Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oh, Oh, It's Magic -- Magic: The Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalker 2012

I've been a fan of collectable card games for over ten years, ever since I bought my first booster pack of Pokémon TCG cards. I'm not sure if it's my latent Montanan predilection for gambling, or because my affection for board games has never truly gone away, but collectable card games have always scratched a gaming itch I can't find anywhere else. Unfortunately, CCGs require two things I, for the most part, lack: an involved community with whom I can play my cards, and a large chunk of disposable income for accumulating new cards.

Fortunately, Stainless Games has me covered with their series of Magic: The Gathering games of Xbox Live Arcade. With their two Magic titles, Duel of the Planeswalkers and Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012, Stainless provides a refined Magic experience, eschewing the deck-building that can be intimidating for some (i.e. me) in favor of pre-built, balanced decks, while still allowing for a degree of customization, and retaining the series’ deep rule set and satisfying gameplay.

I cut my teeth into the original Duel of the Planeswalkers back in 2009. The turn-based, strategic combat helped ease my mind when I was stressed, and it even helped me through a post-hangover New Year’s Day. My excitement turned palpable when Stainless announced a follow-up title, Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012, earlier this year; it eventually released on June 15, 2011. I held off buying it at the time because I was playing through DotP’s third DLC pack, and didn’t want to overwhelm myself. When it finally showed up on the Xbox Live Deal of the Week for half price earlier this week, though, it was unavoidable: I purchased it immediately, and have been loving it ever since.

Yeah, they're just cards, but use your imagination, and it looks like this.

The most immediately-noticeable thing about Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012 is the updated UI. Stainless has cleaned up a good deal of the mess from the original Planeswalkers, streamlining the HUD that shows your cards, life, and what phase of your turn you’re in. Stainless has also made the proceedings go back faster; Plainswalker 2012 has far shorter loading times than the first title, and on a whole, the game seems to clip by faster than its predecessor.

The new cards look exceptional as well, highly detailed for your zooming pleasure (let’s face it, half the fun of magic is checking out the awesome artwork on the cards). The decks from Duel of the Planeswalkers have been heavily overhauled for their appearance in Planeswalkers 2012, largely keeping the same theme, but adding new cards to the mix. Stainless has also added a few new, more unique decks, like a Black/Blue/White artifact deck, or a Blue/White Creature Deck.

Of course, graphical polish and new cards aren’t the only things Planeswalkers 2012 has to offer. The game’s single player campaign has been given a dose of player choice, allowing gamers to occasionally choose between two different deck types to play against, or offering a host of puzzle-like one-on-one challenges. In addition to the main campaign, there’s a revenge campaign, which simply re-orders the AI opponents, and a new Archenemy campaign, which pits three players against one super powered one. It’s neither the deepest nor the most original single player game, but it’s a step-up from the previous iteration.

Clashing art. Go with it, alright?

I haven’t had time to check out the multiplayer yet, but my enthusiasm for online Duel of the Planeswalkers died after one-too-many folks who bailed on my game when it looked like they wouldn’t win. Bummer.

For gamers who like collectable card games, now is a great time to pick up a digital iteration of the best one out there, and for 400 Microsoft Points ($5), it’s an absolute steal.

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