For those of you who don’t know, Magic: The Gathering has been something of a phenomenon for the better part of two decades. The card game, which allows players to assume the role of Planeswalkers and duel each other using creatures, enchantments, artifacts and other tools, has an immense and devoted following. Between tournaments, collecting cards and building decks, the game can be rather time consuming and obsessive (trust me, I know).
But even if you walk around with at least one deck always on hand, there’s never anyone available to play the game with at any hour. Enter Duels of the Planeswalkers, a genius idea for a video game version of the franchise that embodies the card game extremely well. Although 2012′s outing was a bit rough around the edges, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 makes amends by adding a few new features that returning players will love.
First off, let me address those of you who have never played Magic before: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is probably not the best jumping off point. Although the game features a handy dandy tutorial, it only chooses to cover the very basic concepts that are necessary to play. While doing this, it also fails to mention a number of key points that lend to the total experience. Although it’s just my opinion, I believe new players are better off having a friend show them the ins and outs of the game before jumping into Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.
For those more experienced with Magic, the video game version offers a few variations on the classic card game. Rather than being given the ability to build a deck of your choosing from scratch, players are given 10 all new mono decks to use. As restrictive as this sounds, the option to take out and add in whichever cards you want (which you unlock through winning duels) gives decks some sense of personalization.
The game offers quite a few types of decks, so all types of players will find something to love. Whether you prefer a mill deck or a white lifegain deck, chances are you can use it here. A lot of consideration was put into which cards are used in each deck, and Stainless Games should be commended for their choices.
Duels are presented in the form of a loose campaign that details battles through various planes of the Magic universe. These are split apart by various encounters that serve as quick little challenges, where decks play the same hands every time, allowing you to try different techniques against them. The campaign isn’t terribly challenging or innovative, with almost no plot but some back story from the card series threading through each battle. With that being said, it’s still addictive and a great time.
Challenge mode makes an appearance again, presenting players with quick little puzzles that are actually quite difficult to solve. Not so difficult that they’re a turn off, but enough of a challenge that when you finally solve one, you’ll be smiling at how clever the whole thing was. Dropping into a game in progress and turning the tides with one play is deeply satisfying, making this mode worth the playthrough.
The newest addition to Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is Planechase mode, which is similar to Archenemy from last year’s edition, yet slightly different. Featuring crazed four player free-for-all gameplay, the twist involves the changing planes. Each player, while dueling as they normally would, can also roll a planar die, which determines whether the plane of play will switch to a new one or if other changes will occur. The various planes feature different game changing effects, lending the mode a level of unpredictability that made it my favorite way to play. Of course, you can take your duels online, playing either a quick duel, a custom duel or a Planechase duel.
Along with allowing an outlet for obsessive duelers, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 provides gamers with online leaderboards and a player status menu, which monitors your preferred mana type, various statistics, trophies earned, and other random bits of information.
Although the package as a whole is well-rounded and compulsively playable, there are a few issues that keep the game from being perfect. As much fun as I had in Planechase mode, some of the duels lasted much too long. I sat in the same duel for over two hours and ended up having to exit so that I could go to work (I hate when real life gets in the way). For those players with an excess of time on their hands, this could be a great diversion, but anyone looking for a quick little time-killer might have to find it elsewhere.
The other flaws that are present bleed over from the card game. Some duels are determined by sheer luck of the draw over planning and technique, a problem that has plagued Magic since the beginning. Although this provides a sense of balance, never allowing a single player to dominate, it becomes more glaring when you draw three hands in a row with no land.
Despite this, for only $10, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is a must have for Magic fans. The duels are all fluid and play easily, providing a more streamlined experience that doesn’t end with Dorito crumbs and Mountain Dew ruining your cards. Even newcomers should check out the game provided they have a friend who can fill in the gaps the game doesn’t explain. The addition of Planechase mode gives this year’s edition a kick that makes it worth the purchase.
If you can get past the downsides that are sprinkled here and there, then there is an endless amount of fun to be had here.
This article is based on the PSN version of the game, which we received for review purposes.