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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.