The Duels series has always represented the most newb-friendly entry point for the Magic: The Gathering series, but despite its supposed simplification of this notoriously deep and unforgiving card game, has nonetheless been home to an excessively deep and ultimately unforgiving learning curve for people like……well, people like me.
As somebody who has never really played Magic: The Gathering (or any other battle-based card game for that matter), I, like so many others, have found it a decidedly unwelcoming world. With little in the way of tutorials and an array of rules and disciplines to get my head around, it always felt like too much of an effort to ever really get into.
Wizard of the Coast’s latest however, Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers, certainly stands as the series’ most accessible and user-friendly release to date. It may have taken a bit of a beating from both the critics and the hardcore fan base, but as a newcomer, this proved a surprisingly welcoming and user-friendly entry into this notoriously brutal genre.
Thanks to a thorough and extremely useful tutorial, I actually felt like I was halfway towards knowing what was going on, and by time I got down to putting my deck together and going into battle, had at least a rudimentary idea of what I should be doing. I was still useless of course, but at least I wasn’t utterly clueless, and for a game of this ilk, building a basic understanding is half the battle.
Via the very useful deck editor and user-friendly interface (complimentary cards are suggested and decks can be auto-created based on an array of options), you are able to filter out your deck by colour, cost, rarity, and an array of other options that, thanks to the all-new custom decks, gives this latest release the sense of ownership and control that was always lacking from previous virtual entries in the series.
While the underlying experience is understandably similar to previous iterations, it is the ability to customise your own deck that really sets the 2015 release apart from its predecessors. With booster packs provided on the back of campaign victories with additional packs received via random encounters in each of the games’ planes, this element of luck, brings Planeswalkers in line with the actual card game and provides that sense of excitement that comes with knowing that the next booster pack might just have that killer rare card that you’ve been looking for.
Despite its user-friendly tutorial and interface and the hugely positive impact that custome decks has had on the experience, Duels of the Planeswalkers is still far from a perfect package. A few minor technical issues certainly leave their mark and, as always, it feels more at home on PC than it does on console, but the big issue, one that both new players and seasoned professionals will be able to agree on, is the inclusion and prevalence of micro-transactions.
I’m not a fan of micro-transactions in video games, but as long as they are not overtly prevalent and do not impact the core experience or offer an unfair (pay-to-win) advantage, they remain something that I’m happy to ignore. When they affect gameplay as they do in Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers though, they are a little harder to ignore and certainly represent something of a worrying trend.
The problem here is that there are a number of download only booster packs with cards that cannot be attained unless you are willing to hand over the cash. That might be ok if you could ignore their existence, but thanks to an array of greyed out cards in your collection that can only be unlocked via purchase, their inclusion really does push the boundaries of what should be acceptable in a non-free-to-play game.
The technical issues are relatively easy to overlook, but the micro-transactions? They really do put a dampener on what is an otherwise fine entry in the Magic series. Still, if you are able to overlook this rather unsavoury addition, then Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers delivers the most user-friendly and technically proficient entry to date, and one that is made all the more enjoyable by the inclusion of custom decks and the array of tactical options that their inclusion brings.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - /10
Graphics - /10
Sound - /10
Replay Value - /10
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