Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Release Date: July 16, 2014
ESRB: E for Everyone
Another year, another Duels of the Planeswalkers game. Being the â€œWildCardCorsairâ€ in more than name only, it“s certainly expected that I have an opinion on card games. But this isn“t just any old card game. This is Magic: The Gathering, the game that got me hooked on card games way back in 1993 (yes, I“ve played since Alpha). To date, I think most of my reviews for Duels of the Planeswalkers games have been overwhelmingly positive. Stainless Games has done an excellent job up until now of ensuring that each new game gave us something to make our money spent worthwhile. Heck, I still find myself going back to past games to take part in the Archenemy and Planechase game variants. But now, for the first time ever, that has changed—I am disappointed (greatly) by a Duels game.
In an effort for this to not turn into a crotchety rant by some disgruntled card game player, let me start off by saying how much of an improvement certain things are. The game, which gives players a way to experience Magic: The Gathering in all its card game glory in digital form is easily the best licensed game Wizards of the Coast has ever had. That isn“t saying a lot considering the history of the Magic video games but I assure you, Duels has consistently done what so few other Magic games, let alone card games, have ever done: provide an uncompromised experience. Even triggers and priority changes are handled beautifully, ensuring that nothing is lost in translation when you move from the physical game to this. The engine is beautiful, and that is no less prominent this time around with Duels 2015. Menu and play area design takes its aesthetic from Magic 2015 (the newest physical set release from WotC) and it is gorgeous. While I miss the first couple games“ ability to customize your play area, the minimalist Garruk-inspired designs here are wonderful.
Even coming from the Android version of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014, this game has another significant improvement - online multiplayer. I was baffled why last year“s Duels on Android devices didn“t have the option when the iPad version did, but now that board has been wiped and the playing field is evened out. Players can take their custom decks online or stay local (via bluetooth) to test their spell slinging might against other players.
Wait. Hold up a moment? Did I say custom decks? Yesâ€¦ yes I did. In a shocking turn of events, Duels fans now have what they“ve been asking forâ€¦ well, forever—completely open-ended deck building. Once you complete the tutorial, you“re given a deck â€œarchetypeâ€, a two-color deck of your choice that will serve as your first deck. As you make your way through each enemy on each plane you“ll win a pack of 15 random cards. The more cards you unlock this way the more you can customize the deck you started with or build entirely new ones from scratch. There are a few restrictions, however, as there are some cards you are only allowed to own a few of. Griselbrand, for instance, a hulking 7/7 flying demon who is totally ready to skull-hump your opponent to death, is restricted to one per deck. Aside from exceptions like that, the typical freedom of deck building applies.
As for how the game is structured, even that is an improvement. The â€œencountersâ€ of the past couple games weren“t bad, but including them as part of the main campaign could get tedious from time to time. Similar opponents are found in the â€œexploreâ€ node and you“ll get a random opponent with a themed deck to play against to continue to unlock packs long after that plane is conquered. You can even encounter other planeswalkers by exploring, which is something I initially missed in the campaign but am really glad isn“t absent entirely.
Now brace yourselves because this is where it starts to get bad. The open-ended deck building would have been a great place to end this review, because it all goes downhill from there. Unfortunately, the game is buggy. I realize I“m playing the Android version, but this game is more buggy than even the previous Android version was. Many times the game will crash for seemingly no reason. It also tends to have framerate issues and that“s with the added battle and spell animations switched off in the menu. Additionally, it tends to bug out, replacing power and toughness on creatures and other bits of text with symbols.
Continuing to play when this happens will usually lead the game to crash once you finish the match against your opponent too. The game“s open-ended deck building also creates a wall of difficulty for non-Magic players as you only unlock one deck archetype after the tutorial, with others only becoming available when you unlock all the cards in them from random mini set boosters (That“ll take a while). Basically you better choose your starting deck well because you“re stuck with it for awhile. If this all sounds like a problem, well it is, but it“s nothing compared to the biggest problem with this Duels game.
IAP, or in-app purchases, are certainly a way to thicken that stream, as P.Diddy“s character in Get Him to the Greek might say. Duels games are no strangers to DLC per se, but never before has it felt intrusive. In addition to the $9.99 price tag for the full game (access to all planes & multiplayer) there“s also a $34.99 option that unlocks the "full" game, 300 foil conversions (just makes your cards look prettier), plus gives you instant access to the cards in each mini set. That“ll certainly give folks with a bigger wallet an advantage in multiplayer but since you aren“t getting anything you can“t earn in the $9.99 version, I“ll let it slide. It“s basically paying to save time. So that“s bad, but ultimately forgivable.
Here“s where it gets worse. The mini sets in Duels 2015 represent â…š of the cards you can actually obtain in the game. The last sixth is a special premium set filled with cards you can“t unlock through regular play. This set is even filled with cards so powerful some of them are banned or restricted from regular tournament play. If you play Magic, you“ll know instantly the kind of unfair advantage this gives. Emrakul, Talrand, Stoneforge Mystic, and others are really powerful cards you“ll only get if you pay for them. This creates a vast imbalance in the multiplayer experience in a huge way. Basically it“s like coming into an online match with your newly acquired blue starry wizard hat and animated mops only to be spanked by a real wizard with mean, bushy eyebrows.
Not to mention, even if you only wanted specific cards, the premium packs are random too, meaning you may have to buy nearly the whole set in order to get what you want. It takes approximately 14 packs to unlock the other mini sets in the game so if that math holds true, the whole premium set it is going to cost you $28 plus tax. And the â€œComplete Bundleâ€? Well, that isn“t so complete since the $34.99 doesn“t get you a single premium card, which is sure to make a lot of people angry due to the misrepresentation of the bundle.
Never before has Duels of the Planeswalkers had such a blatant â€œpay to winâ€ feature implemented. These games have often been highly recommended by me but this time around I just can“t feel good about it. While previous versions have retained value with exclusive game types, like Archenemy, Planechase, and a sealed deck tournament format, Duels 2015 loses value as premium and unlocked cards some players will pay for will not be transferring over to future versions of the game (as confirmed by Stainless Games).
Other formats, like the popular two-headed giant game type have also been removed. While previous games have kept their allure and players coming back for those features, Duels 2015“s schtick, open ended deck building, will likely continue on, making it the most disposable iteration of the game to date. Why a game this disposable is asking you to pay more money for cards that won“t transfer to future versions of the game is beyond me. It“s a bit offensive really.
So when all is said and done, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. Sort of that familiar copper-ish taste of blood, if I had to narrow it down. Why blood? Because I feel like this new version is trying to bleed me dry. Ok, that is a bit melodramatic but, the truth is, this game has taken a very serious, and very problematic design choices that really rob this game of the pomp and circumstance that the implementation of one of Magic“s best and most compelling features (deck building) deserves.
Can you enjoy this game? Sure. The online play may frustrate the hell out of you due to the general advantage given to those who pay more than the standard $9.99 price, and the lack of support for non-Magic players can make the single-player experience maddening, but if you“re in a single-player only mood and already know a decent amount about Magic: The Gathering, then Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is for you! If not, well, there“s always that Hearthstone nonsense, isn“t there?
+ Open-ended deck building, new to the franchise
+ Great aesthetic based on the (physical) Magic 2015 core set
+ Online Multiplayer, new to Android version
+ It's Magic
- Misrepresented/confusing unlock tiers
- Blatantly buggy and crashes often
- Blatantly unbalanced and pay-to-win
- No exclusive game types to this version
- Barrier of entry to non Magic players
Overall Score: 4 (out of 10)
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is the perfect example of how not to keep your established player base happy.