In the annual release of the digital card game of the same name, Magic the Gathering 2015 is showing off some new elements, spotlighting their new story, and — as always — boasting some breathtaking art. Because you don’t need to have a friend nearby to enjoy the digital version of the game, Magic 2015’s online play has become popular. Historically players have been confined to creating custom decks from a preset number of cards, allowing only certain decks to be made. This year, thankfully, players have more freedom.
For the single player campaign, again there’s a linear progression, moving from enemy-to-enemy, each with their own specifically built deck. Overall they’re fairly weak, with only the final fight of each area, a Planeswalker, holding any real challenge. Even then, if you maintain and upgrade your own individual deck, you should have no problem moving through the story easily.
The exception is the final battle, where you face off against corrupted Planeswalker Garruk. Dealing with his green deck, mostly minions, isn’t necessarily difficult. The rub here is that Garruk becomes more corrupted after you defeat him once, meaning you have to battle him — and his new green/black deck — a second time. Lose or restart that battle and you’re back to square one, having to start the first battle over again.
It’s extremely frustrating.
Even with booster packs you get after each battle, each with random cards inside to help toward your deck building, you’ll have a tough time with Garruk to finish the campaign. Playing online is far more forgiving, particularly if you’re up against someone who can’t build a deck. There are options to autocomplete your deck too, if you’d rather focus on just a few cards and let the AI fill in the gaps, a feature returning from last year.
And while, year after year, I’ve crowed about having the ability to create a 100% custom deck, the experience still feels a little empty. That’s because one of the best social experiences, card trading, is still absent. I love the ability to craft my own decks, and thankfully boosters are only $1.99 each, but to complete the circle of giving players what they want, trading needs to be introduced.
The interface is new this year as well, opting toward a more noir look with lots of black and white. The battlefield itself is animated during combat, but not in a way that draws your attention away from the cards you’ve played, at least not for long. It’s enough of a change that the game feels different, which is important if you’ve been buying the game every year. You feel like you’re getting something new, not something rehashed and reskinned.
Overall, Magic the Gathering 2015 continues its great showing with another wonderful title. The artwork is stunning, not surprising if you’ve seen the cards they actually appear on, and everything about the game is fluid. You can play it on PC, console, Android or iOS too, though lack of cross-platform play is a little disappointing. If you’ve played Magic in years past and you’re looking to get into it, this is a great way to pick it back up.
Overall score: 8 out of 10