Much like the trading card game on which it is based, Stainless Games’ Duels of the Planeswalkers has changed very little since its debut. The first instalment launched back in 2010, weaving Magic: The Gathering’s timeless, 20-year old formula into the fabric of a downloadable title. The result was simply sublime, with the TCG’s bulletproof mechanics supported by an interface and control scheme that opened the doors for returning veterans and newcomers alike.
For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering is a game often played between two players, using decks of game specific cards loaded with a variety of spells. The objective is to reduce your opponent’s life points to zero by building mana and summoning creatures/conjuring sorceries. There are dozens of unique effects, abilities, and synergies that all need to be monitored yet Magic never feels confusing.
Not only will Duels 2014 lead you through an updated, narrated tutorial, it will also keep track of and display all relevant information, a key feature for player accessibility. If you’ve ever had even the vaguest interest in Magic: The Gathering then this is an ideal entry point.
One-on-one duels have always been the bread and butter of M:TG, and this is something 2014 has taken on board. In an attempt to change-up the formula, Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2012 and 2013 featured a spread of game modes, including two-headed duels and the time-soaking Planechase. Despite providing alternate ways to approach the formula, they always played second fiddle and did little to add to the overall experience.
This year things have changed. Doing away with gimmicky game modes, Stainless has introduced Sealed Play, instantly making 2014 the best instalment to date.
Structured similarly to the game’s default, story-driven campaign, Sealed Play finally allows casters to build their own decks from scratch, bridging the gap between digital and paper-based mediums. After opening several randomised boosters, players can then go about creating and developing their own personalised decks. At first, with so many cards to sift through, it can be overwhelming though the game’s tools makes deck-building fun and painless.
Once done, you can challenge AI opponents to refine your tactics and unlock additional boosters. It’s this latter incentive that really drives the experience, as you’ll always be hunting for those super-rare cards that can take your deck to the next level. After getting a taste of Sealed Play, it’s easy to see why fans were pining for a full-on deck builder.
Thought it’s been somewhat usurped by the Sealed Deck mode, 2014’s main campaign is still fun. You follow Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar through a number of locations in a quest punctuated by snippets of dialogue and even the occasional cutscene here and there. It’s definitely a one-up on last year’s campaign and features a number of tactical opponents who use their decks in the most challenging and interesting of ways.
The only other update to 2014 is something that will mainly appeal to existing Magic: The Gathering fans. After sitting on the sidelines for some time now, Slivers are making their Duels debut. Adding yet another tactical dimension to the game’s mechanics, these creatures directly influence one another whilst in play with unique abilities and stat bonuses.
One thing that really hasn’t changed since 2010 is how Duels presents itself. The UI and playing field have been spruced up with a few fancy animations here and there but it’s still mostly the same. In truth, this isn’t such a bad thing, though if Stainless wants its series to become something more than an adaptation they need to look into adding 3D models and new effects.
- Reduced price-point.
- Sealed Play and inclusion of a deck builder.
- Glorious artwork.
- Campaign now has a narrative.
- Suitable for both newcomers and existing players.
- Duels of the Planewalkers may have finally hit its peak.
Needless to say, Duels of the Planewalkers 2014 is the most-refined instalment in the series to date. Visually, it has only received a few touch-ups though the improved campaign and inclusion of Sealed Play have propelled the franchise to new heights.
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