, between the cards, their abilities, and the enemies on hand.

You get three card plays per turn (there are mechanics that allow you to play more cards than that), and a give and take between cards that generate heroism (a resource) and consume it. Between this, a healthy roster of heroes that play differently, and mission objectives that don’t always necessarily require “killing all enemies,” every tends to be a really fun “figure it out” exercise.  I don’t fall into autopilot, and my success is entirely due to my tactical planning, and not an RNG percentage on that shot I was counting on.

The missions are incredible, the heroes look and animate great, and it absolutely scratches my tactics itch. There is another half of the game that, though I was less sold on initially, I will admit its grown on me some.

That half of the game takes place at your “base,” and its where you hang out with the heroes, train, explore, upgrade abilities, craft cards, etc. Whereas the combat half of things is very XCOM-ish, this half is more like Fire Emblem Three Houses.

It feels strange at first, attending a book club with Blade, or asking Wolverine to hang out and have a beer. You do it because increasing your friendship with the heroes directly impacts their effectiveness in combat, through new cards and passive abilities.

On its own, I find the writing and voice acting to be a little inconsistent (big recommend you choose the female Hunter protagonist, over the male voice actor). And though I still fast forward through some conversations I don’t care about, just to try and get the “Friendship+” icons quickly, I have to admit that having this half of the game has me more engaged than I thought.

And like I said, all of these activities have very tangible benefits, such as new card ; you can upgrade cards, and cards can also roll with modifiers, which gives them unique extras. So there’s a lot of incentive to collect cards so you can super custom tailor your decks.

Some of this stuff wouldn’t work with XCOM (its probably not as impactful to ‘hang out’ with no-name cannon fodder between missions), but Midnight Suns is a really fun evolution for Firaxis. I’m loving it, and looking forward to Deadpool and Venom in the DLC, but also excited to see them take some of what they’ve learned and refine it in future tactics titles, Marvel or XCOM.

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Thraxas
Thraxas
26 days ago

I don’t know midnight suns but I really liked the mechanics of Chaosgate Demonhunters over xcom (which I also love). In it you don’t really miss but make less damage if your target is behind cover. This means no xcom-Style „this alien is going to take 10 shots to be relieved of its last hp“-shenanigans.
I might be biased as I play grey knights for years now on the table but I thought the game mechanics were great and the last mission was just one of the best missions ever.

Last edited 26 days ago by Thraxas
Eric the White
Eric the White
26 days ago
Reply to  Thraxas

Uh oh. His Companion Mother got fired….

sasparillafizz
sasparillafizz
25 days ago
Reply to  Tim

I picked it up on the winter sale. Its definitely good, but that’s not to say it’s ‘entirely’ without RNG. It’s just now you have the bloom corruption meter and every time it hits 100% something happens. It’s a good mechanic to force you to play aggressively since if you take it slow you just slowly stack debuffs against you for taking too long. Sometimes its pretty benign; enemies may get a mutation so they get a buff like an extra 2 range or an armor; or maybe you’ll get -1 max HP for the remainder of the mission. But… Read more »

Thraxas
Thraxas
24 days ago
Reply to  sasparillafizz

Well yeah, but until you get a psyker with the reducing ability you usually hit chaos tide around 3 times per battle (or I did at least) so it evens out. Also you can always just save 😉

Thraxas
Thraxas
24 days ago
Reply to  Tim

You should consider it if you have a little time. It’s actually a pretty fast game, certainly faster than xcom as far as I remember. I think I played it through in a month and I don’t have that much time to play

Gonfrask
Gonfrask
26 days ago

More than two decade ago and still hurt me when one of my shots with a 110% chance of hitting an Aquatoid just killed other of my best squad member…of course I have not saved for a good bunch of turns (why should I? Ionic armours, best weapons, amazing stats…).
In the other hand…I don’t like the card games, so I don’t think I will approach to Midnight Suns…

Thraxas
Thraxas
26 days ago
Reply to  Gonfrask

Well that’s why I would recommend Chaosgate. Because you always hit just do less damage (same for the enemy) so it’s not this all or nothing in xcom which can get ridiculous if you empty 5 magazines into an alien which will not die.

Paul
Paul
26 days ago

I got Midnight Suns when it came out. Was addicted for about 20 hours, and probably burned myself out – what I didn’t expect is how *long* the game is. It’s much bigger than you think at first!

I love that the characters play slightly differently and that you can build them to your own desires; Cap is an absolute tank with the right cards. Wolverine shreds minions. The Hunter is godlike once you build his deck up.

This game has also made me want XCOM 3 badly.

NeonKnight
NeonKnight
26 days ago
Reply to  Tim

Ahahahaa…Oh Yeah. Tell me about it. Just when you figure OK…I think I’m in the end Game now! NOPE, that’s just the end of Part 1!

And Beauty part is trying the challenges later with full powered Characters.

And just like any other Marvel Property, the Mid and End Credit scenes teasing at future events…*Chef’s Kiss*

Xanthicirs
Xanthicirs
25 days ago
Reply to  Paul

But what about Nico?

DJWG
DJWG
25 days ago
Reply to  Paul

This game has also made me want XCOM 3 badly.

I think the hard part of XCOM is what happens with a sequel? What’s the story?

It’s odd if the Earth keeps getting invaded again and again and you have to start with nothing each time. XCOM 2 worked because it was running with an alternate timeline idea, but they can’t do that again.
It’s less satisfying if it’s just a reboot.

Paul
Paul
24 days ago
Reply to  Tim

That was actually my thinking if they do. Chimera Squad seemed like they could be testing the waters to have mixed human-alien squads on various deployments…

Jeff
Jeff
24 days ago
Reply to  Tim

Probably dating myself, but I seem to remember the original XCOM Alien Unknown (or whatever the title was, my memory fades after so many years!) series had a game where the endgame was to send a squad through a portal to the alien’s home for the last mission…

Last edited 24 days ago by Jeff
Svafa
Svafa
25 days ago
Reply to  DJWG

Enemy Unknown is already a reboot, so I wouldn’t be against another reboot. It would probably be best if they waited another ~5 years though; tech/gameplay hasn’t changed quite enough in the past 10 years to warrant a reboot, in my opinion either.

They could also go the route of flipping the table and having Earth invade the aliens in a counterattack. Might be interesting.

I’d also love something like a This War of Mine game set in the XCOM setting. But that’s a different thing entirely, just same franchise.

Charon
Charon
24 days ago
Reply to  DJWG

XCOM 2 had a definite end which gave pointers to a next game, reminded me of a possible reboot of Terror from the Deep. I’ve been waiting for that story to continue for years.

Thorongil BlackHeart
Thorongil BlackHeart
26 days ago

I never realised that game would be a turn-based tactical RPG like XCOM. Somehow I missed any gameplay shown in the trailers, if there actually was any, until launch. I am a big Marvel fan, but in this case I am glad I didn’t blindly preorder it.

P2Mc28
P2Mc28
26 days ago

I’m sure it’s just a lull in the spam… but… is my doppelganger gone maybe…? I’m jinxing it right now I just know it.

Jacob
Jacob
26 days ago
Reply to  P2Mc28

Nope, hit about 4 hours after your post.

Vedrit
Vedrit
25 days ago
Reply to  Jacob

The post must have been removed, because I don’t see it, only comments about it having been here.

Sujad
Sujad
26 days ago

I quite like Phoenix Point’s system, you can zoom into a first person view of the enemy and shoot at the part of them that needs to be removed. Like shoot their arm to disable their ranged attacks so they have to get into melee. For this, you have two reticles. The outer is a guaranteed hit and the inner reticle has a 50/50% chance to hit.

Vedrit
Vedrit
25 days ago
Reply to  Sujad

I liked the idea of Phoenix Point, but something about its execution just… Felt off to me, and I could never really get into it.

wkz
wkz
25 days ago
Reply to  Vedrit

The main problem, in my “random guy on the internet” opinion, is that it is a grid-based game with a First person shooter aiming system. You can’t adjust the posture of your agents where they end up, and thus they are always parked standing still in their default pose in the middle of a square (or leaning against the wall if there’s full cover), and that’s not optimal against good aimed shots that threads the needle through all the obstacles in between. It’s the same story in the other direction… but in order to increase difficulty, PP basically upped the… Read more »

Eldest Gruff
Eldest Gruff
26 days ago

Personally, it’d be a big, doofy Rabbid in a dress sweeping me off my feet for “turn-based tactical game,” but I get it. Some men just aren’t a fan of sturdy, furry gals who say BWAH.

There was a metaphor somewhere here, but hell if I know what it was.

Qstknight
Qstknight
26 days ago

Anxious to try the game, big Marvel fan. Maybe they could expand it to include the Agents of Shield.

Pajuka
Pajuka
26 days ago

The fact the randomness happens before your turn rather than after is probably what helps the most. Wiffing a shot you were relying on feels shitty, but it feels even worse when there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it until you take a pummeling from the enemy.

But because the cards are drawn before you make your moves, even if you got a bad hand you feel like you have more control over the situation. You don’t feel “well, I’m screwed” you feel “OK, not great, but I can work with this”

Nazrax
Member
Nazrax
26 days ago

I really wanted to like xcom, but I just couldn’t get past the randomness. However, I adore Invisible, Inc. As someone else said, putting all the randomness before your turn is so important, and having one-hit-one-KO (plus all the other great mechanics) leads to some real nail biters that never feel unfair.

Joe
Joe
26 days ago

Funnily enough, just finished a Christmas playthrough of Enemy Within yesterday. Mid-game, sniper rules no doubt (except for when trying to capture live aliens for research credit). I do find late-game though that smart tactics can make a huge difference and the sniper is less and less effective against the hardier stuff like Sectopods and Ethererals. Sneaking an assault class in range of a double-shot or run n’ gun is very satisfying. I will say though, that compared to the original (I’m old enough to have played the original on my Amiga A500), base attacks are dissapointing. I spent ages… Read more »

James
James
26 days ago
Reply to  Joe

I strongly suggest trying the Long War and Long War 2 mods. They and some of the submods make the games way less irritating in terms of more reasonable hit percentages, better equipped rookies, etc.

Kaitensatsuma
Kaitensatsuma
26 days ago

God, I remember why I dropped XCOM like a sack of burning crap, it always seemed like the game would make you miss/have an enemy OHKO you just for shits and giggles or drama’s sake.

Revan
Revan
26 days ago

Wait, XCOM is gay?

Kinda makes sense thought, with how much it likes my bum

MarthKoopa
MarthKoopa
26 days ago

Healing staffs in Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 having a maximum of 99% chance to “hit” and the game loving to screw over the player is some of my favourite RNG BS. Thankfully the newer games use a double-roll “True Hit” system to average out chances… and not even have chances for healing items/spells.

BaufenBeast
BaufenBeast
26 days ago
Reply to  MarthKoopa

Only Thracia has hit chances for healing staves. Also double-roll true hit was used for the GBA games onwards, but not for Fates and Shadows of Valencia. Those two games used a different system; <50% hit used a single roll, so enemies with low hit rates would still have a good chance to hit you. >50% put your hitrate into the function “(Hit rate × 100) + (40 / 3) × Hit rate × sin((0.02(Hit rate) − 1) × 180)” and rolled a random number from 0-9999 to compare it to. If you can’t read that, it effectively did a… Read more »

Last edited 26 days ago by BaufenBeast
MarthKoopa
MarthKoopa
25 days ago
Reply to  BaufenBeast

Thank you for telling me information I already know

GreatNate
GreatNate
26 days ago

What? The Male Voice actor is the legendary Matt Mercer! I found the male voice actor to be really awesome! I guess it’s a matter of opinion. I do have a tendency to choose female or male in my games based on their voice actors though too, like I loved Jennifer Hale in Mass Effect. I have also been obsessed with this game, love hanging out with the heroes, and they managed to nab a lot of the voice actors that portray the heroes in other media too (other video games, animated shows, and movies). This game is my new… Read more »

Delta
Delta
26 days ago

It’s about time we got a new tactics game formula. I’ve been getting tired of the dozens of XCOM:EU knock-offs over the last decade. The game itself was okay for being something new, but the team never addressing all the run killing bugs despite the constant desperate pleas from the community ruined all of the XCOM likes for me.

RMGreen
RMGreen
26 days ago

The difference between XCOM and Midnight Suns that Tim talks about reminds me of a discussion from game designer Geoff Engelstein. He described the two styles as ‘Input Randomness’ (Midnight Suns, where the random factors affect your choices, but once you make a choice the result is assured) and ‘Output Randomness’ (XCOM, where you make a choice, but the result of that choices is then affected by a random factor such as a die roll).

If you’re interested in hearing a bit more, here’s an audio clip of Geoff discussing Input and Output Randomness:

https://ludology.libsyn.com/gametek-classic-183-input-output-randomness

Matyy
Matyy
26 days ago

I was interested until the point that the RNG comes in by cards with your skills… Hell no, I won’t even bother to look at it after that.

Also you don’t need to save scum. Put in on iron man and learn tactics, that don’t depend on a single sjot – whether it’s 95% or not. I thought it’s not even possible to save scum on xcom? Don’t they just give you the same result again?

Leberschnitzel
Leberschnitzel
25 days ago
Reply to  Matyy

they do, if it’s the exact same action without any action in between, but you can for example move first and than try again.

FM-96
FM-96
24 days ago
Reply to  Matyy

There’s actually a setting to enable save scumming. If you tick that, it reseeds the randomizer every time you load a save.

foducool
foducool
26 days ago

ahaha ouch

JustJoel
JustJoel
25 days ago

Thet tell me the role-palying part- the dialogs and what happens there. are PAINFUL. Not boring, not pointless, not awful – PAINFUL. I saw the scenes from blade’s book club and… stopped myself from getting the game.

Arvandor
Arvandor
25 days ago

I think you should check out Invisible Inc. SUPER awesome rogue-lite turn based strategy game. Very well done and a lot of fun.

Decadence
Decadence
25 days ago

This sounds cool actually and I am going to give it a shot. I also have Chaosgate on my wanna get list as well. This sounds like something that would work really well in a MTG scenario. 3D battles of creatures and laying of lands. Well, from what I remember since I stopped playing MTG after The Dark expansion.

GurrenLagann
GurrenLagann
25 days ago

hahahahaha yeah that 95% on XCOM hahahaha how many runs ended with a 95% shot, only to die next turn against at 35% shot from the enemy and critical hit.

We all love Xcom but is so BULLSHIT

Opastorm
Opastorm
25 days ago

Its honestly impressive how even these very goofy one joke comics have increased in art quality over the years. No reason it shouldn’t share the quality of the rest of the comic’s increase, just a thought that hit me on this one

Chibi-Acer
Chibi-Acer
25 days ago

Midnight Suns is great. From the early trailers we thought it was Slay the Spire slapped on top of XCOM, but it’s actually like 70-80% Slay the Spire with a 3D battlefield and put in an alternate Marvel universe. If you enjoy Midnight Suns but haven’t played it, I highly recommend checking out Slay the Spire and/or Across the Obelisk.

Leberschnitzel
Leberschnitzel
25 days ago

for me, Mario + Rabbids did it perfect with it’s 100%, 50% or 0%.

mrdiscoman
mrdiscoman
25 days ago

I had many of the same apprehensions going into Midnight Suns. I wasn’t excited about the base stuff, and wasn’t sure about the card mechanic. I’m a couple dozen hours into the game and while I skip much of the conversation, I’ve started watching the cutscenes and have fallen into a groove of base chores. The card mechanic, though? I’m in love… it works so well, and I love knowing what will happen and like you said, solving the little puzzle of each turn.

Snowflakes
Snowflakes
25 days ago

Ooooh, I love the 95% easteregg. The “how-the-heck-did-that-shot-miss” 95%. 😀

chargersfan
chargersfan
25 days ago

Did anyone here ever play XCOM: Apocalypse? I know it wasn’t the most popular game of the series, but it was my first XCOM game aside from a demo of the original, and I got hooked on the “Real-time with Pausing” aspect of it (which was totally optional) and now I can’t go back. Aside from a few weird design choices, that game is really, really good. And yeah, Tim, in that one you do get to invade the alien dimension in the endgame! I would love to play a modernized version of that. If anyone knows anything like that,… Read more »

weasley009
weasley009
24 days ago

I will say that I’m not one for tactics games (tried XCOM but wasn’t my thing) but this game is really getting my interest. After playing Gears Tactics I think I like tactics games that don’t just fall into the XCOM ‘RNG shots’ primary mechanic, if that makes sense. I don’t mind if its there, but I want more. Gears Tactics offered a much faster, more brutal style of gameplay that absolutely had my attention, and even with the shot percentages it still kept me engaged with all the fun combos and stuff I could pull with the characters (plus… Read more »

Last edited 24 days ago by weasley009
Neb
Neb
24 days ago

If you liked the original XCOM you can check out Xenonauts.

Drenzul
Drenzul
21 days ago

I avoid the “no random factor” games like the plague.

Whole point is that you have to account for the fact people might miss.

If you remove the randomness, well you might as well be playing chess really.

superkamimarvin
superkamimarvin
18 days ago

and then you play ghost rider and you are right back to xcom with all the falling %