09 November 2012

Magic The Gathering 2013: A Mini-Review

I have a confession to make: I love Magic the Gathering.

But I don't have a group of friends around here to play it with, and even if I did, I don't particularly want to spend $80 buying cards. So why not just spend $10 and get Duels of the Planeswalkers?

My thoughts exactly.

So far, it's a pretty big improvement from the 2012 iteration, despite their being only a year's difference. They changed relatively little about the actual interface, but they did add a couple of really neat touches to the game itself.

First, deck balance and variety seems to be improved. For example, in place of Koth's almost useless mono-red themeless deck, there is now both a red burn deck and a Goblin deck. In fact, almost every color has two decks, which means that instead of either cramming two themes into one and making a very strong deck (the Illusions deck from 2012, for example) you now have a creature-oriented deck and a non-creature oriented deck in every color. It's a small touch but it does a lot to preserve a good bit of gameplay balance. Another cool touch- the decks have clearly visible stats for creature size, deck speed, flexibility, and card synergy. Like weenie decks? Pick one with high speed and low size. Like outsmarting your opponent? Pick a deck with high flexibility, and so on. It's a great touch that lets you see at a glance what you're doing, and in a game as complex as Magic the Gathering, every bit helps.

I mean, that's really all anybody wanted anyways. In a game that's about playing with cards, it was unforgivable to have had such a limited deck selection. Having limited deck choice- not a big deal, since a couple of minor tweaks really changed the way the decks played and besides, I understand that this is intended as an entry point into the physical card game and, as such, keeping choices limited makes it easier on everybody. That's fine, as long as you're still able to tweak the deck to fit you a little better and the decks are providing good matchups. Anot

Deck selection, including stats for the decks

The rest of the game seems fairly standard- there's an improved campaign mode that really does a couple of things well, and I'd like to spend a little time talking about it. The "encounters" are a kind of neat feature that let you play your deck against an NPC with an extremely limited spell seclection. For example, one of the first encounters has you playing against an AI who plays nothing but Suntail Hawks and lands, one Hawk per turn, ad infinitum. Another, a necromancer, plays discard spells and eventually reanimates one of your biggest creatures to beat you down with. It's thematic, entertaining, and a way to test your deck against some fairly annoying strategies. It's also one of the easiest ways of unlocking new cards for your deck.

The regular battles in the main campaign are more or less the same. You start with one of a couple of decks, and as you beat the planeswalkers, you earn the right to use their decks. The "end boss" of the plane you're on (think levels in a more traditional game) has a couple of screens telling you some fairly dry information about them and their backgrounds. I know that Planeswalkers are supposed to be the "stars" of the Magic the Gathering brand, but Jace, Garruk, Liliana et al are just a little boring. Well, I'll admit to a soft spot for Liliana, but the rest of them are fairly uncharismatic and make it hard for me to care about them as planeswalkers. I just want their decks, damn it, I don't care if their fathers were murdered or whatever.

There's also an improved Revenge campaign, a Planechase campaign, and if you buy the optional DLC, some Ravnica guilds to beat down and win the decks of.

The visuals and sound effects remain unchanged from the last game, which is fine, as the graphics are sparkly enough and serviceable. Nothing stands out as particularly attractive or unattractive. It's all floating cards and sparkly fireballs, a bit like playing actual magic. Which is fine, right? That's what you came here for.

Like I said, floating cards and sparkly fireballs. Pretty clean interface, overall.

I can't help but recommend Duels of the Planeswalker if you like Magic but aren't interested in the physical cards, but if you're into hardcore deck building or competitive MtG, this game not only isn't for you, it's probably the opposite of what you want.

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