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Review

Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2013 Review (PS3, 360, PC)

The colour of Magic.

Magic: The Gathering is often considered the godfather of the Trading Card Game (TCG) scene, and with good reason. Watertight mechanics and a slew of annual updates have kept the franchise one step ahead of its competitors for almost two decades, boasting a global player-base in excess of 12 million. However, despite being one year shy of its twentieth anniversary, it has only recently become a significant name in the video game industry.

There have been games based on Magic: The Gathering in the past, though very few have lived up to the name, Battlegrounds and BattleMage being two aged examples that were less than flattering.

What fans really wanted was an unadulterated virtual world in which they could play the beloved trading card game from the comfort of their armchairs, and that’s exactly what Wizards gave them in 2002. Magic: The Gathering Online is still going strong, the publisher continually updating the service with new products whilst hosting thousands of matches every week.

However, in forging a dedicated web-based community they’ve created an aura of exclusivity, further galvanised by the stigma that is often attached to online-only PC gaming. Accessibility was an issue and one that Wizards has since remedied with its annualised downloadable series, Duels of the Planewalkers.

Available on a variety of gaming platforms (including iOS) 2013 is the third instalment of the series, and though very little has changed since its inception, this is without doubt Magic’s finest video game adaptation to date, not to mention an ideal starting point for newcomers.


The art team that work on Magic: The Gathering are a phenomenal bunch. Each card's portrait is vibrant and luscious, injecting an added spark of life into an already fantastic experience.
Set in a rich fantasy universe composed of numerous, interconnected “Planes”, Magic: The Gathering sets the stage for arcane encounters between the many warring mages in their conquest for peace or disorder. As in previous iterations, there is no over-arching narrative in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013; instead players are presented with a multi-tiered ladder with the game’s antagonist, the dragon Nicol Bolas, waiting at the top.

This lack of any meaningful exposition was one of our few niggling complaints when we reviewed 2012 last year; it may not be significant to the game itself, but with such a bustling in-game universe, it just seems like a missed opportunity.

Card battles adhere directly to the tried and tested Magic template. Default duels are fought between two players, each with a health count of twenty. The objective is simple; to either reduce your opponent’s life to zero, or have them draw a card from an empty deck. It sounds easy enough at first, though there are a myriad of ways to claim victory. On the flipside there are an equal number of ways in which your opponent can turn the tables to obliterate you.

We won’t recite the official rule book in full, but here’s the gist: to take a swipe at your enemy, you need to stock up on land cards that create a stock of mana. Once you have enough, this will allow you summon creatures to the battlefield as well as a variety of other spells including enchantments, instants, and artefacts.

Magic: The Gathering is as much about defence as offence, often forcing players to decide between casting a spell/attacking with a creature or waiting to see their opponent’s next move. It’s true that, since its 1993 debut, not much has changed, each passing iteration only helping to add flesh to the bones, giving the player more tools to experiment with and new game modes to explore.

Aside from straight-up duels, the campaign (which is split into two halves) also accommodates puzzle-like challenges. There are ten in total, each one dropping players into a pre-built scenario, requiring an ample dose of patience and understanding of the game’s numerous concepts.

Encounters are a little less intense, though can be equally challenging. Scattered throughout the campaign, these duels pit players against opponents with very specific strategy patterns. For instance, one Encounter is against a black mage who has few creatures, though uses a plethora of spells to expel your cards from the playing field and even your hands.

No matter how good you are at reading an opponent, or how strong your deck is, luck will always have its part to play. This TCG trope is most evident in 2013’s marquee game mode, Planechase. From a distance it comes across as a four-man battle royale, but becomes a hell of a lot more complicated upon closer inspection.

Situated in the middle of the battlefield is a deck of “Planar” cards accompanied by a single six-sided die. In essence, these cards determine where the battle is taking place, each location or “plane” imbued with its own unique attributes. These can determine how many cards you draw, the mana cost of spells, and even the strength of your creatures, not to mention a plethora of lethal side effects.

By spending mana and rolling the die, players can either “planeswalk” to a new location, or activate its secondary ability. With so many mechanics and workings to keep an eye on, it can get hectic pretty quickly. Finally gaining purchase on the victory ladder only to have the rug pulled from beneath you in a single Planewalk is infuriating, yet boundlessly exciting at the same time.

Pros

  • Magic: The Gathering at its finest.
  • Simplified, turn-by-turn gameplay without need of a rulebook.
  • Artwork is terrific as always.
  • Campaign has plenty of replay value.
  • Multiplayer spans all three game modes.
  • Planechase will keep players on their toes.

Cons

  • Doesn’t exactly make the most of its luscious fantasy settings.
  • The absence of a proper deck builder will start to annoy returning players.
  • The “endgame” could do with a bit more development (more decks, player rank/progression etc.)

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is exactly what fans of the series will have come to expect: a clean-cut refinement with very few barriers to entry. It still has its shortcomings (the lack of a fully-operational deck builder being a recurring one) but has yet to show any signs of fatigue, mainly thanks to an extended campaign and core mechanics that have stood the test of time.

With that said, Stainless could have been slightly more adventurous in regards to new content; fully-3D battlegrounds and a comprehensive online ranking system would really help sell it as a true video game experience. However, with one of today’s timeless hobbyist properties at their disposal, few can blame the developer for playing its hand conservatively.

Score: 8/10

10 Comments
  1. psychobudgie
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    The lack of a deckbuilder, proper or otherwise is a huge annoyance and is likely to affect my decision next year when the next version appears.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 10:56.
  2. AriochDVD
    Member
    Since: Jul 2012

    I purchased the game the day it was released and I was not pleased. How can you gives a 8/10 to a game who recycles for the second time the same engine as the first Duels of Planeswalkers ? It don’t even carry the DLC from game to game. So you have to throw away the whole game next year including the DLC just to buy again stuff ? Is it a joke ? Is there only me who’s remembering Duels of the Planeswalker released by Microprose during the 90s ? It was a port of the card game on PC and it was possible to construct decks as you want with a full sets of cards. Later they released an expansion bringing more cards to build decks as you wish mixing the cards anyway you want it. Twenty years later it seems impossible ? Is 8/10 is not so good to a game who has an IA completly stupid meaning that the solo campaign is pretty boring very quickly ? Is 8/10 too much for a game who is impossible to play at times when there’s so much cards on the screen that it became unreadable ? So much cards that the time is too short to think the right defense (not counting opponnent burn times to gave you a few seconds to do this impossible task) ? You’re too nice in your judgement !

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 11:01.
  3. Mundham
    Member
    Since: Feb 2011

    @AriochDVD – In answer to the above questions:
    WOTC purposefully do NOT include a full deckbuilder, as it’s inclusion would effectively jeopardise the full online PC game. DOTP is (and has always) been an entry-level game which, whilst complex and entertaining in it’s own right, has always had the remit of getting console players interested in the full game (be it online or real life).
    The AI has varying difficulty levels, if you find one level too easy, crank it up. And there are plenty of intelligent real-life players online to challenge you.
    Regarding reading the cards – you do realise you can magnify any card by selecting it and pressing R2 right?
    And regarding time limits – these are necessary so the game doesn’t crawl to a snail’s pace, or people rage-quit due to slow players. Vital for the online component of such a game. You’ll find that MTG:O also has time limits in games (albeit slightly longer ones), and real-life MTG tourneys are also subject to time limits per match. And if you are worried about not having the time to cancel or burn your opponent’s spell, hit Square to delay the timer….

    Just thought I’d offer some balance on what is a very entertaining console iteration. I believe 8/10 is a fair score.

    As you can probably gauge, I play regularly (if not capably!). Anyone wanna duel me, let me know.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 11:35.
  4. Kennykazey
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    The production values have clearly gone up since the last game, but the battle-table or whatever it’s called should have had a look reflecting the plane you’re on. Also, there seems to be few multi-colour decks. And I wish they’d gone with a 2d menu background to speed up load times. And may I add that I feel there’s no reason for this game to not run in full HD as it’s not very graphically heavy.

    8/10 seems about right. As AriochDVD above mentions though, the dlc of previous versions should have been compatible as it’s running on the same engine.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 11:40.
  5. AriochDVD
    Member
    Since: Jul 2012

    Mundham, I saw that you can magnify the card it’s there since the first game on console. About “unreadable”, I mean the situation where there’s so many tokens that it became pretty impossible to pick the right one when they attack to choose the right defense. I’m not the only one who has the problem as I play online and found peoples who block several times a creatures and forget others cause when you have 30 creatures who attacks you it became impossible to pick the thing correctly. Also when you play with 4 players, it happends that you can’t see clearly the number of land the guy at the left has (taped or untaped) cause the UI hide his cards. There’s lots of stupid conception problems like that. Another example ? When an opponent plays a card and he has to choose somehing it will be clever to display the cards he just played so that you can read it. But, no, you just have a screen who tells you the guy is choosing somehing and you’ll get a chance to read the card only after that. It’s plain stupid ! And this problem is there since the first game and seems to don’t bother anyone.

    Also I play the game at the highest difficulty and the IA is stupid, doing lots of weird things like pumping a creature who don’t need it and things like that.

    Telling me that the game on Xbox/PS3 is just an appetizer for the real game is not satisfying. I have cards, I play Magic since the end of the 80s. The game released by Microprose was really fine as you could do whatever you like. The option of playing in a Collection Card Game online is not interesting for me. What’s the point ? Buying virtual cards to build a virtual collection ? I prefer buying real cards. In the other hand I found interesting to have a simulation. And it’s the 3rd time I paid for a game who don’t evolves so much. By the way if this game is a promo tool like you said. Cause it’s like I understand what you’re saying and that happends finally normal to see that this game displays ads for the real game. You plays the campaign and it happends you got a screen telling you to go out and buys cards ! Weird !

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 12:39.
    • Mundham
      Member
      Since: Feb 2011

      @AriochDVD:
      “I have cards, I play (sic) Magic since the end of the 80s”

      – Then I must be speaking to a very early play-tester of the game, as it didn’t come out till 1993…

      “The option of playing in a Collection Card Game online is not interesting for me. What’s the point ? Buying virtual cards to build a virtual collection ? I prefer buying real cards.”

      – Then why purchase and moan about a game for three years running when you don’t enjoy it? If I disliked FPS’ I wouldn’t go buying COD and then start nit-picking (although I know many who do…).

      Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 13:18.
  6. AriochDVD
    Member
    Since: Jul 2012

    Perhaps I mixed the dates as I’m 43 old and that wasn’t happened yesterday. I link the arrival of Magic when I played RPG (real one, not the thing on PC/console) in a club. And I played there between mid 80s to early 90s. So I though it was mid 80s. Sorry I’m going to throw myself through the window and I’ll came back to continue this message…

    I paid it cause I though I found some interest in it as I’m pretty naive and thinking that a 3rd game would bring lots of better things. And obviously not. Cause you mention peoples who rage quit. I never found any other game on PS3 with so much peoples who quit a game as soon as they feels that turns bad. Pretty annoying !

    Anyway… My mistake… I’ll stop complaining cause I didn’t realize the whole thing is perfect !

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 14:02.
    • Mundham
      Member
      Since: Feb 2011

      I never said it was perfect, that was why I agreed with the score of 8/10. I just didn’t agree with some of your comments and wondered why you would perservere with a game you can’t say a good thing about.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 14:40.
      • Mundham
        Member
        Since: Feb 2011

        Oh and please don’t defenestrate yourself, at least not in public ;-)

        Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 14:41.
  7. Pedromr
    Member
    Since: Oct 2010

    Dude, STILL no deck builder??????

    Comment posted on 04/07/2012 at 14:03.

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