I’ll admit before I start this review that I wasn’t a fan of the Magic franchise or card game, but with Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalker, it matters not whether you’re a fan of the card game because the latest edition to XBLA feels like it’s trying to introduce new fans to the rules of the game and how to play with an extensive tutorial and hints dropped along the way during games. If you’re a follower of the Magic: The Gathering books or just the Magic games in general, then maybe you’ll be wanting to buy this year’s edition of Duels of the Planeswalker.
The single-player story follows Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar, who is out for revenge. There are some great cut-scenes (with some decent voice acting) after each card battle which help to take the player on a journey, so you don’t feel like you’re just playing a game of cards. The card battles take place against random enemies such as the Moorland Zombies, which you encounter on the first plane you enter.
If you’re expecting anything different from the gameplay, there really isn’t that many changes to how the game actually plays. You place land cards down such as forest, which increases your mana pool to summon creature cards into the battle to attack your opponents health, in which they’ll more than likely block and send another attack flying your way. The AI certainly makes your life difficult in the game, even when you know the order of cards you play in the “Challenge Mode”, you’re still left scratching your head on what you should play. Obviously a lot of that comes down to how well you know the game and what card does what. Luckily there are descriptions on the cards which are easy to understand.
In Magic 2014 there are also 10 new decks and 16 new puzzles, so if you’re looking for something fresh, this title has you covered. Even if you think you’re a pro at this title, you’re still going to face a challenge from time to time, especially if you elect the more advanced challenges or take your deck online to battle other players. I’ll admit that my first couple of online matches didn’t end very well, although the first game was an epic battle spanning on for 30-40 minutes. Once you’ve mastered how to play and what card does what, you’ll be more than comfortable when it comes to online matches or tougher AI opponents.
The main thing you’ll want to learn first is what deck counters which, as there’s a whole range on offer from white (protection) to black (life stealing). If you’ve played the game before you’ll be familiar with these, but if you’re a newbie to the title, don’t worry as you’ll soon pick it up just like I did.
One of the tweaks in 2014′s edition is the quicker gameplay, with the “attack all” button allowing you to issue all your played creatures to attack your opponent. Then there’s the timer which keeps you looking at the clock to see how long you have left to play a card. It’s particularly useful if you want to play a card during a block or attack, where you can simply press X to stop the timer and apply the desired card.
Another addition is “Sealed Mode”, which allows you to create your own custom deck – a desired feature for many editions. The player is given six sealed boosters of 14 cards each. Deck sizes are down to 40 instead of 60 cards. You can build this deck yourself by adding and removing cards where you see fit, think of it as a sort of Ultimate Team for Magic 2014: DotP. The user interface also provides a guide as to how strong, fast and your overall synergy for your created deck, in turn making it rather easy to create your own custom deck without any problems.
There is also the Sealed campaign, which give players the ability to earn three more boosted packs. However, each sealed pool takes up a permanent slot, and you are only provided with two slots at first. You can purchase additional slots (up to 20), but that does mean you’re limited in the amount of cards available.
If you’re not playing the game, sometimes it’s hard not to just sit back and admire the artwork done for each card, with a whole range of artists responsible. In fact, I don’t think I spotted the same name more than once, which is pretty impressive considering how appealing each card looks. In addition, the spell effects from creatures look superb on the screen, even if that does mean they’re draining your precious life points away. If you’re that much of a fan of the artwork it might be worth checking out the “Extras” part of the main menu, since it contains a lot of art for you to feast your eyes upon.
What I love about Magic 2014: Duels of the Planewalkers is how it approaches the new and experienced players. Hints are always there for novices and it’s very easy to pick up after a couple of games. Fair enough, you’re not going to become an expert straight away, but with a bit of practice you’ll get better. As for the experienced player, there’s more than enough to challenge them including the “Sealed Mode” and ranked multiplayer matches against players with a similar knowledge of the game. Some great new additions to this year’s edition really do make this game worth purchasing if you have any interest in the franchise.