Magic: The Gathering is undoubtedly one of the biggest active trading card games in the world today with around 12 million players and fans across the globe. It’s then no surprise that this made the transition onto home consoles in 2010 with the original Duels of the Planeswalkers. Its initial success spawned yearly releases culminating in this year’s Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.
The gameplay in Duels 2013 sits in the category of “easy to learn, hard to master” but manages to introduce beginners to the core principles of the popular card game in bite sized chunks. Players face off against at least one opponent as each competitor attempts to reduce their foes health to zero using various monsters, spells and abilities in their card pack. However in order to employ these perks players must put down and use mana cards. The game does hold your hand and guide you initially but it’s not long before you are deploying your own tactics to claim victory.
For a downloadable title Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 offers a lot of content for the £6.99 price tag with a lengthy main campaign, plenty of challenges where enemies specialise in a certain tactic that players have to counter, as well as the all new Planechase mode. The premise behind this mode is simple to grasp but provides a large amount of variety to test even the most experienced followers of the series. In the middle of each battlefield is a pack of ‘Planar’ cards and a six sided die. Picking a card relocates players to a new ‘plane’ where the rules of the game are transformed so that lethal side effects may now be active, the amount of card you can drawn are limited, the cost of spells is altered and generally players have to rethink their strategy. The die comes into play by gamers rolling it and choosing to either shift plane once again or activate another secondary ability. The rapid shifting in the mechanics is one that’s definitely there to keep gamers on their toes.
It wouldn’t be a Magic: The Gathering game without the option to take on other players from around the world. Fortunately the matchmaking options are a solid as previous games since they haven’t changed much. There’s plenty of opportunity to prove your skills against other enthusiast, but sadly there’s still no online leaderboards to immortalize your efforts.
The artwork and fantasy in the cards themselves is as striking as it’s always been, however the game doesn’t make that much use of them in the environments or the narrative; the main campaign being simply a ladder of encounters that eventually culminate in the main antagonist, dragon Nicol Bolas. With such a large amount of work clearly put in by the illustrative minds it just feels like it lacks that extra layer of immersion that would have made this world even more enchanting.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 plays its hand safely this year by simply refining instead of redefining. While there are a few new additions, a particular highlight being the ever entertaining Planechase, this entry never strays too far from those that preceded it. That said, this is still a solid title with watertight mechanics that provides a stepping stone for newcomers to get to grips with Magic: The Gathering, while still giving veterans enough challenges to keep their attention for yet another year.