By: Jeff Cater
Doing away with Core sets altogether in favor of enriched blocks, Wizards of The Coast has kicked off the latest spin on their infamous card game with Magic Duels: Origins. In Origins, players explore the steps each of our favorite Planeswalkers strode upon to bring them to their current state of immense power. Plus, it’s free to play and, just as important, you don’t have to spend a dime to amass a great and powerful collection!
When you start the game you’re prompted to pick how experienced you are at the workings of Magic: The Gathering. If you’re a new player, a very thorough and fully-voiced tutorial will set you on the right path. To select a card, you use the left stick to highlight cards that can be currently manipulated by you. If you use the right stick, you can highlight and then examine your opponent’s cards.
Pressing A will select a card or action, and X can pause a turn at any time so you can potentially gather your bearings during a particularly rough turn or cast an Instant spell. It all works very well and every action is clear and concise.
If there is one thing that even people who don’t play know about Magic is that the card art is fantastic and full of secrets for lore junkies. Each card can be easily examined for its art as well as the effects of the card. The battlefield is a 3D isometric table skewed to the player’s perspective, which can make it a tad difficult to recognize some of your opponent’s cards, especially during four-player games — then again, that’s what that right stick is there for.
The music bed of Magic Duels: Origins isn’t anything too special but serves its purpose just fine. The spoken dialogue during the tutorial and other various parts of the game are very well done and fit their personas perfectly. Each individual creature also has its own battle noise, whether it’s the slobbery growl of a wolf or a shield-shattering hammer swing from an Orc.
At its core, this is the same game it’s been since 1993 in terms of function: draw seven cards, set your life counter to 20 and get your opponent’s life total to zero. What is different is the atmosphere and direction the series is beginning to head, following the story of the most popular Planeswalkers, including Jace Beleren, the Mage of The Mind, and Liliana Vess, the Priestess of the Damned and Forsaken.
The story mode has you battle as these heroes and against them in their various encounters among the multiverse. It’s narrated well and also allows you to unlock powerful cards that you can inject later into a custom deck using the Deck Editor. Also returning valiantly is the Two-Headed Giant mode, which pits four players in teams of two versus each other while they share a life total.
Every card in the game can be unlocked by playing and leveling up your decks, or you can opt to pay-in and get cards immediately. The amount of wins and matches you have to play in order to obtain booster packs of cards isn’t necessarily all that steep, and players that choose to play the game completely free of transactions can, with time, assemble a legitimately badass deck.
If you look at it a certain way, digital offerings of Magic: The Gathering are almost identical to the real, physical game. By that I mean that technically they’re both free-to-play (borrowing cards) and you can earn cards by paying very little to nothing a lot of the time. I’m not sure which wall needs to be knocked down to complete the experience, but Wizards are steadily approaching that point.