By Kevin Kennedy (Theonekk)
The top real life Collectible Card Game is back for another yearly installment of Duels of the Planeswalkers, promising more freedom and new gameplay, but does it deliver? Strangely absent from Playstation this time around (available on iPad, Steam, Android and Xbox 360), I found myself playing the Steam version. This year’s installment is vastly different from past years, foregoing set decks (to which you earn new cards) in favor of allowing you to create your own complete deck. This is one thing fans have been asking for since the first installment, so this game must be great, right?
Well, it does do a few things right. It seems AI enemies have been upgraded to be a bit smarter, especially at the higher difficulty setting, and the new single-player campaign is fun, though short. Plus, the deck editor does let you make your own deck from a preset selection of cards, which feels rewarding. It does feel much better when your deck wins, after all. Despite this, however, the game falters rather severely.
First, that new deck building mechanic offers a rather small amount of cards for the initial $9.99 price point, forcing you to pay for the deluxe version to get “all the cards,” which destroys a lot of long-term play potential. Either you deal with having a deck that rarely wins except against dumbed-down AI, slowly unlocking more cards (though I’m assured you can never get the best cards this way), or you pay more than double the cost of the base game, unlock many cards, and no longer earn new ones for your deck through gameplay. Plus, there honestly just aren’t that many cards available with the full unlock, far fewer than are usually present if you combined the premade decks from previous games.
What really irks me, however, is that apparently forcing you to pay triple the price to unlock better cards is not enough, as the best cards in the game are sealed away behind even more randomized boosters that you have to buy separately. What this means, essentially, is that if you want to really compete online, or make a deck that differs significantly from the one everyone else has, you have to shell out even more money. The fun thing about Duels of the Planeswalkers in the past was that it wasn’t Magic Online. Since you could only unlock new cards for your premade deck through playing, and each deck was good to start, online play was fun and more or less fair. Now, however, this game has essentially become Magic Online Lite. This is now a pay to win game, and that is extremely disappointing.
As if less cards that you have to pay more for weren’t enough, this game also offers less modes of play than any Duels before. The only modes of play, aside from the campaign, are one, two, or three player duels. There is no Archenemy, no Planechase, and no Two-Headed Giant. That last is the saddest, as that mode, offered since the first Duels, was always a fan favorite, allowing friends a chance to team up and take on another team. This game offers none of that, and I sorely miss the chance to vary my gameplay.
This game is also not without its bugs. Frequently, during online play especially, my game crashes, minimizes, or refuses to pause and allow me to cast spells during other players’ turns. While these gripes are mostly small, that last one can be really upsetting, meaning the difference between a win and a loss. I have pretty much given up on using one of my instant-heavy decks online because of these glitches.
Despite all of its issues, this game is a good way to pick up the basics of Magic: The Gathering. I know I’ll continue to play until a new version comes out next year, though I’ll frequently revisit the old installments as well, especially 2012’s Archenemy games. This game may be the worst of the Duels of the Planeswalkers series to date, but it still isn’t without its merit. If you are a die-hard Magic fan, or a newbie to the game who wants to learn more about playing and deck making, you might want to check it out. Otherwise, I’d recommend you go with an older installment, or wait until next year.