Magic 2014: Duel Of The Planeswalkers Review
There’s a reason why Magic: The Gathering remains one of the most popular collectible card games of all time. Well actually there are several reasons but the main reason is that it’s an amazingly balanced game – no small feat when you consider the sheer amount of new cards introduced with each new cycle (or blocks as us Magic nerds like to call them).
And yet Paper Magic has taken a worrying turn for the worst recently, with the prices of certain cards being quite frankly ridiculous. We’re sure professional Magic players – yup there really are people who make a living from Magic – can justify spending over £400 quid for four Tarmogoyfs (Google it), but the game is quickly getting out of reach for most of us mortals, which is why Stainless Games’ yearly digital release of the popular game has become such a godsend.
For the price of two booster packs you get access to a solid representation of the game, which, while far from perfect, offers an impressive amount of replay value for its paltry £7 asking price. There has been a lot more thought put into this year’s single player game, with a bigger emphasis on a story that links each battle together. It’s not a particular good story mind you, having been written from the great big book of fantasy clichés, but it’s nice to see that Stainless Games has at least made an effort and it’s obvious that they love Magic as much as we do.
Challenges feel much better than last year’s efforts; now built around a relevant theme rather than simply having the computer play the same boring card over and over again. They’re still stacked (meaning the same cards are played in the same order each game) but they’re actually enjoyable to play this time around. The challenges are also cleverly tied into each of the worlds (or planes as we nerds know them) you visit, which won’t mean anything to the non-Magic player, but again shows that Stainless Games really understands the source material.
It also understands its customers, as it’s finally remedied the biggest complaint we’ve had since the game was first released four years ago – actual deck building. Before you get too excited though it’s worth noting that there are some ridiculous caveats attached. The biggest is that this doesn’t affect the ten decks you slowly unlock in the main campaign. Instead you’re provided with two slots, with the annoying option to buy additional slots for around £1.59. Another issue is that your available card pool is usually pretty rubbish, with lousy rares that we rarely ended up using, although this at least creates a level playing field when taking the game online.
We don’t understand why Wizards continues to take this archaic unwieldy approach, because creating decks can be almost as much fun as playing with them. Paper Magic is continually resuscitated with the addition of new sets every few months, so being able to blend new DLC with the existing decks – which are well balanced and range from a sick zombie deck to an amazingly powerful Sliver deck – would just make the game even more varied and interesting.
Sealed deck play is still a welcome addition to the game, but it feels like a halfway house and while beating certain computer opponents gives you a new booster to open (which slightly increases your card pool) it still feels a little underdeveloped. The same can be said for the woeful challenges that have been included this year. Once upon a time they offered clever puzzles that would have made The Duelist (an old Magic magazine us nerds used to read) proud, but now most of them are about as difficult as remembering to breathe. The last three offer a decent challenge, but they’re very weak when compared to previous ones.
Magic 2014 is pretty much what we expected. It plays a good, safe game of Magic, but does very little to break the actual mould. It’s quickly becoming the trading card equivalent of FIFA; introducing tiny little tweaks each year, but rarely doing anything truly dynamic. It remains a great adaptation of the game, with fewer bugs, more stable online play and better balanced decks that last year’s effort, but it still feels like Stainless Games is on autopilot.
Version Tested: PC