We didn’t get a chance to squeeze in a review for the original release of Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox Live Arcade last year, and that’s a pity. Since its release, the card-based strategy game has maintained a position on the top ten most-played Xbox Live Arcade game charts, which would indicate to us that someone really enjoys playing this game.
Now that the game has dropped for PC users on Steam, we have an opportunity to see what the buzz is all about. Should you tap it?
Starter Deck: It’s not easy for a new player to get into Magic: The Gathering. The game has been around for 17 years, with countless expansion packs and rules updates providing further barrier to entry. You can’t simply wander into a gaming store, pick up a starter deck and start playing anymore. At least not the actual card game itself. Duels of the Planeswalkers neatly circumvents these barriers, providing new players with a series of decks, slightly simplified rules, contextual in-game help, and an assortment of computer opponents to go up against before taking your battles online. It’s probably the easiest way to experience Magic: The Gathering.
Nothing More To Buy: Not only is Duels of the Planeswalkers the easiest way to get into Magic: The Gathering, it’s also the cheapest. Unlike older PC entries in the series or the physical game, you don’t have to worry about picking up booster packs each time a new set comes out, or losing to another player because they had to money to create a more powerful deck than you did. The decks in the game are set. You’ll unlock more decks as you play, along with additional cards to help customise those decks, but for the most part you get what you need right out of the box.
A Level Playing Field: Ease of use plus no additional cost equals a level playing field, at least in terms of the monsters you’ll be facing and cards your opponents will pull out of their decks. Other players might have more insight into the strategy behind the cards, but seeing as you have the same cards at your disposal, each loss is a learning experience you can readily apply.
Rising To The Challenge: Speaking of learning experiences, Duels of the Planeswalkers contains a series of mind-bending challenges that place you in dangerous situations and task you with using only the cards in your hand to come away victorious. It’s like a scenario from a war game. The sides are set, you have limited resources, and you have to think strategically to battle your way out of what oftentimes seems like an impossible situation. If anything is going to get you into the Magic mindset, it’s these challenges. It’s just a pity there aren’t more of them; I’d gladly shell out money for a large compilation of them.
Nothing More To Buy: Wait, wasn’t this a loved just a few paragraphs ago? Yes, it was. It’s also a hated, because let’s face it, limiting the card set takes the ‘collectible’ out of ‘collectible card game.’ The core game is good enough to satiate my Magic itch on a short term basis, but soon I find myself missing some of the game’s more creative cards, wishing I had some sort of code system to add them in, similar to the way many Yu-Gi-Oh games handle card adding. Regular expansions help somewhat (the first Xbox Live expansion is already available in the Steam version), but ultimately I long for more flexibility. I’m sure many of the more hardcore Magic players feel the same way.
Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers might not be the ultimate video game based on the popular collectible card game, but it’s certainly an excellent place for players to start. It covers the basics, delves into advanced strategy, and online duels are a great way to experience the wiles of other players without worrying about them seeing the pain in your eyes as they trounce you soundly. As an added bonus, Wizards of the Coast recently released a series of decks based on the ones in the game, so once you’ve mastered all there is to do virtually, you can easily take your newly found skills into the real world.
After seventeen years of Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast and Stainless Games may have finally stumbled upon a winning formula for a video game based on the franchise. Instead of a complicated game meant to appease the hardcore Magic player, they’ve delivered a simple experience guaranteed to leave players hungry for more.
Magic the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers was developed by Stainless Games and published by Wizards of the Coast on June 15, 2010 for the PC, June 17, 2009 for Xbox Live Arcade. A PlayStation Network version is forthcoming. Retails for $US9.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single player campaign, completed all challenges, and played multiple rounds online with varying degrees of success.
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