29 January 2014

Magic Revisited: Duels of the Planeswalkers First Impressions

So here's a series of events.

1. Last autumn, the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel premiered Spellslingers, a show featuring Magic: The Gathering. I wrote a blog post about it, and other competitive games, back then.

2. That show introduced me to Sean 'Day[9]' Plott, who has his own YouTube channel, focused on StarCraft II, but also featuring other video games.

3. In a moment of boredom, looking for random content on YouTube to watch, I ended up watching some videos on Day[9]'s channel. Some of the most interesting I found to be his videos of HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft. This, as you might know, is a collectible card game video game spin-off of World of Warcraft by Blizzard (jeez, what a sentence). As far as CCGs go, it looks like a fairly fun, light, fast game.

4. Of course HearthStone won't run on any of my devices, me being a die-hard GNU/Linux user and console gamer. But, strangely enough, I found myself curious about the genre. This often happens when I'm exposed to things, even if, on some level, I know it's really not 'my thing'.

5. The ultimate, the original CCG is, of course, Magic: The Gathering. Like I wrote in the blog post I linked above, I played a little back in the 90s, but never really got into it. But looking at potential CCG style video games, one that popped up was Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers. I eventually decided to give the latest game in the series (Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014—the fourth incarnation of the game to date) a shot. (The fact that it had a free trial for PS3 helped that decision along, somewhat. But I bought the game pretty soon after trying it.)

OK, so on to the main part of this post, my first impressions of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014.

One of the first things to note is that, unlike its material world counterpart, Duels of the Planeswalkers isn't really a collectible card game. You play with preconstructed decks. As you play, you unlock new decks to play with, and also new cards for the deck you're playing with. But overall your options are relatively limited.

Going in, I was a little sceptical about how playable a sophisticated card game like Magic: The Gathering would be with a game controller. But I must admit I was a little surprised by how intuitive the controls were in the end. Just use the left analogue stick to pick cards (switching between only the relevant set of cards, like your hand, or your creatures when you're attacking/blocking), use a shoulder button to zoom into a card, cross button to play it, etc...

Some downsides to the game too, though. I think a card game should be something you can jump into quickly and easily, to just kill a little time with. Playing the game on a console somewhat defeats that purpose. Having to start up your console (and TV) means it's not really something you do on a whim. And even after that, this game is incredibly slow to start. Like, seriously, one of the slowest loading games I've ever played on the PS3. And it's a friggin' card game, hardly the most visually impressive thing out there. Not that it doesn't look pretty decent, there's a lot of cool card art prettying up the load screens and such. But still. Also, the game only runs in 720p. You'd think that with a game that's relatively simple visually, but contains a lot of text on cards and stuff, they'd want to make it as crisp and clear as possible...

There's a relatively short single player campaign, with a very superficial storyline. Better than nothing, I guess... I'm still working my way through it, though I've only got a few matches left. I'm not sure how much longevity the game will have after this. I've never been interested in online gaming. I'm pretty convinced I would just lose all the time to non-AI opponents. 'Cause, seriously, I'm just crap at anything requiring serious skill or fast thinking. It is, however, a relatively affordable game, so I can't really begrudge the somewhat limited content.

It is, I must admit, kinda fun to be playing Magic: The Gathering again after all these years. It is, after all, one of the truly classic geek gaming franchises out there. Something of a change of pace, too, after the action games and RPGs I mostly play. If Duels of the Planeswalkers only captured the collecting aspect of the game a little better, it could be a real gem. But for its price, it's not a bad game. There's still some interesting stuff to come, game modes I haven't tried and such. I'll just have to see how long it can keep up my interest...

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