It still amazes me how Magic: The Gathering has managed to thrive over the last two decades. While other trading card games have stumbled by the side of the road, MTG remains strong, pulling in new players and releasing blocks of new cards on a regular basis.
Four years ago the game moved on to consoles with Duel of the Planeswalkers
, a relatively straightforward take on the game that let you experience some – but crucially not all – of the Magic
experience. Now here we are with Magic 2014
, the latest iteration that attempts to drag more people into the fold by offering a slightly tinkered-with version of what they did last time around.
Actually, that sounds a bit dismissive – after first firing up the game (and sorting out the 600MB title update, damn PS3) it's actually a very well put-together product. Whether you're a complete newbie to the whole MTG
thing or have plenty of experience, the game tailors itself to your skill level from the start. It's recommended that you run through the tutorial no matter what – even if you're fine with the rules of play, it's a good idea to get to grips with the system interface.
Most of my experience with Magic 2014
has been with the campaign mode, a foray into glorious nerdiness that actually winds up pretty entertaning. Beginning with a single deck, you're given a bunch of tasks to complete, each of which will unlock another card to add to your library that can be used when you fancy making a few changes to your armoury.
Working your way through the story of Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar, you get a good feeling for the recent sets of cards that have been released in the real world over the past year – it's the kind of goofy fantasy tale that you'd expect in a world populated by giant beasts that can be summoned by drawing on the power of the lands at your disposal...
However, story isn't why people get into MTG
– the appeal is in the ability to build and adapt their own decks in order to crush their enemies. Gameplay is exactly the same as its real-world sibling: players begin with twenty life points and must summon magical creatures to beat down their opponent. Creatures can only come to the table if you've got the necessary power to bring them out from your hand and will attack the other player each turn.
Your opponent has the choice to throw creatures they've summoned in the way in order to protect themselves, but should either player hit zero life at any time, they lose. There are also magical spells to fire out, cards that allow for instant rule changes... it only really takes a few games for you to see just how many options there are in this thing.
While for a casual player the campaign mode will probably be enough, the true hardcore will want to get into the minutiae of deckbuilding. For the first time in these console releases, players now get this opportunity. Where before you could modify certain elements of a deck that had already been built and balanced by the developers, you now get to start from scratch should the desire take you.
The best example of this is probably the new Sealed Deck mode where you're given a bunch of virtual card packs containing a random spread of goodies. On 'opening' them, you then must put together a deck of your choice, add in the lands you deem necessary and... well, away you go. If you fancy concentrating on a single colour in your deck or including all five, the choice is yours.
That word seems to come up a lot: Choice. This is both a positive and negative thing – having such a range of options available to the player is great... as long as you know what you're doing.
Just throwing a load of crap at the wall and seeing what sticks is far from an effective way of playing MTG. It takes time to learn which cards function well with others, especially if you're looking to mix things up and start making decks involving different colours, and if you're just blindly hurtling through the game like that, you will not enjoy it one bit. However, if you have even a vague understanding of what you're doing – and playing through the campaign will give you that – you'll soon learn to delight in the options that are open to you.
Real world players will be well aware of how much of a money pit Magic can be, and with the 2014 version the digital game is thoroughly embracing the main criticism that people have – that investing your cash means you've got a much better chance of beating your opponent.
While it's not all-pervasive (yet) I can't help but feel future updates will really start to push it. That's to be expected, of course; WotC is a business and they want to maximise their profit. Everything from Sealed Deck to Friday Night Magic is chargeable... however, is this necessarily a bad thing? The company are really looking to let digital players get the same experience as those who gather around their tabletops, and they allow this – and it's even slightly cheaper. Of course, you don't get the visceral thrill of tearing open card packs in a sweaty room...
(Actually, that's a MASSIVE plus.)
So, it plays well, looks lovely (there's some particularly sweet bits with the rarer cards where the images are animated)... it even has a very well put together hints system for those times when you're stuck. However, the usual cliched caveat applies with Magic 2014
: it's not a game for everyone.
Some will adore it. Others will despise it. However, if you've never played it, I'd at least suggest giving it a try – particularly because whatever format you fancy playing it on, you can do so for free. Yes, it's the equivalent of a crack dealer giving you your first rock for nothing, but you won't get addicted. Or you won't realise it, anyway. At least until you're waiting for the re-up of the next block of cards in a futile bid to pull a Mythic Rare (and if you know what that sentence means, you're already in way over your head).
+ An excellent interpretation of the tabletop game
+ Even more terrifying options than ever before
+ Very useful hints system, especially for noobs
- Very easy to sink a LOT of money into it
- Probably not going to pull in a raft of new players
- You can't sell a digital version of Black Lotus for $2000
SPOnG Score: 7.5/10