Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
Wizards of the Coast
PlayStation 3 (PSN), Xbox 360 (XBLA), iOS, PC (Steam)
June 20th, 2012
Another year, another Duels of the Planeswalkers game from Stainless Games. Already the third in this series, will this game have the mana to conjure up another win with fans? Or will this game fizzle out as just another countered spell on the stack, even with the new Planechase game mode?
Awaken your spark. You are a planeswalker, a mage powerful enough to walk from one universe to the next and back again. But you aren't alone. Nicol Bolas, one of the first planeswalkers is still on his mad quest to re-attain powers and knowledge he lost when the "spark" diminished. Once as powerful as a god his plans would sacrifice countless lives to reawaken the frightening power he once controlled, all that stands in his way is you. As you travel to new worlds in the multiverse and battle fellow mages and planeswalkers, the shadow of Nicol Bolas the elder dragon looms over more and more. Use every spell at your disposal to stop him and ruin his quest for selfish ambition!
Wow, I make this sound good don't I? While that is the game's loose plot, it is in fact loose. The opening animation gives you the majority of the story of this game. Don't expect any character development, or fancy cutscenes here, only a clear cut enemy, and tons of spells and creatures to use as you become the best planeswalker around. While this tease of a loose story is something I would love to see them expand upon in the future, it really isn't needed as the matches based on the popular Magic: The Gathering card game by Wizards of the Coast is really all you need.
Stainless has always done a great job with the Duels games and what’s really neat here are the extra touches they have added. The menu system is great and easy to navigate, and heading to campaign simplifies the game so much. Artwork from the physical cards can be seen nearly everywhere, from loading screens, to backgrounds, to the cards themselves. Such beautiful artwork really begs to be displayed this often, and it is. Even though you can't interact with them, the game's top menu features 3D rendering of famous locations in the Magic Multiverse. Ravnica, the city of guilds, is the first of these new 3D menu environments and it looked good, but not great. I expect it is more than enough for fans of the Magic world, but newcomers to this annual title might notice the lack of highly detailed textures.
Of course most of your time will be spent in the play area as you and an opponent (or opponents) duke it out for magical supremacy. The "tabletop" is a matte metal looking texture with designs that match the product packaging for the physical Magic 2013 set release. If Duels 2012 had a very stainless steel look to it, Duels 2013 is definitely more of an obsidian finish. However you'd describe it, it looks gorgeous and will hardly get boring even through longer matches. Other visual effects as cards interact are generally similar to previous titles, with red slashes as creatures attack each other, fire as spells damage opponents, and swirling magic auras as abilities activate. They seem to be a little more animated in this title, but most are not great enough looking to warrant the time they will ultimately accumulate in a match. Most of the time I disable what I can from the game's settings menu, which speeds up the game a little. Either way, Duels 2011 and 2012 were both great looking games, and 2013 keeps the most simplistic formula: keep the card game's incredible artwork as the focus.
The biggest and best thing they could have done was give us a new song that plays when you are in a duel. Thankfully Stainless Games did just that. There aren’t many songs to listen to but this time around the theme that plays during battles is far more low key and because of this, far less likely to annoy the bejeezus out of you. The other songs that play in places like the top menu or the game’s opening are good but you won’t hear them often. The sound effects that are included usually take more precedence but have a tendency to be a little annoying themselves. When the visual effects are turned off the sounds will go too, so you can thank me later.
For a game that is a reproduction of a card game digitally, many of the mechanics and gameplay elements cannot be changed as this title goes on. So know that as a game, this will play on the whole exactly like its predecessors do. This does not mean the game lacks any kind of additions though, just that this is still a card game based on the physical Magic: The Gathering product. Those of you who have never played I will give you the brief rundown. You play as a planeswalker and have a deck of at least 60 cards, made up of lands and creature, artifact, enchantment, sorcery, and instant spells. You draw upon lands to cast these spells from your deck to reduce your opponent’s life total to zero, or deplete his own deck of spells, making you the winner. It sounds easy, and the basic concept is, but the diversity of the cards in this game make each premade deck you can use unique. By winning duels you can further customize any of these decks by adding or removing cards you unlock along the way. Matches themselves include one-on-one, two vs. two, three or four player free-for-alls, and the new Planechase multiplayer variant which is a four player free-for-all with a set of cards that will drastically affect the game. Think party-mode, planeswalker style.
What is different this time around is the way the campaign mode is organized. Each leg of the campaign takes place on a certain plane in which you have several opponents to defeat before you can advance to the next. Usually you start off with a couple normal one-on-one duels against various mages and planeswalkers, a few "encounters" which are meant to help you develop strategy by pitting you against an opponent whose actions are given a pattern. Once that group of opponents is down for the count you move to the next plane and repeat the process, or you can press “R1” or “L1” and move to the game’s Revenge, Planechase, or Puzzling sections of the solo game. In Revenge you fight stronger versions of previous opponents, Planechase is a drastically changing four player free-for-all, and finally Puzzling challenges test you by putting you in the middle of a game in progress to test your ability to work out a solution to a dire circumstance.
This is a new take as before different modes usually had their own mini campaigns, but the access to all branches of solo modes from a single menu makes changing gears surprisingly easy. It’s not a major change, but it is a change for the better, eliminating needless menu navigation. The game’s inclusion of different planes as “stages” even gives the game a sense of continuity even if the game lacks any kind of real story.
Of course if you are so inclined you can skip campaign altogether and participate in whatever kind of match you want, against the computer or online opponents. The smooth Duels UI has really been streamlined in 2013, so playing spells and getting the most out of each card, combo, and strategy isn't lost simply because you are playing online. In fact, since the preconstructed decks can be customized by adding or removing any of the unlocked or standard cards in the deck, expect to see many different versions of any of the game's 10 unlockable decks.
On the subject of the decks themselves the majority of them are top notch. There’s a blue aggro and a blue mill deck, a traditional goblin deck, vampire deck, white life gain, etc. Others are more unique, such as the white/black “Exalted Darkness” deck but overall the lack of multi-colored decks is noticeable. There are some awesome cards players who may dislike this but there are always expansions on the horizon so perhaps this shall be solved with DLC.
Any Magic player out there will know this game will have serious lasting appeal. Due to the ability to unlock cards, play through the game's campaign, unlock trophies, and tackle specific in game challenges the single player campaign has enough bulk to keep you around for awhile, but the game's online multiplayer game types will absolutely keep you hooked until Duels 2014 comes out. Each online match is vastly different from the last and players will have no problem finding opponents.
As both games before it have, Duels 2013 is very likely to have at least a couple gameplay expansions that are likely to add new decks and campaign matches to conquer, but even without them Duels 2013's 10 decks and myriad of opponents and game types is enough to keep you around for a long while. Oddly enough this game’s featured game type Planechase is exclusive to it, so even in future titles you can expect to come back to Duels 2013 whenever you feel like a game of Planechase.
When it comes to a game like Duels of the Planeswalkers it is understood that it is not for everyone. It is after all, a card game. But fans of the card game genre will absolutely adore Stainless’s tireless efforts at creating the smoothest UI possible for a card game, even one that is already heralded as the most complex. In a nutshell, simplifying Magic is no easy feat, and yet again Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 proves that it is unparalleled in its genre. Fans of the physical cards will love the bargain of 10 decks for $10, and easy online multiplayer over the PlayStation Network. Even those who have never played before can easily learn through this title. Even though there is a new Duels game every year, each has its own calling card. Duels 2012 remains the only game with the Archenemy and Duels 2013 adds the exclusive Planechase variant meaning each game retains a great amount of replay value. With great value, great decks, great menu improvements, and spectacular replay ability it is hard not to recommend Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.