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By: xger, Xger
Aug 03 2015 12:00pm
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Wizards released Magic Duels Origins on Steam, on July 29! Time to dive in and take it for a whirl!

 

Disclaimer: Chandra is my favorite Planeswalker (of all of them), so I have more pictures of her campaign.

 

Here is the link for the store page. If you don't have steam, you can download it from the top bar. The game is free to download, for the initial part. If you have played the previous Duels of the Planeswalkers, this experience is not dissimilar. Wizards is trying to add more replayability between quests, boosters, deck building, and ranked online play, so if those are things that work for you there is more to this version. The biggest difference is that there will not be new versions of Magic Duels - Wizards is going to push new sets onto duels so you expand your game as opposed to replacing it.

 

Options:

First, I always recommend going into the settings and adjusting. Set sound and graphics, and then head to Gameplay. For this review, I've unchecked "Simplified Targeting," "Order Blockers Automatically," and "Always Use Optional Abilities." These are the options that would probably bug me the most. Another consideration is “Combat Animation,” which will spend up games a fair bit.

"Connection to the servers was lost!"

If your luck is anything like mine, you will be constantly reminded that your connection is lost and to retry. If this happens you could lose progress or not gain coins appropriately, so keep that in mind. Apparently, you can get coins restored by talking to game support, but for 20 coins, this seems like a huge waste of time. This should be a release only issue, but personally, I won't be surprised if it lasts a while.

Overview of Progress:

When you first load the game, you have limited access. You can adjust options and play the first four tutorial levels. The first four tutorials are required and any further are optional. After you go through the tutorials, you have to play through the Gideon campaign, which then unlocks the duel section. Once there, you have to build a deck and, play a solo duel. Finally, at that point, everything is open to you.

Tutorials and tips:

Just a quick note, the first four are required, but the tutorials after that are optional. However, it is worth doing every one. They are all very short and, give 10-20 coins for completing. 

Overall, I think the way Wizards did the tutorials here is actually quite well done. For a new player, there is not information overload and you dive in quickly. Each tutorial comes up as you experience it in the game, so it is not a long slog of tutorials for the experienced player either. The tutorials pause your current game as the mechanic first appears and brings you to the tutorial. It is a pretty smooth transition.

The tips are not very helpful if you are an experienced player and know keywords. If you are still learning magic, the tips can be helpful reminders that can be selectively turned off. However, sometimes the tips come back, even if you turn them off. The suggestions that the game can give widely vary, making them questionable. Wizards should turn them off if for situations where it cannot make a good recommendation. For instance, I would see the suggestion arrow to play a small creature when I have a counter in hand. If I played the creature, I would not have the mana for a counter. The creature would have no impact on the board. I know sometimes the game doesn't know so it doesn't suggest - normally it just points to land, but sometimes it shows nothing if you have landfall.

Story Mode:

If you use captions, good luck reading them. The text is white and the background is often very light or white. So if you want to know what's said, turn on that sound.

A bunch of stuff is locked and you are forced through a tutorial. If you are not relatively new to magic, this is probably going to be annoying. One early note - the game says to drag creatures to attack and block. That's unnecessary in a duel, a single click attacks, and you can click a blocker and then the creature to be blocked without dragging. 

 

The story mode structure itself is pretty much par for the course for duels - you follow a planeswalker through duels that represent story conflicts. This particular time though we get a much better story because there's a clear progression and, even though short, it reveals a good bit of the back-stories for the planeswalkers.

The duels themselves vary widely - some seem practically unlosable (most of the first duels for a character, all of Gideon's) whereas some of the duels can be hard (Liliana's last is fun and can be quite difficult). Some are much more luck driven than most players like (Nissa's first one can be unwinnable - playing mono green against a vampire deck that curves out easily and has plenty of removal). Some give vague or incorrect clues (fighting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as Nissa, and Jace's final stating you cannot beat him through damage - my win came from damage relatively easily). Playing through all of them, if you read and do not set out to rush, is probably going to take a couple of hours. Overall, I enjoyed the story and the duels. I wish there was more duels that were more than just normal magic games.

The duels where something was different were pretty easily the best and most refreshing. Even if you are not into the story, the whole campaign is worth it though, because each completed planeswalker campaign gives a booster worth of coins....

Coins, Boosters, and Money

Coins and Money

Technically, this game is free to play and does not require any money and you are still able to get everything. It will just take a long, long, long time. You get coins for doing various activities: playing the campaign, doing quests, playing in solo or online duels, and completing tutorials. One 'booster' costs 150 coins. There is a fixed amount from the campaign and tutorials. There is a capped daily amount for the duels and quests (200 for duels, and however many quests you complete). So, after completing the fixed rewards, there is a daily amount, which seems to, theoretically, be about a booster and a half worth a day. There are three slots for daily quests, though you only get one a day. If you don't finish one day, it'll be there with another quest the next day. So you only need to do the daily quests on the third day to keep up, as two days of daily quests are stored. To make a full collection - or even get a single set - will take a long time.

Of course, you could spend actual money. Personally, I have no issues with this - Wizards needs to make money and some players are willing to spend the money. The cheapest coins are $1.99 for 150, or a pack. For $39.99, you can get 7500 coins, or 50 boosters (80 cents a booster). Whether that's a good deal is up to you.

Boosters

The 'boosters' are 6 cards, which for any experienced magic player is rather annoying. There are mythic rares. Anecdotally, I opened 11 packs and have yet to get a mythic rare. I think the idea is interesting, but the number of cards versus the time investment is going to make it feel quite grindy. Hopefully, Wizards will adjust with the new sets, but right now, the balance seems off. 

Deck Building

"Pre-builts" - I decided to try this feature, the deck building wizard, and picked the all-out assault. If there is one pre-built that should be at least somewhat close to acceptable, it probably is red white. The feature could be helpful to a new player, but it is also odd. Starting with 14 slots, you have only certain creatures to choose from. That seems reasonable for this purpose. The execution is what is odd. You cannot add all of one copy, and it replaces what you add one at a time. When I got to the second section, that was annoying, as there was only 1 card and 4 slots, so I had to add, then wait, then add, then wait and such. Just an odd experience. Further, using the deck wizard can really limit your options. The 5 you choose from are 5 cards you don’t pick - not random entirely, but not really giving you all the options. As you take 1 from the 5, it is replaced, usually by another copy if you have more; sometimes it is replaced by something new. Sometimes this works out fine, other times the game seems to desperately want you to play 4 Juggernauts. After you chose creatures and spells, the game gives you some number of extra spaces and you select from both creatures and spells to fill in. Of course, you have to use the same method where you chose from 5 cards at a time and hope the game shows you good cards. The game automatically chooses the lands for you, but, luckily, you can adjust those, as the game seems rather bad at selecting reasonable ratios. The wizard could be useful for a new player, though the odd structure may be more confusing than helpful. Otherwise, outside of quests, I don't think the wizard is really that useful. 

Free deck building is what a lot of duels players have been waiting for. While you can build a deck, the actual process is far more annoying than necessary. First, again, you cannot add multiple copies at once, you have to wait for the animation then click again. Next, the filters don't work the way someone would expect. You see that Mana symbol on the filter bar? Think clicking it will filter to show only that color? No, it brings up the filter menu. While not actually that annoying, it just doesn't meet expectations and, it isn't the easiest implementation. Also, I couldn't figure out how to name a free built deck or change its cover, making me have a list of Deck1, Deck2 and such. Either you cannot do it or it is far too obscure. Finally, do not use the auto complete. I haven't seen it work well once. In fact, it has done outright strange things - such as splitting swamps and forests 14/2 when the cards in the deck were evenly split. The auto complete will also add non-lands to the curve. It doesn’t tell you what is added, so it could mess up your deck design. So it doesn't even function well as an auto add land feature. 

So in true Wizards style, players will probably be happy to have deck building in duels despite Wizards implementation and not because of it.

Quests:

This seems relatively straightforward. Accomplish the goal, get some coins. The quests vary, but it seems the most common is winning duels with an "archetype" deck. Helpfully, the game doesn't explain what an archetype deck is. An archetype deck means you have to use deck wizard and not use a freely built deck. I've also seen some other types of quests, such as counter 5 spells. There are a lot of potential options here, even things such as puzzles, or certain circumstances to win. If Wizards utilizes quests well, there is a strong potential for them to add a lot of value and replayability.

Community quests are weeklong quests that have some specific goal. The first I saw was to complete Liliana's final quest 35000 times, and decent progress was made. I don't know if you have to contribute to the quest in order to receive the coins, but I would not be surprised if you have to help to get the coins.

I think the quests are overall a good idea, but still have a way to go. There is room for expansion and, I won't be surprised if Wizards starts giving three quests a day after players realize how long it takes to build a reasonable collection. If Wizards adds some good variety and makes them work as expected, I think the quests will be a pretty strong feature.

Battle Mode:

The solo battles have you face off against an easy, medium, or hard AI and deck. You earn 5, 10, or 15 coins respectively. These are part of the daily cap. I wasn't able to tell from the time I had to play if this cap shared with the versus battles because of the server issues. I have a feeling the solo battles will get very repetitious. Between the limited collections abilities and the limitations of AI decks and strategy, players will probably play games that are similar to the point of boring, given enough time.

The versus battles can be played with friends or against similarly ranked players. The game seems to attempt to find similar level first, and then goes out to other levels. I played against same level and up to a 3 rank difference. If your opponent disconnects or leaves, the game puts an AI in to let you finish the game. You can still earn the coins. The versus battles are where most people will likely find their daily coins. I think overall they will be good and my experience with them was perfectly fine. I did really enjoy the seamless transition when my opponent left so that I could finish the game. I have a concern that the players that stay will be serious and competitive types trying to complete collections and such. This could be problematic if the pool of players is new players and competitive and little between. The ranking system doesn’t have much at the moment other than existing and achievements. There is room for features around this, but we will have to wait and see. For me, each win granted me a rank, but I was new to ranked play. A note for the competitive types: there is no side boarding at this point.

Finally, is two-headed giant matches. Unfortunately, I did not get to play this format as the servers were down more than up when I was able to play. It seems like you can play on a team with a friend, with someone on your local network, or with a random someone. I like having the options available and two-headed giant is a fun format, so I personally look forward to getting a chance to play some 2HG.

Assorted Thoughts:

The game gives a little post win display when you get an achievement, While nifty, it would be nice to see what the achievement was.

There is a lower case i in the corner in a lot of the pop ups. Normally, that means there is extra information. These are not clickable, I'm guessing it's there to tell you that the pop up is providing information. You know, in case the pop up existing didn't inform you.

No discount for bulk buying with coins is kind of annoying, because it's another way to encourage spending money. If you want to spend money, that's fine, the setup is just a little annoying.

Final grade and thoughts:

As Lrrr would say: I am reasonably satisfied with the game we have here. Overall, I would rate it a C+, OK, not great. As a result, we will not destroy your planet. But, neither will we provide you with our recipe for immortality.

Way to overact, Wizards!

Really though, a C+ is about what I would give it. There is a lot of potential. But, as typical of Wizards, the game has many oddities that make it appear as though no one making the game actually used the features. The game does serve its purpose and it is a fine addition to the Duels family. The real gem is the potential, which, hopefully, Wizards does not bungle too much.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or talk to me in MTGO

xger

xger21 on MTGO