Developer: Pipeworks Studios and Seismic Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast LLC
After having played Magic Spellslingers, the new Magic: The Gathering video game, I'm not quite sure what this adds to the whole brand. I actually began an outline of my experience piece by piece, going from plot to mechanics to other areas, but it soon became apparent by playing through that it may require a different touch. So, to that end, here is my playing experience in order.
After downloading the game from the Steam store, I started up the game and immediately had to go through the tutorial. Tutorials are to the video game industry that avocado peelers are to the kitchen. Very few people need them, and once you use it, you will probably never need it again in the near future. However, they made this part unskippable even though it was all very intuitive, and (and this will come up a lot), was just like Hearthstone.
It was, like, a 10-15 minute tutorial on how to play Magic but with an extra step or two. I wasn't mad, just disappointed.
Also, not so great early on was Planeswalker selection. There are 16 to choose from, but you get stuck as Chandra with her 30 card deck early on, which wasn't great. I switched as soon as I could because you have to unlock them first which is....sad. I mean, here is this big and shiny new game and most of the content is locked.
All 16 have special spellslinging abilities, unique cards, and unique decks. If that sounds familiar, just replace spellslinging with hero power and you pretty much have it.
As I began playing, and hating Chandra more and more (you get a second planeswalker after the tutorial, so it isn't as bad as it sounds), I finally began playing and...it was like Magic, but less. You can only have five creatures out at once, you get these weird trap cards instead of instants, and, well, spells are spells.
But not everything is from the card game. The more I played, the more I realized that they used Hearthstone as a baseline, shuffled in a few things like mechanics from Magic and Magic Online, and only added a few unique things. One was permanent damage which you will either love very much or hate with a passion.
It's at this point the game took a huge turn from "free" to "free-to-play". Wins usually generated cards, and packs came from completing challenges. But the game isn't shy about you being able to purchase them. Which, I get, a lot of games do something like this now. And the addictiveness of the game really wanted me to buy some to move up fast. But by the time this started getting annoying, I had switched out Chandra (although I would have paid to relock her if that was an option.
Seriously, the game made me hate the character this much, and I kinda liked her before this), so it wasn't much of an issue.
I didn't really experience any problems with the game, although after an hour in my computer started complaining and slowing it down a bit for me. Oh, and also you can join teams, but I didn't bother to. In fact, most people I encountered didn't join one. No one seems to want this, even though there are benefits like resource sharing.
By the time I saw leagues and events, it hit me that this is the same system used by other free to play games on Facebook and the like. It's all put in to hook you in, and to their credit, it works. Part of my brain was telling me that they wanted my money, and the other part kept saying to do it. By the time I decided to get out and write the review, about three hours in, I started noticing that other players were routinely much more powerful than me, likely due to the pay-to-win structure.
In the end, the meat and bones is kind of Magic, but it's pretty obvious that this is a slightly upgraded Hearthstone aimed for tablet and mobile users.
Magic Arena and Hearthstone do it better.
There are some unique aspects and the visuals are pretty cool, but it falls way short of where it should be. If there was solo content and a flat fee instead of it being free to play, this might have some staying power. But as is, they aimed for a home run but simply got a pop up.
It's worth a play, sure. Just don't have high expectations.