- Sealed Play is a nice addition
- New decks and cards
- Great multiplayer
- Very light on single-player content
- Despite attempting a story, it isn’t very well executed
The Duels of the Planeswalkers games have become a yearly tradition now. The first game arrived way back in 2009, and aside from a single year, we’ve had a new entry in the series annually. The original did a good job of conveying what real-life Magic players love most about the fantasy card game to the digital table, and since then Wizards of the Coast have clearly set a goal to tweak rather than rebuild, which brings us to what we have today; Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers.
If you’ve not played either the trading card game or any of the previous titles before, Magic is very easy to learn but difficult to master. Long-running fans should be familiar with all the land tapping, creature summoning and enchantment throwing that the game offers, with tactical considerations and patience ultimately being the keys to success. While there’s no question that enthusiasts will get the most out of the experience, a fairly in-depth tutorial right at the start ensures that even newcomers have the basics covered.
So then, what’s new this year? First up a Campaign mode that at least attempts some kind of coherent story. You assume the role of a Planeswalker who buddies up with Chandra, a rather angry lady who’s on the trail of arch nemesis Ramaz. The only way to track down your target is to acquire a bunch of artefacts, acquired by clearing each of the five other chapters in the campaign. While you have to commend Wizards for attempting to incorporate a story, it’s still very lightweight and has just a handful of average-looking cut-scenes to flesh it out. It’s still all about the cards and what happens on the battlefield.
The main Campaign is a fairly brief affair, with just five chapters (each made up of three “Encounters” and a duel) and a final boss battle making up your lot. It’s fairly restrictive too, with only six battles played in the classic Magic style, where both players draw randomly from their deck. Encounters see you face off against fixed plays, with the same cards always present in your opponents hand. They’re a bit of a double-edged sword; they take away the exciting element of luck that make the card game all that much better, however they force you to adapt to different strategies and ultimately make you a better player. If you think of the single-player experience as a massive tutorial rather than the focus, it’s all the more rewarding.
One thing that the DotP games have lacked until now is the ability to edit your own decks, however this year the Sealed Play mode offers a different way to go about things. Upon starting the Campaign (which is entirely to separate from the main one), you’re given a bunch of booster packs containing completely random cards. Veterans can spend hours assembling the best possible team, or if you’re less adept and/or new, a handy auto-build function is there to help you out. Of course, starting without a core deck always has the potential to be problematic; you’re reliant on the cards you get, and should luck desert you, you’ll be left stuck in a rut. It’s always certain that you’ll need a split deck with multiple colours due to being so limited with your initial choices.
The Sealed Play campaign itself is also far too small in scale. With just six battles to conquer it’s over far too quickly, although the real draw is taking your custom deck online against others. It’s more reliant on skill than luck in comparison to your vanilla battles, with long-time players often using combinations that seem untouchable.
Keeping in line with the small diversions, there are also a number of Puzzles to tackle. These are simple tasks that involve quick decisions, more often than not asking you to win within limited turns or winning a battle from a quite frankly unreasonable position. They’re essentially an extra rather than a main mode, and an hour will probably be enough to see everything here.
It’s quite clear that Wizards want people playing the multiplayer. While the single-player content is perhaps a bit limited, as a multiplayer experience it’s top drawer. As mentioned before, Sealed Play adds a new dimension to the game, and 2v2 mode Two-Headed Giant is great fun with a bunch of friends. The unpredictable nature of the real-life game lends itself perfectly to an online multiplayer experience, and I can see the online mode being rife with players for the foreseeable future.
Is Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers the best game in the series to date? Without question. The addition of Sealed Play mode is the big new feature this year and works wonders, and the new cards such as the Sliver Deck make for a much more varied gameplay experience too. The single-player content is severely lacking with two campaigns that can be seen off in around 4-5 hours combined, but it’s quite obvious the game is centred around battling with other players. This is not only a must for Magic fans that don’t mind putting down their real cards in favour of a pad, it’s also holds appeal beyond the devoted fan base and stands up in its own right as a great game.