Magic Duels is, what might be, the last game in the succession of Duels of the Planeswalkers video games. Duels is a free to play game that allows players to enjoy the popular trading card game Magic: the Gathering online and against AI without using the pay to play version; Magic the Gathering Online. Now if you read any of the news concerning the Magic Duels PC release you may have noted that there were some problems which included widespread graphical issues and connection problems. This was a major issue that will be covered but I want to focus on the gameplay as a major factor in determining the quality of Magic Origins because we are looking at a digital representation of a card game.
Let’s start with the single player campaign. As an experienced magic player I went through the entire campaign in a couple of hours and it was fairly easy except for one or two matches where my deck matched up unfavorably against the opponents. But I don’t think the campaign is designed for the experienced magic player. The campaign is riddled with multiple hints and different scenarios that helps explain the different mechanics (things like trample and flying) and the different phases involved in a game (main phase, untap, upkeep). These scenarios and tips would be monumental in helping a new player understand the basic concepts that are inherent in a Magic: The Gathering game. To summarize the single player campaign would be very useful in teaching a new player how to play Magic: The Gathering but it offers limited excitement for experienced players.
In terms of the multiplayer experience it seems, again, that the online play is geared towards inexperienced players. The one good part about the multiplayer is that there is some variance involved with the decks that players can play against but that’s the only thing good about the multiplayer. It seems that Magic Duels is trying to copy the Hearthstone model of a free to play trading card game with six card packs that can be purchased with real money or in-game “gold”. There are also incentives to log in and play that take the form of quests where you can earn “gold” to buy more packs which helps expand your collection.
There is a twofold problem with the model mentioned above. Firstly Magic Origins does not house the entire collection of Magic The Gathering cards online so one cannot fully experience the game and all of its interesting mechanics and synergies. Basically the online play only has a limited number of cards you can unlock by buying packs which makes online play somewhat stale and boring, which is unlike Hearthstone where they continually expand on the original card pool. The second problem is that there is already an online medium in which Magic players can test their skills against other players. Magic the Gathering Online or MTGO is a service that allows experienced players a larger card pool and different game types which most pro players and amateurs prefer to use. MTGO is also a much more competitive arena for people to play Magic that is officially sponsored by Wizards of the Coast; which is the company that makes Magic: The Gathering.
To be honest the graphics and sounds are difficult to analyze since the game is a digital representation of a trading card game. There are a few cutscenes at the end of each part of the campaign but the graphical quality of those cutscenes are reminiscent of early 2000 classics Age of Mythology and Age of Empires (which made me nostalgic but it is the year 2015). Although the art on the actual magic cards are usually beautiful and well composed the cutscenes are detrimental to the overall quality of the game. There is also some light music in the background and small animations which goes along with the card game but there really isn’t much to right about in this regard.
There were some glaring problems with the game as it was released regarding the graphics and connectivity. I experienced a large black stripe across the middle of the screen whenever I was playing against an opponent. This would not be that much of an issue except for the fact that this stripe blocked my view of the different phases of the game which messed up my ability to play correctly. There was also a black circle that encased most of the cards while they were on the battlefield and in play. The worst bug was the fact that I was unable to connect to the server at different points during my experience playing the campaign. You need to be connected to the server in order to complete the campaign and, obviously, to use the multiplayer. The server issue was a major problem that I had with the game and it was extremely frustrating when I just beat a difficult part of the campaign but I was disconnected mid-game so I had to repeat this part when I was reconnected some time later.
In review I would say that while there were some positive aspects of this game they do not outweigh the negative. While the game can be fun and a great tool to teach new players Magic: The Gathering the graphic and server issues were a major turnoff throughout my playthrough. If Wizards of the Coast wants to create a game where new players can learn and enjoy magic then this game would not fill that role because of the many bugs that I experienced which left a sour taste in my mouth. I also truly believe that the best games have great replay value and I think that Magic Duels falls short in that category. Overall the game was fun for a bit and I enjoyed the little challenges that exist in the game but again the issues I faced with different bugs and the lack of replay value outweighed the good.