Ok, firstly, whoever designed the menus for this game needs to be fired. You hear that, Wizards? Fire your menu man. Get a new menu man. Or menu woman. I don’t discriminate.
To coincide with the release of the core sets, Wizards of the Coast have been releasing the Duels of the Planeswalkers games yearly since 2011. If you aren’t aware, these video games are based on the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. The basic format for each game is the same – players must battle (sorry, duel) through a series of opponents in games of Magic. Whilst not as fun as playing with pals IRL, the Duels games have been a fun way to get that little bit of Magic fill when your friends aren’t about. Until now.
Duels 2015 is a bad game. As I mentioned, the menu screen is clunky and unresponsive. It takes about 4 clicks of “start” before you can actually get into the game. From there, you are greeted with an ugly ‘minimalistic’ black and white home screen. Once you have gotten over this melancholy menu, you must traverse rocky animations and perilous scrolling. You would be mistaken, after all this, for thinking that you can just jump into a game. But how wrong you are, my little cherub. Duels 2015 features a tutorial, which is very handy for new players, but if you’re a veteran of Magic then you don’t need to hear all this spiel. You can skip the five tutorials…individually. If you opt to take them, you are accompanied by a patronising female voice. It’s the kind of voice that, if you heard on the phone, you’d think “goodness, what an attractive woman!”. That isn’t what a want, Wizards of the Coast! I don’t want hot women mixing up my Magic! That’s like…antithesis. It’s confusing. I want to hear a gruff mage or something! Anyway, after the tutorial, you choose a colour from the five Magic colours – red, blue, white, green or black. From there, you are then taken to another screen where you pick a dual-colour deck centering around that first colour. I went with a blue/black, which (as you’ll know if you’re a Magic nerd) generally focuses on milling and discarding. This deck did not. As I was cast into this ‘boss’ fight, I played common after common after uncommon, with no real synergy or purpose. This deck was terrible. After a few attempts (I cranked the difficulty up to max because I’m awesome in my head) I beat him. Now the real game begins.
The story is alright – Garruk, a planeswalker, is cursed and has gone scatty and is killing other planeswalkers. You must track him down and gently soothe him into submission. Like more Magic lore, however, it’s one of those stories that reading the synopsis on Wikipedia is a lot more interesting than the actual thing. It’s basically just a chase through various planes, as was Duels 2014‘s story. The difference with 2015 is that this shit is canon. But we don’t play these games for the stories, do we?
Nah. It’s the gameplay that draws the boys to the yard. From the beginning of the game, you can only play with the deck that you chose in the tutorial. This is unlike past Duels games, in which you could choose from a variety of very different pre-made decks, each with an interesting play style. For me, this was one of the best features of the Duels game, as it enabled you to play with card combinations that you had never seen before. But unfortunately that has gone. Thrown out like yesterday’s ham. I struggled a bit, using my shit-deck to defeat the boss in the first plane, but managed to do it eventually. Afterwards you are given the option to now fully customise your shit-deck. However, unless you pay IRL money for awesome cards, your shit-deck is probably going to remain a shit-deck for a while (or a crap-deck at best). Yeah, Duels 2015 incorporates that old gamer favourite, micro transactions! Defeating enemies unlocks booster packs, which contain cards you can use. But if you want the real good’uns, you have to fork out for ‘premium packs’. This is, quite frankly, disgusting. Not only are you limited to only playing decks from a relatively small (300) card pool, you must pay for really good ones! If I wanted to pay for Magic cards, I would be playing Magic Online…or in real life! As far as the actual battles are concerned, the pace is quite quick, which makes a nice change from previous instalments. That’s about all that’s changed for the better really. They have gotten rid of the nice little animations on some of the uber cool cards from 2014, which is a shame. Also, when you enter combat, the playing board splits apart to reveal this big red…bit? I…I don’t even.
The pay-to-win situation is not even my biggest gripe with the game, as I was excited and forked out the money to buy the ‘special addition’ before the game was released, highly anticipating hours of joy, so I was rewarded with some pretty good cards. No, my main gripe is just the overall design. Duels 2012 had the Archenemy game mode: a 3 vs 1 game, where the 1 draws special archenemy cards to give themselves buffs and boosts. It was a fun addition that provided ever changing challenges. Duels 2013 had Planechase, in which players fought on different ‘planes’ that added various effects to the game, changing the dynamics completely. Even 2014 had its sealed mode, which was a complete let down and waste of time, but at least it was something. 2015 has nothing apart from the campaign. You can play a ‘practice match’ with up to four AI, but there is no option to make it a team game, only freeforalls (to my knowledge anyway – these other options may well be in the game, hidden among the tangling vines of the unforgiving and unforgivable menu screen). So the campaign is split up into 5 planes, with each plane consisting of four battles including a boss fight. There is an option to ‘explore’ the plane, which I assumed meant that you were cast into a 3D rendering or something, which would have been cool. But these are just some extra battles that you can do to unlock a couple o’ more cards. There is an achievement for completing them all, but there is no screen telling you how you are progressing. You just have to kind of guess when you have completed it, lest you be caught in an everlasting cycle of fighting spiders or minatours. There are a handful of extras features, which include looking at Magic adverts and a handful of concept art (with some information about each plane) but that’s it. I tried to jump into multiplayer too, but it seemed that no one was online…. But instead of giving me the option to quit whilst it was looking for a game to join, I was forced to wait a few minutes until it timed out by itself. What is this.
So there you have it. Save yourself some money, and go and play one of the old instalments instead of picking up Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. With clunky menu screens, poor pacing and less features than its predecessors, 2015 is more of a brain haemorrhage than fun game. I find myself genuinely getting angry when I play. I don’t want a smoke animation when I click exit! I just want to exit! They have turned the innocent Duels series into a bad clone of Magic Online. £6.99, as it is on Steam, is an ok amount to pay for this disappointment, but unless you fork out more you’re probably not going to have a good time. The question is, when Duels 2016 comes out next year, will Wizards rectify their mistakes, or will the Duels series fall into that money grabbing pit that so many games these days tend to do?