Duel of the Planeswalkers (DotP) is a difficult game to review as its expectations as a game will vary wildly depending on what camp you are in; do you want a bombastic interpretation of the Magic series that utilises the Xbox 360’s graphics alongside high end strategy, or do you want a near carbon copy of the actual card game that is already out there, but with the ease of an internet connection and a cheaper cost to still get the same thrills out of it?
First, a warning; Anyone who doesn’t take satisfaction out of gradual progress should steer very clear of this game. DotP is a great starting point for people who have never been able to find the right amount of people, time or money, to take a stab at the Magic universe. The single player campaign and the sealed campaign allow beginners to get hold of the basics before diving into the main facet of the game in terms of the multiplayer. What is perhaps baffling is the complete lack of any in-depth tutorials to help beginners on their way. Having very little experience in Magic (the odd game of Pokemon back in school is about as much exposure I have had) , nor much beyond the concept of the card game, the tutorial was near useless as it focused far more on the actual controls you needed to initiate game play than what type of strategies would be useful in the matches up ahead.
Although there is definitely a sense of the blind leading the blind in this scenario, getting the basics sorted in DotP is pretty simple. You are dealt seven cards, with a mixture of Land, Magic, and Summoning cards. Land cards allow you to reach the prerequisites needed to enable the summoning of monsters and magic cards that affect the battlefield. Each monster has attack and defence points that dictate whether offence or defence is the best option. Summoned monsters allow the ability to block attacks, saving from direct damage to the twenty hit points that you and your enemy have. First to zero loses. An Idiots Guide, as used just now, doesn’t do the game justice in terms of the amount of strategy and planning needed, as well as the satisfaction that is felt when you pull off the perfect game plan and annihilate your opponent.
Assessing previous feedback from past instalments, DotP has moved leaps and bounds in terms of a more fleshed out campaign and narrative, though that isn’t really saying a great deal. You are a ‘Planeswalkers’ entrusted by Chandra, another planeswalker, to help her hunt down an evil being. Not going to win any Oscars with its narrative, especially as it is linked by the odd badly animated cutscene/ a chunk of text. It feels like the developers have made a bit of a misstep as the whole experience would be improved massively by using the equipment that you have to hand; wouldn’t seeing monsters tearing each other apart be a much more exciting experience than seeing two card ‘bite’ each other and move off the battlefield?
The main campaign feels more like an obligatory mode than something worth visiting. Earlier encounters follow the same patterns of play so that you can exploit the weaknesses of the enemies deck you are playing and strike back; fine in practice, but hellishly irritating when you fall to the same guy with the same strategy that you just can’t for the life of you beat. Deck varieties increase with further wins, with added cards for the decks you use to beat your foe after every victory, are a slow and steady way of adding more depth but hamper the creativity that the new Deck manager enables without forking out cash. Although the Magic card game needs a lot of investment from the player to ensure that their decks are the best they can be, it doesn’t feel quite the same in the digital realm but can be understandably addictive (FIFA has taken a little too much of my money when attempting to create a world beating Ultimate Team)
The Sealed campaign is perhaps the best part of the entire game; you are given a set amount of booster pacts that have completely random cards that you have to create an unbeatable deck out of. This joins up the new Deck Manager and the enjoyment in making a deck of cards yours and is a fantastic experience when you get it alright but downright depressing when the boosters you get bring nothing to your own master plan (but thats life !). Multiplayer is a much more challenging arena compared to the single player but is nonetheless fun though dont expect an easy ride; more often than not, you will be annihilated before you have a chance to enact any kind of battle plan.
Will DotP win any awards for being the best use of the Xbox 360 hardware and go down as one of the most innovative games that the system has ever seen? Well no. But will it be remembered as a very good iteration of a popular series that manages to incorporate the card game for the digital world without too many adjustments? Almost certainly. DotP is an engrossing game when patience is given to it and could prove a costly use of time and money if building the perfect deck is the be all and end all for you as a Planeswalker. Although without a doubt not a game I would buy , I highly recommend it to Magic beginners and veterans alike, just dont expect an easy ride into trying to gain access to the games leviathan of tactics and strategy.