Summer is here and Magic the Gathering fans know that means a couple of things. First off, the new Core set is about to be released. Secondly, Stainless Games and Wizards of the Coast are ready to check in with a new installment of the Duels of the Planeswalkers series. The new game, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013, is readily available for the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PC, and iPad. I have spent the last few weeks with the PC / Steam version of the game and want fans to know, this year’s edition is another solid addition to the series.
If you have played either of the previous titles in the series, you know what to expect. The Duels series aims to replicate the actual card game as closely as possible while streamlining some of the routines and procedures; each year it gets closer and closer to doing so and this year is no different. The general gameplay and interface of the game has gone unchanged; what has changed since last year’s release is a drastically improved presentation style and the inclusion of some new (to the digital game) mechanics to the card game such as Rebound and Flash.
From an interface-mechanics perspective, the only change that 2013 sees is the ability to manually tap mana when casting spells that utilize more than one type of mana. In previous years, the A.I. automatically selected which mana would be tapped to play selected cards; this wasn’t a huge deal most of the time but there were occasions while utilizing multi-colored decks where the computer made less than optimum choices for mana consumption. This could lead to problems if you intended to play other spells during your turn; if your mana isn’t tapped specifically as you intended, your plans would be thrown out of the window. That isn’t an issue this year as you can manually choose which specific cards will be tapped when you are playing with a deck that features multiple colors.
Despite the addition of the ability to manually tap mana, the game doesn’t give you many opportunities to utilize it. There are 10 decks featured in the game but only one of them is multi-colored. Granted, this is something that will likely be rectified with subsequent DLC, but that doesn’t help the base experience. Most fans, including myself, were extremely excited about that simple mechanic but that fact is that it doesn’t make that much of a difference in the game because of the deck limitations.
Each of the included decks in Duels 2013 are a ton of fun to play, despite the issue mentioned above. They are all geared toward fast paced gameplay and focus on heavy hitting mechanics. Each one also features 30 unlockable cards which are earned by completing matches using the deck(s). You can earn access to these cards in either single or multiplayer modes of play and they are key in crafting a more customized experience with the in-game deck editor. It is also worth noting that the game features numerous cards from the upcoming 2013 Core set that is releasing this month, which should be of interest to die hard fans of MtG.
Speaking of the deck-editor, the ability to construct your own personal decks remains the series’ biggest detriment. Anyone who has every played the card game knows that the ability to construct and craft your own decks is perhaps the biggest part of the Magic experience. The Duels series continues to inhibit the players ability to do that within the video game. You can make alterations to your various decks, but you are confined to those 30 cards that can be unlocked in addition to the 60 base cards for each deck. There is no option to construct your own custom deck, from scratch, despite the fact that there are several hundred different cards featured in the game.
The presentation values of the experience have gone through the roof in 2013. Stainless has gone to great lengths to engulf the players into the world of Magic that WIzards of the Coast has been building for nearly 20 years. There is a much bigger emphasis on setting the stage between the battles of the various Planeswalkers which now occur within each of the fabled Plains of the series’ lore. This is primarily used in the campaign mode of the game; instead of simply making your way up a tier of opponents who increase in difficulty, you will move throughout the various Planes of the MtG world; as you visit each one, such as Shandalar, Ravnica, and Alara, you are given detailed information regarding the Plain and its inhabitants. Each one also offers its own lineup of opponents.
Not every opponent that you encounter in the campaign is required to progress. The game introduces a new type of match referred to as an “encounter”. These are meant to help you learn the ins and out of both your deck and certain tactics that will be used by the real opponents in each area. This is very helpful in the later stages, especially in the returning Revenge campaign. Some of these opponents can get tricky and you will need to fine tune your deck(s) of choice if you want any chance at succeeding.
The biggest addition to the game is the inclusion of the Planechase gametype, both in single and multiplayer modes. The mode, which is very popular in the card game community, replaces last year’s Archenemy gameplay mode. Planechase, a 4 player game type, utilizes a deck of oversized Plane cards which drastically alter the rules of gameplay on the fly. When a Plane card is revealed, it features 2 alterations, one is static and affects all players the entire time that it is in play and the other can be triggered by a rolling of the Planar die; this is a 6-sided die which features 4 blank sides, a Planar shift logo which prompts the reveal of a new Plane card, and an effect activation which will give the player who rolled the symbol a major boost. This plays out a lot like the Archenemy mode of Duels 2012 but this time around the effects of the special cards can be felt / benefit all of the players in the game.
Everything else in the package is familiar territory. There are options to play against others online in all of the offered gametypes and the infamous Challenge mode returns once again to test put your knowledge of advanced tactics to the test. I have no doubt that fans of the series will find plenty to love in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. Unfortunately, they will also find a lot that feels familiar; too familiar actually. There are some nice new decks, cards, and gameplay elements added the this year’s edition of the game; unfortunately these improvements feel more like an update or expansion to 2012 than a full fledged sequel. In the end, this is still the quickest and easiest way to connect with other Magic players and faceoff as Planeswalkers in your own right.