XBLA Review: Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Love it or hate it, the the sequel is here to stay. People like to buy what they know, and established titles tend to sell better than new intellectual properties. However, there are some occasions on which titles are released that aren’t sequels so much as they are updates to the previous year’s effort. This is unfortunately the case with Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

Much like last year, you select your deck, and battle on campaign against other duelists in a game of Magic the Gathering, the collectible card game. There is a tutorial, so if you’re unfamiliar with the mana-placing, monster-summoning, spell-casting ways of the card game, this would be an excellent place to begin. Frankly, I can think of no better place to start a neophyte MtG player than in this particular game, as it will guide them along, enforcing the rules and generally doing a solid job of teaching the fundamentals of gameplay.

Deck manager this year can be accessed from the main menu or pre-battle.

Other than the newbie learning the game for the first time, however, I would find it hard to recommend this game over its previous versions. There is little to differentiate this year’s effort from last year, save to replace a failed game mode with something else. There have been no graphic improvements, and the interface is very similar. There are some new cards and different decks, but I’m not sure adding those required an entire re-issue of the game. If you were satisfied with last year’s version, there’s really very little reason to pick up the new one.

One area that could have used improvement over last year is the atrocious AI. It’s easily defeated, and despite numerous matches against the AI, I’ve yet to see it play well. The only way in which it puts up a meaningful fight are in some of puzzle matches when the deck is rigged in the enemy’s favor. But even a fairly competent MtG player will have little trouble putting the AI in its place. The AI seems to neglect to toss away poor deals (which is always a pre-match option), and generally plays in a piecemeal and predictable fashion. Only in those cases when the game cheats (by allowing the AI a fixed draw to give it an advantage) does the AI present anything approximating a tough opponent.

Every year I hope that Magic the Gathering finally takes the leap and attempt to harness, in some fashion, the Xbox 360’s solid graphical capabilities. It seems to me that an opportunity to make Magic come to life is wasted yearly, as you battle online with scans of cards. If I summon a monster, why doesn’t it walk across the screen? Why do I feel like I would be more fulfilled by building my own deck and seeing these cards in person? Replacing last year’s Archenemy mode (where you got to play as one of a team of three battling the Archenemy, who was pummeled every time) with a mode this year that proved even worse (now you’re the one against three, and the AI can actually beat you, if they get to play three hands simultaneously. Shocker) than the mode it replaced is not what I call a game changing upgrade.

At the end of the day, I’m left pondering why this effort exists. Is the ability to chose the mana you’re tapping really big enough of a game changer to justify a new game? The new decks (all single mana save one) don’t really scream “must play”. This is certainly an adequate Magic the Gathering game. It plays well enough, and if you’re looking to learn the basics, this would be the place to begin. Were this game sold as a Magic primer, it certainly has that value. But if you’re a longtime fan, or really enjoyed last year’s effort, I’d recommend you spend your $10 on a new deck and find a face to face opponent. You’ll be better served.

Planeschase mode. I just don’t follow.

Pros:

  • Great for beginners learning the basics
  • Choosing the mana you can tap is great
  • Only $10
  • Deck Management is easy and accessible

Cons

  • Too much like last year’s game
  • Planechase is plain awful

 

2 out of 5

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Author: Tony Odett View all posts by
A member of the Perfectly Sane Show crew and Vagary.tv's Features Editor, Tony brings the smart and funny (and the rapine and pillage...). Also known as The Strategy Gamer, Tony declares it his duty to get as much coverage as possible for what should be everyone's most loved genre.