Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers Steam Review

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Magic: the Gathering has a long history in gaming. First introduced in 1993, it pioneered the modern collectible card game that is still prevalent today. As of 2006, Wizards of the Coast claimed over six million Magic players in 52 countries. That’s officially huge.

It’s even made its way into the digital space with Magic the Gathering Online, and now with Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers. First released on XBox Live Arcade in June of 2009, it’s now available on Steam and will soon be available on PlayStation Network as well.

So, how does the digital version capture the tabletop experience? Read on to find out.

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Wizards of the Coast
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Released: June 17, 2009
MSRP: $49.99

Right out of the box, I should tell you that if you have absolutely no interest in Magic: the Gathering, you most likely won’t like this game. After all, the card game is all this game is about, albeit a digital version thereof. However, if you have ever wondered what all the fuss was about, this is a great way to learn a little about the game without the expense of buying a lot of cards.

Duels of the Planeswalkers recreates the experience of playing a game of Magic faithfully, offering a range of custom tables and play locations. The graphics are crisp, and animations are smooth and entertaining. Spell effects reflect what their cards imply. For example, a holy spell preventing damage causes white light to flow up out of the table.

There are a number of game modes that you choose from. Besides the singleplayer campaign, there are puzzle-like challenges that require you find ways to defeat an opponent in a set situation with only one turn. Custom Duels allow you to go head to head with any AI opponent you choose. There is an option for cooperative campaign play and custom co-op duels, but they are local co-op only, and require you to connect a gamepad to your PC.

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Online multiplayer is included, but there is no campaign play. You can play matches with 2 to 4 players, in either a free-for-all or 2 vs. 2 setting. Connection is simple and easy (Thank you, Steam), and limiting expansions is only a click of the mouse away. There’s currently only one expansion worth of content, but it looks like Wizards may be planning a lot more for the future.

The opponents in the game are ruthless, even on moderate difficulty settings. If you’ve never played Magic before, be sure to set things up so you’re on the easiest difficulty. Either that, or take on a friend a few times to get your chops before you dive right into the campaign.

A few of the game mechanics are tricky, such as playing interrupts and instants. A short timer defines the time that these may be played. Although the game does include a button to stop the timer, I have encountered issues when it did not provide the timer at all. In some cases, this can be the difference between winning and losing a match, so that is a nagging problem.

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The most important part of any Magic game is the cards, and it’s here that my main complaint about Duels of the Planeswalkers lies. Arguably the most interesting part of Magic is going through all the cards you have and building the most potent deck you can out of them. Granted, I didn’t expect them to be selling booster packs of cards like I see in a store, but I hoped to more control over the structure of my deck than is provided here.

While you can add in and remove cards, you can only affect the cards that you’ve unlocked through gameplay. The core of the deck remains unchanged. Lands are added as needed with no input from the player. The system works, and it’s probably great for newer players, but for someone like me who was playing when the game was created in 1993, I’d like to get a bit more granular.

Still, the game is only $9.99 on Steam, and for what you play there’s a fair bit of content here, even if you don’t play online. Additional expansions or game modes down the road from Wizards would be most welcome indeed. I’d love to see a return of the cross of adventure/role-playing that the original Microprose Magic: the Gathering game offered back in 1997.

Outside of my problems with deck management, Duels of the Planeswalkers is an excellent game. It’s polished and well put together, and does an excellent job of translating the experience of playing Magic: the Gathering from tabletop to monitor. It also allows me to play Magic with friends who aren’t local, and it contains several cards that you may or may not own in real life. I’d recommend it to any fan of the Magic: the Gathering card game or anyone who wants to learn how to play Magic for themselves.

Pros:

  • True to the original card game
  • Nice graphics and spell effects
  • Multiple game modes, including multiplayer

Cons:

  • Poor deck management
  • No online co-op play
  • Gamepad requirement for local co-op

Overall Score: 88/100

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