Review: Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 (PC)

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As the rawDLC ranks continue to grow, local Sydney writer Alex Raso steps forward to take a look at the next annual Magic the Gathering card game on PC, will it manage to beat last years excellent experience? Read on to find out!

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Truthfully, I expected a little more from Wizards of the Coast with the next instalment of Duels of the Plainwalkers, considering Hearthstone’s sudden triumph on the TCG scene. However, my hopes for the franchise have been soundly dashed with Magic 2015.

The premise of DotP is the same this year as it was last: the game puts the player in control of a Planeswalker, a powerful magical being travelling through plains of existence, summoning creatures and casting spells which are represented by cards, to defeat their opponents. There’s a little bit more emphasis on narrative this time around; which is a welcome change even if all it does is spice up the atmosphere around the battles themselves.

The cards themselves are split into 5 different coloured themes, each behaving differently on the battlefield. Green cards, for instance, revolve around summoning huge monsters to assail your foe, while Blue cards are centred on counter-spelling and stealing cards from an opponent. This year’s cards are new and fresh, and sport some rather unique synergies when played consecutively.

The interface suffers from the same ailment as it has in previous years, and while it all looks quite rather inviting, fanciful artwork galore, it chugs along painfully. Screen transitions lag, buttons become unresponsive and menu scrolling is as clunky as ever; all pretty inexcusable problems in this day and age.

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The biggest gripe I have with Magic 2015 hits you early on, however. After sitting through a comprehensive multi-part tutorial, you’re prompted to choose a starter deck of various colour combinations. The starter decks are all woefully underpowered in various respects, but the real kicker is that once you’ve selected, you can’t pick another – you’re stuck with the one you got. This makes campaign progression a nearly impossible grind, and winning is generally down to dumb luck and sheer brute force. Winning these battles is the only way to unlock new cards to build a decent deck, otherwise players have to resort to good ol’ micro-transactions to get their hands on boosters. It feels like almost intentionally bad design, requiring players to shell out to take advantage of the full deck builder to correct their “mistake”, and ironically it ends up hamstringing Magic 2015’s only real addition.

The full deck construction tool allows you to create a deck from the ground up, with a surprising level of freedom. The issue of course, is in obtaining the cards; at best it’s simply not fun. You’ll be required essentially to use the Explore function at the end of each chapter, which allows you to grind away at AI opponents for meagre booster packs. This almost reliance on completing repetitive, empty and frustrating AI battles just to play the game on equal standing with the computer makes for an overall weaker and less rewarding gameplay experience.

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While deck building was a new feature to the game, it has seemly come at the cost of multiple co-op features present in prior versions. The largely popular Two-Headed Giant (Co-op VS a computer character) is missing entirely, Sealed play and Planechase are gone as well.

I can’t really recommend Magic 2015 to anyone in particular – at almost every point it felt like the game was actively trying to get me to stop playing. The uninitiated to the world of Magic will likely get a good grasp at the way the game works via an effective opening tutorial system, but will be punished early and often thanks to underperforming starter decks and seemingly superhuman AI. If you’re a fan of Magic or TGCs and want the real deal, hit up an earlier version of DotP or even MTG Online; but if you’re looking for an accessible, pick-up-and-play card game that’s fun from the offset, there’s never been a better time to jump into Blizzard’s Hearthstone.

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Alex Raso

  • Chad Wheeler

    This is a little disappointing, I had hoped they would make the game more user friendly for the early game but it sounds as though Hearthstone is still the winner.