At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot PlayStation 3 Wizards of the Coast Stainless Games 1-4 (Online)
Requirements Also on...
None PC, Xbox 360, iOS

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 review

It might seem curious to have a card or board game converted into a video game; can these experiences be converted to a completely different medium? Instead of being huddled around a dining room table, players are connected over the internet or even going solo against AI. Whilst this can lead to a much less personal experience it does mean that a much wider audience are able to enjoy it. There have been a number of success stories in this vein such as Settles of Catan and Ticket to Ride to name a couple. Magic the Gathering is another such example and Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 marks the series' third entry in what has become an annual franchise. While I played the original Magic game, I missed out on last year's entry, so bear that in mind as I recount my experiences with this latest edition.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Magic the Gathering, here's a quick run through. Two players are pitted against each other, and set the task of reducing their opponent's life force from 20 points down to zero. Players have a hand of cards each and a deck to draw more from that contains creatures, magic and the mana/land (aka the power to fuel them). They must use these cards (and their wits) to take their opponent down. This is a very much a card game though and therefore includes all the staples that you would normally associate with this genre, such as tapping (rotating your card 90° to indicate an action), discard piles and draw decks; all of which have their own meanings in Magic the Gathering.

Magic 2013

So if you're a relative newbie to the world of card games and more importantly new to Magic the Gathering, how does the game introduce you to its core concepts? As it turns out MtG is surprisingly helpful, while there is a blink and you'll miss it menu option to view the games tutorial, playing the game's campaign itself will give you enough knowledge to get to grips with the game. The tutorial will introduce you to the basic controls and UI and then everything else is handled with tips upon tips upon tips. Almost every type of in-game action has a tip associated with it, which will pop up when the situation arises. The large number of different actions you need to use in Magic though means that you'll be fighting them off for the first few games (Unless you've turned them off altogether in the Options menu). Now, obviously, with a game like MtG, you're not going to get a tip for every card type, but the game has got you covered there too. Zooming into a card, will let you trigger help for the specifics of that card, although, like the game's tutorial, the button prompt is easy to miss.

Beyond the tutorial, lies the game's campaign. You need to play a series of magic games, each one representing your fight against a formidable opponent and this is set against the backdrop of the planeswalkers (Beings, such as yourself, that can jump between dimensions). While each battle is essentially a game of magic, there are a few twists in the formula to make things interesting. In addition to fighting a regular opponent, who will react to your moves, there are also encounters where you face an AI player who makes the same decisions every time. These battles are more about your ability to figure out a solution for taking their particular strategy down and offer a nice diversion. The AI starts off easy, allowing for newbies, but then gets harder very quickly (particularly if you consider the revenge mode), although some of that could be attributed to the luck of the draw. A new addition for this year's game is Planechase. Essentially this boils down to a 1v1v1v1 game of MtG where the AI players can target whoever they want. This is complicated by a central deck of cards representing the different planes that you're inhabiting. In each turn players get the opportunity to roll a die, which may end up changing the plane. Different planes offer different abilities that have powerful and vast consequences. For example, one plane renders powerful creatures ineffective, another replicates a successful attack against one opponent against all of the others. This makes for some very interesting sessions.

Magic 2013

There's a whole bunch of other features and improvements over past MtG games in this title. The game features motion-comic-style animations for introducing characters as well as player stats, this is useful for multiplayer games or for simply tracking your progress over the campaign. There is also deck manager, which lets you see the cards you have unlocked (although its not a true deck editor as you can't customise everything) and if you're feeling particularly flush, you can chose to unlock the cards immediately.

The UI is notable improved from when I saw it in 2010, with turn timers being a lot more subtle and in general, the UI elements are no longer vying to be the center of attention. The deck background lights up at all the right moments as creatures attack and cards fly onto the battlefield. This is also true of the attacking animations and icons. Its a shame that the controls don't match the tight UI design. The game provides a cursor to navigate the various cards in play, but instead of letting you control it from a single controller, different parts of the pad select different cards, the L-Stick highlights important cards, whilst the right stick allows you to go to those that aren't currently relevant. This can make it difficult for you to highlight exactly what you want to look at, as you're never quite sure which stick to use. This is complicated by the fact that MtG adds timers to most turns, unsurprising for MtG fans (this was in previous digital games) but much like the navigation, its hard to tell when you need to pause the action to use an ability and when you just need to let the action continue. Being the third iteration of this series, MtG has once again let a few opportunities slip by, games can run a little slow, with no option to skip AI actions. This is disappointing in regular games but downright annoying when playing a game of Planechase. There are also times when, due to a particular combination of cards being in play, a regular action can't happen. The underlying engine knows this is the case but the UI doesn't provide an explanation, something that would be useful to those less familiar with the card rules. These are minor quibbles though and with time, can be overlooked. Overall then, the UI is smartly minimalistic, Magic the Gathering has always had some fantastic artists contributing to it and here they shine, being used everywhere from instructions to loading screens. The game really know to let the card art speak for itself.

Magic 2013

MtG 2012 is a fantastic entry in the digital series of the collectible card game, offering a slew of options and modes for experienced players and newbies alike. Its offers a great taster for those looking to get involved in the game and for those who just want to get a refresher course as well as providing a flavour of some of the newer features of the series. MtG 2012 has a slick, well thought out presentation, partly due to the amazing card art that is on display throughout. Whilst you never truly get to create your own deck to unleash across the campaign, MtG offer a fantastic slice of action from what is now a 19 year old franchise.

Ratings

Overall Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is a great entry in a now annual series of downloadable games. This addition features a great number of refinements and additions. A few troubles with the UI stop this from being perfect. 9/10

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