Review: Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 (PSN, XBLA, PC)

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8 mins read

Last year, something strange happened. A casual-orientated Magic the Gathering video game was released on PS3, PC and XBL download services. Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers was an “arcade” Magic experience. You had preset decks, and you played against other people with preset decks. With an even playing field, the typical “he’s spent more money to get the good cards,” complaint levelled at collectible card games (CCGs) like Magic was immediately resolved, and the game was a resounding success in convincing non-Magic players to give the game a go.

One year later, the unimaginatively-titled Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 does exactly the same thing as its predecessor, with a minor visual update and a weak attempt to introduce a more cohesive story to the structure. Messing with a good thing is often a bad idea, but you have to question the value of investing in a game that has less new stuff than a new FIFA or Madden sports game. Updated rosters do not make a must have game, guys.

Magic the Gathering remains a special game after all these years in no small part because of the amazing art work

And it is indeed a game with updated rosters. Each of the new preset decks that you can earn (or pay to unlock) feature some new cards, with some old favourites returning. Once again in Magic 2012, you only have minor control over the decks – by winning games with each deck, there’s a limited number of extra cards that can be won, and you can add those in to the original deck if you like. You can also reduce your deck down to a minimal number if it starts to become bloated.

The lack of control you have over the deck is both a stroke of genius, and a critical flaw in this game. On the plus side it means everyone can play, and the game is balanced. The traditional Magic game is an expensive hobby because you need to buy a metric tonne of cards to fine tune a competitive deck. With Duels of the Planeswalkers, everyone is playing on an even playing field, and this means that anyone can play. Consequently, the online community for the game tends to be quite strong – you should have no trouble finding games and indeed the previous game has remained one of the most played online games on both Xbox and PlayStation 3.

On the down side it means that wonderful strategy and pleasure in pulling together a powerful deck is taken out of your hands. There’s still pleasure in winning (though online people tend to quit out just before you pick up that win, which is disappointing, and continued proof that online gaming with randoms is never going to be as much fun as local multiplayer), but the simple fact is that Duels of the Planeswalkers is like the Farmville of CCGs – it’s diverting without being fulfilling.

It’s also disappointing that the time and money you spent on the previous game don’t follow through – those decks you worked hard to unlock are not available in this game – even in single player. That’s a feature that would have been easy to implement, and it’s disappointing that it didn’t happen.

3 on 1 sounds unfair, right? But no, he’s still probably gonna win

Almost as disappointing is the fact that there is only one genuine new mode of play on offer. It’s a multiplayer game, where three humans team up to take on one ultra-powerful enemy. It’s a decent diversion, but it’s not as much fun as the other game modes — specifically, the 1 v 1 traditional game is still the most addictive way to play.

Otherwise, the game is the same fast paced and addictive formula of the last game. The AI is equally predictable, but the online component remains robust (rage-quitters aside). This year’s version of Duels of the Planeswalkers features a ‘campaign mode’ that sets out a branching path map with various battles and challenges along the way. In practice, it’s no different from the menu-driven campaign of the previous years game, but it’s visually a more impressive presentation.

When your opponent plays some cards, you’re going to want to cry

That visual upgrade applies to the rest of the game too – generally speaking it is a more impressive take on the already-impressive aesthetics of the original game. The art work is of a universally high quality and the developers have done a good job of capturing the brilliant art works the adorn the physical game’s cards. Special effects do a good job in jazzing up what could have been a very basic card game.

Sound effects become grating after a while however, and the music is forgettable, which drops the game’s overall presentation down a notch or two.

Thanks to the new decks and new campaign, this is a good update to an already good game. But, if the intention is indeed to make this a yearly exercise, the developers will need to think of a way to revamp the formula. While fans will want to buy into this new game to have access to the more active community, the reality is that this is not a whole lot more than an expansion pack.

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