Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012
After taking more than few gamers by surprise last year with the wildly successful, reasonably priced and essentially (major) complaint free, “Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers,” Wizards and Stainless games are back with the newest installment aptly titled “Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012.” Now if you’re like me, you’re asking, “but I just paid $10 for the game last year and anywhere between zero and $15 for the expansions. I know there’s no way such an iconic game could have changed that much.” To you, I say, “I agree.” The core game play of the actual card game is identical to last year’s edition, however, as any gamer knows, especially one hooked by the siren song of the collectible < insert genre > game, it’s all about the newest release. So if you’re perfectly happy with last year’s entry, I say, “keep playing, I know I will, but ‘Magic 2012’ still has some tricks up its sleeve that may interest you.”
For a basic rundown of how the main game play works, I’ll refer you to my review of last year’s edition, which is found here. Magic is a time tested game and no one at Wizards or Stainless have done anything to radically alter the way the game plays. However, taking the natural step in evolution as well as listening to fan complaints, they have fixed a few things, added a few interesting new features, and sadly, still have a few glaring kinks to work out.
The biggest alteration to game play that was a deal breaker for many last year comes in the form of deck customization. Initially you were only able to add or subtract the bonus cards that you would unlock for each deck. This time, deck building is almost 100% user controlled. The caveat comes in terms of lands and that you can only customize cards specific to the theme deck, so no bringing in a red creature from your red deck into your multicolored deck or vice-versa. As long as a player has 60 cards in their deck, they can pick and choose what they want, save for basic land cards. Those are fixed for everyone and frankly, it’s an ok decision. There’s so much room for custom deck building that leaving out the hassle of balancing your mana pool is actually a relief.
Another big change is allowing players full control of assigning creatures in combat. Before it was all auto-selected for you and if you weren’t careful about how you initially chose your attackers or defenders, things might turn out how you intended. No when multiple defenders pop up, before combat is resolved at that juncture, the game ensures you get to pick the order things go down. On the flipside though and I come very close to calling it a game breaking issue (for the hardcore it will be), mana is auto selected for you. Not an issue in single color decks, but “Magic 2012” is heavily focused around multicolored decks and when a card asks for say two uncolored mana, you have a card you need to play later in the turn for one blue mana, and the game chooses to use your last two blue mana instead of your four-plus reserve of white mana, you get screwed, to put it bluntly. In my time playing both against the AI and other human players, I can recall one instance where this very likely cost me my game. It was an understandable, somewhat forgivable omission last year, but for it to fall on deaf ears and not be remedied this go around is inexcusable and the game takes a huge hit for it.
The core game modes, both single and multiplayer are back, plus one big addition, Archenemy mode. Here three players work together to fight an AI opponent with 60 life and the unique ability to play a “scheme” card each turn. The “scheme” is a helpful effect for him or her, a nightmare at times for the players. For instance, one effect that popped up instantly was the “archenemy” drained three life from each living player and added it to his own total. Some of the effects are more benign, but it does keep players on their toes. Archenemy is best played with human opponents as the AI is frankly, a joke, but ultimately, the mode is more of a casual diversion rather than a mode worthy of lasting appeal. Two-Headed Giant returns and players will rejoice as you can now play with an online ally, instead of the useless local-ally only option from last year. Of course, standard Free-For-All multiplayer is back with options for two, three, or four player, this time a game lobby can open up additional slots on the fly making matchmaking a much easier, streamlined process. Free-For-All is what makes “Magic 2012” worth the $10 (1600 point price tag) and aside from the possibility of the mana pool issue, it’s still a blast and the one true reason the game series manages to sell as many copies as it does and keep gamers coming back for more.
Lastly, I’ll mention the single-player campaign since it’s a necessary evil if you want to unlock the additional decks and, for free (for $1 per deck, you can instantly unlock all decks and all unlockable cards). There’s a very thinly sketched premise behind your battles this time, revealed in a wasteful FMV sequence at the beginning of the game. The overall campaign map may look fancy, but in reality it’s the same as the bland list of foes in last year’s edition. Challenges have been sprinkled throughout, with harder ones opening up for play as you get to the game’s new boss, Karn. The challenges eventually devolve into less real strategy and more an exercise in frustration, presenting players with absurd situations and far too many wrong ways to solve them. Most criminal though is the actual AI of the campaign. It’s bad, bad, bad. On the easiest setting it walks the line of stupid and a competent novice. At the hardest setting the programming leads me to believe the deck order is “known” to the AI, because far too many times, two or three rounds of odd, almost masochistic moves by the AI end up broken by out of nowhere plays that spell certain doom for the player. My advice, go through on easy, or if you still feel guilty, medium; get your decks and get out into multiplayer. There’s also an Archenemy campaign and a Revenge mode campaign unlocked along the way. The AI sucks as bad in those too.
All in all, “Magic 2012” is a worthy purchase for a fan of the physical and/or previous digital edition. The new 2012 card set is a nice mix of enhanced/remixed versions of last year’s stuff that balances familiarity with the need to develop new strategies. There is the impression that the designers built decks around big battles rather than small, needling skirmishes and the eyebrow raising new abilities will have you grinning when benefiting you and cursing the skies when you fall on the receiving end. Gamers who make the plunge should be satisfied with their purchase and if the support given in the form of affordably priced, genuinely valued DLC is maintained, a good year of steady gaming awaits.
- As expected the artwork on the cards is beautiful. The artistry employed is top notch as expected and the various themes represented feel properly connected.
- The FMV sequence that opens the game is rather rough looking with a few framerate drops and some very noticeable screen tearing issues.
- The virtual tables are pretty much the same as last year, a little cosmetically different but in the end you don’t really notice them.
- As dull as before: sound effects are stock and uninspired. The more you play; the more it becomes a cluster of noise.
- The musical score is a little more memorable but slightly. I find the menu music to be ethereally calming, unlike the subtle “pump you up” music in last year’s edition.
If you’re one of last year’s players who has come this far and what you’ve read hasn’t swayed you, stick with last year’s edition. It’s not obsolete; the decks are different enough that you’ll still have fun playing them. If you are intrigued, I say drop the $10 and get going. Understand the “mana pool” issue and be prepared to rarely be screwed by it, but don’t let that totally destroy what is still a very fun game that has a lot of new strategies to learn and countless hours of fun to offer. Highly Recommended.