Review: Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers
I first started playing Magic: The Gathering back in the 8th grade. After school my friends and I would hang out on the steps of the library and we’d play until our parents started arriving to pick us up. It was fun, competitive and social. We’d constantly redesign decks and the game was still new enough that you rarely had to worry about weird new rules screwing up everything. Times were great, direct damage and goblin decks still worked and it gave us something to do other than trying to look at porn on the library computers using this amazing new “internet” thing.
Magic started dying for me not long after Mirage came out. Mirage introduced new odd rules like flanking and phasing, and it was just the beginning of an unpleasant trend. It wasn’t until Tempest later on and the introduction of buyback and shadow that I quit. The game stopped being fun for me as I got tired of constantly redesigning my decks in order to counter my friends’ constant deck redesigns. Plus, shadow and phasing were just annoying as all hell.
From there, I abandoned my cards to the closet and devoted my attention to both Microprose PC games (X-Com) and internet porn.
Thank you Rule 34 for merging these two adolescent interests into prime nightmare fodder.
Aside from a few games over the next decade or so, I gave up Magic. So it was with a bit of hesitation that I took a look at one of Steam’s newest releases, Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers (or as I shall refer to it from here on out, M:TG-DOTP). M:TG-DOTP was originally released back in June 2009 on Xbox Live Arcade. There it sold well and is claimed to be one of the top 10 played Xbox Live titles for reasons I just can’t fathom. This month M:TG-DOTP was re-released on Steam and it can be yours for just $9.99. Or for the same price you could buy Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Plants vs. Zombies, or Garry’s Mod for Half-Life 2. I would recommend going for one of those as M:TG-DOTP is a waste for anyone other than a diehard Magic fan.
M:TG-DOTP is a Magic: The Gathering simulator. You don’t get to see the monsters come to life from your cards and duke it out, nor do you get to see magical effects fly across the screen. Nope, M:TG-DOTP simulates playing a round of Magic with a mute opponent you can’t see. When you start up the game you can choose from offline single player (with co-op mode) or online multiplayer.
In single player mode you can choose from a number of game types. In Campaign mode you fight against AI opponents to unlock special cards and new decks. You initially choose a theme deck such as a red goblin deck or a green trampling deck, which you can then edit somewhat using the new cards you’ve unlocked. As you defeat AI enemies you unlock their decks as well as the ability to play against them whenever you’d like.
In Challenge mode you complete puzzles to…(wait for it), unlock new cards. Well, I say puzzles, because that’s what they claim to be, but really they’re challenges along the lines of “with this set up and these cards, defeat your opponent in one turn.” In Custom Duel you can play a practice game against any of the AI opponents (though you can do this in campaign as well so I don’t quite get the point of this game mode). In Co-op Campaign mode you can play alongside a friend. However, in order to actually do this you have to plug in a gamepad for your friend to play on, which is mildly annoying. Finally Co-op Custom Duel mode works exactly the same way you’d imagine; it's a mix of Co-op and Custom Duel.
I’d love to say something about the multiplayer here, but when I looked online there weren’t any games available. Sure it was the first day the game was up on Steam, but that’s still not a good sign.
So how does the game play? It’s dull. Painfully dull. You have your pre-generated deck and it deals out 7 cards and gives you the option to reshuffle if you’re not happy with it. Then you take turns laying out mana and playing cards. The computer moves the cards about for you and that’s about it. It doesn’t keep a count of your mana for you or anything handy like that. Nope, instead gameplay in M:TG-DOTP appears as a artsy tabletop (you get to change table themes if you’re feeling “wild”) upon which your cards move about. That's it. That’s the entirety of the gameplay. There’s no story, no flashy effects, nothing, nada, zilch. And that’s really what’s wrong with this. At best, M:TG-DOTP is basically a Magic version of a simple computer chess game but without the complex strategies that make chess interesting.
As you’re stuck playing with pre-generated decks (that you can modify slightly), M:TG-DOTP lacks part of what made Magic fun: deck designing. You can’t try to recreate your old favorite Red/Green deck from junior high or even a famous 1st place tourney deck. No, you’re stuck using the decks that come with the game. What’s worse, M:TG-DOTP lacks any of the social interaction that makes Magic fun. There’s no insulting or trash talking your buddies as you play, no handshake after crushing your opponent, and no meeting up to compare strategies later on. Instead what you get is a dull, dull game that replaces one of the few activities lonely nerds have to socialize with real human beings, with an idiotic and repetitive computer.
I would pick this sweaty, crowded, BO-filled scenario over Duels of the Planeswalkers any day.
If you’re a huge fan and you have to play every damned Magic based video game that comes out, then I can’t stop you. If you really want to play Magic then I recommend that you go to your local gaming store (or large chain bookstore if you must), buy a damned starter deck and a few booster packs, and get your ass out there and play the game with real people. It might cost a bit more than buying this game off of Steam, but it’s worth it. The final verdict on Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers: Fry it.
Burn Baby, Burn.