theuselessgod's Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

It's just Magic.

The Short

Pros

- Solid video game representation of Magic: The Gathering

- Online and offline multiplayer and co-op are a lot of fun

- Does well teaching the rules and providing tutorials so you are never confused

- Graphics look decent and fit well enough for what it is

- The core Magic: The Gathering is still here, and it is very solid and fun

- Unlocking cards can be addicting, and you don't have to buy boosters!

Cons

- Absolutely abysmal load times.

- The fact that attacking is just the cards next to each other with weak animations feels like a cop-out. Why not make sprites of the monsters fighting? That would be cool.

- Only eight decks with limited customization. Nine more can be added via DLC, but it still seems sparse

- Microtransactions will unlock full decks, which feels very lame. I bought this game so I wouldn't have to spend more money on cards, gosh dang it.

- Again, the lack of deck customization removes one of the most key elements of Magic: The Gathering

- Controls can be picky and the most important feature (being able to anytime look at enemy's cards) isn't on by default

- Music gets annoying really quickly. Why does Magic need "sick" guitar riffs?

- It's really just Magic: The Gathering with limited decks and load times

ARE YOU READY TO MAKE SOME MAGIC?!?!?

The LongDo you like Magic: The Gathering? Have you played it? Do you want to learn? Do you hate buying $4 booster packs and getting a mandatory number of land and then a bunch of cards that don't fit in your deck? Well, luckily I have the solution for you!

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers is a downloadable title available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. And I don't want to spoil the surprise for you guys, but here it is: It's pretty much just Magic: The Gathering.

Gotta catch 'em all! Wait...

If you haven't played Magic: The Gathering then here is the most basic idea. It's essentially a turn-based strategy game with cards. The goal is to build up your "mana" (of which there are five times: Green, Red. Blue, White, Black) which can then be used to purchase/summon monsters, spells, or enchantments. You duel someone else who is doing the same thing, and that's the game.

One of the biggest draws of Magic: The Gathering is deck building. Each element mentioned above also employs different strategies. Green creatures and spells tend to be more expensive and more powerful, meaning they have a slow start and strong ending. White focuses a lot on healing and flying. Red does direct damage to your opponent and gets weak creatures out quick, stronger ones out later. Of course these are generalizations (and you can make hybrid decks) but the core ideas are still there. Buying new cards (randomly determined in boosters) is why Magic: The Gathering has made Wizards By The Coast an estimated Crapzillion Dollars. That's a technical statistic, and therefore a fact.

Anyway, enough about regular Magic. How does this "game" version of Magic: The Gathering hold up?

You can zoom in on any card to get more information, and if you are confused it also has a tutorial for various abilities built in.

It probably won't come as a huge surprise, but Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers basically plays exactly the same as the card game. Probably because all this game is is the card game. You take turns, the game giving you a limited time on each "stage" or "phase" of the battle (Main, Combat, Block, Main) and then the other player goes. You summon, battle, and unfortunately can't cheat and stack the deck (which was my ultimate unbeatable Magic: The Gathering strategy).

That is actually pretty much 90% of the game. It's just Magic: The Gathering. If you are a newcomer it has a fairly decent tutorial that gets you up to speed, and starts you with decks that are very easy to use. As you play through the single-player you'll unlock more and more complex decks, which will help you get deeper and deeper into the game. It's a good technique to help those who might be just starting out, but as somebody who already knew how to play Magic: The Gathering it felt a little slow.

But enough about that: what makes this game better or worse than actually playing Magic: The Gathering? And I realize I essentially did this in my "The Short" above but shut up it's my review.

You can decide which cards go in your deck, but you can't make your own.

Good Stuff!Probably the biggest draw would be that you can play Magic alone. Some people really enjoy the card game (I'll admit I find it fun) but it can be hard to find like-minded people, and even then to find people with balanced decks. Since Magic the video game has a limited number of decks and unlocks, you never feel like your dumpy rich friend just gets a bigger allowance and bought better cards. Playing by yourself allows you to develop new strategies and experiment, and can be fun (unless you think too much about it and realize you are playing Magic: The Gathering by yourself)

Secondly is the online multiplayer feature, which is also a bonus. As stated, finding people to play Magic with can be hard, but this streamlines it. It's relatively easy to get into a game, and playing with friends is fun too. Up to four players and duel at once, which is pretty much impossible in real life unless you are at a convention or something.

Also, not having to buy boosters is awesome. You unlock cards by simply playing matches with the deck you want stuff to unlock on. It does have the option to pay $1 to unlock all the cards from the get-go (sleazy...) but if you do that you're a toolbox who shouldn't be playing games.

Finally, it's a decent representation of magic. The boards you battle on are cool looking and can be interchangeable. The game is a bit slower than real Magic but has the benefit of actually knowing all the rules, something my friends and I have issues with. The transition is relatively painless and, as I've said a hundred times before, is pretty much just Magic.

Watching cards smack each other with crappy canned animations is...awesome?

Bad Stuff!My biggest complaint is the loading times. Yeah, that's a stupid thing to be my biggest, but trust me: they are really bad. How on earth does it take 45 seconds to a minute to load a single match? Look at these graphics: is this really so high-end it should take that long to boot up? It's mostly just text on a screen! Somebody sucks at optimizing their code.

My second biggest complaint is the complete and utter lack of customization. You get eight decks of various colors (but no Black/White deck, boo) and abilities, which might sound like a lot but it really isn't. You do unlock cards which is nice, but and you can pick if you want the unlocked cards in your deck, but that's really all you do. Why not put all the decks and cards into a big pool and let me make my own deck? You could even do it like Call of Duty where you have custom classes/decks and unlock more by playing online. Perhaps the biggest draw (as mentioned above) to the Magic: The Gathering TGC is buying boosters and tweaking your deck to be the baddest of them all. Nerds get all excited over that stuff (myself included). Taking that out was a huge mistake. And I get it was probably to better "balance" it or whatever, but they completely negated that too by adding nine more decks you have to buy and making it so you can also just buy all the cards for them. So really it's just like Magic: The Gathering in real life: he with the most money will always win.

A few other minor issues are here, but most are just me being picky. The card "attack" animations are really stupid. At least in like Yu-Gi-Oh the cards become holographic monsters that battle. That's cool. Just putting cards alongside each other with numbers and corny effects feels like a wasted opportunity. The art on the cards is one of my favorite things; why not render the monster and have 'em bite or something?

The controls are also finicky. By default the ability to pan around the battlefield on a whim is off, so be sure and turn the "advanced control" on right of the bat. But even then it can have problems determining which card you are going for. It's annoying.

Also, unless you have the card memorized, since this isn't real life you can't just look down and see what each card says; you have to highlight it and hit RT to zoom in and read the details. I get that this is because not everybody has a 70 inch plasma TV, but it still just adds another step to simply looking at my cards.

Hey, war elephants! I love these guys!

Graphically this game looks ok, if a bit boring. Again...I'm saying this a lot but here it goes again: It's just Magic. That's the whole game. It's a method to play Magic: The Gathering on a screen instead of in real life, and for that it works. It isn't particularly inspired, but whatever.

Music is kind of stupid. I think they were trying to prove Magic was badass or something with bad electric guitar riffs in the menus and in battle. But it isn't good enough to actually get me excited about playing Magic, so it just feels like a lame attempt to show how "hardcore" Magic is. Alright?

I hate playing against Blue decks so much.

As it stands, Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers is for a specific crowd. I think they tried to widen Magic: The Gathering's appeal by releasing this game, but in truth I only think the hardcore Magic people will buy it. And then they'll be disappointed by the lack of deck customization and poor optimization. For what it is it's passable, but the low deck count, somewhat stilted control, and the fact that the majority of the decks are locked behind DLC is disappointing. Again, at its core Magic: The Gathering is fun, especially when playing against an opponent of comparable skill and a balanced deck, and for that this game is fine. There just isn't anything particularly inspired here, at all.

It's just Magic.

Two out of five stars.

And yet I still played it for lots of hours. I guess for $5 is wasn't all that bad...

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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