At first glance, I would seem to be the target audience for a game like this. I have been playing Magic: The Gathering in card form since the Fourth Edition set and have had a chance to play every one of the Planeswalkers video games (and even played the RPG-style game that MicroProse released back in 1997). The thing is, while Magic 2015 has a lot of things going for it, there are a handful of issues holding it back from being the best release in the series to date.
Having had a chance to review this title back in both 2013 and 2014 for DDNet, I was pleased by small but continual forward steps in the series. Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers is an interesting beast, because it does several things very right. For one, the presentation is better than ever, with sharper visuals than an already-attractive package than have been used in the past, and even more entertaining cutscenes to help further the storyline.
In-game, deck editing is also more robust than before, giving players far more in-depth control over their deck construction than in previous games, which were in the habit of forcing players to play with mostly pre-constructed decks. I like having this kind of control over my experience. For one, ‘cracking packs’ is an addictive little hobby of mine in real life, and while this may not have that same tactile feeling as tearing open the wrapper to get to a handful of randomised cards, the end result is essentially the same. What is not the same is how much more limited the selection of cards feels overall compared to the real Magic game. While there are certainly enough different cards to assemble a variety of decks, some of the more interesting deck options that even the AI has access to are not available to players.
The deck editing is better than ever, however. For Magic veterans, this bit’s for you; Magic 2015 allows you to filter by colour type, letting you proportion in whatever land types you would like while mixing and matching colours. This is a big departure from even a couple of years ago where true multicoloured decks were not really options until the expansion sets came out. Here in 2015 the multicolour option is presented from the beginning with decks that are weak, but have plenty of room to grow as booster packs are acquired.
For all this robust deck editing, it is a bit disappointing to see that there are fewer game options. There is no Two-Headed Giant cooperative mode this time around, and it was not replaced with any alternatives. The lack of the traditional Revenge mode, where you can go back through the game a second time playing upgraded versions of the opposing Planeswalkers is also a bit of a disappointment. And the downside to having booster packs becoming a bigger part of the game is microtransactionss, which will turn some players off.
That being said, I found it easy enough to earn booster packs once I beat the primary storyline (which culminates in an incredibly frustrating two-part battle with a fellow called Garruk that made me want to put a hole in a nearby wall). Cards can then be earned by fighting generic enemies, and if there is a limit to how many times you can do this, I never encountered it, which meant I was able to load up on cards without paying a dime. Sure, I had to spend more time doing this than someone who was paying money for packs, but since I enjoy playing the game so much, this did not strike me as a hardship. That being said, it feels like the ‘premium booster packs’ are gouging loyal players a bit. If you really want the best cards, you will have t o pay for them.
The game itself still plays quite well, and serves as the absolute best way to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering if you’re not as familiar with the game. My son wanted to get into it with me a couple of years ago. He was a big fan of some other collectible card games (CCGs) like Yu-Gi-Oh! and the Pokémon Trading Card Game, so I knew he would understand the basics well enough. I sat him down with Duels of the Planeswalkers and he was building his own decks within a couple of days. With the tutorials, all of the easily accessed help and the very measured pace of the game, there is one oversight in the controls that I ran into early on. There is a key that allows you to toggle between different mana spending options. It is referenced by the in-game help as the “mana key,” without telling you which one it is. This thing is a life saver since the default mana spending for spells sometimes made my brain hurt, by using a certain colour of mana that I needed to use for some other kind of spell.
Though Magic 2015 is not yet released for consoles, it should make the transition pretty smoothly. Using a mouse and keyboard works well enough, but I was surprised to see just how fast and clean the controller option worked as well. Everything was snappy and efficient, so the multiple control options are certainly a welcome treat.
With fewer modes and a couple of questionable design choices, Magic 2015 is held back from being the best version of the game yet. It embraces multicolour combinations and true deck building in ways I have sought for years, and that alone is reason enough for me to rate this title fondly. I am a person who can sit down for hours pondering different deck combinations, and while the selection of cards is more limited than I would care for, the freedom of deck building still makes the process a worthwhile one. I expect that there will be future expansions, and my hope is that they come with a large selection of additional cards for players to choose from.
Magic 2015 is still the best way to bring a new player to this old game and the deck building is a great deal of fun, but those who have played the last couple of releases may feel somewhat underwhelmed by this iteration.
– Nick H.