Review

Magic: The Gathering – Duals of the Planeswalkers 2014

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Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers is quite a mouthful, but this series comes packed full of content and replayability. The 2014 edition of the increasingly popular digital version of the old-as-time trading card game proves that it isn’t just a rehash with some new cards by improving, and enhancing, almost every facet of the game.

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Ease of Use and a New Look

Magic: The Gathering 2013 for Xbox LIVE Arcade was my first venture into the world of Magic and trading card games, and although there was a slightly steep learning curve it was incredibly easy to pick up and learn. As with most top-notch games, it’s easy to learn but difficult to master and Magic: The Gathering 2014 is no different with a top tier tutorial that teaches newcomers the ropes, and quick tips that will help even seasoned veterans of the game. The user interface (UI) and heads-up display (HUD) updates also make it very welcoming for new players.

As part of the UI overhaul, the menu system has done away with the cumbersome (yet picturesque) side-scrolling menu of 2013 and replaced it with a far more simple list view, which has resulted in faster load times. The HUD also exudes a much cleaner and clearer look despite now holding more information for the player.

Battle animations and sorcery effects, however, are still very simplistic but that’s not a big loss considering players will most likely turn them off after the first few times. That said, I did see that some rare cards in the game have been given some cool animated artwork.

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Campaign

The best place for the budding Planeswalker to start in Magic: The Gathering after a quick run through the tutorial is the game’s campaign, which has been enhanced tenfold in the 2014 edition. As soon as you start the game you will notice that Chandra Nalaar, the fire mage, takes centre stage in the intro and in the menu screens as the campaign follows her journey through the different planes as she seeks out.

Another first in the series is the addition of some well animated cut-scenes to enhance the storytelling in the campaign, as well as short text updates between planes to relate your progress so far. The campaign feels more like a story now as opposed to just a series of duels and encounters like in previous years.

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The campaign is divided in to five sections, or ‘planes,’ and is they are each made up of a few encounters and then a final duel before clearing the area. Encounters differ from duels in that they are played out in a set pattern each time, whereas in previous games they where used as mini tutorials to introduce new game dynamics or techniques, but were very simplistic and easy to complete.

In 2014, however, they still perform the same task of teaching recommended techniques but are much more challenging and in some cases much more difficult than some of the actual battles in the game. The challenges ending off each section are regular duels that play out differently each time owing to the random card draws, and once beaten they unlock your opponent’s deck for use in the game.

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Despite Chandra being the focal character you are not limited to her red Firewave deck. As in 2013, at the start of the game you may choose between Chandra’s Red deck or Garruk’s Green deck and each time you beat a mage in the campaign you unlock their deck for use, too. If you’re feeling low on options to get past an encounter or duels, you are also allowed to challenge a Planeswalker at any time in the game to unlock their deck as well. This is a welcome addition as previous years forced you to play through the entire campaign before unlocking the five basic decks. Altogether in 2014, there are ten pre-constructed decks to choose from and this will no doubt increase when the DLC cycle kicks into effect later this year.

Game Modes

As I’ve briefly mentioned the ‘Challenges’ mode returns again, although it’s far from the cognitive nightmare that it was in 2013. MTG 2014 adds a new game mode to both the single and multiplayer sections in the form of the much requested ‘Sealed Play’ mode and is a popular tournament format in the trading card game, but it’s not recommended for first time players as it requires some knowledge of deck construction. In Sealed Play you are given six sealed booster packs (twelve cards per person) to start with, from which you need to build your initial forty card (minimum) deck.

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The deck is not restricted to a certain colour of mana and the construction is entirely up to you based on the cards you were dealt in your booster packs. As you work through the Sealed Play campaign you can unlock three more booster packs for a total of nine packs from which to build your deck, before you can feel ready to take your deck online.

I’m not sure if it’s the extra challenge of random deck construction or the simple excitement of unwrapping a booster pack, but the new Sealed Play mode has quickly become my favourite MTG mode. The only downside of it is that you only get two deck slots to start and thereafter it will cost you additional MS Points to buy extra slots. You would have thought that they might unlock an extra deck slot if you finished the campaign, but unfortunately that is not the case.

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Of course you can still play the familiar constructed format with the decks that you unlock in the standard campaign in the usual Free-for-All and Two-Headed Giant modes. Even better for constructed play is that it benefits from the revamped deck manager that was introduced with Sealed Play. The deck manager now includes much improved deck sorting and the ability to manually allocate your lands for each deck. When you start playing online you’ll soon see how game-changing having control over your land can be.

Multiplayer

Speaking of online, MTG 2014 hasn’t rocked the boat much and the system works pretty much exactly as it did in 2013. There wasn’t really much wrong with multiplayer in MTG 2013 but occasionally I came across some familiar bugs and glitches, but they are by no means game breaking. One new feature that was thrown in is the option to randomly select a deck, which always ups the fun.

Another thing that I couldn’t help but notice is the advertising for the official Magic: The Gathering trading card game with ‘Friday Night Magic’ adverts popping up all over the show. Keep in mind that Friday Night Magic isn’t only an advert for the physical game, though, it’s also a reminder that Friday nights are the best time to search online for MTG 2014 games.

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Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 is a great improvement on an already excellent game. It’s probably the best way for newcomers to learn Magic: The Gathering as well as being a cost effective and easy way for long time fans to continue to play. As far as value for your money goes, it doesn’t get any better than Magic: The Gathering 2014.

Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 was reviewed on the Xbox 360


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