You want cards? This game has got cards.
Another year, another Magic: the Gathering game releases like clockwork. Based on the classically frustrating experiences the card game is made of, Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers brings your classic Blue control deck to your computers, consoles and tablets. It's an expensive hobby; you need to constantly buy cards to remain relevant to the game, and many times people have wondered why the digital adaptations are so poor. Wizards of the Coat's attempt this year brings the game you love to more platforms: hopefully this time, it works a lot better.
This review covers the PC version, and because it is a digitisation of a physical card game, there are of course several hiccups along the way. Magic: the Gathering relies on, primarily, a one versus one scenario where two players face off using an assortment of decks constructed from five “colours” to fulfil one of many victory conditions, the most common being bringing your opponent's life total from 20 to 0. It's a heavily popular game, and it's easy to see why.
First off is the tutorial of the game, after picking how much experience you have playing: none, a little and a lot, which places your difficulty to Mage, Archmage and Planeswalker respectively. This article is played at the Archmage difficulty. The first thing noticed when you get into the tutorial is just how responsive the game's menus actually are. A huge improvement over last year, where myself and my friends were having FPS drops clicking around menus after playing for hours; having things instantly respond is a huge improvement in my eyes.
Magic: the Gathering is the fundamental CCG; you will find elements of it in any CCG, and the complexity of 20 years of gameplay forms into something you can learn the basics of in 20 minutes, and find nearly impossible to master. Players have the chance to respond to every “spell” - which is an action – making the game potentially more twisted and longer than many others of its kind. It's the kind of depth the fans appreciate religiously, and in Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers you are finally able to emulate this depth.
The game is highly improved from the previous iterations, almost as if Wizards of the Coast and developer Stainless Games learned from their previous mistakes, and used them to improve their game to a point where fans will appreciate and acknowledge the game's existence. The core of the game remains, however the fluff is stripped away as if what you are really playing is Magic: the Gathering Lite; it's a loose framework designed for beginners to get invested into the game and convert instantly to the physical card game. This can be seen from the game's meta-game and power-play seemingly revolving around creatures, rather than controlling the field with spells, making cheese-y deck types a huge favourite to win over something more intricate.
It's not a bad thing. Like mentioned previously, mistakes have been learned from: the quality of decks have been improved upon (although some are just horrible), utilising more cards in the game and offering a few more choices to make an amusing deck with. And the fans were listened to: in Magic 2014, you're finally able to create decks through the introduction of Sealed Play, a mode when players open virtual booster packs to construct a deck with, and you're able to play through a specific campaign (and multiplayer) with them.
The game also isn't hard. A stripped down version of an ever-popular card game, combined with easy gameplay and cheap cost means it will be a smash hit with the newbies looking to get in. You can cheese your way through any campaign, and the challenges included in the singleplayer also aren't particularly difficult. It's well worth the price tag, and I feel would be perfect to play on a 10” tablet on a train ride rather than on your PC or Xbox in the living room.
So what's the problem with the game? Well, a lot of the positives listed are a double-edged sword: the game is simple and stripped, but it's almost as if Wizards of the Coast decided to cut it off at the knees before it had the chance to grow: the game is dumbed down, and instead of inviting new players to a true Magic: the Gathering experience, they get some bastardisation that can't cut into the regular player base too deeply and isn't as amazingly enjoyable as previous version.
The Final Verdict
But it's worth the cost. Magic 2014 is a fun game that finally gets right what a lot of Magic: the Gathering players wanted; quick gameplay at any time it's wanted. Is it worth your money, though? It's $10 on any platform: this review is based on the PC version, but I can't imagine the other platforms being horribly different. If you're thinking about trying out Magic: the Gathering, or you want something to fool around with when with friends while you wait for your DOTA2 queue to pop, this game is perfect. If you're looking to try something new and are expecting to play something utterly mindbogglingly amazing, give this a miss.