One of the things that Magic fans have been clamoring for in the Planeswalker releases is access to a full blown deck editor and all the cards of a release. While Planeswalkers has always kind of been a training wheels set to the full blown customization of the full game, it had some great decks that you could unlock that were well balanced against each other in the sets, even when you took it to multiplayer. In last year’s release, we even got sealed deck play, which was a lot of fun, but still people wanted more. Well, they gave us a deck builder this time around, but stripped out some multiplayer modes and the ability to unlock decks, which is instead replaced with booster packs you unlock as you play or can be unlocked along with a set of premium cards in their store. So instead of being a kind of mindless fun romp as you gain access to new decks to toy around with, Magic 2015 has instead cranked up a bit of the grind, put a lot of guess work in the starter deck you want to get saddled with and created a modified paywall that before just unlocked decks early for players, but instead now allows access to a select set of cards if you’re willing to part with more cash, making this version more akin to Magic Online or the actual card game as opposed to the Planeswalkers games that came before. Before you get out your torches and pitchforks, let’s take a deeper look.
The single player campaign is built up like last year’s release, with a series of worlds you have to make it through to the end boss that will unlock your access to the next world. The tutorial is a little necessary this year, as I mentioned, as that’s where you pick which deck you’ll start out with. You can’t change this once you’re out of the tutorial area, and you’ll lose access to those cards if you do swap, but you can’t get into the deck builder until you’re well out of the tutorial anyway. As you move through the single player campaign you unlock booster packs from that world that grant you access to another set of random cards. Once you’ve beaten the main mages through the world, the only other way to get packs from that world is to keep exploring, which drops you into random combat. There’s where the grinding comes in. You’re going to find yourself dropping into these random matches a lot to unlock all the cards from each world, and the random matches aren’t necessarily easy or well-balanced if you haven’t unlocked many cards to boost your deck’s abilities or to tweak it. This problem gets exacerbated when you realize that even if you concede a duel you’re losing, the next time you pick a random match in that world you could very well end up fighting the same mage that was wiping the floor with you, so if you can’t really tweak your deck, you have to keep trying until your opponent gets a really terrible draw or you get an exceptional one. This is going to lead to a lot of players who are just used to going in and swapping to another well-balanced deck they’ve unlocked going in and finding that they don’t have enough cards unlocked to do much of anything unless they sink some serious time into unlocking more.
Now, if you’re looking to play a good game of two-headed giant, you can forget that as well. It’s not in this version. The only real multiplayer they have is every mage for themselves with up to four players against each other. The good news is, if you beat other players in multiplayer, you can unlock booster packs here as well, so if you’re willing to do some player on player to unlock more packs you can head into multiplayer to expand your collection here. If you lose in single player or multiplayer however, you get nothing for your efforts. If the other player quits on you, there’s a chance you’ll still get your pack if you follow through on everything. I haven’t actually had anyone rage quit on me, but I’ve seen other players having an issue with it, so it’s something to keep in mind. The Deck Building portion of your experience is fairly well put together. There’s a nice filter system so you can stick to colors you’re interested in or if you’re looking for a particular spell that’s not a summon card. It will automatically dump land into your deck based on what you’ve selected cards-wise and will throw up red flags if your deck isn’t sixty cards, as they’ve decided that’s going to be the sweet spot. There’s also a limit on cards, depending on rarity, as to how many you can have in your personal deck, and you don’t have to settle for one. I’m currently bumbling around with my main deck, the starter deck that’s remained mostly untouched now and a red and green I’m trying to make into something worth a damn, and there’s room for more. There is also a handy card collection screen that shows you what you’ve unlocked, how many you have, and what’s premium and what’s standard. For experienced builders, you can switch off some of the automatic settings so you can put your own land balance in or for actual gameplay, but all the ease of use comfort settings are on by default.
How does it play? Well Magic 2015 gameplay is based around the actual card game rules, a pretty straight-forward set of rules that escalates quickly as more options get added in, which builds up deck and player strategy. The object of the game is to take out your opponent by pitting your deck of cards against theirs, by lowering their 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 perform 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 work well together while others are total polar opposites. You draw seven cards to start your hand and one on your turn, and can lay one land per turn, 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.
For the most part the controls work okay. It doesn’t happen too often that the 360 controller I’m playing with stops interacting with the game properly and I have to use the mouse to get it back into the swing of things, but it has happened on more than one occasion. I’ve had it happen where I couldn’t zoom in on a card at all but I could hover my mouse over it to see the effects on the card. There’s also been instances in the menus where the interface is completely unresponsive and requires several key presses or button mashes, depending on whether one is using the mouse or controller, to get it to do what I want. The good news is that when you’re in a match itself, you can see your own cards, zoom in on them, cast and do everything else just fine. It was when looking at my opponent’s cards on the table that I’d end up having issues in game. This, by the way, is very much not an improvement over how last year’s title performed on the PS3 or the PC. It feels clunky and unfinished when you’re interacting with it, which is surprising after how well last year’s game worked.
Then there are the problems I ran into with it in the visual department. I’m a PC gamer, and I like to optimize. Apparently, when the developers were setting this up, they didn’t test the actual visual settings all that well. I mention this because, if you go in and check your settings, it tells you it’s set to 4:3 ratio with 1024×768 default, even though I knew for a fact it was widescreen, as it wasn’t stretched or distorted and took up my whole display. If you click the widescreen options, however, it then goes to 4:3 in actuality and makes like the dawn of the HD era on your screen, like you’re looking at a really terrible feed from a far away TV station. Kicking it back over to a 4:3 setting will clear up the screen at that point, but then you’re looking at 4:3 instead of 16:9 on your widescreen display. To fix this, you actually have to bail out of the game, find the config file and manually enter in your desired resolution and widescreen options. Yeah, we’re talking old school fixes here folks, and at this point in the game series life cycle, with so many releases out for it already, that this kind of thing can’t be fixed in the game menu is pretty much inexcusable.
So once you get around the fact that the graphics options really don’t work too well, the game itself looks okay. The card art looks great and the menu effects, as well as card effects, are well done. The redesigned arena is clean, making it easy to see everything and while not being too busy to distract. I’m not going to say this looks better than last year, because it doesn’t look at all different to me other than the card art. The interface, though, is a hot mess. Its design makes doing anything or moving around the menus an annoying test of patience, between everything being buried and things not working correctly. Last year’s interface worked much better than this. Aurally the game works as well as can be expected. The music is decent, but forgettable, and the sound effects I remember from last year make their return this year as well.
They’ve kept the basics of multiplayer in to keep you coming back, and there are some achievements that will have players trying to come up with a multitude of ways to get them. Plus, deck building from scratch is a great thing to have added to keep people coming back, and of course, grinding for more packs if you don’t want to pay to unlock the cards will also bring some players back for more. Taking out a whole mode of multiplayer, and a popular one at that, however, is definitely going to hurt the online aspect of it in the long run. Even then, most players can only take getting frustrated with weak decks against random decks that outclass anything you can cobble together at the start in the single player so many times before they have to quit and do something else. This one will have collectors coming back to it to unlock everything for sure, but more casual players just looking to play might actually find it lacking.
I will say that if you’re new to Magic the Gathering, you’ll probably want to start with a previous edition of the game. The challenges here in single player are far rougher than in past games, and it relies on you knowing what you’re doing when building a deck to really make something effective against another player or the computer. On top of that, there’s what you’re paying for versus what you’re getting. Yes, you’re basically getting what you’d get out of previous editions cards-wise, just spread out and requiring assembly. You’ll also have to sink more time in to get to a point where you can field multiple decks. The problem is that the microtransactions on this version are horribly over-priced. To unlock the premium set, you’re looking at dropping over thirty bucks more into the game. Want to unlock all the base cards in the game without grinding? That’s another twenty to twenty-five. That’s some pretty steep pricing on a game that retails for $9.99. On top of that, the experience curve on this one leans too heavily on trying to get people to buy the unlocks so they have more options earlier, along with charging far too much for a ten pack of premium cards when you could unlock entire 60 card decks on previous editions for half the cost of a booster pack. Everything in the store on this edition of the game screams cash grab. Is it an instant win option to buy the premium cards and unlock them all? No, but it’s far more unbalancing than in previous editions, and I can see why people are upset over it. There’s a difference between getting early access to a full deck that’s pretty evenly matched against the others in the game and getting access to a set of cards you have to pay for separately from the game that can offer a fairly significant boost to a well-constructed deck.
If you’re looking for something new gameplay-wise out of this, you’re not going to find it. Most of the basic cards and abilities are pretty much what players have come to expect from the game overall. I did find the game fairly addicting, but a lot of that boils down to my stubborn streak when it comes to beating enemies with my poor luck of the draw skills, and being determined to get past the really annoying decks. Most of my play times were set to about an hour and a half before I’d throw in the towel and need to do something else. I really do have pretty poor draw skills on anything with a random generator attached to it, which apparently extends to booster packs within this game. It’s why I hated the pack system in Mass Effect 3 in their multiplayer, and am really not all that fond of the booster packs here. My luck with draws stinks, and often I don’t get what I need and have to sink twice as much time in to get something I can work with. The campaign especially didn’t grab me like last year’s, with its voice over and actual story driving me to get more decks and see how things played out. Not everyone’s luck or planning when it comes to decks is as terrible as mine, however, so you may get more out of it than I did in a sitting. It all depends on how fast you get what you need and if your draws are continually better than the computer or the other players if you’re in multiplayer.
So I’ve kind of been tearing this one apart, and while I don’t like some of the design choices at all, it is still the cheapest way to play Magic the Gathering without investing in the Online game or buying actual cards. When the game is working well, it is a lot of fun to play. I do like going into my card collection and trying to figure out a few good deck strategies to work with the cards I’ve unlocked. I do like popping online and playing against friends. Hell, I had a great time playing against Aaron just the other day, even though I didn’t have much time. There’s a lot to be said for a new batch of Magic cards to catch an old player’s interest all over again. The game does also look good, at least as far as the artwork and effects go. It’s a fun experience when everything is working right, and you don’t have to fight with the interface to get into an actual match. That being said, I think this is the buggiest, chunkiest, and perhaps most anger inducing version of Duels of the Planeswalkers I’ve ever played. The pricing on packs and unlocks are way out of proportion to what we’ve gotten before from other entries, and it just doesn’t feel like it was finished before they put it out there for the world to interact with it. There’s a host of other bugs that have been reported that I didn’t personally experience with this release, or at least haven’t so far, and I don’t remember experiencing anything like the ones that I have in previous versions. I am at least enjoying it despite some faults, but for people looking for a quick in and out experience as with previous versions of the game, you’re not going to find the same title you’re used to, which is both good and bad. It’s an interesting step in one direction, but a lot of really bad trips and stumbles in another.
Short Attention Span Summary
Deck building is an option that Duels of the Planeswalkers fans, or rather the more involved Magic the Gathering fans, have been clamoring for some time for. It’s implemented well here and gives you lots of options, but along with that, some of the more interesting multiplayer and campaign aspects were stripped out of the game. Tack on a clunky and sometimes unresponsive user interface, and then add in some questionably priced microtransactions that don’t ring all that fair especially compared to previous releases, and you’ve got a really mixed release. There’s a bit of a grind, especially when you’re first starting out in the campaign, some of the cards you’ll never get unless you dump another thirty to forty bucks into the game to unlock them, and the single player isn’t as interesting as last year. If you’re looking to make your own decks, this is a pretty good investment, but is a somewhat flawed release. If you’re looking for a game to grab a deck and go, seek out last year’s game, which has far more options to it with the pre-built decks. This isn’t a great entry, as it just feels unfinished and unpolished, but it does show some promise if you can get around its issues.