I've been a big fan of the Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers games for some years now. So I was very interested in the demo of the all-new Magic Duels Origins shown at this year's GDC that features a whole new direction for the franchise.
This time out, the series is moving to a more ongoing status, where the game essentially becomes a permanent Magic the Gathering client, and new card blocks will be added to represent an ever-growing collection. This is a huge step forward from the yearly standalone updates we've seen previously, and to me it's an exciting move for the game.
Set for release this July for Xbox One, PS4, iOS and PC, the first installment will feature the upcoming Origins set – a new 272-card standalone block that features five new transforming legends. Players will start with 10 two-color decks, and can earn extra cards by winning games in typical MTG style. It's free to download, and the entire game can be unlocked simply by playing it. However, those who want to play with a full set of cards immediately can buy them at a premium.
What's interesting this time out is that the MTG team is putting accessibility to the fore, and Magic Duels Origins includes a very detailed tutorial that teaches you the game through a series of situational tips that occur while playing. So, for example, the first time you play a flying character, the game will pause and drop into a mini-tutorial that not only explains what flying characters are, but also gives you a puzzle to solve involving the flying mechanics. It's a neat touch – which obviously veterans to the series can turn off – that really helps explain the intricacies of Magic the Gathering in a practical sense.
The game features plenty of these kinds of tutorials, and essentially beginners can jump right in and play the game without really knowing what they're doing and learn on the fly – a very smart way of doing things.
Similarly, deck building is also simplified for beginners, and the game will create and customize decks based on a series of parameters and colors. These decks can then be taken by the user and customized further once they have a better understanding of the game and the deck's subtleties.
Of course, experts can build decks from the ground up, or simply use the customizing process as a randomizer to play around with different deck concepts to see what cards might be recommended by the system for different strategic deck types. This same system is used by the game to generate decks to challenge the player. In previous editions, the AI had a set of fixed decks, but now it will be a lot more difficult to predict what kind of cards the AI opponent might have up its sleeve, as it'll change the deck around depending on the circumstances of the game.
As well as the AI offering a more diverse set of challenges, multiplayer mode has also been boosted. To that end Magic Duels Origins delivers an expanded multiplayer online selection of choices, including Two-Headed Giant. This mode pits two pairs of players against one another as individual teams. Both players on each team share the same life total, and take turns as they fight the enemy.
So far, Magic Duels Origins is sounding very interesting indeed. Watch out for our review in July to see whether it delivers everything it promises.