Review: Magic 2013: Duels of the Planeswalkers
Time to get your nerd on: a new Magic: The Gathering game has been released for Steam, Xbox 360, PS3, and iPad.
Siobhan Keogh | Monday, June 25 2012
Product type: Digital card game
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iPad
Test Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Stainless Games; Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Magic 2013 could have been released as DLC.
Time to get your nerd on: a new Magic: The Gathering game has been released for Steam, Xbox 360, PS3, and iPad. It's the third Duels of the Planeswalkers video game for card-game creators Wizards of the Coast, and it introduces new decks, new art, a new campaign with new enemies, and perhaps most importantly, a new game mode called Planechase.
For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering is a card game invented by an American maths professor and introduced in 1993. In it, 'planeswalkers' - wizards with the power to travel between dimensions, or 'planes' - battle each other for supremacy using magic and summoning mythical creatures. Each of these creatures has a card to summon it, and each of those cards costs a certain amount of magical power ('mana') and a certain level of strength. The aim of the game, at its most basic, is to overcome your enemy's creatures with your own and attack your opponent head-on to reduce their life points to zero.
If you've never played Magic before, there's both a significant tutorial mode, and a series of on-screen prompts that will give you information on abilities you haven't encountered yet. Since I've played both the video game and card game before - more than I'd like to admit - I skipped through most of these modes, but it's an ideal way for newbies to get the hang of Magic, which can be quite a complicated game.
But the thing that's immediately clear is that the Wizards of the Coast and developers Stainless Games know exactly what existing fans want from the game. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the story - the first game provided little-to-no context, but Magic 2012 started crafting a story around the game. Magic 2013 has developed that story to explain why you're fighting, as well as providing more detail about the planeswalkers themselves, their histories, and what their decks do. Previously, you had to fight a planeswalker before you could figure out which deck might be useful to use against them - this time, the game provides you with just enough information to guess.
It also gives you some information on your own stats, including your decks' stats. Four elements of your deck - deck speed, creature size, deck flexibility, and card synergy - are all measured and given a rating out of five stars. The 'player status' screen also shows which of the five deck colours you favour, as well as statistics like the most damage you've done in one turn and your highest life total.
Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of the Magic game is the intricate artwork that goes on each card. Duels of the Planeswalkers features that art not just on the cards, but in every part of the game. Even the board on which your game takes place has been carefully crafted, and whenever I had to look at a loading screen, I found myself thinking about how great the artwork was. This art has always been present in the Magic video games, but it seems more is introduced with each version.
The biggest change to the game, though, is the new game mode, Planechase. Planechase is a free-for-all four-player mode with a difference - there is an extra deck of cards made up entirely of plane cards on the table. You 'travel' to different planes, and each one changes the playing field in some way. For example, one plane card might enable something like 'Prevent all damage that would be done by creatures, except for Werewolves'. In order to change which plane is active, players have to roll a dice. Each time they roll, they have one-in-three chance of changing which plane card is active, as well as a one-in-three chance of activating the plane's second ability. The second ability might be 'Target creature becomes a werewolf'.
Frankly, I found the Planechase game mode too long and too dull when playing against enemy AI. It might be fun with friends, but the enemy AI gets slowed down significantly when there are loads of cards on the board, so I found myself waiting for long periods of time between turns. This has always been a problem in previous games, but since there's so much going on in Planechase, it becomes more of an issue than ever. When you spend two hours on a game and a quarter of that is waiting for the AI to decide to do nothing, it can be pretty frustrating.
But the worst issue I have with Magic 2013 is the fact that it exists at all - frankly, everything new about it could have been released as DLC to previous games, except for the iPad edition. It's as fun as ever - the game itself doesn't change much - but seems unnecessary. That said, for those who haven't played before, this is the best version of Duels of the Planeswalkers released so far, and worth picking up.
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