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Review: Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012

I am a sucker for card games. I am usually a sucker for board games, but card games are something I enjoy much more. Of course, as a college student in Siberia Serbia (or Sibserburbia as Gregg would call it), the abysmal cost of trading card games is what makes it unlikely for me to have it as a hobby. I did play Magic: The Gathering for two years while I was in high school; started with Champions of Kamigawa and then stopped with the last Ravnica block.

There were a lot of factors that chipped into me stopping with MtG, aside from the previously mentioned financial issue: the community here wasn’t the nicest bunch and I had the most rotten luck on tournaments. Be it preconstructed or draft, if it’s a tournament match, chances were I’d either draw enough lands to populate a Third World country, or not draw one single land card after my opening hand.

Two lands go a long way

Last year, though, I was on the verge of getting into the game again, together with another friend. The day after our decision, though, Duels of the Planeswalkers released on Steam, so we got that instead. It was a game which caused many frustrations until it started working, but was great when it did. We played it fairly often and didn’t mind the preconstructed decks. It was a good little game held back by numerous technical issues.

Now, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 is out, and it seems to repeat the mistakes of its predecessor. Honestly, anyone who had played the previous game will ask the one question first: how buggy is it? To save the trouble of people skimming through the article, it’s buggy, but less than before. Whereas you couldn’t join games via Steamworks in the last one without anyone other than the host losing all their unlocked cards for that match, the basic functionality in this game exists. The only bug I have personally encountered so far that makes you unable to play properly is the cursor vanishing for random players and having to restart the match because of it.

D'ohohoho! Are you having trouble Tezzeret?

This is probably the most severe issue I have encountered, and compared to the last game, it’s a major improvement. That said, it seems a lot of features referenced in the game don’t exist… In-game chat and team chat are both mentioned in the options menu and referenced in the lobby menu, but the actual buttons don’t do anything. Of course, if you’re playing against a friend, you can use Steam’s built-in chat functions, but against random players it’s too much of a hassle. The voice chat still works though and you can even mute players now!

The game also seems to crash whenever I check the leaderboards and disconnecting from a match I was connecting to (because the host dropped it) requires me to restart the game before I can connect to another game.

But when you look past these issues (and trust me, it’s much easier to look past these than in the previous game) almost everything works as it should, and the game is a vast improvement over last year’s iteration. The most obvious addition is the Archenemy mode. As a change of pace from regular games, you can team up with two more friends and play versus a Big Bad Evil Guy version of existing planeswalkers. They have an advantage over you in three ways: 40 life instead of 20, every turn they draw a new “scheme” card which activates for free or with an optional mana cost and they can attack any player without fear of the player’s allies blocking for them (unlike in Two Headed Giant). The scheme cards are often fairly brutal and can completely destroy any advantage you had over the BBEG in one turn.

He gained 20 life and drew 20 cards that turn

Oh bloody... (He gained 20 life and drew 20 cards that turn)

It’s a fun mode with its own campaign and different end-boss, but it’s not without its issues. In online games, you only have a moment to see the scheme card, which is a problem because some require a player to choose “self or others,” meaning novice players or players who don’t know the cards by heart will have no idea what they’re choosing. Your allies’ AI is also very, very bad and will sometimes make some obviously bad decisions which could cost you the game in the long run.

While on the topic of AI, though, a few things should be noted. The amount of cards and various combinations and outcomes make it hard to actually hold the AI against the developers despite all frustration. As a game which currently costs 9 euro, it has probably done a good enough job even if the AI suffers from occasional brain farts. That said, in the end, it’s always more fun to play against other people and the CPU serves only as a placeholder.

The CPU is also a cheating bastard, at least in Revenge mode. Although I guess it would make sense, considering the point of Revenge mode is playing against harder opponents, but the insane and constant perfect draws make the mode completely luck-based, as opposed to having it only as a factor.

The monowhite deck is similar to the white soldier deck in the previous game and is also one of two you have unlocked right from the start

Another thing worth mentioning is that Two Headed Giant doesn’t require two people on one PC like in the last game (one person on the PC used the mouse and keyboard, while the other had to use a controller). Now you can play both Free for All and Two Headed Giant with four people on four different PCs.

As in the last game, autotapping of land cards is present, which will sometimes cause issues like leaving you without the appropriate mana for an activated ability or a card you knew you would draw in the middle of your main phase (for example). I can see why autotapping would be included in a game that, in part, is supposed to introduce new players to Magic, but there are many “advanced” options which give the player more control (like choosing targets for spells which would otherwise choose automatically by default). Why not allow an advanced option to turn off autotapping?

The ten decks the game features are good and the way you can customize and unlock new cards is much better. Whereas the last game unlocked cards one by one, DotP2012 lets you unlock some cards in bulks of two and three if the cards are the same. To explain, if it is possible to unlock three Angel’s Feathers for a deck, the game will give you all three cards at once, rather than one by one. This makes completing decks much easier and motivates you more to try out other decks. Customization is also much, much better. As long as your deck has 60 cards or more, you can remove anything from it, even the default cards.

The purpose of this screenshot is to prove that Johnny is actually a girl

The actual decks are interesting; I assume that everyone will find at least one they like. Counter-picking seems to only be an issue versus AI opponents, whereas playing against human players will be affected much less by the deck choice (although it still counts). I hope the inevitable expansion packs offer completely different themes. While I know red and blue decks aren’t as common and I was probably in the minority that enjoyed it, the lack of a blue and white deck strikes me a bit odd.

In the end, for around the price of a pre-constructed theme deck, you get a satisfactory MtG fix. Despite its issues, at its core Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 is a fun game and I am sure I’ll spend a lot of time playing. The bugs are mildly frustrating, but thankfully not game-breaking. If you like Magic: the Gathering, ever wanted to get into it, or just like turn-based strategy and card games, I recommend getting it.

Platform: PC, Xbox360, PS3
Developer: Stainless Games
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Time: 14 hours so far.
Gripes: Technical issues, bugs and autotapping of land cards.
Get it for the: Excellent multiplayer and good price.
Full disclosure: PXOD was given a PC review copy of the game from the publisher, Wizards of the Coast. The main campaign was played to completion, Archenemy was played halfway to completion and Revenge was given up on because it’s brutal. Online games were played in single versus, free for all, two headed giant and archenemy.

 

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