To get straight to the point, Magic the Gathering is a game that has always been plagued with a few issues. Learning to play can be exhaustive, memorizing the games years worth of rules can be very demanding and collecting the right cards is an expensive task. Wizard of the Coast released Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers in hope of solving many of these issues. They introduced trading deck customization and card purchasing for pre-generated theme decks that would (hopefully) appeal to a wide variety of players. The result? Something dangerously fun and addictive.
The best part about Duels of the Planswalkers is how it completely removes the restrictions normally imposed on players just getting into Magic the Gathering. A very simple and very informative tutorial guides players through the basics of the game (or can be completely skipped by the experienced gamer), while at the same time showing how strategies are laid out. The result accomplishes in digital form what the game itself can sometimes fail to do in its tangible-card format. It teaches the game easily, and lets players compete on a fair level.
The decks are broken down into colors, and then broken down once again into play styles. Each of the colors that appear in the card game (white, black, green, blue, red) are represented by their general purpose. For example, green has large creatures which can be buffed to do increased amounts of damage while white is all about smaller creatures, self healing, and general preservation. The balance of offensive and defensive decks means that every style of gameplay is represented fairly, and considering how much money each deck would cost (both in time and finance) the digital format is a pretty significant bargain.
The game also features a few multicolored decks, which while they can be an acquired taste, offer a little bit of differentiation from the standard single color decks. They allow players who've mastered a particular style of play to branch out and learn more complex strategies. Unfortunately here is around the time where the game's greater issues come into play, as some of the decks have far more synergy than others. It isn't a particular issue for those who simply enjoy the solo campaign, however anyone playing online may find themselves at the mercy of their deck's limitations. Though Duels of the Planeswalkers places players on the most even grounds conceivable, Magic has been, and always will be, a game about playing the odds. Going up against a deck that is inherently stronger than the one chosen can be rough, but as the game expands and continues to add more variety there should be a bit more balance.
The controls are simple, as the entire game can be navigated by the keyboard or mouse. Cards can be clicked to be put into play, hands can be scrolled over, and the menu allows players to view the playing field from a few different angles (for personal preference). Players also have the ability to unlock new cards as they gain successive victories with a used deck, which can be added (or subtracted) from a deck as they please. The only thing the game is really missing is a way to create and customize a deck from scratch, but in the interest of balancing the game it's understandable why only expandable pre-constructed decks are available.
There's not much to say about the game graphically that would really sway any minds. The cards look very similar to a card, and cute/dramatic sound effects play whenever any spell is cast. There's a single song that plays obnoxiously throughout any duel, but it can be turned off (or mentally tuned out). The art on the cards looks great however, and much of the style that Magic the Gathering is known for shines through very well.
Overall the game can be a bit of a love/hate relationship, depending on what kind of gamer you are. Anyone who's ever considered playing Magic, but never had the time or money to invest into learning the rules should definitely play it. The game will not disappoint, that much is sure. Experienced players who play the game in its physical form may get a different experience, as it's fun to attempt the challenges and unlock new cards, but not being able to customize a deck is a little disappointing. In the end however, Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers is a game that takes the best parts of its real counterpart and brings it into an extremely fun package.