Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on PC

Magic: The Gathering was released in 1993 and it’s addictive like very few other games.  The question to ask is if this fun and addictiveness transfers to Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, the card game at its most basic level is played by using two types of cards.  Mana cards can be played once a turn and are payment for the second type of cards: spells.  However, spells can be many different things: creature cards that remain on the field and attack or defend; one-use sorcery cards that have a variety of different effects; and enchantments that can be used to attach to creatures.  The goal is to reduce your opponent’s life from 20 points to zero by attacking with creatures or slinging spells.  As the game progresses, more Mana will have been played, which means you have access to more expensive but stronger cards.

Typically, Magic: The Gathering is a two-player game, and each person, or Planeswalkers to use the game’s terminology, has a deck of a specific colour.  Colours represent your card’s type, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  For example, a red deck contains many direct-damage spells, whereas a green deck has huge creatures for a reasonable cost.

The single player has four different modes: Campaign allows you to unlock new decks by playing against a single opponent; Revenge repeats the campaign with smarter AI; Challenge gives you a card puzzle and demonstrates the depth of strategy the card game possesses; and Planechase, the online multiplayer.  This final mode is different from the usual one-on-one.  You and three opponents fight in a free-for-all against each other.  The goal is to be the last man standing by destroying your opponents, or letting them destroy each other.  There are also ‘plane’ cards in the middle which represent the realm you are fighting on, all of which provide additional benefits or hindrances to the players.  If the current land is causing too much trouble for you, you can roll a six-sided die on your turn for the chance to change the plane.  Just remember, your opponents can do the same thing.

If you want to try something different than the standard one-versus-one, this mode is great fun on multiplayer and adds a different flavour and layer of strategy to the Magic card game.  In addition to considering what card to play, alliances can be made or broken between players.  For the classic game, you can still play one-on-one against other players around the world with ten decks the game provides. These decks can be customized with thirty extra cards for each deck, received by winning matches in single or multiplayer.  Unfortunately, you cannot change your deck beyond these thirty cards, so customization is limited.

Duels of the Planeswalkers does an excellent job of representing the mechanics in video game form; the game plays exactly like a real Magic card game.  It’s easy to navigate around the field, and you can zoom onto any card you want more information on.  If there are terms or abilities you aren’t sure about, the game provides the information quickly and easily through links on the magnified cards.  There are even animations when creature cards attack or when you cast a sorcery spell.  This adds a surprising kinetic quality to the game and helps keep players engaged.

However, the game is not without its problems.  You are provided with two decks of cards when you first start the game, and need to unlock the rest as the game continues.  An issue I had while playing was a distinct feeling of rock-paper-scissors while going against the computer to unlock more decks.  Some decks are flat out stronger when playing against an AI, while a favourite deck may not have a chance.

There are also times when playing the game feels a little too close to playing an actual game of Magic.  At the game’s best, you’re making strategic decisions and agonizing over which card to play.  On the other hand, there are times when you draw nothing but Mana, or you never do. The only option left at times like this is to restart the duel and gnash your teeth.

Finally (and surprisingly) there is the matter of plot.  The game hints at rich and complicated backgrounds between Planeswalkers you fight.  The game’s opening cutscene has a striking art design and teases characters without going into much detail.  When you meet an opponent in campaign mode, you see another quick cutscene and are then provided with stats and background for your computer-controlled opponent.  Unfortunately however, from what I found, that’s all the game offered.  A narrative is constantly alluded to, but never explored.  No story at all was what I was expecting from a card game, but having one hinted to and then never delivered was frustrating.

Overall, the game provides an excellent Magic: The Gathering experience.  While the game is not without its flaws, it’s overall an authentic and fun game for both new and experienced players.  If you want to see why the franchise has survived for 20 years, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is an excellent way to do it.

Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is out now for PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and iOS devices.

Rating – 4.5 / 5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

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