Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 PC Review

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Like the football season, it’s almost certain that a digital version of Magic the Gathering will return the following summer with a new iteration of its tactical, card-based gameplay. We’re on the fourth version, which is amazing to think about – just looking back at the older versions shows how far the developers have come with the series and its features. Every release often comes with a big new mode or feature that makes it worthwhile to jump back into the franchise again. It also helps that they sell the game for a cheap price, offering people with curiosity a chance to play the game without it burning a hole in their pockets. There are some limitations with the digital version over the physical card game, but one of my biggest complaints against Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is fixed in this year’s release.

An extra push has been given towards presentation in Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 (let’s just call it Magic 2014 to save your vocal cords). There is even an introductory story cutscene for the campaign, with CG animation and voiceover work spread throughout certain points in the game. Rare cards also get an overhaul, with the most powerful ones having a holographic display to show off a small animation of the card art. It’s nothing super exciting, but these upgrades make the often-lifeless action of card battling (presentation was frequently limited to bite marks for damage) have a breath of fresh air. But that isn’t the change we care about most in Magic 2014 – not at all. What we do care about is the inclusion of the Sealed Play game mode, which finally lets digital players of Magic the Gathering experience the joys of getting booster packs and creating your own personal deck.

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Sealed Play is its own campaign that has replaced the Planechase mode from last year. At the beginning, the player is given six booster packs that contain a total of 84 cards (14 in each pack). The cards received are completely random, so everyone will gain their own deck that shouldn’t be similar to someone else’s. The game allows you to have two decks saved, so if you fancy having a second stab at gaining a new deck of 84 cards, you can do so. If you’d like to have more slots, then you’ll have to purchase one for £1.59.

While Sealed Play is a fantastic addition, I do feel that at the moment the game mode isn’t at its fullest potential and could easily be fleshed-out much more. For one, its separate campaign mode only has six opponents to fight. That was a little disappointing for me, as I am a person who enjoys fighting through the entire computer opposition before jumping into the online mode. I see that as a sign that I am ready to fight real-world opponents. I would have probably been happy if the game had allowed players to pick their Sealed Play decks in the other single-player campaign mode – you’re still limited to the pre-created decks and colours in the main campaign, along with having to unlock 30 extra cards for each of those decks by winning matches. The other problem is also linked to the short campaign, and that is the booster packs. You can gain three additional boosters by beating the first, third and fifth challengers, but there is no way to continue building your deck after that, so you’re going to have to start a new slot (or buy one), as there doesn’t seem to be a way to remove existing decks and do the Sealed Deck campaign all over again. When the excitement of getting new cards is the highlight, it’s a shame that it’s limited.

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Campaign features five realms, each with their own theme and play. The challengers you come across have much more variety in their decks compared to last year’s version, but they also fit with the theme of the world. One of them was a Henchman for the realm’s boss – his attacks were only weak cards (all henchmen cards), but there was a trick behind his deck. Whenever he produced enough henchmen, a special card could be brought into play that was buffed with stats. It’s little tricks like these that mean the player has to be on high-alert and study everything that is going on in play, or you’ll find yourself having to retry the match again to combat the surprise defeat.

The last single-player feature is challenges, a set of 10 puzzles that need to be solved. These are for people who understand the rules and power-ups of the game, as they will test your knowledge and skill about the way Magic the Gathering plays. The first campaign asks you to defeat a person with a specific set of cards before his next turn, as the player has one HP and will die in the next attack. Another one is about dealing as much damage as possible in one turn, to see if the player can figure out the maximum possible damage from the cards displayed. It’s a fun mode that fans will like, and one that will require you to sit and think until you imagine the best outcome in your mind.

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For people who don’t know what “land,” “tapped” or “trample” mean, then you’re in luck, as Magic 2014 has a brilliant in-depth tutorial that details everything you need to know to be able to play the digital version. Tutorials keep the focus on one topic at a time, so people can easily follow along without getting lost in the complexity of the card game. I’d go as far to say as this is the best place to go if you want to get an idea for the game. This is as user-friendly you are ever going to get when it comes to Magic the Gathering, and the developers have done their best to make sure you’re going to have a smooth experience both offline and online, by implementing such features as the auto-build options for Sealed Play and the ability to make the computer add the optimal amount of lands for your deck.

Online play is where people will want to spend their time once finished with the solo content. With the addition of a Sealed Play mode for online – in which you can take your Sealed Play decks from the single-player into the online environment – there’s a lot of excitement to see how your luck will match up with another player’s deck. If you don’t want to play with your own deck, then the normal multiplayer is available (for two or four players), along with two-headed giant mode, a game type for two teams of two players that share the same life between them. It’s a solid online component and its interface makes it easy to find someone and get into a match.

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As with any yearly iteration of a game series, fans hope for the words, “This is the best version yet,” and for Magic 2014, this rings true. Finally, we have the ability to create our own decks, thanks to the Sealed Play mode and its booster pack gameplay. Even if it isn’t as fleshed-out as I would have liked, it’s still a fun mode that shows what could potentially be the almighty feature for Magic 2015. Fans will like the new modes and the inclusion of Silver creatures, and newcomers shouldn’t feel scared of joining the fun, as Magic 2014 is once again another successful attempt at digitally recreating the intricate card game and breaking it down to easy, understandable fun.

8/10

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Version tested: PC

Also available on: PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android

Developer: Stainless Games

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

Genre: Card Game, Strategy