Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 (Xbox One)

Having had played the actual MTG trading card game in the past, and having followed up said experiences with playthroughs of the console video game series my love for what Wizard's of the Coast and Stainless Games has offered has continued to grow over the years. Up to this point I've really loved being able to get back into the game with the Planeswalkers game series. It has afforded me a long lost opportunity since my old MTG gaming pals have all parted ways, and have gone about their own life paths. I cannot tell you how invaluable a game such as MTG 2015 is, especially when you have no one else to teach you the ropes, or to play with. With all that being said though I do have to be honest about some things pertaining to this latest release. This playthrough was not without incident. There were a handful of bugs, and things that hindered my progress in the game's single player campaign, but in the end it could all more than likely be tied to the Xbox One's operating system. Thankfully though I did find solutions to each of the issues, and ended up enjoying the game as much as any version before it.

MTG 2015 takes the series back to it's roots, and beyond with an improved graphical style, and visually impressive story about Garruk Wildspeaker, and his encounter with a possessive Annunaki artifact. Like the box set, and booster pack images the video game screens which precede, and follow the video intro of the previously mentioned plot look very much like the offerings of the MTG 2015 TCG (Trading Card Game). You'll notice immediately upon starting the game up that it sports the mostly black, and white art themes along with hints of color meant to bring the displayed creatures, and Planeswalkers to life. As far as the story goes Garruk, a master hunter, and Planeswalker has fallen victim to an Annunaki mask which he discovered on one of his journeys. One by one Planeswalkers fall victim to Garruk's new blood lust as you (a Planeswalker) try to track him down, and prevent him from becoming a full-on multiverse murderer. As you search for Garruck within the context of the duels, and the animated videos that accompany the experience you will encounter both creature, and planeswalker alike who are out to keep you from progressing in your mission. Whether you overcome the odds stacked against you, or not depends on how well you handle the duels at hand.

In the single player portion of MTG 2015 you will begin by selecting one of three different difficulties (Mage, Archmage, Planeswalker). The "Mage" difficulty is for newcomers with no prior knowledge of the game while "Archmage" is a step above that. The 'Planeswalker' setting, which is the highest in the game is reserved for veteran/master MTG players who don't mind the more lengthy, and trying duel sessions. After picking one of the three options the selecting of the difficulty setting will then be followed up with a mandatory 'Tutorial' mode playthrough in which all the details of gameplay are explained in a hands-on/interactive way as you listen to the audio teachings of the designated female voice actress. As always Stainless Games does good to improve upon their previous tutorial offerings, and makes things easily understandable on a newcomer's level. Anyone who plays through the tutorial should be able to play, and understand the game properly after they are finished, even if it is on a basic level. Once you've passed the final trial/duel of the tutorial, which will test all of your prior knowledge about the game including card types, card functions, and strategies you will be able to choose one pre-constructed deck which will help you to get things going.

The pre-constructed decks are all initially unlocked for your first pick, and include mostly dual colored decks of varying types that take in account different in-game strategies. Some decks are fast paced with smaller creature cards, and powerful spells meant for ridding yourself of your opponent quickly. Others are all about enhancing spells, and mid-range creatures, or powerful creatures that can take down an opponent in one fell swoop. What you choose will depend greatly on what play style you are more comfortable with. For me I chose a white, and green deck with lesser creatures, and enchantments that could build upon my creatures' power points, and defense points. All you need to know is that each deck is named for easy reference, and comes complete with a breakdown of what the deck is all about when it comes to strategy, and card types.

Once you have picked out a deck that best suits you you will be taken on a virtual hands-on tour of the game's 'Custom Deck Creation' mode. As with previous MTG Planeswalkers games you will be able to build a custom deck from scratch, and name it to your liking through some easily applicable steps. It should also be noted that as you unlock pre-constructed decks from your single player campaign playthrough that you will be able to use them as a base for the type of deck you wish to build. By this I mean that outside your initial deck pick there are no fully pre-constructed decks, but only builds based upon those types of decks. As such you'll find as I did that this MTG Planswalkers experience is geared more towards custom deck creation than it ever has been. Not only will you be unlocking pre-constructed deck builds, but you'll also be winning booster packs in campaign wins which will serve to help you make a proper custom deck using a pre-constructed deck as your guide.

As far as deck customization goes Stainless Games has the usual 3 tier format in place. At the top of the deck construction screen you will be able to set your search preferences in regards to such things as color devotion, rarity, a type. By picking options from this menu the appropriate cards will appear in the middle section for your selection, and assignment. The middle section of the deck construction menu is designated for the actual deck building process. The top layer of it will display the cards that you have, and that you have opted for from the previous search portion of the menu. The layer directly below it is where your chosen cards will appear after having been clicked on. The deck construction tutorial does a good job of explaining everything about it's operation, and functions, but it will be up to you to pair your creature and spell cards properly according to the 4 tier rating system (Speed, Power, Control, Synergy). When your deck is built up to your standards you can choose a virtual box cover, and name your deck as you see fit. This particular area in which you perform these steps can also be used as a rating reference when building your deck as it takes in account each card that is chosen, and grades each rating on a five star scale.

Aside from the creature cards, and spell cards (Instants, Aura, Sorcery ...) you'll also find that you'll need to manage the lands which pay for the cost of each card to be used. Land management like creature, and spell card management can be auto-completed in the deck customization menu. Supposing you don't want to be bothered with the meticulous work that goes into building a deck from the ground up you can select a handful of cards that are to your liking, and press "X" which will bring up an option to auto-complete the deck. When this is done the lands required for the use of the automatically completed deck will be automatically completed as well. If you prefer to do the lands manually however you will have to go to the game's settings menu, and uncheck the 'Auto-Complete" option. I found through my own playthrough that it's best to go ahead, and uncheck 'auto-complete' from the start as the CPU management will not always give you the lands you need. Even with this setting off you can still auto-complete the cards, and lands using the "X" button method I mentioned before. All you have to do is select one of each land which coincides with the color of your deck's creature and spell cards, and follow up with an auto-complete. Once everything is set just press "B" to back out, and a menu will pop up in which you can choose an option for saving what you have done. As you continue to play the campaign, and earn more boosters you can continue to construct more decks of different/like colors. Just keep in mind that Wizards, and Stainless Games puts an emphasis on not exceeding a tri-color deck limit even though a rainbow deck might be possible with the 1,000+ booster cards that can be obtained.

When it comes to a campaign playthrough you'll find that there are several planes in place that each house five duels, and an exploration area for booster farming. The planes this time include 'Innistrad', 'Theros', 'Ravnica', 'Shandalar', and Zendikar in that particular order. In each plane you will face themed creature, and planeswalkers decks that tie in with the story that is being told. Upon choosing a duel, whether it be in the random exploration area, or one of the five progressive duels the game will offer up a paragraph or two explaining how that particular duel relates to the plot before placing you in battle. You will begin each plane playthrough with the exploration duels (which are random), and one creature/planeswalker duel unlocked. If you win one of the five main duels the next one in line will be unlocked for you. As you might expect the final, fifth duel will pit you up against a formidable foe, and upon defeating said foe you will unlock access to the next plane. In the end, past all the trying duels it will be you against Garruk in a final stand that will decide the fate of the MTG multiverse. 

As far as multiplayer options go there's nothing really new included. I had expected a new mode, but Wizards, and Stainless games stuck to the basic two, three, and four player formant. The rules therein are basically the same as the campaign duels with the only difference being the number of players involved. Two-player duels, as one can likely figure out are one-on-one encounters between you and another online MTG 2015 player. The three player variant will pit a team of two against a more powerful single player (Maybe?). It's either that, or I could be entirely mistaken, and it's a three player free-for-all. I haven't gotten into a three player duel yet. Sorry guys, and gals. I do know for certain though the the four player variant is in fact a free-for-all experience in which the last player left alive wins. If you are wondering about netcode the game plays well online with little to no lag. It's definitely one of the better online experiences I've had this year.

In the way of stat records, and extras you'll find that your deck usage, and player stats are kept track of in detail, and can be accessed in the "Profile" portion of the main menu. This menu area also houses the usual personas (character avatars) that can be unlocked through various in-game feats as well as titles that can be earned for doing certain things within a duel setting. There's even a multi-tiered "Extras" menu that houses planeswalker (Ajani Goldmane, Chandra Nalaar, Garruk Wildspeaker, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Nissa Revane, Kiora), and planes (Innistrad, Theros, Ravnica, Shandalar, Zendikar, Alara) lore in galleries along with a leaderboard (singleplayer & multiplayer), and video gallery for viewing all the cutscenes that you've encountered. Overall, with every option and mode accounted for this game is definitely up to par with other games in the series, and still harbors the immense replay value that the series has always had. Graphically, and functionally it lives up to it's new-gen standings.

The Verdict ...

Past all the bugs that I encountered (and there were quite a few) I really enjoyed my playthrough of MTG 2015. It's a graphic improvement over 2014's console release, and does good in pushing the deck building agenda. I particularly liked the card selection this time around, and the fact that booster pack earnings weren't so limited. The character, and planes lore included in the "Extras" section also made this game a more complete experience. In the way of bad things the bugs that I encountered were pretty harsh, and included a saved file glitch that would not allow me to save past a certain point as well as a screen freeze that would happen on occasion during some playthroughs. To remedy the saved data glitch I had to delete local saved game data via the Xbox One's dashboard menu. The freezing on the other hand seems to have straightened out, and could likely be attributed to my Xbox One not being updated at the time. I should also mention the fact that the auto-land option in the settings menu was not doing it's job when I was initially building my custom decks. To overcome this hurdle I had to uncheck the "auto-land" option, and use auto-complete in the deck building menu. It's one of my lesser complaints with the game, and one that is easy to fix.

As far as a verdict goes this game gets the official OtakuDante seal of approval. Before you say WTF!?, and what about all those bugs I have to say that they could all be tied to the console not being up to date as everything seems to be working fine now. Xbox One gaming, through my personal experience has been a buggy one. The only thing I can fault the developer with is the auto-land feature, which once again does not really compromise gameplay, or deck building. If you are a MTG fan, or a MTG newcomer I think you'll enjoy it!

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