I like to think that in high school I walked the social precipice between the cool kids and the geeks quite masterfully. At break time, I could easily slip into a game of touch rugby with my more athletically gifted peers, while at the same time I could also slot quite easily into a locker-side conversation about whether EA’s buyout of Westwood Studios was a good or bad thing for the Command & Conquer franchise. However, despite my chameleon-like social tendencies, there was a core echelon that I could not quite penetrate: the Magic: The Gathering brigade.
Despite an undeniable curiosity and eagerness to get involved with the deck traders, I just couldn’t quite make the full transition to become a regular feature in their daily scuffles. Maybe it was a lack of focus, or maybe it was something else, but the bottom line was that despite having an interest in the game, I never really got that into it.
Fast forward fifteen or so years, and I was presented with an easy-in. Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 for PC and console was an easy, renewed entry point into the world of Magic: The Gathering. I quickly snapped it up when I saw it land on my Steam dashboard, and squealed with glee through the first hour or so of gameplay. Stainless Games seemed to have done an excellent job of transitioning the iconic card game into an easily accessible digital medium. However, there was one massive problem with it: players were unable to customize their own decks, which is kind of the whole point of Magic. And so my interest waned, and what could have been something really awesome, ended up feeling like nothing more than a frustrating teaser.
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Platforms: Android / 360 / iOS / PC / PS3
Fast forward two more years, and the same developer has released Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers. Assuming the sequel would lack the requisite deck customization features sorely missed in its predecessor, I barely noticed its release. But upon learning that my assumption was incorrect, I became quite excited about the prospect of a more comprehensive Magic experience.
I’m pleased to announce that I am not disappointed. This is the digital Magic: The Gathering game that I have been waiting for. All Stainless Games really needed to do to get my vote was introduce customisable decks, and they did this as well as loads more. The entire campaign mode has been overhauled, and a new sealed deck variant has been added. The HUD has been revamped, and is now visually impressive and also a lot easier to understand.
The first thing I noticed upon loading up the game was the dramatically increased production values. The campaign now has a fleshed out story, complete with decent cut-scenes and voice work. The campaign and general structure is also a lot more interesting, with special match variants called Encounters going a long way toward spicing things up.
The AI is noticeably sharper, and whereas previous games in the series simply required the player to work out the winning formula in each battle, you’re now required to recognize your enemy’s deck strategy, and counter it accordingly.
The highlight of the sequel is the new Sealed Campaign, which allows players to construct a deck from scratch, and open up booster packs which consist of randomized cards. For me, and many other Magic fans, this is essentially what the game is all about. Furthermore, this sealed deck mode is carried over to multiplayer, making for an online experience which is about as close to the original card game as you can get.
Whereas the Duels of the Planeswalkers franchise was previously seen as a novel introduction to the Magic universe, this version bridges the gap to become a true prospect for newcomers as well as seasoned Magic veterans alike. Heightened production values, multiple game modes, and the introduction of customisable decks make Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers the best digital version of Magic: The Gathering that I have ever encountered.