Magic 2014: Duels of the Planewalkers is the third sequel of the game from publisher Wizards of the Coast and developer Stainless Games.
Based on the popular Magic the Gathering card game, your main objective is to defeat fellow duelists via an array of monsters and spells before your life points are depleted. However, in this digital version, you can win also new cards and pre-constructed decks to reinforce the armies at your disposal; all of the cards in the game are up to current rules and library standards.
As in previous incarnations of Duels, Wizards has brought back: Campaign Mode (duel A.I. opponents in a loose connecting story), Challenge Mode (find the right combination in a single turn to defeat the opponent) and multi-player.
However, the biggest change is the ability to now use a deck of your own creation. This Sealed Play mode allows players to use booster packs to make a library of 40 cards; you may then use it to play against computer opponents to win more boosters to bolster your ranks. Unfortunately, this new mode is restricted to Sealed Play and cannot be used in co-op.
While the new changes add to the challenge of the game, the same difficulties also hinder it as in previous versions.
A major flaw of the game is how much luck plays to winning each match. Your starting hand can decide how well the game will progress – depending on which cards are drawn, you can start loosing from the very beginning. Although strategy is a basis of building a decisive deck, no matter how well it is geared toward your playing style, that first draw is the key to victory. If that hand is loaded down with too many monsters/spells and no mana (spell energy) or vice versa, you can always redraw up to six times (minus one card per redo). But, every time you do, it puts you at a disadvantage; while you are redrawing, your opponent is slowing eating away at your health. Each following draw can multiply your deficient, adding useless cards until you have enough mana to play it.
Related to the previous problem is the need to constantly play to improve your decks. Although you can win new ones from certain opponents, they are basic versions of the ones which are used. To fortify that library, you must win with that deck to add new cards – one per win. Thus, the vicious cycle begins: unlucky draws leads to redraws, which lengthens the duration of the match and leads to a vampiric victory. Each deck has an additional thirty cards with the more powerful ones at the bottom of the pile. So, a dedicated player will want to play until they have access to all of them. They can also be unlocked via a microtranaction, but that takes away from the appeal of the game; and that sum can build up for all of the decks in the game.
Lastly, the major appeal of Magic is to play with your friends. But, this allure is soured in the digital version. The multi-player mode of the game offers either ranked or casual play with any of the decks which were unlocked in the campaign. A maximum of three other players can be challenged in either local or online play. However, the latter setting is where Magic 2014 runs into problems.
Online mode works fine during the game, but it will sometimes freeze when someone leaves after a loss or quits out of frustration. This occurs randomly and there seems to be no indication as to when such a glitch can happen. It is a shame especially during a Ranked match since some duelists quit prematurely so they do not drop in the leaderboards. The same error was also in last year’s version of the game, but it seems that Stainless Games did not address the problem.
Magic 2014: Duels of the Planewalkers is a worthy successor to last year’s game with card updates and the new Sealed Play mode, but the problem with online play mars this digital version of the game. If you add the need of constant deck grinding and unusual amount of luck needed to win matches, it would appear that this game is not for everyone. But, the dedicated MTG veterans and those who like a challenge will find that Magic 2014 will be a surprising departure from the average run and gun diversions that have flooded the market as of late. Just drop the shotgun and zombies and you might find that Duels of the Planewalkers can be fun too!
A copy of Magic 2014: Duels of the Planewalkers on the Xbox 360 was purchased by the reviewer for purposes of this review.