Before I get into my impressions, let me give you some of my history with Magic. I’ve been out of the game for a good 6 or 7 years now, but that itch just never really went away. You see, Magic the Gathering was, for the most part, my first foray into non traditional gaming. I remember my older half-brother bringing home a bunch of Revised Edition commons and building some crappy starter decks for my younger brother and I back around 1996. As I got older, I kept playing and got pretty decent at deck building and the strategy that is inherent to the game. There was nothing better than rummaging through your shoe boxes of cards, making strategies with friends, and trying to come up with unstoppable combos and plays. Unfortunately, playing the actual card game takes time and money, things that at certain times in everyone’s life they may not have to spare. Magic Online released back in June of 2002 and helped alleviate the time restraint. You weren’t really tied down to scheduled tournaments at libraries and hobby shops anymore, but you were spending just as much on virtual booster and tournament packs with nothing physical to show for the money spent.
Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers alleviates both the time and the money concerns but by sacrificing what makes Magic fun in the first place.
I’m going to rip this band aid off rather quickly for you guys, as anybody who’s serious about Magic will most likely not care about this game after my next statement. There is pretty much no deck building in this game. You are given a mono green deck to start out the single player campaign which allows you to then unlock seven more preconstructed decks. Once you unlock a deck, this will allow you to use it in the single player campaign and in multiplayer matches. Playing through the single player campaigns will also unlock up to 17 extra cards for each deck. It seems the only deckbuilding this really allows is whether or not you would like to play with those extra cards. This is something I really hope Wizards of the Coast and Stainless Games fixes in the future.
If you’re new to Magic, you’ll find the tutorial serviceable to get your feet wet enough to play. There are a few aspects of the game that could have been explained a little better such as the different types and parts of the cards, but it does manage to give you the basics of gameplay without bogging you down right away with advanced strategy. It appears there is also a “Mentor Mode” that will allow another player to possibly go more in depth with game rules than what the tutorial does. I have not yet tried that mode but will before I post a final review.
The game itself plays exactly how a regular game of Magic would so if you’ve played Magic before, you shouldn’t have any problems jumping right in. I got through about half of the single player campaign so far with a mono red deck I unlocked and actually enjoy it. Playing through on Archmage (Normal) difficulty might not pose much of a challenge for seasoned Magic players and you will often find yourself face palming and wondering why the AI isn’t making certain plays. The table set up and animation is fairly sick with my only complaint being that it is sometimes a pain to zoom in and see what your opponents cards do. This is key if you get into the deeper strategy of Magic with resource management and countering plays. I found myself sometimes attacking the AI opponent just to find out that the icon over one of their creatures meant they had first strike. This would cause that creature to do combat damage before mine, and in turn destroy my creature while theirs survives. Another issue I ran into was not knowing how to activate a card ability called regeneration, which basically prevents a defeated creature from going to the graveyard. This was a problem when I blocked with said creature thinking I could spend the mana to stop it from going to the graveyard and then cursing loudly as I could not save it.
As for multiplayer, I was able to get a couple of 1 vs 1 ranked matches done over Xbox Live and found them to be just as good as playing the single player game. The only exception was that I found myself getting frustrated even more with how hard it could be to zoom in and read your opponents played cards. Multiplayer matches allow you to use any decks that you have unlocked during the single player campaign. I didn’t notice any visible ranking system so I can only assume that kind of thing is being done in the background.
So far, I can’t really tell how I feel about this purchase and I’m not entirely sure who Wizards and Stainless games were trying to target with this game. The lack of a deck builder and ease of the AI will surely turn off any experienced Magic player while the learning curve and shoddy tutorial might scare away the new players. In a way, it almost seems as if it’s for casual Magic players, but does that species of Magic player actually exist?