I remember being a 15 year old eagerly playing the original Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers game on my parents Windows '95 machine and loving it. I loved exploring the rogue plane of Shandalar, dueling against beasts and powerful wizards, and doing it with cards such as Prodigal Sorcerer, Rainbow Knights, and the fabled "Power Nine".
Move ahead some 16 years and we have the recent release of Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers which features more recent cards from Innestrad, Theros, and the new Magic 2015 core set. While it's still a Magic: The Gathering video game, much like the other annual DotP editions in recent memory, it simply doesn't have that same "magic" of the original.
Let's start with the good:
At it's core, playing Duels is still playing a digital form of the Magic: The Gathering card game (albeit usually against AI opponents). To that end, all of the mechanics are solidly implemented and the game (though not perfect due to annoying nonactive-player timers), visually, looks pretty darn good; as good as a digital version of a card game can get, as it were. Also, those who buy the game get a voucher for a free six-card pack of actual Magic cards that can be redeemed at their local gaming shop.
There is also a new feature to 2015 that players have been screaming for, and it's one that hasn't been around in video game magic since (as far as I can tell) the 1997 original MicroProse game: a functional deck building interface.
While quite bland in appearance and not exactly as user-friendly as some might like, at least the option to custom build a deck from the ground up is once again an option. Taking from your current inventory of in-game Magic cards (you earn new cards by winning battles or buying them - more on the latter later), players can piece together their own decks card-by-card. There is also the option to allow the game's AI to build one around specific cards if the player so chooses. The one large downside of this, however, is that most of the halfway-decent to good cards aren't available for quite some time into the game, so players are forced to be content with underwhelming cards, decks, and having the odds stacked against them as they grind monotonously through much of the game.
Now on to the bad:
If you're familiar with the saying concerning the difference between a barrel of wine with a piece of you-know-what in it and a barrel of you-know-what with a splash of wine, that pretty much sums up what's wrong with this game.
While most of the complaints are fairly minor - grinding gameplay, underpowered cards and decks for much of the game, in-match timers, etc. - there is one huge one that absolutely ruins things, and that's the sheer amount of blatant, in-your-face, cash-grabbing, unnecessary microtransactions that bring the digital game TOO CLOSE to its real-life counterpart.
Would you like to avoid grinding against AI opponents with your underpowered, overmatched deck? Whip out your credit card. Would you like to unlock all of the available in-game cards from any one of the represented sets? That'll be five bucks, please.
In short, the game encourages players not only to pay to win in a game for which they've already shelled out ten bucks, but also do so for digital cards that are literally worthless. Unlike the real-life CCG in which cards are bough typically 15 at a time in what's known as booster packs, there is no secondary market. Digital cards within DotP cannot be traded. They cannot be sold. They cannot be given to the little boy down the street so he can learn to play or to the Salvation Army so they can be sold at a thrift shop to raise money to shelter the homeless. No; their only purpose outside of the game is to generate more and more "free" money for Wizards of the Coast.
WotC, I like you. I really do. But seriously!
When it comes down to it, Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers is simply a retrofitted and updated edition of the last few DotP games riddled with frustrating play thanks to a grindingly slow pace that is backed with an insulting amount of unnecessary microtransactions designed to drain its players' wallets. The only recommendation to be made about it is to recommend folks to stay away.
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Developer: Stainless Games
Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android
Rating: T for Teen
Score: 1.5 out of 4