Nice Cards, Shame About The Transactions – Magic Duels: Shadows Over Innistrad Review (PC)
While the likes of Hearthstone may sitting upon the throne of video game card combat games, Magic The Gathering still dominates the physical realm. It’s has been around for decades, becoming a culture within itself. The video game equivalents have been something of a mixed bag, especially in its latest formart.
Magic Duels was a noticeable departure from the Duels of the Planewalkers series. In an attempt to fit into the growing market, Duels launched as a free-to-play title with microtransactions. The new format, and indeed version of the game, was met with mostly mixed reviews.
After various patches and updates, Duels has welcomed in the Shadows Over Innistrad update. The new story-mode acts as both a solid single player experience and tutorial for new players. All of the basics are covered in a manner which eases in the player in. There’s no overwhelming feeling of being drowned in information and card effects. Each tutorial rewards the player with coins, which in turn can be spent on packs of cards.
At the heart of the game, as you’d expect, is collecting cards in order to build a deck. Each story-mode match gives glimpses at the cards on offer, acting as the primary motivation to push on. The storyline won’t mean much to new players. Veterans will nod towards various name drops and cameos, but it’s nothing too thrilling.
Initially players are forced to use pre-made decks. The choice of cards is limited, but works well at teaching the core elements of Magic. The real joys of the game is when players can craft their own decks. All of the new cards provide a solid basis to build intricate decks, packed full of creativity and flexibility. Deploying a Vampire or Werewolf themed deck opens so many methods and strategies, making each play session feel unique.
Options and depth is the best way to describe most of the new cards. Across all the different types, each card either feeds or sets up synergy. The key issue is, and always has been, the cards take a rather long time to obtain. Grinding out the required amount of coins needed to buy a single pack is tiresome. Coins can be earned through beating story-mode or players online, or you can straight up buy them.
All of the big named ‘Free-to-play’ combat card games suffer from this problem. There’s nothing stopping someone from buying every card in the game. Throwing cash at multiple packs is a shortcut to success, even if the player isn’t all that good. Duels offer two ways to build a deck, themed and custom. Themed decks supply players with options but maintains key principles such as a large amount of low cost monsters or stacking items. Custom decks give players freedom in their choice, perfect for veterans.
Themed decks are a great method of ushering in new players while giving them some choice. It’s only a problem when linked before mentioned ability to buy as many packs as the wallet desires. Pay-to-win might be a bit of a strong term, but the advantage is certainly stacked in the favour of those willing to pay.
Investing money into digital cards produces a strange problem, mainly in relation to the Magic fanbase. Most ‘hardcore’ players would rather spend their money on the physical cards, rather than digital counter-parts. It begs the question of who this game is aimed at.
Perhaps that’s still the key problem with Magic Duels. It does a fantastic job of teaching new players the rope, but veterans are mostly left in the cold. Having the ability to build completely custom decks is nice, but packs require too much grind. It’s easy to see the game as a tool more than the best Magic experience on the market.
A tool to teach new players, a tool to let veterans checkout the latest cards. Shadows Over Innistrad adds great cards to the game, but the surrounding issues hinder Magic Duels as an overall game.