Superhero comics are wordy beasts, with characters who somehow have time to fill balloons with 20-25 words of chit-chat in the same amount of time it takes to swing a single punch. Marvel’s movies are famous for the amount of banter in them too. It’s still a bit of a surprise that Marvel’s Midnight Suns—a turn-based tactics game by Firaxis, whose XCOM series isn’t exactly known for its storytelling and character work—is cramming in the words too. But according to a recent Special Message from Firaxis video (opens in new tab), it absolutely is.
“I think we ended up with something like 65,000 lines of voiced dialogue, over two hours of cinematics, and, gosh, more branching choices than you could imagine,” says lead engineer Will Miller. As well as combat barks and plot cutscenes, there’s also a lot of conversation that happens at the Abbey, the home base where you spend downtime bonding with other members of the team.
All that writing plays into the mechanics too. In his hands-on Midnight Suns preview, Fraser emphasized how much Midnight Suns’ relationship system felt “true to the comics” while changing how he played. “You can also see a kernel of this in XCOM 2’s War of the Chosen expansion and its soldier bonds,” he wrote, “where soldiers can become very attached to one colleague and get a range of perks while fighting with them. In Midnight Suns, though, the concept has been expanded significantly, with various short- and long-term relationship objectives. There are a lot of rewards, too, ranging from cosmetics to more practical things like stat buffs. You’ll also unlock combo cards that allow heroes to gang-up on an enemy and unleash a powerful attack. Rather than just being an ancillary feature, relationships are the umbrella that loads of other systems sit under.”
In a recent interview with GamesRadar (opens in new tab), creative director Jake Solomon emphasized there will still be room in Midnight Suns for the kind of personal stories that naturally emerge when you play a tactics game with customizable characters. “It is hard to tell a more powerful story than the one a player tells in their head”, Solomon said. “I still believe that, even with all the scripted narrative – the story that a player tells in their head is hard to beat. And we all have that with XCOM. You know, even the guys who, I swear to God, would miss shots so much, you end up developing a love for them. You’d be like: ‘Oh, this dumb bastard, he never hits his shot’. But everybody loves him, and you’ve nicknamed him something, or you dress him a certain way just because of that. It’s so hard to beat that type of narrative.”
Firaxis’s most recent XCOM game, Chimera Squad, replaced the series’ randomized customizable soldiers with named characters who had preset personalities and locker-room banter. I thought it was pretty decent in a G.I. Joe cartoon kind of way, but a lot of players weren’t fans. To take just one example, this negative user review on Steam (opens in new tab) complains, “They never shut up. They are so damn hip and so damn cool yo like all the damn cool and hip kids and they never shut up. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s quips have been a disaster to man kind.”
We’ll see how people feel about the dialogue in Midnight Suns soon. It’s due out on December 2.