Title: Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (henceforth referred to as Duels 13)
Platform: PC reviewed, also available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Mobile Devices such as the iPad.
Release Date: June 20, 2012
Overall Grade: B-. Whether you're a veteran Magic player looking for some online entertainment but don't feel like sinking a lot of money into Magic: The Gathering Online, or you're relatively new to Magic and want to learn the ropes and play in a fairly balanced environment where no one is going to whip out copies of the Power Nine and instakill your ass. Duels 13 presents a pleasant if comparably shallow version of the card game that's been going strong for nearly twenty years now. Ultimately you're likely to have had experience with Magic, at least in passing, before finding this game, so if you enjoy the card game, you'll like this, and if you don't you won't. It's really just that simple.
I spent enough of yesterday going down memory lane, so I'll keep that aspect out of my review of the game today. Suffice to say that Duels 13 is a game that pretty much is Magic, just with an extremely limited pool of cards to play with. I think that this is a double edged sword somewhat, but that it also ultimately does more good than harm in these cases.
I don't think I'd be far off from saying that the entire Duels of the Planeswalkers series is kind of like a Magic-lite experience. Because the game doesn't have you building a deck from scratch and limits the cards you can use to build any one deck to a pool of about fifty to sixty cards with the game automatically doling out mana according to how large of a deck you have there's not a lot of freedom of choice. Admittedly that fact is going to bother some people, but to me the fact that each of the decks has its strengths and weaknesses, its good and bad match-ups, means that there's still some exciting and high level play going on. If you don't believe me then head over to Top Tier Tactics and check out some of the recorded matches that WiNG has put up and you'll see what I mean.
There are ten decks thus far, and a lot of the facets of Magic are accounted for; there's a white weenie deck, a black deck that can either be aggro or mono black control depending on how you run it, a blue control deck, a blue mill deck, white life gain, red goblin aggro, red burn, green stompies, and a black/white deck that runs off the Exalted mechanic, which is cute. There's also probably going to be some DLC at some point in the future with the heavily multicoloured Ravnica guild decks hitting the field, which will give the players that were disappointed by the lack of two colour decks something to really sink their teeth into.
The bulk of this game for most is likely going to come from the multiplayer aspect of it. I didn't really have any luck getting into matches from the quick match option, but creating a room of my own often lead to someone wandering into the open slot within a couple of minutes at most. The wait never seemed burdensome to me at least, and this is even playing during the odd hours that I keep, like three or even four in the morning. I can only assume that playing during "rational" hours like during the afternoons and evenings would result in even quicker match pickups, although that's just speculation on my part.
The campaign mode is good for what it is; an introduction to the decks and a way to grind out cards and have some fun if unrealistic challenges if you really want to, but even though the AI is solid enough it's still a bit on the daft side at times -- I say this remembering that I have the game on the hardest setting and still had Jace play an Æther Adept with no other creatures on the board, twice in a row. Aside from that an a couple of other quirks though the AI will sate the need for actual players while anyone new to Magic gets comfortable.
The aesthetics are nice, not mindblowing or anything, but decent for what they are. The controls work well enough, although I find the exact method of what they've dubbed "manual mana tapping" to be frustratingly odd and not really what I was expecting. Regardless though, these are minor quibbles. It's ultimately the fact that this game will give you a lot of entertainment from the online duels that gives it a high grade, along with the fact that at ten dollars it's a pittance of a purchase, even if you include all the deck keys as well which would make it roughly twenty. Since cost was one of the reasons why I quite paper Magic in the first place, the fact that my wallet isn't bleeding in a gutter somewhere earns this game plenty of leeway from me, as well as a solid grade on the final rating scale.