Each summer, I look forward to not only the release of the new Magic the Gathering core set for the actual trading card game, but also the annual launch of Stainless Games’ video game version. Each year their offerings get closer and closer to replicating the real feel of the actual card game. This year I was especially excited as the promotion for the game advertised the debut of the series on the next generation of platforms, at least on the Xbox One. The June launch of the game came and went and the Xbox One version was nowhere to be found.
It turns out that the Xbox One iteration needed a few more months to bake in the proverbial development-oven. Now that the holidays are here, so is the next gen debut for the series. The Xbox One version of the game launched last month and brings with it all of the new features and options of the game, including the long awaited debut of true deck building. However, it seems that even though we have finally gotten what we have wanted from the start of the series, it has come at a very steep cost.
On the surface, Magic 2015 looks very true-to-form with the past four iterations of the franchise. Stainless has continued in the tradition of utilizing an extremely sleek and simple interface. The art style follows right in line with the 2015 Core Set, which has a focus on the traditionally dark, gothic artwork with neon highlights. The contrast between the two looks really good and is very unique. It plays exactly the same as all of the other games, with a couple of new mechanics introduced with the newer cards, but they are all explained in crystal clear fashion within the game’s forced tutorial mode.
This tutorial mode of the game is a study in dichotomy. On one hand, it is one of the most thorough and educational explanations of Magic the Gathering that I have seen. I am constantly searching the internet and literature for easy ways to explain the game of Magic to friends and family; nothing ever comes close to the manner in which Stainless addresses the topic. On the other hand, being a seasoned player of the game, the fact that you can’t skip through the tutorial is extremely annoying. You are forced to play all of the way through it which can be a bit monotonous. This really needs to be made optional in the future.
Completing the tutorial opens up the game’s main, and really only, mode aside from multiplayer, which is the game’s biggest problem (we’ll discuss that further in a few minutes). For solo players, there are a variety of missions that have you exploring different planes in the Magic universe. Each of them corresponds with a card set that is featured in the game, including Theros, Shandalar, Alara, and Innistrad, among others. As you beat a level, or plane, then the next one opens up. There is an attempt to weave a little bit of lore and story into the experience but it never gets deep enough to suck you in like some of the previous campaigns have in the past. However, the gameplay is as solid as ever and remains the biggest draw of the series.
Other than playing through the solo missions, the only other option in the game is multiplayer, however we are talking about multiplayer in its most basic sense. You can play against other players online but only in basic 1-on-1 matches. All of the various game options available in the past are nowhere to be found. There is no 2-Headed Giant. No Archenemy. No Planechase. It is you and one other person battling it out in the most basic sense. This really makes the experience little to no different from the single player mode. Even the franchise’s infamous puzzle mode, which challenges your Magic-problem-solving abilities, has been dropped. As a result, some players may get bored with the experience rather quickly because there isn’t a lot of variety in the mode options.
Even though there has been a ton of stuff removed from the game, mainly in gameplay options, Stainless has finally added the one thing that fans have been begging for since the first game launched back in 2010: true deck building. Each match that you win, be it in the campaign or multiplayer, earns you packs of cards that can be added to your collection to construct your own decks. It takes the game a little while before this becomes a viable feature, since you need to earn a varied collection in order to construct an efficient deck, but once it does the game becomes a whole new experience. We are talking about true deck building, with absolutely no limitations on which cards you can pick and use. You start with a completely blank slate and get to select any card that you have unlocked to construct your dream decks. There are quite a few cards in the game, considering that the roster draws from seven different sets. This is exactly what we, as fans, have been waiting for, and it has been nailed perfectly in the game.
As for criticisms, there are a few that I simply can’t ignore. Gameplay wise, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about. Stainless has nailed the experience and feel of the game, with manual mana tapping and everything. The problem is the game’s lack of modes; this really hurts the long term experience of the game. The game desperately needs some variety in terms of the games that you can play both with the computer and with other players online. The existence of true deck building makes it a little more tolerable since you will see and face a wide variety of decks, especially online. The Xbox One version, surprisingly, runs into a few hiccups in performance as well. I was expecting a super-smooth experience with Microsoft’s powerful system, but the game repeatedly stutters during the combat and spell animations. It runs a lot smoother on my Nexus 7 tablet, honestly. As a huge fan of Magic, it is still a lot of fun to play, despite these issues.
While it may come across as a bare bones package, I still thoroughly enjoy Magic 2015. I love the deck building and don’t even mind the grinding required for building up my card collection. The Xbox One version has the benefit of launching with all of the updates that the other versions have received since their launch in June, many of which addressed a lot of players concerns with the original release. All of the cards are now available in the game and the microtransactions have been toned back quite a bit (namely the ability to purchase card packs). Once again, I find myself satisfied with what we got but still incredibly hopeful for a little bit more next year. If we can just take everything they have done so far and combine it into one big game, then they will have what is without a doubt the best digital iteration of Magic the Gathering available.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.