I have a long and storied history with Magic: The Gathering. When I first played the initial Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox 360 I knew something good would come from it. Magic is a deep and complicated game, but one that anyone can enjoy if they give it the time. The Duels series is so good at teaching new players that it can do nothing but drive people to the paper side of things. So when I got a chance to review Duels of the Planewalkers 2013 on PC, I was more then excited. I had not given the series a good shake on that platform, but I knew it looked sharper and ran a bit faster. While, for the most part I was pleased with this version, some minor issues still frustrate me to no end.
If you aren’t familiar with Magic as a game, there is a huge primer about it at the start of my MTGO review here. Once you understand the basic terms, this may read a bit easier if you have no familiarity with the game. DotP on PC is just like the console versions with altered controls if you are using the keyboard and mouse. This review should be pretty accurate for all versions of the game, but we do have a console version review on the way, and I have played a bit of the iPad version. The difference in the PC and iPad version are only affected by load speeds and controls.
Magic is a game that is meant to be played with other people. Fortunately DotP gives you the option to unlock additional cards for your deck and practice against very strong AI. I only play on the most difficult setting, and the AI has given me a run for the money. This is where most of my frustration comes from. Good AI does not mean computer cheating. While I have no proof that the AI will cheat to win, ten games in a row in the revenge campaign came down to a final turn. One or two cards in my computer opponents deck would win the game, if he didn’t draw one of the crucial cards, I would win. Ten out of ten times, he drew it. Now I have had my fair share of awesome top deck wins over my Magic career, but not to the level that the computer in this game will. It is a very frustrating cherry on top of an almost perfect Magic sundae.
Multiplayer is where the action happens, and on PC at least, there isn’t all that much action. I started writing this review with a game created in the background and I have yet to get a multiplayer match started. Ten minutes or so to wait for one other person, even in the middle of the day, is pretty dismal. I have found a few guys that play when we are all online, but random pick up games are extremely hard to get into. Keep this in mind. If you have a group of friends playing, the game is amazing, if not, it has a pretty short shelf life.
Once a multiplayer game gets going, you have quite a few options for how you want to play. Free for all mode will allow up to four players to play it out Hunger Games style. Last man standing wins. Politics are a big part of these types of games and your actions will impact your life total as other players react. Two-headed Giant will pit two teams against each other. You’ll share life totals and work as a team to overcome your opponents. Certain deck combinations can be pretty brutal, but the mode is fun nonetheless.
Finally, the new addition of Planechase really adds some chaos to the multiplayer side of the game. All players share one Planechase deck that includes cards that do wild things like kill all creatures, let you gain life on your upkeep, reverse the turn-order, give creatures a 1/1 counter when they do damage for the first time in a turn or let you draw a card when you roll the planar die. This die has four blank sides and two marked sides. One side lets you move from the plane that you are currently on to the next, the other sets off the plane’s special abilities. This all leads to an unpredictable and chaotic form of multiplayer Magic for up to four people.
The current deck selection includes one multi-colored deck and nine mono-colored decks. In previous games, customization and strategic building were key. This years DotP leaves much to be desired in this aspect. While there are more cards to unlock than in previous iterations, they all lead to the same strategy, and generally the player that has played the most with the deck, thus unlocked the strongest cards, has a significant advantage. Outside of a few exceptions, players are still locked into using 25 lands in their 60 card decks. A green deck, or a white deck, with a ton of cheaply costed creatures suffers because of this.
In paper Magic your converted mana cost is generally the main factor in how much land you will use. Some decks use as few as 18 lands. It’s not an option here and hopefully one that will be updated next year, or changed in a future patch. The new mana tapping ability is only used in the multi-colored deck. This ability allows you to choose what mana to exhaust when casting a spell, which is an important feature. Unfortunately, until the new set of decks come out for purchase, the feature is sorely under-utilized.