Magic: The Gathering is a staple competitive collectible card game among tabletop gamers with tournaments going on all over the world, a sanctioned weekly social gathering in just about every nerd shop, and a world championship being held with tens of thousands of dollars on the line. Released in 1993 and still going strong, Magic: The Gathering is a global franchise that has people obsessed and blowing their hard-earned rupees on that one card that would perfect their green and black vampire deck, or whatever the case may be. I would be surprised if anyone reading this hasn’t had some encounter with the game, though some may only know of it through a friend or a poster at the comic store.
To a person standing an watching the fast-paced game, and with no prior knowledge of the rules, one might think it a strange hobby. Watching long enough, you begin to see the basic flow of the game. The players take alternating turns in which they play land cards to increase their sphere of influence, they play spells to summon creatures or enchant the entire battlefield, and attack the other player(s) to bring his or her life point value down to nothing. Interrupting actions are sometimes taken by the other player, and they can also defend against attacks by blocking the way with creatures of their own. Cards become tapped (turned sideways,) counters and indicators are placed on the field for varied purposes, and poker faces are worn.
Duels of the Planeswalkers is a perennial series which attempts to bring all of these tabletop basics and strategy to consoles and PCs. The series does this well and every release is (very marginally) better than the last. At this point, with it’s third release, I’m beginning to see Duels as one of those sports games which also have annual releases and each is marginally better than the last.
With that preamble out of the way, you may ask yourself why would would want this version rather any other iteration of Magic. First of all, this game is Magic: The Gathering for beginners or people who don’t want to muck about with deck building and customization. Duels throws away an entire level of strategy by providing you with pre-made decks rather than allowing the player to build one from the ground-up. Each of these decks comes with 30 locked cards which are unlocked at a rate of one per every game won. This causes a lot of boring pay as you need to grind easy foes to unlock your entire deck. Don’t even think of going into multiplayer with a deck that doesn’t have its more epic cards unlocked either, because you will be outgunned at every turn. Now, you can also purchase virtual keys to make this a little quicker, and they cost $0.99 or 80 MSP each. These keys will then allow you to fully unlock any deck and even to replace some of the cards with foils, which are simply shiny versions of any particular card. This is completely optional and not necessary to enjoy the game to it’s fullest, but it does cut out a lot of the grinding you’ll have to be doing otherwise.
If you don’t mind not having the customizability of the physical card game (or of Magic Online, another digital version in which you can actually buy virtual decks and booster packs,) or if you’ve never played Magic before are feeling daunted by that, then Duels of the Planeswalkers is a trip through the Multiverse that you can’t miss. This game is the most beautiful version of all the Magic game iterations, including the original CCG. Utilizing the art from the comics, the cutscenes do a wonderful job of portraying the power and badassery of the Planeswalkers themselves, and of the wild fantasy of the planes that you touch on your journey through the various campaign modes. The cards can be blown up to full screen so the artwork can be plainly seen, though it is a shame that I can’t read the text on the cards while not zoomed. The playfield itself looks like it’s made out of obsidian which is nice, but I wish that there was some semblance of a landscape on it. Each loading screen is a full high-definition version of the artwork shown on a card, and these can be very majestic paintings. Even the Planeswalker statistics are given, from trivialities like height and weight to more insightful information like spell preference and play style. The voicework is over the top but works in this fantastic setting, creating a lofty and serious tone for the game.
The gameplay itself is fairly smooth, but suffers from some awkward controls. You get used to the controls, and when you do, the game moves along at a tidy clip. The campaign mode is full of Planeswalker battles and something new called encounters. Encounters are battles where the enemy acts in a particular fashion and repeats the same actions over and over again until the game ends. Some of them are very easy (great for grinding purposes) while others can get fairly difficult. Each encounter tends to represent a basic strategy that you might encounter during the course of play and they are there to help you understand some tactics to fend against them.
I hear you asking, “I already have Magic: Duels 2012, why do I need this one?” Well, this iteration has a bunch of new decks, a new planeswalker, a more robust campaign, and a new single and multiplayer game mode called Planechase. Planechase is a mode that adds a bit of randomness to the fray, and also supports up to 4 players. It utilizes something called “plane cards” which affect the whole battlefield, making it something of a global event. It’s fun and should be tried out if you liked Duels 2012
To me, the $9.99 USD price tag seems just right for this updated version. Duels is currently out on XBLA, PSN, Steam, and iPad. If you enjoyed the last game, the more of the same (with bonuses) rule states that you will probably enjoy this one as well. Personally, I will be playing this until 2am for the next few nights!