We all love and hate them; annual updates to our favorite games. Some are extremely successful and manage to deliver enough new content and additions when compared with the last installment but unfortunately most are weak attempts at trying to rip the players with hardly anything new, just a new character maybe if you're lucky. Now Stainless Games is showing signs of jumping on the same wagon with the release of their latest game; Magic 2014. The game is the latest in the Magic The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP) collectible card game (CCG) series and the question arises; is it just another annual update? Let's find out.
The story of Magic 2014 is a story of vengeance; you have been betrayed by a fellow Planeswalker (a mage who can travel to different planes of existence and wields powerful magic) Ramaz and you set out to avenge... something. The story doesn't really explain your motives but luckily in these types of games the lack of an epic storyline isn't an issue. The game uses videos to further the story, between each campaign plane you get a video, but these videos are far from winning the Oscars; especially the opening intro is extremely lame, I felt a shared sense of shame when I first saw it. And laughed a bit.
The gameplay is your basic Magic; you and your opponent take turns in playing cards from your hand to the playing field. The aim of the game is to reduce your opponents life total to 0 (you start with 20) and you do this by summoning creatures and playing cards that do direct or undirect damage. The game follows the Magic rules to the letter so anyone who has ever played it feels right at home. There are too many rules to be explained here so anyone who's interested in learning them (or older players who want to check the newer rules) should check out the official rulebook. There is also a handy Tutorial available for newcomers.
The singleplayer portion of the game has 4 different game modes; Campaign, Sealed Play, Challenges and Custom Game. The Campaign tells the story (sort of) of the game and has you dueling across 5 different planes, each with 4 encounters and one duel against another Planeswalker (which acts as a boss battle). You unlock the next plane by defeating the Planeswalker. The encounters are pretty simple since your opponent always uses the same cards in the same order so you can easily hone your strategy for them. Sealed Play allows you to select a Booster Pack (each with different cards in them) and play a single duel of Magic with those cards. You unlock more Booster Packs by winning opponents.
The Challenges are special puzzle-like duels that have different conditions; you might be dueling a defensive opponent or your life total might be extremely low for example. These Challenges are quite challenging (duh) and require you to use extensive strategies to beat them. Custom Game allows you to select from two different modes; Free-For-All (FFA) and Two-Headed Giant. FFA is the most basic form of Magic that has you dueling a single opponent. Two-Headed Giant on the other hand is a special way of playing Magic; you and another player share a life pool and you both act during your shared turn. Same goes with your opponents.
The multiplayer portion includes 3 game modes; FFA, Two-Headed Giant and Sealed Play. The modes work exactly like the ones in singleplayer but (obviously) against human players. The game can also be played locally with a friend if you happen to have a controller. Playing Two-Headed Giant with a friend against a hard AI opponent never gets old. Too bad the game is a bit too slow-paced to be fully enjoyed when playing online.
The game has a deck manager but sadly it still hasn't been updated to the standard of the original DotP game published by MicroProse. Yeah you can create your own deck or edit one of the 10 decks in the game using your unlocked cards but the user interface isn't exactly the best. You unlock new cards by winning duels with that certain deck. There are 30 cards to unlock for each deck. Other unlockables include Avatars and Titles for your character.
Being a CCG the game has minimal graphical effects; just some fancy spell and attack effects. Lacking any major graphical options the game is playable even on a weak notebook. Surprisingly the game allows you to switch anti-aliasing on; you wouldn't want to play with jagged cards, right? There is hardly any music in the game but the sounds do their part well.
Thanks to the streamlined user interface and loyalty to the original trading card game, Magic 2014 is the best Magic game to date (where have we heard that before?). Unfortunately the few added features and cards are hardly enough to justify the existence of this game; they should have just updated the last game instead of creating a whole new one. Owners of DotP 2013 should really think twice (or maybe even thrice) before purchasing this but for new players Magic 2014 is highly recommended. For a low price (10€/$13/£8) you get a game that's suitable for casual and hardcore gamers.