- Classic Magic formula is well executed as always.
- Planechase mode is a great addition.
- Plenty of depth with stacks of cards and possibilities.
- Card battling won’t appeal to everyone.
- Single-player has improved, but could still be better.
For those that haven’t ever so much as even picked up a Magic trading card, it would be easy to dismiss the Duels of the Planeswalkers series as boring strategy games, where you do battle by placing little bits of cardboard with funny pictures on. In fact, when the original game landed, I was guilty of that exact thing. It’s not until you pick up the game and try it for yourself that you realise that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. So what about the new 2013 edition then? Well you once again have another cracking conversion of the tabletop affair, and while there are some changes and additions, it’s definitely still an acquired taste. Thankfully, it’s a taste that I like.
Let’s start with the basics. Despite having enough technicalities to make Carol Vorderman have a nervous breakdown, the game is accessible to those who are completely new to the series, as well as those who are devoted to the cause. Upon booting the game up you’re asked for your experience level, which sets the A.I difficulty depending on your response.
The game once again takes place in a fantasy universe made up of Planes, which are differently themed environments that set the backdrop for your skirmishes. While the story is presented a little better this time around, with fancy cut-scenes interjecting between the major face-offs, it’s ultimately still the same tier-based ladder climbing that we’ve seen before. Your objective is to take down the seemingly infallible Nicol Boas, while seeing off his merry band of warriors along the way. Well, them and loads of Encounters, smaller-scale battles which pit you against enemies with a fixed attack pattern. They normally involve spamming you with exactly the same attack until you are either ground to dust or come out triumphant.
It all plays out in the classic Magic way which you may or may not be familiar with. Each player starts with 20 life points, with the overriding objective being to deplete your opponent’s gauge before he or she does the same to you. As with any card game, all of the action is turn-based, with each turn broken down into several smaller stages. During the Main phases (you get two per turn), you can play Land cards to increase you mana supply, use an item, or add a creature to your growing army, whilst in the Attack phase it’s up to you to give your opponent merry Hell using the beasties you’ve got on the battlefield. That’s the basics, there’s a lot more to it, but all you need to know is that it’s an easy-to-play but difficult-to-master game, that twists and turns at every corner. Sometimes even a single card use can turn the tide of battle.
Outside of the campaign and fresh to the virtual tabletop is a puzzle mode, consisting of ten different challenges which will put even series veterans through their paces. Not only will you need a near encyclopaedic knowledge of how the game works, you’ll need the patience of a saint when you get done over for the twentieth time. It’s a nice addition, but might prove a little bit too tough for some to handle.
If two-player skirmishes aren’t enough for you, Planechase is a brand-new multiplayer mode that caters for up to four players. Luck is an even more important factor in this arena, with a six-sided die and a deck of Planar cards in the middle of the board. Each card represents a different Plane, with each one boosting different attributes at the expense of others. Not only will your creatures’ attacks hit slightly harder, the amount of cards you can draw, the amount of mana you can use and more are dictated by them. The die roll allows players to move to a new location, or use a secondary ability to gain the upper hand. It’s an exciting new mode, and one of the highlights of the package.
While Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 isn’t too much of a leap from last year’s entry in the series, not adding much more than a few new decks and game modes, it’s still the best game so far. The classic card-battling is as strong as ever, and Planechase is an interesting new mode that you could get hours of fun from. As mentioned before, it’s an acquired taste, not everyone will enjoy spending their time unlocking new cards with each battle and customising their deck to perfection. But for everyone else, it’ll be a long time before you get bored of the cardboard.