I was feeling a bit jaded with the Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers series, particularly given Wizards of the Coast are churning a new one out annually now - almost like a sports title. So when Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 hit my Xbox 360, I was hesitant to begin with. Not until I reviewed the new features did my interest pique, and now, I can’t get enough.
Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 is the latest iteration in the digital version of the tabletop collectible card game. The card game has an immense following and has been around since the early 1990s. The game (both versions) revolves around playing with a deck of cards, which includes creatures, spells, artifacts, and mana cards. A player (or Planeswalker) summons creatures onto the table who attack the enemy Planeswalker and reduce their health, as well as serving to defend against incoming attacks. The mana cards are required in order to cast creatures, spells, and artifacts - mana becomes vitally important and not enough mana cards on hand can spell annihilation.
Decks (groups of cards that come in different colours) all have their own unique cards and styles, which all require careful planning to optimise. It also means that picking the right deck for the right opponent is important. For example, the green deck is filled with large, hard hitting creatures, which in turn require a substantial amount of mana to play - which means that green is a slow moving deck, which can often be destroyed by a quicker more nimble opponent with smaller creatures. A combination of luck and skill is still required to win any round. In any case, the concept hasn’t changed between previous Magic the Gathering editions and the latest digital title.
What is new is that with the latest version you also get the newest decks from Wizards of the Coast. The new decks are very impressive and contain some absolutely awesome cards. The artwork on the cards is top notch, and makes for a beautiful and engrossing experience. The new decks make the additional feature of Sealed Play all the more enjoyable - virtually simulating the feeling of unwrapping new foil decks and building your own decks from scratch.
The great thing about Sealed Play is that it brings the digital version of Magic the Gathering closer to the real version, a gap which previous iterations hasn’t bridged so well. Planeswalkers need to unwrap their initial foils to make up a starting deck of the various colours. The best part? New foil packs are unlocked digitally and require no real world money, so you simply need to make a deck and play with it. It is good to see that Wizards of the Coast haven’t gone down the micro-transactions pathway when it comes to acquiring new cards. Unfortunately, you are limited to just two slots for your own Sealed Play decks - but you can unlock more, for a small fee.
An avoidance of micro-transactions means that Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 makes for a balanced experience online and this is definitely the area where you will be wanting to spend most of your time. Once you have crafted a deck, there is no better way than to test its resilience than against another human opponent. Here, not much has changed on the surface, and the multiplayer is a smooth and well-designed experience allowing up to four people to play against each other.
In addition to Sealed Play and multiplayer, the singleplayer campaign is more story driven than previously. This still remains a largely superficial story that can just as easily be ignored so don’t expect much. Largely the campaign serves to force you to consider various play styles and adapt your own approach - as well as allowing you to unlock more cards in your decks. A rock solid tutorial serves well for newcomers, providing an excellent, narrated introduction to Magic the Gathering. What I personally love about this is that it can be a great introduction for newcomers to the tabletop game, and may spark the passion for a new hobby thanks to its user-friendly and approachable design.
It would be difficult to discuss Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 without also briefly touching on the game engine and graphics. The controls, identical to earlier iterations, provide for a reasonably smooth game, and allow previous players to jump in quickly. It also feels as though some performance improvements have been made, with shorter loading screens than in previous iterations. As regular players will know, these were pretty frustrating in the past and it's great to see more than just a cosmetic and content upgrade.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, when I first played Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 I was expecting the same experience as last year, simply with new decks. The fact that Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 brings a new game mode, in the shape of Sealed Play, to the table (excuse the pun) really adds to the Magic the Gathering feel. I’ve found building my owns decks to be one of the most enjoyable elements the game and this is really the feature that makes this year's iteration a must-have for Magic the Gathering fans.
Available on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iPad, and Android, there is no shortage of options to get your Magic the Gathering fix.