I was needing a bit of relief from Skyrim the other day. I fancied a bit of gaming but just couldn’t find the mood for epic questing and harvesting. As I suspected a couple of weeks ago it had started to get a bit repetitive and feel a bit of a grind. I needed something smaller that could be played in bite size chunks and wasn’t particularly inclined to start a full retail game until I was further through Skyrim (I don’t like having too much on the go at once) so looked to Xbox Live Arcade for the answer.
My good pal Billy had been playing Magic: The Gathering – Duel of The Planeswalkers 2013 and as a CCG I was very familiar with the mechanic so thought this would make the ideal relief I was looking for from Skyrim.
For those not in the know; Magic: The Gathering is a strategy tabletop collectible card game (CCG for short) published by Wizards of the Coast. The core premise is simple; you and your opponent are wizards battling for supremacy. Your deck of cards represents the book of spells you each use to battle it out – you can summon warriors and creatures to fight on your behalf, or cast enchantments and interrupts to enhance yourself or your warriors, or use mystical weapons and artefacts to influence the outcome of the match. The winner is the first to diminish their opponents life force (you start with 20 points) to zero or last to use all of their spells.
I used to play quite a bit of Magic, along with a number of other CCGs, at high school. I belonged to a small group of nerdy gaming enthusiasts who used to meet up after school or on weekends to play together. Mostly CCGs and a little bit of tabletop model games (remember Necromunda anyone? Do Games Workshop even still make it?) We took a fair bit of stick for it from other circles of friends but we loved playing too much to let a bit of teasing and bullying stop us. We’d play anywhere we could – dining room tables, bedroom floors, vacant classrooms, cold garages, and even in the garden. Over the years though the group dwindled as we all started growing up, left school, became more interested in getting girlfriends & going to the pub, and moved out of our parents to go travelling, studying or independent. Magic soon wasn’t played anymore.
So when Duel of the Planeswalkers first hit the Live Arcade in 2011 it was a lovely bit of nostalgia and a quite enjoyable game – and the 2013 edition is much more of the same.
The interface is intuitive and doesn’t take long to grasp. As a seasoned MtG player from days gone by the only thing I struggled with was the timed rounds – although there is a “pause timer” option I just keep forgetting about – but I don’t foresee any learning curve for any noobs to MtG either as the tutorial is comprehensive and the little in game reminders/rules notes are extremely useful.
There is good variety in the deck options available to you so the games are engaging and rarely repetitive – although I’d recommend playing against the AI a little to begin with to unlock some new decks and card options before facing off against guys online. The AI is fairly challenging and gives a good game at the highest difficulty, but don’t be surprised if even at the highest difficulty the AI makes some odd tactical choices.
For anyone who played the previous two MtG XBox Live Arcade games there is plenty of new deck types and tactics to make it worth the purchase in my opinion. One element I had hoped for was the ability to create my own decks from the catalogue of cards unlocked in the game, but sadly this feature does not appear. This is most likely a commercial decision by Wizards of the Coast to ensure interest in future DLC and new editions, which I understand, but it does eliminate one of the joys of the CCG – finding new tactics and exploring new ideas through your own deck construction.
There are a couple of different game types to add some value to the package and there feels to be some good replay value for 800 MS points at this early stage. It will likely have some expansion packs down the line as others did, which I probably won’t bother with (I rarely bother with single player DLC that costs) but may be attractive to others and will give it longevity.
There is nothing on the achievements list that stands out as unbalanced and, pleasingly, most of the Cheevos will be received through just playing and enjoying the game.
I anticipate I will get a good chunk of the Gamerscore through the normal course of playing each game type beginning to end. I think all of the Achievement points may also be available through single player, but I’ll probably be getting some online matches going either with or against my man Billy.
Would I recommend it?
Yes I would – it’s a good solid bit of fun from a game that offers something different to the usual fare of shooters, RPGs, racers and sports simulators often found on the Xbox 360 and is enjoyable to play. It’s good value, has longevity, and offers single player and online multiplayer modes to suit most player’s preference.