GAME NAME: Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers
DEVELOPER(S): Stainless Games
PUBLISHER(S): Wizards of the Coast
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, Android
GENRE(S): Collectible Card Game
RELEASE DATE(S): 26th June, 2013
Magic the Gathering is a fantastically addictive but frighteningly expensive hobby to pursue. As such, in spite of being the undisputed king of collectible & trading card games, Magic the Gathering remains out of reach for many of
the lowly peasants and other lower classes too poorly and unworthy to afford those interested but incapable of affording the constant deck updates and booster purchases. And that’s where Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers (Magic 2014) steps in; its role, to cater to and provide an affordable and wallet friendly environment for the insatiable cravings Magic the Gathering can cause.
Like so many of its creed, the ‘2014’ is a dead giveaway here, Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers is an iterative title and so a new game is released upon an annual cycle. This is “supposed” to cater to the yearly updates made to the card game as well as introduce the new cards, but I can’t help but suspect that it also gives the developers more license to be a little lazy and, rather than establishing one grand and unified game (with cards added via updates or DLC), they add features to each iterative sequel. With that said, is Magic 2014 the one to get for those new to Magic the Gathering? Should you purchase it having purchased Magic 2013? And what exactly is new in Magic 2014?
If you’re new to Magic, or are a regular with the card game and so you’re interested in the video game, then there is a lot to enjoy in Magic 2014. Either way, whether you’re a total beginner or intimately familiar with Magic, Magic 2014 will accommodate you with a relatively in-depth (if a little long) tutorial that will teach you practically everything you need to know, or (for those who know what they’re doing) a challenging campaign among various other modes of play.
The campaign plays exactly how you might expect, you use pre-made decks and play through multiple chapters; each chapter contains various foes and results in an end boss. This is one thing Magic 2014 does well. Each foe feels like a challenge and the bosses can put up a real fight. As you progress, you unlock cards with which to customise your decks, to a very limited degree, though you may prefer to use the decks of your defeated adversaries instead. The one real issue with campaign mode, as those with experience with Magic the Gathering know, is that deck construction is a vital component of the game as a whole while there is very little actual building of decks in Magic 2014. You’re stuck using the many unlockable pre-built decks, which, while they’re relatively well made and balanced, is a bit of a letdown. Once the game starts, it’s got a lot more to do with luck than actual skill as to who wins.
This also results in many entirely certain defeats and retries on your part. In all of the modes, because you can only customise your deck so much, there will be a lot of times where your card draws will almost guarantee your loss. This isn’t usually so frustrating when it was your lacklustre deck that was to blame, but when you’re forced to retry a match repeatedly because the AI seems to draw everything it needs, time after time, and you get nothing, well it can get annoying to say the least. It also makes me question whether the AI, at times, to increase the challenge of the various foes, have some definitive draws where they are guaranteed to draw particular cards they require. As the game seems to want to highlight the strengths of various decks, as an interactive advertisement so to speak, the AI always seems to draw the crutch cards of their deck, far more than you will. This will probably alienate a good portion of Magic the Gathering’s followers, but if you’re still here in spite of the issues, well you’re in for an enjoyable (most of the time) experience.
And as for the second question, well that’s actually quite easy to answer. “Should you purchase it having purchased Magic 2013?” Probably not. See, that was easy. If you’re an absolute fanatic about Magic, then you’re purchasing it regardless of this review and so that particular question is rendered moot. For everyone else, there’s just not enough innovation or improvement to make Magic 2014 indubitably better than its previous iteration. It’s an improvement, don’t get me wrong, just not quite enough. There are new cards introduced and the UI is as good as it has ever been; it’s smooth, good looking, easy to use and tells you absolutely everything you need to know. That said, sometimes the button setup can be a little annoying as it will swap the functions of ‘A’ and ‘Y’ (on the Xbox 360 version at least) after each step and you may accidently commit to the wrong action on occasion. But other than that, there isn’t much need to upgrade if you’re still enjoying Magic 2013. Well that’s not entirely true, there’s sealed play.
Sealed play is a new game mode that gives you a set of six booster packs with which you can build your own 60 card deck. That’s right, Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers finally offers deck customisation… well sort of. Once you’ve constructed your very own deck, you’re free to challenge various foes and so unlock three new booster packs for the sake of further customising your deck. That’s all well and good but three booster packs hardly gives you much variation and there’s another issue. You can only make two sealed play decks. To make a third, you need to purchase another slot ($2 for a single slot and $9 for 5). And what’s more, you cannot trade cards between decks nor can you reopen boosters for a new deck once you’ve opened two sets. This obsession with so strictly controlling the cards you get seems a little like collectible card DRM and seriously hurts the impact of this new mode of play.
The rest of the modes contain all the usual gameplay variations; there’s multiplayer matches (though lacking a decent leaderboard system or a well thought out matchmaking approach), a 2v2 and a free-for-all 1v1v1v1 mode. All of the modes fit their purposes and provide exactly what you’re expecting, no more, no less.
Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers is undoubtedly well put together for a game that costs between $10 (PC) and $12 (Xbox 360). Its convoluted story and confusing cinematics don’t help the campaign but don’t detract from it either, you never really need them. The game has its issues but is nevertheless a lot of fun if nothing but a good distraction from your usual go-to genre. And for those interested in getting into Magic the Gathering, well Magic 2014 should serve as a decent introduction. It has a ways to go, but it’s the best Magic video game yet.