Review: Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (Sony Playstation 3)
by Aaron Sirois on July 3, 2012

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Developer: Stainless Games
Genre: Card Game
Release Date: 06/20/2012

Okay, so in my review of Dungeon Twister, I said that I had learned my lesson about expensive board/card games with MTG… but I lied. The truth is that I love Magic, and any expendable income could very well result in purchasing more cards. This is despite the fact that I currently have no one to play with. However, I hadn’t yet bothered with the Magic games on PSN. This is mostly because I really like to create my own decks, and these games do not allow players to do that. Still, I’m certainly not going to turn down the chance to review the game if the opportunity presents itself. In this case, that opportunity came, so here I am.

DotP 2013 is the third game in the annual series. It boasts ten playable decks, plenty of single player options, and three different types of online games. The series is fairly well regarded, but has always had room for improvement. Has it managed to improve on the formula, or is Stainless Games resting on their laurels here?

Modes

To start things off, there are three separate single player campaigns. The basic campaign runs you through a couple dozen battles. Once you’ve beaten the boss, you move on to a new location and unlock new battles. Duels against fellow planeswalkers unlock new decks for use, so there is plenty of incentive to move. If you can topple the final boss, then a shorter, tougher campaign is unlocked. The opponents get better cards and use them more efficiently.

For those looking for something a bit outside the box, the Planechase campaign will prove interesting. In this mode, four players battle each other at once, while neutral cards go in the middle and bestow random bonuses. The cards can be changed at the roll of a die. This mode is chaotic and amusing, though clearly unbalanced and not meant for serious play.

There are also ten challenges that are more cerebral in nature. You’re given a setup where an opponent is on the cusp of victory, and it’s your job to win in one turn. These are more puzzles than challenges, and will really test a player’s knowledge of the game.

For other single player options, there’s the deck manager, the player status screen, and tutorials. The single player package alone is probably worth the asking price. However, the game comes equipped, as you’d expect, with online multiplayer.

For multiplayer, you can play quick matches or custom matches with three different rulesets. Free-for-all allows up to four players (or as few as two) battle for supremacy, two-headed giant duels are basically tag team matches where teammates share turns and life, and the Planechase duels make an appearance as well. The game keeps track of your stats, and will even display the deck color you use the most.

There may not be a story to burn through, but DotP 2013 is a fully featured game that will give players plenty of options for dueling. Now, if only the deck editor were fully realized, and I could actually choose the number of lands in each deck, then I’d be truly happy.

Graphics

I could judge the game based on the artwork, but that would hardly be fair. Most of the graphics in this game are the cards themselves, which are not exclusive to this title. In fact, I own many of them myself. The art is fantastic, as you’d expect from MTG.

To really judge the game though, the framework around the art must be judged. The background for duels is really plain. It’s a dark table with a glowing red circle for combat. Player information is given for both sides via a simple HUD. It’s clean, but pretty boring.

Effects are decent enough, especially compared to other card titles. If enough cards get together, it can create an impressive light show. Staring down an army of creatures is just as terrifying as it is in real life, which is a plus. Still, it’s not like the cards come to life in the third dimension and start beating the snot out of each other. You’re basically just watching cards move around with some minor effects.

To say the game is graphically unimpressive is right on the money. Still, it looks pretty close to the real deal and has strong artwork to keep things interesting. For a ten dollar downloadable title, it’s decent.

Audio

While the game has a full soundtrack, I find that keeping the sound on is is pretty unimportant. I find myself plugging in my mp3 player more often than not. This isn’t to say the music is bad or annoying. In fact, the music is quite pleasant. However, it’s also kind of uninteresting. It has no weight, power, or emotion. It’s simply generic fantasy background music.

For effects, the game follows a minimalist approach. Most of the sounds signify phase changes or when creatures deal damage. The sounds are fine, but get repetitive after even one battle. Again, I rarely keep the sound on.

There are some voices in the game, for the intro and for one of the tutorials. These are, again, adequate for the proceedings, but don’t distinguish themselves in any way. I suppose that last statement can sum up the entire presentation. It’s very pedestrian, though at least it isn’t actively bad.

Gameplay

This will not be a complete rundown of how MTG works, but I’ll sum things up for newcomers.

Two players start off with a deck of sixty or more cards and twenty life. Those cards come in a variety of types, such as lands, creatures, enchantments, and artifacts. Lands produce mana, which is spent to cast all of the other cards. The game ends when one player runs out of life, or runs out of cards to draw from their deck. It sounds simple, but there are plethora of card types and rules. As such, MTG is a deep and strategic game with a touch of luck, thanks to the reliance of drawing cards from a deck.

This game is a faithful adaptation of the physical one. It includes several niceties to keep things moving, and allows newcomers to familiarize themselves with how things work. At the press of a button, you can zoom in on a card, as well as check up on whatever rules that cards may enforce. For example, if you want to know what “exalted” means on a creature, a shoulder button press reveals this information. Oddly enough though, this feature doesn’t exist in the deck builder. That seems like a pretty big oversight.

Controls are pretty simple. The analog sticks let you maneuver the cursor around the field, while X confirms and circle cancels. The square button allows you to freeze time to think out a strategy. This is important, as the game’s timer system will move forward if you don’t have any available actions. The timer system can be a bit annoying in that regard, but I suppose it’s better than having to constantly push a button in order to progress.

A new change is the ability to pick specific lands to tap when playing a spell. This is incredibly important for multi-colored decks, as you could imagine. Oddly enough though, only one of the ten available decks is multi-colored. Still, more decks will mostly likely end up as DLC down the pipeline, so this feature will prove very useful.

Overall, the controls allow you to play the game without a hitch, once you get used to how to work them. I had some initial mishaps when forgetting to freeze time or pressing forward with an attack when I meant to use an ability. The card battling itself is as deep and fun as ever. The only thing that could make it better is if you weren’t restricted to pre-made decks.

Replayability

It’s hard to come up with a running time of the main campaign. Depending on decks used, strategy, and number of times failed, the number can vary dramatically. I’d say ten hours for everything is a pretty good bet, unless you really struggle with the later encounters. However, there is a strong incentive to replay the battles, as each win nets you a new card for your deck. Thirty unlockable cards for ten decks equal three hundred wins you’ll need to rack up before all of the cards are yours. The more cards unlocked, the more options you have when customizing the deck. That burn deck can easily morph into several different deck types depending on what you put in there.

Then, there’s the multiplayer. The best way to get better at the game is to play with other people, as they’ll often do things very differently from the computer. This allows you to see mistakes in a new light, and also get a glimpse at better strategies. After I schooled another player in a burn deck vs. burn deck match, for example, I’m sure that guy will think twice before wasting a perfectly good spell instead of saving it for a more opportune use.

DotP is meant as a gateway drug to the full card game. After all, that’s where Wizards is going to get their money. It does a great job at that, because you can sink some serious time into this game, and that time is nothing compared to what you could spend on the physical version.

Balance

There are three difficulty settings, which are supposed to determine how tough of an opponent you get, though I’m not sure how this works. Does the computer draw better cards on higher difficulties or what? I’m not sure, but I do know that the main campaign isn’t too tough. Only the most newbie of newbies will have trouble. The revenge campaign, on the other hand, will offer a pretty decent challenge. The decks get tougher, and luck starts playing more of a factor. If you don’t draw good stuff, you’re in for a trouble.

The decks as a whole are pretty balanced, though some decks are simply going to be better against other types. Sure, the burn deck has a good chance of taking any other deck down, but only if played correctly. I like burn decks, can you tell? I suppose that’s an evolution that comes from playing the game for so many years. At first, I loved big creatures, until I realized I could do the same kind of damage for less cost with spells. Anyways, if there’s one deck I found at all weak, it was Jace’s deck. His deck is designed to empty out an opponent’s library. It’s a time consuming way to win, and there isn’t enough defense to keep a Jace player alive until his combos can take effect. Perhaps it gets significantly better when everything is unlocked, but I wasn’t impressed. I’ll take the white weenie deck over that any day.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that DotP 2013 is about as balanced as the real game itself. There’s a decent amount of luck involved, but strategy still wins the day in most cases. Sure, there are instances where I can’t draw enough land to play the one spell that will save me, but that kind of thing can just as easily happen to my opponent. The randomness helps keeps things balanced, in a way.

Originality

Well, this is the third game in the series, and it does little more than offer new decks. The Planechase mode is new, which is a plus. It replaces a mode from the previous game though, so that newness came at the cost of something familiar.

Beyond that, the game is a video game port of a decades old card game. This isn’t even close to the first time that card game has seen a digital release. Card games in general are nothing new, even if they are a niche genre. I own several myself, and have put more hours than I can count into Yu-Gi-Oh World Championship 2008.

Anyways, this is a game made to show off new cards to veterans, while introducing the concept to a new potential market. It’s not meant to be original. It’s meant to be a showcase.

Addictiveness

Unlocking new cards for a favorite deck can be insanely addicting. Even with games potentially taking twenty plus minutes, I found myself playing several matches in a row before taking a break. What’s great is that you can play the same battle with the same decks and get a different result. That kind of thing makes the game hard to put down.

That being said, this title can never be as addicting as the full game. That’s because buying a pack, getting new cards, and inserting them into old decks is practically an art form. I have no idea how much money I’ve sunk into cards, but I’m sure it’s a couple thousand dollars at least. At one point, I made it a daily routine to walk to a store that sold cards on my lunch break. I didn’t even have anyone to play with at the time. I was just hooked on getting new cards and crafting new decks.

Still, this is a fun game, with plenty to offer for short sessions or long ones. It’s a great time killer, and sure to be something I go back to frequently.

Appeal Factor

If you’ve played one of the previous versions, you may not be too interested in this. While there are new decks, the game hasn’t fundamentally changed in any way. The series has become like all of those annual titles in other gaming franchises. There is little improvement between iterations. If it were a full retail game, that might be reprehensible. For ten dollars though, it presents a much softer blow than something like Madden or the latest WWE game.

If you haven’t played Magic before, this is a great way to discover if the game is for you. The barrier to entry is low, and the single player element will allow you to get used the game’s mechanics without getting massacred by an experienced player. When I was first learning to play, I constantly got my butt kicked by others who’d spent much more time and money on the game than I could afford. A game like this would have been a godsend. I would have never have traded my Coat of Arms card if I knew then what I know now.

Miscellaneous

At the time of this writing, none of the PlayStation store options are running. Supposedly, you should be able to unlock everything by paying for it ahead of time. However, when you quit the game and open up the store, the only thing to buy is the game itself. I’d imagine that will be fixed soon enough, but it may put off some players who don’t want to spend the dozens of hours required to unlock everything.

The “extras” menu is a joke. While it does offer a code for some real life cards, they’re on a first come, first serve basis. Chances are it’s already too late to get your hands on them. Beyond that, the game is quick to put up ads for Magic products and events. These pop up during the campaign, and then get stored in the extras section. I find that really annoying.

Overall, this is a solid game, especially for newcomers. Veterans may get a kick out of the new decks, but the lack of proper deck customization will eventually make the game obsolete. It certainly won’t distract such players from Magic Online for long.

The Scores
Modes: Great
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Very Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Whether you’re a fan of Magic, or a complete beginner, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 has something to offer you. For ten dollars, the game is a fully featured, highly replayable strategic card game. The presentation isn’t much to speak of, and it doesn’t break the mold in any way, but that doesn’t mean much. If you’ve got the hankering for a good customizable card game, this is one of the best options out there.



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