Magic the Gathering (MtG) is a trading card game that debuted in 1993. It has been revised multiple times and it's currently in it's 10th edition. The card game has also spawned multiple computer and console spin-offs, most famous being the Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP), developed by Stainless Games. The first DotP (not counting the Microprose classic of 1997) was released in 2009 and it got a sequel in 2011, titled DotP 2012. Now we have another sequel, aptly named DotP 2013. But is it really necessary to re-release something that's already good? Is it worth it for the owners of the previous installment?
DotP is played just like the trading card game; you and your opponent take turns playing cards. I won't go in to the details of how to play MtG since it would take pages to explain all the cool stuff you can do in this 20-year old trading card game. And with this game, it really isn't even necessary since the game mechanics are greatly simplified so that even a new MtG player can win a match without even knowing the rules. There's a tutorial available that explains the basics of MtG but it won't go into the details of every ability a card can have. Fortunately, each card in-game has a great explanation of it's abilities so even a greenhorn learns the ins and outs of MtG in no time. The developers have also implemented a handy hint system in the game; if you're totally stuck with your hand and have no idea what to do, just press 'H' and the game suggest you what to do. The hint system is only available in the lowest 'Mage' difficulty, though.
There really isn't much of a story in DotP 2013. You're a Planeswalker dueling other Planeswalkers. That's it. There's a cool looking intro video but it really doesn't go in-depth about the story or explain your motives. The absence of a proper story doesn't really bother in this game since the campaign mode just pits you against pre-determined Planeswalkers and special encounters. After you defeat a Planeswalker, you unlock his/hers deck for yourself. There are 10 decks in total, each with different theme and cards. The decks can be modified with the Deck Manager but it's nowhere near as versatile as the one in the original 1997 DotP. There are also 30 extra cards for each deck which can be unlocked by defeating opponents with that certain deck. It doesn't matter where you defeat these opponents so if you're stuck, you can always defeat a few opponents in other game modes to unlock better cards to be used in the Campaign mode. The Campaign is divided into three different worlds with a few opponents in each. There are also Challenges available that have some special conditions in them. The Challenges proved to be very challenging but veteran MtG players should have no difficulty winning them. There's also a special Planechase game mode which has some very weird game effects applied. There might come a turn when for example you have to shuffle your hand to your library, draw a new set of cards and play with them. This really breaks the classic MtG gameplay in my opinion and doesn't really suit the game.
As I said before, there are other game modes available besides Campaign. There's Custom Game which allows you to play Two-Headed Giant, Free-For-All or Planeshape against the AI. Two-Headed Giant is a special way of playing MtG cooperatively. You and your opponent both have a team mate and you share the same life pool. The gameplay is similar to normal MtG but you both get to play cards during your teams turn. All damage damage done is applied to your shared life pool. This mode is the most fun when played with a friend against a difficult AI. Free-For-All is your basic MtG and the most played form of Magic and Planechase I covered earlier. Custom Game is a great way to spend 30 minutes or get more cards for your deck to defeat a hard enemy in Campaign. If you have a controller, Two-Headed Giant can also be played with a friend locally. This doubles the fun, especially if your friend knows a thing or two about MtG.
When you've had it with the overly easy AI in singleplayer (I've played MtG since the early 90's), it's time to test your deck against real players. In Multiplayer, the choices are the same as in Custom Game; Two-Headed Giant, Free-For-All and Planeshape. Even now (after a few days after release) the game has lots of players online so finding a suitable match for you is easy. The game has voice communication but with random players, you'll be hearing a lot of Lady GaGa before the match comes to an end. Best to leave it off when playing online with strangers. The most fun online experience proved to be Two-Headed Giant. With good players, a match can go on for hours and you'll still be wanting for more. Absolutely brilliant! Unfortunately for newcomers with no friends that own the game the online mode is filled with players that were born with Black Lotus' in their mouths. The matches are brutal but with strategy and a well constructed deck (and a bit of luck), you'll bring anyone down.
The graphics are pretty, every card in the game looks exactly like it's real-life counterpart. There are also some spell and creature effects but these just slow the gameplay and serve no purpose so I kept them off. The game runs on almost any PC today and, being a card game, the graphical options are limited to anti-aliasing and shadows. And since these make no difference what-so-ever in the overall enjoyment of the game, you can just turn them off. Sure there are some fancy effects when you cast spells and attack with your creatures but these are just meant to sell the game to modern gamers. The musics are horrendous but since this is basically a relax, casual game you'll most likely turn them off and listen to your own music collection while playing. Other sound effects include your basic *ooomph* and *whoosh* so sounds aren't really necessary...
Overally the game plays good and especially MtG fans should be very pleased with the addition of new cards. The game engine is exactly the same as in the previous games so almost anyone can enjoy this. And I really do mean enjoy since Magic is the greatest card game ever created and DotP 2013 really does it justice without forgetting the players new to the game. Owners of DotP 2012 might consider twice before putting their money on this since it really just is an 'annual update'... Me? I don't regret for a second that I paid 8.99€ for this.