I’ve been playing Magic The Gathering in card form, you know on a table, since 1994. Granted my actual table playing days are pretty much over and have been for about ten years now. I don’t have the time, energy or money to put into collecting the cards and building decks anymore, and while what I have is still viable to play against people at the local hangout, I prefer my digital games at home. Now I do have a copy of the Microprose version of Duels of the Planeswalkers from 97 or 98, that I do still play on occasion and loved the deck building in that. That is half the fun right there, and I admit I was completely not interested by the idea of Magic Online. A stand-alone release though with set pre-built decks with some minor customization piqued my interest and I ended up grabbing up Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 for my Steam account and a new yearly obsession was born. Add in the sealed deck play option for Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014, from now on referenced here as Magic 2014, and it’s an instant grab for me, especially for the cost of one pre-built physical deck. How does it stack up though as the series seems to be heading towards a yearly release? Let’s take a look.
Magic 2014 has a few modes to it, although one replaces Planechase which I wasn’t overly fond of while I really do like the new mode. There is a single player campaign mode that takes a different turn this year giving us more of a story line to it than last year but at the same time is a bit shorter. I actually like this quite a bit more as it feels you’re more involved instead of ‘fight random guy with deck to get to the dragon’ from last year. Even if it’s a small plot I feel it’s an improvement over nothing at all, and I don’t know many people who spent more than a few times going through that last year. Completing the leader of an area unlocks it so you can challenge specific Planeswalkers after. Then of course going back after them when all is said and done the first time. There’s the Challenges section that has you getting through specific tasks and an Advanced Challenges section that’s a little harder. I recommend completing the Tutorial section as it also unlocks another deck right away so you have options when you’re running through single player and another deck for multiplayer right off the bat. I do want to spend a little time on Sealed Play as it’s the new mode that let’s you get a bit more creative.
Sealed Play is exactly what it sounds like. The idea is to mimic the sealed deck tournament style, giving the player several sealed booster packs of cards and then letting them build their own deck to pit against other opponents. The deck-building options include an auto-build that pulls from the cards you have to create a powerful deck, but it has mixed results. I did get a good deck with it, but it couldn’t beat the first guy I faced right out of the gate. I had to go into my available cards and tweak it a bit, taking out one card and replacing it with 9 of them and not increasing my land at all to put me at 48 cards instead of the 40 it started me with and then I was able to trounce the first computer opponent I went after using their generated deck as a base. You only get two different sealed decks to start with and can’t mix and match cards between them, but can unlock more with a $1.99 price tag if you’re really into it. I think the two will be plenty for most people but you have the option if you’re willing to fork over a little more. You do get more sealed booster packs as you play through the campaign in this section giving you more cards to choose from and broaden your deck choices a bit. The Sealed Play campaign is a bit short which means you’ll end up taking it online to get the most out of it.
Multiplayer you have a few options. Free For All, Two-Headed Giant and then Sealed Play which lets you put you Sealed Play deck against other peoples. Free For All and Two-Headed Giant both use your unlocked decks from the main single player campaign. These are largely unchanged from last year other than Sealed Play. If you do drop connection your opponent gets replaced with an AI one so the match continues.
Magic 2014 gameplay wise is based around that actual card game rules, a pretty simple concept that escalates quickly as more rules get added in which adds to deck and player strategy. The object of the game is to take out your opponent using your deck of cards by lowering his life points to zero from twenty or by running them out of cards in their draw pile. You do this by using a deck built with various spells that summon creatures on your side, damage your opponent or their summons, or other various effects to your benefit. There are five colors, each one with a different specialty as far as what’s available with some crossover into each and some colors that work well together and others that are total polar opposites. You draw seven cards to start your hand and one on your turn, can lay one land per turn, land which generates mana that you use to cast your spells. Each spell has a different cost dependent on their effects and usefulness and also depending on if it’s something that your spell color is good at. You can cast as many spells per turn as you have the mana for, but the objective is always to take out the other player as fast as your deck will allow you.
Visually the game relies mostly on the same card art that is used for the regular card game, which is not a bad thing at all. Magic has always had some of the best artwork around for their cards and that continues in this game as well. Things don’t look as sharp as they could be when they’re not art, and the board itself is pretty bland, but that’s not really the focus so it more or less works. The cards look great when you zoom in, the interface is clean and works and that’s what really matters. The audio is pretty decent and the music and sound effects get you by. The segments that do have voice acting are done pretty well but for the most part you’re going to be hearing the music and sound effects in a match and that’s it.
Replayability is built into the game if you’re into the mulitplayer, and a bit if you’re into the single player and like playing the NPCs over again with different decks. There are trophies to unlock although not that many and several are tied into completing different things in matches as opposed to just moving through the campaign. With a bit of customization to the main decks and then of course the Sealed Play, I think this version is a bit more re-playable than last years.
Balance wise, you’re actually getting a lot for a ten dollar downloadable title. Even if you’re just looking to move through single player and unlock all the decks you’re getting at least ten hours out of it. I’ve dropped that much in just sealed play and mucking about with my decks in the single player let alone multiplayer, and considering that’s more time than some big budget action titles you’d drop sixty bucks on, that’s good payback for your cash. The decks themselves are fairly balanced with one another but if you get a bad draw you’re going to have a bad run. You’ve also got three levels of difficulty to play with if you’re getting your cards handed back to you singed you can always scale it back.
While I like the game there isn’t much new here. Sealed Play has been around for a long while now. When I first jumped into the game last year all over again there were some new abilities for cards and new artwork, but the core game itself has not really changed all that much since it first launched. I do like the story line they put in and it’s a new set of cards, but it’s like the equivalent of throwing fresh paint on your 67 Buick. Sure it’s shiny and new looking but it’s still your old Buick so there’s no surprises. It still handles the same in the end either way. I did get into it all over again with the kid in the candy store mentality and it is a blast to play on console. At one point I looked up and realized I’d been playing for two hours when I was just going to play one match. It is fairly cheap, a decent refresh of new decks and cards plus the sealed play mode for what it costs to pick up one real pre-built deck at the store, it plays well and looks good. There have been DLC releases for those sixty dollar games that cost as much and I didn’t get even close to as much out of it.
Some issues I have with this version of the game are minor. There is some screen tearing but it’s short and doesn’t happen all the time, but the fact it’s in there for a card game is a bit alarming. Objects are a bit jagged and aren’t smooth which isn’t as apparent from across the room, but when I get into a match I get on my feet and move closer and then there it is. The autobuild option in sealed decks I already mentioned as not being anywhere near perfect but a good launching point if you don’t have any ideas. Other than those though the game has loaded fine for me, not locked up, and unlike 2013 on my Steam account on my PC, the User Interface seems to work much better with a controller than a mouse and keyboard. It just doesn’t feel as clunky and I like that a lot. Either way I think the changes they’ve made got me into this version bit more than the 2013 version, but it’s still very much the same game with a fresh coat of paint. Think of it like a roster update only all the teams went through a rebuilding phase instead of just one or two. It’s still worth the price of admission,but it’s going to be very similar to the Magic the Gathering you played on your console last year.
Short Attention Span Summary
Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 is the latest in what seems to be a yearly release schedule for the limited version of the game. While not as robust as the table or online version, Magic 2014 is a decent representation of the game with ten pre-built decks and the new Sealed Play mode to let you build a deck from packs to play against the AI and other people as well as the campaign mode, the new decks and mode don’t feel like a cash grab, especially considering that you can only get one pre-built deck in a store for the price of this game with ten. The multiplayer showing is also pretty decent with three modes including your sealed deck. While not as clean on the game end of things visually as I’d have liked, the artwork on the cards is as usual, stunning, the decks you can play are diverse enough and somewhat balanced, and if you’re looking for that quick fix it’s a good way to go with it. If you’re on the fence about picking up Magic, these releases are a great way to get into it. It’s friendly to new players and people who have played before will feel right at home.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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