Game Review: Wizards of the Coast – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 (Magic: The Gathering)

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 [Magic 2015]
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is the latest release for Magic: The Gathering [Magic 2015]. This review is for the Steam version.
By Christopher J.N. Banks

Learn more about Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 here
Find other Magic: The Gathering posts here

On a distant plane I crept through a dense forest, making my way towards my ultimate destination. Suddenly, appearing from the dense brush was a hulking centaur brandishing a wicked long spear. I could tell from his roar that one of us wasn’t leaving here alive. In earnest I called on the magic of my home world, a world dominated by sprawling planes and noble soldiers. A valiant hero from Iroas appeared and gave me a curt nod, understanding his duty. Before he could strike, however, more centaurs appeared around us, one by one, some sporting chieftain feathers and all of them intent on our destruction. I stood vigilant as they raced in, blades sliding through my defenses and weakening me. I held my ally back while calling upon others, a valiant knight and his squire appeared followed by a mentor trained extensively in the art of battle. His skills allowed me to bring in additional troops, building on one another until we had a virtual army at our command. Finally, I summoned a banisher priest who dispersed the most fearsome of centaur chieftains. I grew weak from numerous cuts, but at the disappearance of their leader, the centaurs hesitated. Gathering my men, I bellowed, “Charge!” my words, powered by magic, turning each of my men into killing machines. The glorious charge lasted only a minute more until the last centaur fell. My men sheathed their swords and faded away, back to the homes and lives they knew. I stepped over the last centaur and deeper into the forest. I’d need them again before I was done, I just hoped they, I hoped we, were up to the challenge.

Magic the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is the fifth in a yearly series of games based on the famous Magic: The Gathering card game. In it, you take on the role of a Planeswalker, who uses powerful magic powered by the very planes themselves. This time around the campaign focuses on finding another Planeswalker, Garruk, who has gone astray. To do so you will fight across planes familiar to those in the Magic Community; Innistrad, Theros, Ravnica, Shandalar, and Zendikar. With each win you gather more cards, many quite powerful, to further customize your deck. I am intimately familiar with the mechanics of Magic: The Gathering, as I spend several hours a week playing it in online form with Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) and have played paper Magic since 1996. However, the tutorial did a superb job of laying out the basics of Magic and I can imagine a beginner picking up the game and understanding the mechanics after only a few battles. I would have liked to see more of an open world sandbox feel to the game, ala the Shandalar game from 1997, but this is a huge step in the right direction.

The interface felt very “Magic Light” to me. For instance, lands are automatically tapped for you when you play a spell. Normally you would pick and choose which lands. This works well enough for about 80% of the game, but there are some instances where you want specifically to keep some lands open rather than others, especially when using more than one spell color in your decks. It took me a few minutes to figure out that pushing the “control” key over the spell allowed me to change which lands were going to be tapped when the spell is cast. But, other than that hiccup, I had no issues with the interface. Instead of a game clock, the game moves quickly from step to step within a player’s turn. You can cast spells as the timer quickly fades down, or push the space bar to pause the game and think about your options. For the most part this works great as the game even skips over several steps if there are no valid options for that step. For instance, if there are no creatures on the field, it completely skips the combat step. Even with this feature, however, I still felt like adding an end turn button or hotkey would have been ideal. Lastly, there were a few times where I missed an attack or skipped past an end step. While it would be nice to have a back one step button for situational use, Magic has never really been about “take-backsies” so I was happy to live with my mistakes.

I was quite impressed with the AI in the game. I was a bit leery at first as past iterations have been less than stellar. Magic is an extremely complicated game at times and I can imagine the AI being a bit difficult to program. However, I was pleased to see the computer using advanced tactics, such as blocking an attack with an inferior creature (chump blocking) and then sacrificing the creature to an ability when available. There were a few glitches, like casting a bloodthirst creature before attacking, but those were few and far between. Each deck type does a nice job of having a victory plan and attempting to execute that plan in the most optimal way. Unfortunately, the AI often needed a little extra time to think through its next move, even on my advanced PC. But, all in all this was a small price to pay and it only went more than a few seconds a few times during my ten hour session.

I delved into the world of multiplayer a little and found 2, 3, and 4 player duels. I never had an issue during the multiplayer matches, other than the occasional foul word or disconnect. That being said, Magic 2015 is able to take over for a disconnecting player and play out the remainder of that match. Since most of the cards are essentially “free”, as you can keep playing the campaign to gather new cards, I would have liked to see a blind ante system within the multiplayer aspect, as I found no real reason to play multiplayer, given the sufficient AI.

I did not perform any micro transactions within the game. I did check out the store and saw 10 card booster packs for $1.99 as well as full set prints for $4.99 each, but again thought gathering the cards against the AI was too much fun to pay to win. I’m told there are a few rare cards that can only be gathered through the store, but I can’t imagine not being able to put together a tier 1 deck with the AI provided cards. There was also an option to pay to foil your favorite cards. Foils have never been my thing, but I can imagine people enjoying this aspect as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Magic 2015. As someone who comes from a Magic the Gathering background it was refreshing to enjoy the cards in a new medium. It comes at a great time as Magic the Gathering Online is moving over to their new interface, which many have complained about. Despite thinking of it as “Magic Light” I found myself choosing a quick duel or two over joining a MTGO draft on more than one occasion. If the cost in time and money is too high for MTGO, Magic 2015 does a great job filling the role. If the next iteration adds more of the role playing aspect and opens up the world, I dare say I’d rarely leave my Planeswalker persona behind.

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