Magic Duels: Origins is the latest in the series of Magic: The Gathering digital games. It’s the inevitable progression of the yearly Duels of The Planeswalkers series.Origins will now act as DoTP’s replacement. Origins is definitely a new experience. Being a Free-To-Play game which promises regular free updates, it eschews the paid DLC and Pay-to-Play of the previous Duels series.
As of writing, Origins is available via PC, Xbox One, and iOS.
The game includes multiple modes as primary draws for new players of Magic: The Gathering. The Campaign mode takes players through a series of sequential duels meant both to teach the player game mechanics and to tell the story of the franchise’s Planeswalkers. Jace, Chandra, and more will be featured in this mode. As the player wins matches, their decks will evolve and new cards will be added to their overall collection. While none of these will amount to fantastic storytelling, I still enjoyed going back through and seeing it. The animated movies bookending these campaigns has a cartoon quality reminiscent of the cards and while it is fairly simple stuff, it gets the job done.
This is where the first of the arguable flaws makes it’s appearance. The primary means of acquiring new cards is by buying booster packs with coins earned in several ways. Once the player clears a campaign, they are awarded no new coins or cards. This means players must then farm either AI or online battles for more coins. This is rather slow going, a single easy AI duel only grants 5 coins on victory. This limit means that newer players with fewer powerful cards will have issues with competing in the other modes.
Players are granted a starter pack of cards that they can build a few basic decks out of. But again, these cards are weak both against AI and human competition. Players might find it hard to farm enough coins to get new cards. Daily quests and other achievements that can grant one-time coin bonuses help, but it just doesn’t feel like enough.
The online battle modes take the form of both 1v1 duels and Two-Headed Giant 2v2 duels. The online battles allow players to take on both strangers and friends in these various modes. The fun of playing MTG is doing so with friends, right?
Origins seems to want to make It hard to do just that. There is no way to chat with your opponent, and a lot of the meta tactics revolving around delaying to try and trick opponents is no longer there.
There are bigger issues with Origins, and those problems center on the monetization model and overall intention of the game. It’s clear why only portions of the paper sets are included in the game. It’s also obvious why the game is being pushed heavily in the favor of Pay-to-Win. The game is designed as a learning tool that is meant to push players into buying the paper game sets.
Origins does a decent job of teaching the game, but the lack of depth and long-term engagement may end up hurting player enjoyment for some. The game may be free at first, but I’m of the opinion that it isn’t really free unless you want to spend hours farming coins.
The game at launch on PC had tons of issues with connectivity and progress being saved, but most of those appear to have been fixed. The art and presentation are solid, and the UI is logical; this combines to make it easy for even brand new players to get the hang of the game. Tutorial systems are intuitive enough to slowly introduce new mechanics over time. The game includes skill challenges meant to ensure players master new mechanics easily.
Magic Duels: Origins is a decent package, but for some the flaws of the model may kill the experience.