Yearly entries in a gaming series are normally welcomed with derision, and usually it’s rightly so. The smallest of tweaks are made and unnecessary features are added so that the same product can be pushed out the door to make a quick buck. Unlike most sports series, however, the Duels of the Planeswalkers series is always innovating with each new entry, expanding the Magic: The Gathering canon every year.
The M:TG card game makes it a task just to learn how everything functions, especially since most players have their own rules that change every game you play. I’ve only been playing the game for two years and there are still rules, abilities and spells that I have no idea how to utilize. Luckily, the Duels of the Planeswalkers series streamlines the experience, crafting a game that gives beginners an ample chance to learn the ins and outs of the hobby while letting experts keep their skills polished. Unlike last year’s entry, which was fun but uneven, Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 fixes all of the little kinks that held back previous entries while adding the much sought after Sealed Deck mode.
Sealed Decks aren’t the only new inclusion in the 2014 version, as a loose story strings the campaign mode together. Players join Planeswalker Chandra as she chases down her rival Ramaz, aiding her in her quest for justice. That’s about as deep as the plot gets, but kudos to Stainless Games for even incorporating one. Chances are if you follow the stories told through the cards and other M:TG merchandise, you’ll have a much better time with the story than newcomers will. This doesn’t mean the campaign isn’t a good time, however, because players of all skills will enjoy traveling between five planes on the hunt for Ramaz.
Each plane is made up of separate encounters that provide different challenges and difficulties for the player. These encounters play out the same each time, allowing you to try out different strategies and decks of cards to see which one is best suited for each situation. Similar to previous entries, the decks presented are mostly mono, centering on one color and therefore one aspect of play. This is a great way for beginners to try out the various styles of play to see which suits them the best, despite a somewhat challenging learning curve. No stage is ever insurmountable, but saying some battles can take a good while to complete, a loss feels like a slap in the face.
Classic modes such as online multiplayer, free-for-all, and puzzles return, presenting tons of options and varieties for returning fans and newcomers alike. The battle system itself has been tweaked to make games flow a bit faster, and after the detailed tutorial (tailored to the amount of M:TG experience you have) leads you through the intricacies, you’ll find that commands become second nature. Cards drawn from last year’s series round out the experience, presented in various predetermined decks that are unlocked as progress is made. As if that’s not enough, each deck has a huge amount of cards to unlock with each victory, ensuring replayability.
As solid as the returning features and minor changes are, the inclusion of the long-awaited Sealed Deck mode is the real icing on the cake. Emulating a Sealed Deck tournament, this mode gives players six random booster packs to “open” and then form 40-card decks with however they please. Longtime fans of M:TG will be delighted to finally have some control over their own decks, while newcomers will find that the computer is extremely helpful in crafting good decks. A bar at the top of the menu will tell the player how well their deck will perform with each card added and removed, and there’s even an auto-build option that crafts a deck based around a few chosen cards. These decks are usually pretty solid, so if you’re a first time player, give it a try, because the computer won’t let you down.
Sealed Deck mode has its own campaign, although it’s a bit stunted compared to the normal story. You also fight enemies with pre-assembled decks, making the first few duels pretty challenging. Luckily, more booster packs get unlocked with more victories, so the odds are usually in your favor. Taking your own decks online feels fresh, allowing players to show what they’ve really got without relying on the luck of the draw from the predetermined decks. The only downside to this mode is that there are only two slots for decks, meaning that if you want to build more than two, you have to buy more slots. Depending on your aversion level to microtransactions, this is either a small price to pay or a dilemma keeping you at two decks.
If you’re already a fan of the game, then this purchase is a no-brainer, especially at the low price point of 800 MSP. Newcomers will find this to be the most easily accessible entry as well, so if you’ve been looking for an easy entry point into the game, then dive into Magic: The Gathering – Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2014 immediately. Playing cards in a different medium is rarely this fun.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 version of the game provided to us for review purposes.