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Review: Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers

Although Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers features terrific animated 3D graphics that shows off the marvelous artwork, it takes a very straightforward approach to translating the Magic experience. The game, which has been available on Xbox Live Arcade for quite some time, makes its debut on the PC with one expansion pack (which can be purchased separately) and has all the features one would expect, including online dueling and cooperative play. It's also relatively inexpensive and presents an excellent opportunity for new players to get their first introduction to the Magic card game. At the same time, experienced players might not take as well to what amounts to a somewhat watered down experience compared to the real-life card game.

Players take the role of a Planeswalker, a sorcerer that can summon creatures and spells using various cards authentically reproduced from their real life counterparts. While there is a campaign mode, there's no actual story to follow. Players duel against a string of foes, many with access to significantly better cards, in order to unlock new cards and decks. For the uninitiated, cards are broken down into five colors: red, blue, green, white and black. Each color represents a type of elemental force, caters to certain playing styles, and use specific land types for mana. Spells and creatures have specific mana requirements, and playing relies almost as much on luck as it does on strategy as players use the cards they're dealt to bring their opponent's health to zero.

The Duels of the Planeswalkers interface streamlines the game's mechanical aspects by automating things such as mana tapping, managing turn phases, and keeping cards organized. Playable cards are conveniently highlighted and there's a short countdown timer that appears whenever a card is played, representing an opportunity to counter the move. This method is great for novice players and some intermediate players, but it can be a little too limiting for experienced players. For example, there's no way to manually tap mana, so players looking to save certain land types for specific spells cannot do so without figuring out a loophole by playing certain spells sequentially. Additionally, players can only work with pre-made decks and can't build custom ones from scratch. The core campaign only has sixteen levels, and it can sometimes feel like it takes forever to simply unlock the five base decks, and each deck in turn has a set of cards that need unlocking.

Other game modes include puzzle based challenges that forces players to think outside the box and custom duels to battle AI opponents to unlock cards. Things really pick up in the cooperative modes, with players working together against other human or AI players. There's even a cooperative campaign. The game takes on a new life when players can work together using a variety of card types to strengthen each other. However, the co-op modes further spotlights the inability to create custom decks and success is still based largely on the luck of the draw. Players can do co-op on the same computer, but at least one person will have to use a gamepad controller, which feels clunky despite the game being originally developed for the Xbox 360. The mouse controls have a much better and flowing feel. Furthermore, there's no way to customize the controller buttons to make things a little easier, even though the option is present to remap keyboard controls.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planesalkers offers a satisfying introduction for new and casual players of Magic, but does not represent a hardcore experience. Some might find that aspect appealing, but it's also a double edged sword. As we played through and got better, we wanted some of the training wheels to come off. A toggle in options to at least allow players to manually tap mana would be very useful. Fortunately, the game is relatively inexpensive and captures quite a bit of the Magic gameplay experience, albeit watered down. If you don't have much experience with Magic: The Gathering and want a decent introduction, Duels of the Planeswalkers fits the bill perfectly. However, if you're looking for a deeper game, you'd probably be better off picking up the real life cards. We recommend waiting for more content - like the second expansion - to become available or for the core game to come a bundled with the current one before picking it up.

Final Verdict

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