Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

The third instalment of the Planeswalkers series has arrived. Ready your decks, and prepare to do battle…

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, Windows PC (Reviewed), iOS
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Collectible Card Game
Release: (INT) June 20th, 2012

Now, I consider myself to be a regular guy who has some form of social life. I go out, speak to people and generally enjoy time in the sun more than indoors. So you can imagine my first impressions when presented with the latest in the Magic video game series, which I was more associated to hearing friends talk about in my younger years as a physical card game as opposed to the now expanded interactive video and computer game forms. The notion of playing a computer card game I would normally play against physical opponents in a real-life environment makes me sceptical, especially being a first time player of this particular brand of magic-related battling with a mouse and keyboard instead of just my hands. Still, I load and prepare myself for new territory.

The introduction to Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is very similar to any ordinary strategy game. Entering into the Magic world as a beginner I head straight for the tutorial menu, which guides me through the basics of the battle grid, turn based system for attack and defence, and most importantly how to win. It seems simple enough so far.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

Where complications arise, as with all strategy based challenges, is in the cards themselves. I expected as much, and this is actually where I find myself starting to enjoy the game. It’s not just a case of top trumps here, where one base statistic beats another if it’s higher for instance. Here we have complex layers of attack, defence, position, additional bonuses, opponent weaknesses and of course magical enhancements to consider within every single move. I throw my assumptions that this is just another version of Pokémon straight out the window. This is something else entirely. No wonder the whole franchise has been going for the best part of two decades now. It’s engrossing enough already and I’ve only just finished learning how to play! Armed with what I perceive to be adequate knowledge in my rookie shell I select campaign mode.

The first thing to hit me when beginning the quest to defeat the typically evil looking dragon Planeswalker Nicol Bolas is excitement. I feel like a younger version of myself again. Unfortunately, no sooner has the euphoria risen up within my fingers it is replaced by the overwhelming feeling of unfulfillment. I shouldn’t be doing this, should I?

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

I sit back and stare at the screen, engaged in an epic battle with a lowly but still superior mage. Even though I am in my mid-twenties, this game is not for me. For all the enjoyment, something doesn’t sit right with game and gamer. The harmony that should be ever-present and directly linked to the emotional extremes of joy and despair seem underwritten with constant detachment. I decide to try and remedy this. I quit and return to the main screen.

After taking several minutes to clear my head as much as possible in this sort of situation, I load up the challenge mode. Sadly, the same responses take over. The number of possibilities for enhancing the game options seem vaguely interesting to a willing participant, but that is just not me. I try desperately to overcome maturity with my more youthful excitement that is desperately needed to fully enjoy this well presented and enveloping game, but the battle will inevitably end in defeat. I find myself ultimately at the mercy of my own demons, instead of the carefully thought out ones on the screen before me.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

In a final throw of the dice (yes I know, not applicable) I jump into multiplayer, where new modes for this specific edition have been added from previous versions such as Planechaser, which I quickly discover is a free for all do-or-die mode which sometimes finishes before you even know what’s going on. Naturally for the first few games I thoroughly enjoy the experience of dishing out punishment via co-ordinated creature attacks on each and every opponent I can find to do battle with. However, the constant nag of thinking my time would be better served elsewhere that I have briefly subdued returns with a vengeance before I can claim a solitary victory during my online struggle.

Before I leave I do notice one glaring issue that after discussion with other players is an on-going one from previous Magic installations. This relates to accessibility. Hosting games is easy, as is to be expected since it massively expands the game’s lifespan, but actually joining other games causes a problem through the connectivity rarely if ever allowing a new player to join a battle after it has begun. From the feedback I receive before leaving the session, it is a flaw that continues to bug the life out of all concerned.

Back at the main menu I reflect on my all too brief encounter with this particular niche genre of card duelling in a videogame. All things being equal, I would be a huge fan. The visuals are detailed in their simplicity so as not to detract from getting on with actual gameplay, a fault all too common nowadays (cut scenes in Final Fantasy titles spring to mind). This is improved further by the fact that the game requires a fast pace to be fully enjoyed, and the obvious concentration of the developers on this means frantic battles with higher levels of intense duelling.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

The modes are vast, the campaign detailed and multiplayer (although flawed) impressively designed. It’s just a shame that had I played it earlier, this review would reflect more of what is definitely a well thought out and overall addictive game.

Sadly the world is never equal, but more those who aren’t stuck in the more restricted confines of cultured reality and can blissfully dive into the Magic realm, then Planeswalkers 2013 will keep you entertained for a very long time.

My battle is already over, but don’t let this old fool stop you from yours. This game should definitely be tried.

7.0 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.