I wish I could pretend I was a die-hard Magic fan, but I just haven’t been with it long enough to have the true nerd-cred. I certainly know my mana drains from my angel of serenity, but my brief affairs with Magic: The Gathering all spawned from the original Duels of the Planeswalkers, released back in 2009 on XBLA (and later on PSN and PC).
It was, and still is, the most accessible entry point to Wizards of the Coast’s table top monopoly, but this simplicity has become a chain around the series’ neck after two more timely launches. Magic 2014 is upon us and, though it is even better with the new cards from the 2014 core set, the restrictions for the sake of accessibility have only been rectified in half measures.
For those uninitiated to the world of Magic, it is a turn-based card game where players take on the role of mages who must summon various creatures and spells to do battle against each other. Though it is culturally perceived as a geeks-only hobby, Magic is fairly easy to pick up and understand, and the depth and variety of tactics you can employ are just one of the reasons the game has lasted so long in its paper format.
Magic 2014 continues to present this excellent card game as clearly as its predecessors, but a few interface changes mark Magic 2014 as an improvement over the older games. Shorter pauses between segments and a more streamlined presentation makes this user interface the slickest yet. A few lengthy pauses as the AI calculates moves are still present, but Magic has never looked or flowed so well on a digital platform.
The main highlight for returning fans will be the sneak-peak each launch of the Duels of the Planeswalkers games offer into the next Magic Core Set. The new cards are a real plus and, unlike previous years that favoured certain colours over others, the new cards will benefit you regardless of your strategy. Unlike the bland pre-made decks in 2013, Magic 2014 features a good variety of dual colour decks that will let you try out a variety of cool new cards and strategies.
Aside from this, Magic 2014 is Duels of the Planeswalkers by the books, with a series of single player challenges and campaign levels to grind your way through. The campaign continues its solid gameplay pacing, offering a series of challenges that consistently ramp up in difficulty as they show you new decks and strategies that you can re-appropriate for yourself. It’s a winning formula, one made all the better by the attempt to include a narrative to fill the gaps between each battle.
The plot is awful, stringing together every fantasy cliché under the sun, but it’s better than nothing. The challenges for this year are unfortunately the weaker element of the package, offering an ironically minimal challenge. Whilst this mode has given some real brain teasers in years gone by, 2014 only hits the sweet spot of difficulty in the final few stages of the challenge mode. It’s a shame, but at least the rest of the content is solid and plentiful.
The big new addition to the single player shenanigans is the sealed campaign. Much like the popular sealed events you can enter with paper Magic, the sealed campaign gives you a series of digital boosters that you must then make a deck out of. This is the first time a Duels of the Planeswalkers title has offered deck customisation in this fashion, and it is well implemented. The interface is user-friendly, offering enough advice and auto-building options that newer players need not fear taking the plunge into full deck customisation.
Here’s the hitch though. For all the strides Magic 2014 makes in catering to players who want a deeper experience with the sealed mode, it is just that; a mode. Decks you create can only be used in the short sealed campaign and, though progressing through the campaign offers you new boosters to increase your deck building options, it is a quick affair.
It also doesn’t help that the cards you get are generally weedy. There are no incredible rares or uncommon gems to uncover as you rip open your boosters, leaving the whole mode with a slightly undercooked feeling. There’s also the issue of microtransactions rearing their ugly head in this mode. Whilst you have two slots to save custom decks initially, you can only acquire more by forking over some extra cash. It isn’t an exorbitant amount, but it leaves a bitter taste thinking you need to pay for the pleasure of more customisation options.
Multiplayer modes make a return as always, offering a decent way to round out the package. The multiplayer is never going to match up to paper magic or the ever-eccentric Magic Online client, but it provides a decent distraction that extends the lifespan of the game. More dedicated players may find they tire of the selection of decks and cards at their disposal but, as a way to try out new strategies against real players, you can do much worse than hopping online on Magic 2014. It’s a shame there aren’t any crazy new game modes as have been introduced in previous years, but the net code is solid enough to provide a fun and competitive experience.
In a sense, Magic 2014 is the best Magic game yet. It retains the accessibility of its predecessors, whilst simultaneously offering the depth and deck customisation that fans have been clamouring for since the series was first launched in 2009. Little problems persist though, a case of two steps forward and one step back that makes you feel a more liberal approach to design would have benefited the game.
The customisation options aren’t enough and are spoiled by microtransactions, and the slick new interface and challenging AI are still slowed down by lengthy pauses as the AI calculates certain moves. This isn’t to decry Magic 2014′s merits though. It is certainly the best entry in the Duels of the Planeswalkers series and, though it doesn’t quite push for perfection, it is a universally enjoyable package that lays the ground work for a total revolution in Magic 2015.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3.