Outside of the card game, Magic the Gathering seems to be a case of ‘never as sweet as the first time’ for me. The first novel, Arena, seems to be one of the best they’ve released. I read the most recent one, Quest for Karn, and… let’s just say it’s hard for me to believe an editor even gave it a cursory glance before it was pushed out the door.
Likewise, the original Magic: the Gathering PC game left me with some good memories. Looking back some things could have been done differently with it. The technology of the game was quickly outstripped by the PCs that came out, it was never a complete and total joy to look at and it only ever got two official expansions to compliment its original card set. Some user mods have come out since then. But Wizards has proceeded with its own game development, and the most recent ‘new’ title is Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012.
The story in the game, such as it is, is relayed in the opening cinematic of the game. Planeswalker Gideon Jura is facing off against legendary dragon Nicol Bolas, who’s lately becoming the favorite big bad of Magic’s developers. While he’s gotten himself into a pretty bad situation, Gideons’s apparently made some friends, other planeswalkers who team up with him. This is pretty much the in-game explanation for the new mode in the game, Archenemy.
Mechanically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with Duels of the Planeswalkers. It’s a good and accurate representation of the card game, from the execution of turns to the utter frustration of having a great combination countered or a key creature sent to your discard pile. And all without having to break your bank buying new cards! As you defeat other planeswalkers in the course of the standard campaign, you not only unlock new cards in the deck you’re using but their decks as well. You can switch decks, customize the loadout in each deck and see what cards you have yet to unlock in the Deck Customization screen. While the cards unlock themselves through gameplay, there’s the option to pay for it if you’re feeling lazy.
However, these cards remain within their decks. It might be a dealbreaker for some that you can’t swap these cards around or make custom decks. You are also somewhat constrained by the formats in the game. Unlike the current iteration of Magic Online, there are no tournaments or drafts for you to participate in. You have standard games, Free-for-alls and of course Archenemy.
Just remember, even when it’s 3 on 1, the computer’s a cheating bastard.
Like the real-world iteration, Archenemy pits you and a pair of friends against an opponent with a larger life pool and the support of Schemes. Your friends can be living people through Steam or X-Box live, or AI partners like those found in the single-player campaign. It provides just enough variation on the standard gameplay to keep things interesting.
It lacks the story, open-world feel and RPG elements of the first Magic PC game, and even the capability for a personalized deck provided by Magic Online. Still, it’s a cost-effective way for a fan of the card game to get their fix without something unfortunate happening to the rent money.