Magic: The Gathering Tactics (PC) Review

Game:Magic: The Gathering - Tactics
Ten Ton Hammer
Ten Ton Hammer Rating
Magic: The Gathering took the gaming world by storm when it was released in 1993. Having powerful spellcasters dueling each other by summoning monsters and casting mystical enchantments led to a great deal of time (not to mention money) spent by me and literally millions of other people. Magic: The Gathering – Tactics adds a tactical element to the original card game. No longer are you playing on a battlefield pictured in your mind, but on a variety of landscapes online battling against human and computer foes.

This tactical landscape adds a new layer to the battle between your planeswalker (your avatar) and either PvE objectives or hostile planeswalkers. Your creatures roam around the battlefield, jockeying for better position; obstacles impede your line-of-sight, not allowing you to get off that crucial Lightning Bolt. How will you adjust your tactics to coincide with the terrain?

With the game launched a few weeks ago by Sony Online Entertainment, how does the game stack up? Is its "free-to-play" model a no-lose proposition or will it serve as a money drain, filling the coffers of the Lord of the Pit? Read on and find out!

Gameplay - 70 / 100

Like its trading card namesake, MTGT is deceptively simple to play. A handful of fully narrated tutorials walk you through the basic steps. The mechanics should be very familiar to players of the card game, with three exceptions. In MTGT, you create a planeswalker, who is a spellcaster who travels throughout the various planes of existence. As you travel and gain knowledge, your power grows, which is represented by your spellbook (your deck in the card game). Your spellbook is composed of creatures that you can summon and spells that you can cast, and there must be a minimum of 40 cards in your spellbook with no more than four of a specific card. There are five colors (red, white, black, blue, and green) representing various universal aspects such as fire, decay, air, etc. With your spellbook, your planeswalker faces his opponents on a physical battlefield, complete with obstacles and varying terrain.

magic the gathering tactics
The initiative bar keeps you up to date on the turn order.
One major differences in Tactics from the original card game are that there is no mana in the spellbook. You automatically generate mana every turn depending upon the color makeup of your spellbook. As the turns progress, you generate more mana every turn. The second exception is that your planeswalker is a physical creature on the battlefield and he has levels. He (or she) can move, cast, and attack on his own (even though you really don’t want him attacking unless you're warding off flyers or enjoying one of a handful of planeswalker damage / health buffs). If your planeswalker goes down, the game is over and you lose. Thus, like the king in chess, you want to protect him at all cost. The third exception is that Tactics introduces skill trees. Once your planeswalker hits level 6, he begins to accumulate talent points that you can spend on the various skill trees. There is a skill tree for every color, but you’re not restricted to which tree you want to use. If you desire, you can re-spec your skills for a small cost.

The game begins when you choose an avatar to represent your planeswalker and a primary color for your spellbook. Then, you’ll be given a starter two-color deck to use. As mentioned above, there is a fully voiced tutorial to walk you through the mechanics of the game. After that, you can play in the solo campaign or face other players.

First, the solo campaign. There is one free solo campaign that consists of five separate chapters. Every chapter you finish, you are rewarded with a "card" and experience. Experience is very important; with experience come levels and with levels come more talent points (and talents are gamechangers, literally). There are four campaigns that you can buy (for $5 each) that also consist of five separate chapters. Once you finish a campaign, you unlock a daily mission that you can use to gain gold and experience.

magic the gathering tactics
The Colossus of Sardia is powerful, but not made for a fast deck.

Overall, I have two opinions of the gameplay. First, the game mechanics are solid and the game is extremely fun…in the beginning. The solo campaigns are well designed and there are a number of different scenarios presented to keep your interest up. It’s not all face an evil planeswalker….wash, rinse, repeat. There are objectives to be fulfilled, and there are times where you won’t face an enemy planeswalker. Controlling your forces is a blast and the UI is laid out quite well. On the left side of the screen is a column showing the turn order of the various creatures and planeswalker on the battlefield. You’re just a mouse click away from seeing what the enemy’s stats and special abilities are. Your available mana is shown on the bottom right. All in all, knowing what is going on is easy to see and navigating is a breeze due to the clean setup.

However, it soon becomes painfully obvious that your starter deck will only take you so far. If you want to fully get past the campaigns and do well against other players, you will have to get your hands on more cards…lots of them. I will discuss this more fully in the Value section, but for now, if you don’t have a good spellbook, you won’t win duels against other players and you won’t be able to complete the campaigns. These are important as you gain virtually all your experience from this. The daily quests only provide 50 experience a pop, while a campaign chapter can give you 20 to 40 times that! If you don’t finish the campaigns and win against other players, you won’t level and get the advantage to be had from the skill trees.

I give the game mechanics a pretty high score of B+, but the fact that you’ll be totally gimped if you don’t spend some cash and beef up your deck really drags the score down.

Graphics - 82 / 100

Assuming you can get into the game (two Ten Ton Hammer staffers are still unable to play MTGT fullscreen due reported yet unresolved graphics issues), the graphics are smooth, suitably detailed, colorful, and bring the spells and creatures in your spellbook to life. The battlefields range from icy vales to deep forests to fiery mountainsides and serve as a colorful backdrop to the magical battles taking place there. The spells all have nice visual effects and the summoned creatures are easily recognizable and well detailed. Each creature has a number of animations (such as attacking, dying, waiting), and while there isn’t a large number of them, they do serve to bring the creatures to life. My favorite is the Embermage Goblin, who has a peg leg and thus hops around the screen. For some reason, that always brings a smile to my face.

My one gripe is that sometimes the boundary of the battlefield isn’t obvious, which can mean that you might make a move that ends up boxing you into a corner and costing you a game.

Sound - 87 / 100

The sound in Tactics is serviceable but not exceptional. On the plus side, MTGT nice background music and excellent voiceover work in the campaign interludes. When you cast a spell, there is an agreeable sound effect accompanying it. Creatures make suitable roaring sounds when attacking, you hear the clash of sword against sword, and the dying party makes a satisfying death rattle.  Just like the graphics, the sound in Tactics is very well done and helps create the right atmosphere. It’s not orchestral, epic, and so atmospheric you're swept into Dominaria, but solid nonetheless.

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