Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 PC Review

Card games are hard for me to get into. I’m sure I am not alone regarding reasons why people decide not to pick up and play them. My problems are, firstly, is that I need to find people close to me who already play or are willing to buy some decks and play with me. The second is that I am a stingy git and I don’t like the idea of shelling out quite a bit of money (in my eyes) on expensive, shiny pieces of card that might not even get used that much. Well, for people who fall into this category, like me, we can thank publisher Wizards of the Coast for allowing us to jump into the newest 2013 edition of the digital world of Magic: The Gathering, and all for a smashing price of £6.99 on Steam. That’s just a little bit more than a couple of booster packs or a family size pizza. Sounds like a deal to me for anyone who’s itching to play some Magic: The Gathering or wanting to try it out for the first time.

There isn’t much of a story for a game like this. All that newcomers need to know is that players take on the role of a Planeswalker, powerful wizards that control mana, creatures and spells, and must use these abilities to defeat opposing Planeswalkers. It’s a bare bones, simple story. What makes this latest addition great is the in-depth interactive tutorial that eases in players and explains everything you need to know when it comes to playing Magic: The Gathering. Tips can also be turned on during the game, allowing people who aren’t confident yet to jolt their memory on the fly during a match. The developers have done their best to make sure you’re going to enjoy your time with Magic: The Gathering 2013 and feel good about it, even to the point where you’ll think you can beat people who actually play the game, and you might just be able to.

After taking part in the tutorial, you’ll want to get straight on with completing the main campaign. The reason why is due to the fact that at the start you’re limited to a deck and must defeat other Planeswalkers in the campaign to unlock more cards and decks. Each opponent comes with his own deck that’s based around one or two of the five different mana colours. In a way, the campaign is a chance to see how to use these new decks as you can pick up on habits and play styles that the A.I uses with its custom deck. The main campaign isn’t that hard, but if you’re feeling ready for a challenge then the Revenge campaign is full of harder Planeswalkers ready to flash off dastardly tricks on you. Done that? Then you’ll probably be good enough to take on the challenge mode, a place where the game sets up events that require you to bounce back from near defeat and overcome the opponent. A couple of these events ignite your brain as serious thinking is required to have any chance of overcoming the handicap.

Planechase is a new mode for 2013 that can be played in the campaign or in multiplayer. This mode features four players facing off against each other, but the difference between this and the standard one-on-one is the inclusion of a six sided die and the new rules. A player can roll the die on his turn to see if the plane will change. Planes contain special global rules and abilities that change if you manage to roll correctly. These rules can seriously mess up people’s game plan or cards. Rules can be anything from stopping creatures from attacking, sending all creatures to the graveyard (any creature dead or any instant/spell used gets put here), or gaining additional mana. I can’t say I was a fan of this mode. For one, I found the games to drag on a bit too much and the planes can really screw you over to the point where you feel like you’re starting again when others are happily overpowered. The A.I seems to be somewhat prejudice against the player as well. Maybe it’s just me, but I swear to God that they were teaming up on me.

Online multiplayer features 2vs2, free-for-all and the previously mentioned Planechase. Online works great for the most part, although I did run into a couple of problems when inviting some friends into a group. For some reason my friend couldn’t join, but then she created her own group and invited me, we started the game and suddenly it said she quit and I won. It was bizarre, but thankfully rarely happens. Playing online is great fun, and there seems to be plenty playing that it is easy enough to jump in and find a game.

The user interface (UI) is something that deserves recognition as it is smartly implemented this year. That’s not to say the rest of the presentation is bad (it’s not and rather nice to look at to say it is a simple card game), but the UI is so streamlined that checking out cards is as easy as putting your mouse over them and rolling the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. Stages during a turn are clearly highlighted next to your profile, so you know when you need to move or it is time to attack. Help can also be turned on so that if you’re struggling on what to do next, a tip will highlight what card it thinks you should play. This is great for any novices that haven’t got the hang of the game yet.

One of the only major downers about Magic: The Gathering 2013 is there is no way to build a deck from scratch. The game forces you to take one of the predetermined builds and edit it (this might change when DLC hits), but it has to be based around the mana it uses, limiting any real customization for serious players of the card game or people wanting to experiment and take their skills even further. I get a feeling that the developers want to use this title as a stepping stone to the real game. Also – and this greatly puzzles me why – the game loves to advertise the physical decks that you can purchase. I noticed that after I defeated every major character in the campaign the game would flash up an advert saying I could “literally play these cards” if I bought it from the advertised link. Thanks for telling me, but please stop flashing it in front of me. Whoever thought of that, could you not have just stuck an option in the menu somewhere to tell me where to go if I want to get into the physical game? I don’t want it plastered in my face all the time.

Sure there are a few minor problems here, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is the best video game representation of the card game to date, and it’s available for such a bargain price that anyone with an interest in trying the game should take my recommendation and jump straight into this digital version. It’s a whole ton of fun.

8 out of 10