Magic Duels: Origins
Developer: Wizards of the Coast, Stainless Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), iPad (Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now (iPad), July 29th (PC)
Price: FREE (with in-app purchases) – iTunes | Not yet available on Steam
Magic Duels Origins is the newest installment in the long-running Duels of the Planeswalkers series of games that are designed to get new players into the world of Magic: the Gathering. While last year’s installment left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, I was eager to give this year’s trial a fair go and I was pleasantly surprised. While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it is a marked improvement and an almost perfect teaching tool for those looking to understand the ins and outs of this decades-old trading card game.
Magic Origins is a bit of a departure in the series in terms of storytelling and its no surprise that Magic Duels: Origins follows suit. Instead of one cohesive story, this game aims to explain the origins of some of the most popular characters from the franchise (Jace Beleren, Chandra Nalaar, Gideo Jura, Liliana Vess and Nissa Revane). The game is broken into five chapters, each focusing on a particular character’s early life including their childhood, their ascension to Planeswalker and also giving hints on where they went to from there. I found this fractured style of storytelling to be pretty cool, and breaking each character’s story into its own Campaign gave Wizards the perfect opportunity to summarise and present their lore in a very focused and well presented package.
At its core, Magic Duels: Origins is a tool to teach new players how to get into the world’s oldest trading card game. From its simplistic controls to its well thought-out explanations of the rules, it is the perfect teaching aide for anybody looking to get into the game.
There are multiple ways to play Magic Duels, but they all boil down to three major categories: Campaign, solo battles, online multiplayer. It does each of these relatively well and I had no major gripes with any of them.
Last year when I played through Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers. I noted in my review that building your own deck to play through the game’s story was a novel concept but one that in the end resulted in the whole game feeling like it was a pay to win mobile game. Thankfully for this installment, Wizards did away with that whole side of the game for the story and instead lets you run through the game’s gauntlet with pre-chosen decks. The decks are different depending on which character’s story you are playing through and where in their saga you are up to. As you progress through a character’s challenge, their deck will become stronger, allowing you to progress at a steady pace. This for me is a massive improvement over the previous installment, where either you struggled and grinded your way through the story or you went the other way and shelled out massive amounts of money for a deck that could actually handle some of the mid-late game challenges.
Now before some of you out there worry; there is still a deck building element to Magic Duels: Origins, it is just limited to the free dueling and online modes. You start off with a decent sized collection of cards and have the ability to earn and purchase more as you play through, and from this collection you can build your deck. I wont lie – early on your decks will probably suck and I strongly suggest playing through the campaign and earning some packs in order to pad that collection before you really immerse yourself into the duels.
In terms of online stability, I played almost 40 games of Magic across both platforms and I only had a couple of instances of drop-out (most of which were my own connection’s fault) so I can say that the game has a pretty smooth online experience. It does suck that there currently is no cross-platform play supported, but hey we can’t have it all!
One of my biggest gripes with Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers was that the game basically forced you into shelling out around $45 in a very pay-to-win environment. While you are still able to outright purchase packs of cards in Duels: Origins, the necessity of using real-world dollars has been scaled back somewhat by the game’s own currency. Winning duels, completing the daily challenges and playing through the campaign will unlock in-game coins that can be exchanged for packs. The coins you get from the campaign are enough to grab 5 packs (roughly 30 cards) to add to your collection, which isn’t a lot but combine that with the coins you can get regularly through the daily challenges and earning cards is a heck of a lot easier than the slog we had to go through last year.
Visuals & Audio
One thing the Duels games have without a doubt gotten right in the past few years has been the UI while playing. Last year’s game had its stark black and white theme going on which left the battlefield uncluttered and open. This time around, the clutter and the clarity are still there but we are instead given a nicely coloured orange/grey colour scheme to feast our eyes on. The backgrounds are plain enough to not interfere with gameplay, while still basic enough to allow you to focus on the game without getting distracted.
Aside from the backgrounds, the rest of the UI is really impressive and incredibly responsive. The way that the game lays out the battlefield, the cards in hand, permanents on the battlefield and spells on the stack is just so clean and elegant that I have an easier time understanding everything that is going on while looking at my iPad screen than I do most of my real-world Magic games. Aside from that, clicking on cards to examine them and put them into play is lightning quick and super responsive meaning that you can check a card and get back to the action without wasting any time.
One thing I did notice though was that at the beginning of some levels, especially the tutorial levels that started with a lot of permanents on the battlefield and cards in hand, the game struggled and lagged on both the iPad and PC. It is a bit disappointing seeing such notable lag considering the simplistic nature of the game’s UI.
I will say though that the CGI at the end of each character’s campaign is seriously lacking and almost laughable. After I finished Kytheon’s story I was astounded at how poorly rendered the final cut-scene was, to the point that it looked like it belonged on an early PS2/Gamecube-era game.
When I first learned to play Magic: the Gathering, the 7th Edition Starter Set came with a CDROM that have learn to play videos and tutorials, as well as some preconstructed decks with precise instructions on how to follow them in order to properly learn the game. Back then, I would have killed for a game like this to teach me the ropes and I am sure it will serve its intended audience perfectly in that regard. While in many ways Duels: Origins improves on the money-hungry antics of last year’s installment, there is still a definite pay to win feel attitude to the game.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.