Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 review
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is pretty much the exact same game we saw last year, to the point where it really feels more like an expansion pack than a brand new game. Sure, there's a slew of new decks to pilot, new challenges to attempt, and a different multiplayer mode from last year, but the experience remains entirely the same. You pick a deck, you fight the computer, you unlock new cards and decks as you win, and so on. It's undeniably fun as first, though gets stale rather fast, especially since the simplicity of the cards and the inability to truly craft your own decks means much of the game is decided by random chance. You draw your big game-winning cards at the right time and you'll likely win. Fail to draw anything worth playing? Hit "restart" and try again.
Thankfully, DOTP 2013 had made a few minor enhancements which perhaps justify the new SKU. Though awkwardly implemented, players can finally choose which lands to tap when casting spells, a feature which was bizarrely missing from the first two Duels products. The A.I. still makes some rather routine mistakes (the brand managers I met at E3 were unwilling to explain why the computer still casts all his creature spells before combat, one of the game's most cardinal sins), though overall seems to make fewer outlandish decisions, previous A.I.s often known to needlessly commit suicide when confronted with a complicated board state. There's still some odd bugs here and there (I still don't know what's wrong with that jittery time bar), but the overall polish seems to shine through.
The game's biggest fault is the multiplayer mode: Planechase, which though providing the potential for some truly hilarious situations, is most indicative of the game's tendency towards randomness. Planchase involves a stack of "Plane" locations, which influence the board in a variety of ways (damage is doubled, players lose creatures every turn, etc). Players also have access to a special six-sided die which they can pay mana to roll, either triggering that planes's special effect, or warping the players to a new location. Again, it's really cool when the die roll comes up in your favor, leading to situations where I started turn one with a 7/7 monster in play, or had all of my attacking creatures cloned to attack every other opponent. But then there's situations where the same random favor seems to fall only to your opponents, leaving you crushed as they continue to reap cheap rewards, your own die rolls sadly coming up blank. This can be especially infuriating when the game's A.I. incorrectly identifies you as the threat, opponents quickly ganging up to take you out while inexplicably ignoring the guy in the corner with 100 life points and a swarm of deadly creatures.
Again, the real problem here is that the game lacks Magic's fundamental feature: the ability to fully customize one's own deck. After all, this is what justifies the randomness of the actual game, as each card you pull from the top was specifically chosen for inclusion by yourself. Though players can edit the existing decks with cards specifically unlocked for them, but cannot build their own unique creations, limiting the fun to what has been pre-determined by committee. There's a full online multiplayer component to Duel's, but gone is the reward for smart and cunning deck-building, with luck of the draw as the only remaining component.
Point is that a game with as much history as Magic: the Gathering deserves more than this simplistic simulator, something a bit more ambitious for players who truly want to delve into the game, but aren't ready to start dropping their paychecks on Magic Online. However as long as consumers are content with piloting the game's pre-constructed decks to largely random conclusions, I suppose there's no real reason to add any sort of expansive content (though I still believe Duels is begging for a legitimate quest mode, ala Cardfighter's Clash).
Anyhow, for ten bucks, you get a decent distraction and a redeemable code you can bring to your local retailer for a promotional pack of cards. Based on that value alone, you really can't go wrong, assuming you can ignore the vaguely disgusting marketing that pops up to reward your various accomplishments ("You beat the boss! Reward yourself by spending money!"). If you've been looking for a way to get your collectable card game fix without breaking the bank, this is the best thing we've got. You simply can't argue with the price.