REVIEW: DUEL OF THE PLANESWALKERS 2013 FOR THE iOS

A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending PAX East 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. While stumbling, near intoxication, through the surreal, neo-arcade wonderland that was the main presentation floor, I found myself in a booth belonging to Wizards of the Coast. In their booth, the Wizards had around a dozen Xbox 360s demoing Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012, the version of the game which was currently on the market. Now, the last time I had played a Magic: The Gathering video games was the 1997 version released by Atari for the PC, Windows 95 if my memory serves me. After a few minutes of having the controller in my hand, I was pleased to see that the series had progressed over the last decade, both in its interface and graphically. Naturally, when I heard that the 2013 version would also be released on iOS, I marked the release date on my calendar.

Magic: The Gathering, Duel of the Planeswalker 2013 is a free download from the iTunes store. The free download is basically a demo for the game, allowing the player a few decks to toy with and the beginning world of opponents to play through. To access all of the game’s features, the player must purchase the “Premium Content Package” for $9.99. So a serious player should be ready to dish out a ten-spot. After this initial investment, other purchases are optional as everything else can be unlocked through gameplay, or just whip out the wallet for a shortcut.

Game Mechanics

Wizards of the Coast did not decide to reinvent the wheel with their most recent iteration in the Planeswalker series. Any player who has spent time with the earlier versions in this series will feel right at home with the 2013 iOS release. As is common, it can take the player a while to acclimate to the touch controls. Here the touch controls are a bit sluggish, but they are very accurate, which is more important in a strategy game like this one.

Once past the half dozen intro screens, there are three main areas within the game; the Campaign Mode, Multiplayer and the Custom Game. The real meat of the game lies within the Campaign Mode since here the player can battle through four different planes of campaign battles, try the Challenge Mode, which are situation specific puzzles, play a Planeschase Campaign and the Revenge Campaign as well. The player starts with two unlocked decks and unlocks others through advancement in the Campaign Mode. Each deck also has thirty cards to unlock, and the player unlocks a single card in the deck they win a battle with.

Multiplayer is where the online portion of the game can be found. When dueling online the player can choose between a free-for-all style, and the Planeschase variant. Online duels are managed by Apple’s Game Center. After choosing the game type, the Game Center allows the player to either invite a specific friend, or allow for a random auto-match. The player can choose between any of the decks they have unlocked and edited. If the player’s wireless connection is strong enough, the games flow smoothly and there is little to no lag during gameplay.

The Custom Game option allows the player to arrange their own scenarios against a computer opponent. The available game types include the Two-Headed Giant, Free-For-All and the Planeschase variant.

The main menu also contains a Deck Manager for the player to edit their decks, Player Statistics that keeps track of the wins/loses, color preference, unlocked achievements and other interesting tidbits.

Overall, the game functions all work and there is a nice sheen of professional polish over the touch navigation. There is plenty of gameplay here to keep even the most avid Magic: The Gathering fan busy for many hours. As this game franchises first foray into the tablet gaming market, it would have spelled disaster if there were any large bugs or broken content. In this sense, Duel of the Planeswalkers hits the mark, too bad it’s an old target.

Game Mechanics        Score   3.9 / 5

Ambience

Any video game worth its silicon draws the player into its world, immersing them into a specific mood and atmosphere. Mobile gaming platforms have always struggled with game world entanglement, and Duel of the Planeswalker 2013 is no exception in this case. Planeswalkers suffers from a fundamental identity crisis that can hinder players from losing themselves into the game and this becomes more obvious on the handheld platform than with its other iterations. The underlying story behind Magic: The Gathering endorses each player as a powerful wizard who can travel through different planes of existence. Along their journey they gather spells and allies to engage other wizards in duels to determine who will ultimately rule the multiverse.

The underlying story of Duel of the Planeswalker 2013 is Magic: The Gathering. What does this entail? The game bounces back and forth from trying to immerse the player in the world of wizards and sorceries, and simulating a game of Magic between two players. This is the split in Planeswalkers identity that makes it difficult to really measure the game. The card battles themselves are wonderful recreations of the actual game and mimic the card-play perfectly. On the other hand, when the player encounters a big name planeswalker during the campaign, before the battle there is an engaging three page biography of the planeswalker and their relations with the others.

After hacking and slashing through identity confusion, Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 does a more successful job of recreating the experience of the card game, than the experience of the story behind the game. They do it pretty well too.

Ambience                    Score 3.8 / 5

Fun Factor

Like any strategy game, Duel of the Planeswalkers will always have a certain inherent replay value intertwined with the unique and creative ways to solve the puzzles and winning the duels. Hindering this replay value is the fact that a newer, updated version of the game releases every year. Where the 2013 version really grabs its players is in the sheer volume of gameplay packed into a single title. There are four different game paths in the Campaign Mode, each with four planes to transverse, custom games plus online play. Plus, if the player wants to unlock everything, there are ten different decks with thirty cards in each deck, not to mention the three different levels of difficulty. Planeswalkers offers its players an array of choices and avoids the monotony that can plague a lot of strategy games built around real-life companion.

Another way Planeswalkers cashes in on the fun is with players, new or old, who may really enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering but resides in an area with few or no other players. A player can only sit and shuffle their cards for so long. It’s also a nice bridge for individuals who might not have played in years but want to get back into the duel ring.

Fun Factor                  Score   3.6 / 5

Guidance

When the player begins a new Campaign Mode, the game encourages them to play through the somewhat tedious “tutorial.” Here the computer tours the player through a typical duel, stopping at crucial points to explain events and terminology. This is a great primer for someone completely unfamiliar with Magic: The Gathering. Unless the player is brand new, or in desperate need a refresher, they will more than likely be jamming the screen to advance to the next step. The tutorial can be replayed at any time by navigating to the Help & Options menu.

Also in the Help & Options Menu, the game offers a more detailed “How to Play,” which is more like the old rulebooks that used to accompany the starter packs back in the day. This too covers the basics, and even the “Advanced” section is of little use but to the newest of new players.

While experienced players will not benefit from the tutorials offered in game, due to the years of changes in rules and the addition of new terminology, a glossary of terms would have really rounded out the game’s player support. Instead of a glossary, the game allows the player to touch a term or rule on a card during the duel, to have a description pop up on the screen. The problem arises when a player runs up against an ability before they understand it, a nasty surprise in a tight game.

In total, Duel of the Planeswalkers goes far to accommodate the new player and ease them into the world of Magic: The Gathering. Unfortunately, the experienced planeswalker who could use a boost is left in the void.

Guidance                     Score 3.4 / 5

 

Final Thoughts

Magic: The Gathering, Duel of the Planeswalker 2013 for the iOS faithfully recreates the console gameplay on the apple tablet. The series comes with improvement in visual components, additional story content, and a host of game modes and types.

While there is a Deck Manager function to edit any of the ten available decks, the player still cannot construct their own decks out of the cards at their disposal. This has been a problem through the whole series. While it may seem part of the challenge to make due and still pull out a victory, a large part of Magic: The Gathering’s draw is the customizable nature of the player’s deck. Perhaps not from a coding or engineering standpoint, but from a common sense one, this appears to be an easy feature to build into the franchise. Make a place for half a dozen save slots, only allow the player to use cards they have unlocked, and the replay value of this game series blows wide open.

A second issue with this franchise, which is really an elaboration on the above criticism, is that the player can only use the cards available in the game and subsequent expansions. There are over 12k distinct cards, and only a small fraction is ever included in these titles. During my time at PAX East, I got the chance to talk with a PR person from Wizards of the Coast, and when I asked him about this inequity, he responded that their R&D department was working on that issue and while it will not be addressed in the next year, there is a game coming soon that addresses the issue.

Lastly, there is a gameplay issue I want to address and warn the potential player about. I did not include this in an above section because I am unsure if this is an issue with Apple or Wizards of the Coast. However, I was a substantial way into this game, unlocked many decks and achievements. Now if you have an iPad you are familiar with Apple’s Game Center, which keeps track of the games played on the iPad, scores, achievements and assists in connecting for online play. Well, when I started Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013, the game loaded, but there must have been a delay in loading my profile from the Game Center. I entered the Campaign Mode to find a brand new game without anything unlocked, so I backed out, the game autosaved my position, and then the Game Center loaded my profile. In short, my profile was wiped clean, my win/loses and unlocked decks/cards completely erased. The only thing remaining was the list of achievements I had unlocked, yet according to my profile, I had never engaged in a single duel.

Final             Score   3.7 / 5

Written by Andrew

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