Magic: The Gathering, the first trading card game, has been around for quite a while. First released in 1993 the game continues to grow with a dedicated fan-base. Needless to say, there have been a fair few video game adaptations over the years.The latest, yearly releases under the title “Duels of the Planeswalkers” have been relatively successful, building on an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” formula since 2012’s return to the name. However, with the game now in it’s third iteration, can the latest entry Magic 2014 live up to the hype associated with the brand and prove itself as more than just an updated MTG 2013?
For MtG newbies, the premise of the game centres on magical battles between two “Planes-walkers”; magical beings who channel “Mana” into casting a variety of spells and creatures. These battles take the form of Duels, in which players accrue Mana (through the casting of Lands), before spending it on Creatures and spells, with the aim of reducing the enemy’s life from 20 to zero. Cards come in five different colours, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and most decks consist of one to three colours.
For those new to the game there’s a basic tutorial mode, covering the basics of duelling through game-play. Whilst better than expected for the virtual version of a card game, it’s very basic and leaves you with little more than a primitive understanding of the mechanics. Which leads to the first problem; Getting OUT of the tutorial missions. Enclosed within the Campaign mode, you are required to defeat your mentor, Chandra (also the game’s mascot) and her Red deck.
Unfortunately I can foresee this as a serious issue for new players. Whilst admittedly not the best, I am a seasoned player. Despite this I had trouble defeating Chandra, even on a low difficulty, until I gave one of the two (at that point) available decks a serious revamp using the limited card-switching abilities on offer. Whether bad luck or just a lack of skill on my part is to blame, I don’t know, but regardless this first, curiously difficult match could seriously put off newer players.
However, get past this and the Campaign mode is a dream. Consisting of sets of four levels, with each demonstrating a different type of deck, the player is tasked with exploring the different planes and searching out artefacts by overcoming certain obstacles. Whilst realistically just a sequence of duels using unlocked decks, the blurbs between missions add much needed flavour and really make this feel like more than just a card game.
The main campaign suffers in only one respect; decks. Like previous entries in the series you are forced to choose between a variety of unlockable decks rather than given the option to build or input your own. Whilst customisation options open up after repeated usage of the deck (at a rate of one card per game), there is very little offered to swap around play styles. It’s possible to buy unlock keys and seemingly pointless foil conversions through micro-transactions, although they seem to be little more than time-savers designed to leech extra money.
However, deck building IS included in the new Sealed Play Campaign. Separate from and much shorter than the main campaign, you are given a selection of random cards out of booster packs which you build your deck from. Although starting slowly, the pace improves as you unlock more cards and gain momentum.
But how does it play? The actual mechanics work flawlessly, as they do within the standard card game. Graphically the game is simple, showing just the cards and the odd flash or slash reflecting attacks and certain card effects. Set on a blue game-table, the play area is clean, adding a professional and slightly mystical aesthetic. The interface, redesigned from previous iterations works well and fits cleanly with the overall look, simply showing the necessary information without cluttering the screen. A particular highlight for me was the attention to detail used in conjunction with certain cards. When the effect of a Phoenix card activated, the flaming outline of one appears on the battlefield with a hearty “sqwark”. When an animal attacks, a bite shows on the enemy.
What else to say? There are the usual options for online multi-player using both sealed and standard decks, and the matchmaking system is better than most. There are a few extras within the package, including Planes-walker biographies and artwork, and the whole package comes with a promotional code redeemable at participating stores, netting a neat, real card pack.
The only true downside I can see is the excessive promotion of the Trading Card Game within the video game itself. Every now and again, you are not-so-subtly reminded that you can buy actual cards. Whilst seemingly harmless, it feels upsetting that Wizards of the Coast feel the need to not only force micro-transactions down our throats as DLC, but to actively push us to buy real cards after the initial £6.99 purchase.
So what do I think of it? Magic 2014 is about as good as a game based on a real-life TCG can be. Proving that iteration can actually be a good thing, it’s a huge improvement over last year’s version. Whilst not massively innovative in terms of what it does, the experience is polished and enjoyable, proving itself to be a cut above other, similar titles.
Whilst perhaps a little inaccessible for new players, it’s a true must-have for long-time fans of Magic: The Gathering.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.