Robert Chesley

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 – Review

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Well, it is that time of the year again. For the fourth straight summer we get another title in the widely successful “Duels of the Planeswalker” video game series from Wizards of the Coast. Each iteration has had it’s share of weaknesses and strengths, this year is no exception.

magic_pictureTo those who may not be aware of this product, it is primarily a “re-acquisition and beginning” level product to get people into the game of Magic quickly and easily without having to sell a few body parts to get started. The value of the game is how quickly it teaches you basics of the game and how many decks you can tinker and play around with for comparatively very little money (retail price is around $10 on all platforms.) To put that in perspective, a typical “intro pack” at the store costs around $12. You also are going to need a friend or another person to hop into the game with, which honestly gets increasingly harder as you grow older and can’t always make it to FNM every week (or on the flip side, you don’t have a car and your parents can’t drive you or quite frankly, a FNM is an hour away.)

The game is pretty straight forward, what I like most about it is how easy it is to just jump in and start playing. The AI is about what you would expect, and is one of the major deterrents. When you are playing on “Planeswalker mode” which is for “advanced” players, the AI makes a lot of really obvious mistakes and the computer’s deck building skills leave something to be desired. For example, even at FNM, human players would never make the kinds of mistakes the AI makes, the AI regularly cast spells in the first main phase that could be saved for after combat, plays with sub-par cards (even in the later stages of the game.) While I realize that no AI is going to be perfect, but considering on how well it teaches other Magic concepts, I would love to play against Pro Tour or Grand Prix competitor level AI to learn some of those next level techniques that separates good players from pro players.

This year’s “spotlight” mode that they are featuring is Sealed play. In this mode you crack open six packs of cards that mimic real life packs and features a pool of around 180 cards. Once you open the pool you can pick and choose which cards you would like to play in a 40 card deck and go against other sealed decks for the right for more packs to add new cards to your pool or change your deck up. This is a feature that has long been clamored for since the first one game out in 2009. In fact, it is the only way in the game where you can “create your own deck.” I love the features with the deckbuilding feature, including the bar at the top that “rates” your deck based on how you build it (meaning if you want to get better at sealed deck just following the three or four basic guidelines will help you immensely at becoming a better player.) The suggestions are as simple as “keep it close to 40 cards” or “have a good curve” these are two things that I preach whenever a new player comes up to me for help in draft or sealed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players play something like 14 lands or less in a 40 card deck (you really need about 16 to 18 depending on the format, I generally stick to the 17 lands/mana sources and 23 “other cards” rule.) Another cool feature of Sealed deck building is you can automatically build a deck out of 1 or 2 cards in the deck. That is a pretty slick feature if you want to see some general choice suggestions and also helps teach good deck building techniques. The feature does have it’s downside. The major one is you are only allowed two Sealed slots in the main game. You can purchase more for two dollars per slot. Considering this is a ten dollar game I would have to say that your money is better spent buying a previous “Duels” game rather than purchasing a new slot. While I can respect the reason why they don’t want customers to have infinite Sealed pool, it has the potential to leach into the Magic Online market for Sealed and Draft play. Which by the way, for 4 dollars on Magic Online you can play Sealed and have a shot at real prizes. I wish the pricing was a little better. I would have loved that the 2 dollars included 5 Sealed slots. I would instantly purchase that. But as it stands, I likely will play my two Sealed pools and move on from the mode. Too bad really.253297-620

That being said, there is a lot of Magic here for the price, which is kind of the point. It costs less than a draft on Magic Online and you can get hours and hours of game play out of it just by trying to unlock all the cards for all the decks or playing the game online with others. I can’t recommend this game for a long term purchase if you plan on playing online with players, because there are so many iterations of this software already, if you aren’t on the most current version you will be hard pressed to find an online game later in it’s life cycle (that is likely true of most or all games at this point, but it is something to consider when purchasing this game.)

So what did I think of the game in bullet list form?

What I do like:

Incredible Value. Ten dollars buys you a lot of Magic and is the best deal if what you are after is to play a lot of quick games of Magic.
Sealed Mode. Finally a way to play a “limited” format against AI.
Variety of decks. With 10 decks and 2 “Sealed” decks there is a lot of variety within the framework of the game.
The best way to learn the game. If you want to learn Magic in a low stakes, low impact environment this is the way to go.
It’s “real Magic.” Unlike a lot of other games that were based on Magic but featured none of the game play. This is honest to goodness Magic.
Better deck tweaking. You are now allowed to change how many lands there are in all decks. This is a vast improvement over previous versions.
Now on Android. Last year they brought Duels over to iOS and it was a resounding success, the game is now available on Android devices.

What I don’t like:
Nickeled and dimed. Everything in the game has a micro transaction, from deck unlocks to more sealed pools to foil cards. I understand why they are here, but I wish this was more in the background.
Sometimes stupid AI. A friend of mine said that one of the AI played a lot of bad cards in the main phase and then made dumb blocks. In my experience, I’ve seen the AI pump my creatures and cast beneficial spells on my own cards and I’m playing on “hard mode.” The AI also does not teach advanced play concepts that would make this product a must own in my opinion.
Slow UI. I played this game on the 360 as I have with all the other versions of the game and this was by far the slowest of all the AI. There is seemingly a million menus to get to everything in the game. I had an experience of when I won a game, the game seemingly automatically adds the “newly unlocked” card to your deck and you have to go back to the deck editor screen which takes 3 or 4 clicks both ways. It would take on average about 4 minutes to update the deck and get back to play the next match. I feel that could be streamlined better and I feel it was better in previous incarnations of the game.
the “challenges”. I realize I am an advanced Magic player, but most of the challenges this round was “play good Magic.” None of the challenges (save for the final one) were really all that challenging or interesting. Took me about 10 minutes total to go through all 10 challenges. I also feel there could be easily 30 or 40 of these per title. In fact, I wish they would just make a title that included 50 of these challenges, it is one of my favorite features every year, but this one just did not hit the mark in my opinion.

My final thoughts. I think it is a buy. Ten dollars for the amount of Magic you can get out of this is a great deal and at the end of the day sometimes you just want to play in the comfort of you living room. My copy was provided by Wizards of the Coast and it was for the Xbox 360. I spent about 6 hours finishing the campaign, challenge, and sealed deck modes. I did not play the revenge mode (which is honestly just the campaign mode with better made decks.) Nor did I play any of the online modes. My suggestion would be to get the game on a tablet. The UI is geared far more to play on touch screens then it does consoles. It may seem like I have more criticisms of the game, I really do enjoy it. Magic is an incredibly deep game that is surprisingly addicting and has a timeless quality about it. Every game is different and each player brings their own approach to the game. If you have never played Magic or have only played Magic back in high school, you should give this game a shot. You’d be surprised at how far the game has come over the years. I keep telling myself I wish they had this product around when I was really getting into the game in the late 90s. We had the Microprose game, but it had it’s limitations. This is really one of the best games on the market if you are looking for strategy and refreshing game play.

You can find more about “Duels of the Planeswalkers” as well as other Magic products at www.MagicTheGathering.com.

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