Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planewalkers 2014 Review: dynamic, digital magic romp returns with a slight identity crisis

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Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planewalker 2014

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DoTP has brilliant core gameplay and a near-perfect interface, but it's hampered by locked content, and not knowing what game it wants to be.

We like

  • The core gameplay is well-replicated
  • Standout multiplayer
  • Sealed Deck is a great addition

We dislike

  • The dull interface
  • Lazy tutorial
  • Feels directionless

See PSU's review on Metacritic & GameRankings

Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 will need little introduction for many. It is the fourth instalment of this series, which is based on twenty-year strong trading card game Magic: The Gathering. The card game's next Core Set will have its pre-release this month, meaning that DoTP 2014 will be the first opportunity for the public to play it. The game therefore has a lot to live up to. It needs to avoid undermining the release of the card game, undoubtedly the brand's core product, and souring an important anniversary.

The game is known to be complex and is certainly not a pick up and play title. As such, it is definitely appropriate that the player's experience with Magic is gauged before they can have a go, even though this release will likely attract fans more than anyone else. Whatever option the player selects, the tutorial will be presented to them. It isn't a daunting process, but it is a long, tedious one. There is a voiceover which will occasionally guide you through, but most of the time you are left to your own devices. This proves disconcerting when each tutorial starts. Some of the tutorials feel lacking in content, too, with basics like phases and the position of strength and toughness on the card not clearly laid out for a beginner.

Moving out of the tutorial and on to the game's front end tells you a lot, and also nothing, about what the meat of the title is going to be like. The main menu has been given a paring down from the 3D backdrops of the last instalment, which is disappointing, and could suggest that the game was a rush job. However, it could equally suggest that gameplay has been put the forefront of the release rather than aesthetics. Rousing, epic music, instills excitement from near enough the outset, the music remaining enjoyable right into the actual gameplay, though it has yet to be proven whether the same will be said when the game is put to bed next Summer.

Whichever game mode you'll move in to, you'll have to play within the confines of an interface that only varies to accommodate each mode. Before you arrive at that you receive the treat of a loading screen with beautiful full screen artwork. Sadly, that treat proves to be a tease. The player is greeted by a blue tabletop that is apparently set within a darkened room. To see it time and time again becomes mind-numbing. More important, though, is that the interface is near-perfect when it comes to the unique gameplay mechanics such as the timer, a feature which stops players from spending too much time dawdling. The beauty of the artwork on the cards also can't be overstated.

The beginner will probably want to start with one of the single-player game modes before reaching the multiplayer, and perhaps the most likely would be the campaign. For the first time in the series, the campaign has a story, though it can only be loosely referred to as a 'story mode'. There are occasional cutscenes, and some players will be interested in the focus on Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar. At its core, though, it is a series of duels threaded by a very loose narrative. Nonetheless, the duels are worth playing in order to hone beginners skills, especially as the AI moves are pre-configured. The more experienced player may have temporary fun with the duels. However, they hold little replay value for anyone, though, as the AI will make the same moves in all the duels, bar boss battles.

The campaign is, sadly, essential if you want to complete your deck collection. The alternative is to pay for deck keys to unlock the cards and decks you don't have, which would be okay if the game was free-to-play. It is frustrating because it prevents players from enjoying single and multiplayer modes that they might like to the fullest. Two-Headed Giant and Free For All require the use of campaign decks. Without strong decks, the game becomes very difficult.

Free For All is as it says on the tin, whereas Two-Headed Giant provides the excitement of two versus two. That changes the ... (continued on next page) ----

Lee Millington is one of PSU's staff writers, is based in England, and is studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Follow him on Twitter for tweets about video games and his other, sometimes curiously varied, interests.
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