My initial thoughts for the game are extremely positive. I am a Magic player from way, WAY back, first beginning to play when the game was just a few months old. Several thousand dollars, a Pro Tour invitation, and five years later, I quit playing Magic competitively. Every once in a while, my buddies and I get together to shoot the bull and play Magic, and I taught my oldest son to play paper Magic and Magic Online, but that's pretty much it. The problem with Magic is the overwhelming financial expenditure the game requires to keep competitive. Hundreds if not thousands can be spent obtaining the rare, powerful cards needed to play at the highest level.
Duels of the Planeswalkers changes all that. Once a player beats the single player campaign, all of the decks are unlocked for use. Up to 15 cards can be unlocked for a particular deck by defeating (and redefeating) the campaign opponents. Other than that, there is no collectible aspect to the game. This level playing field is quite unique to this version of Magic, and is by far the game's single biggest strength. On the other hand, building your own deck from cards you own is very fulfilling, and is a large part of paper Magic that doesn't really exist in Duels of the Planeswalkers. To me, it is worth the trade off, but longtime Magic veterans may be put off by the lack of deck customization.
As Kat stated, Magic lends itself well to co-op. You'll be working together to maximize your spells and creatures in no time. There are some really strong combinations between the decks. For example, the deck based around elves is extremely fast and can kill quickly, for example, but a few well placed spells will bring the sylvan army to its knees. If your co-op partner plays the blue deck, full of counterspells, to stop your opponents' tricks, the elves can quickly mop up the table. This is just one example of decks that play to each others' strengths and weaknesses in co-op. Unfortunately, the AI features some of these tough matchups as well!
The most glaring omission in Duels of the Planeswalkers' co-op is the fact that it's limited to local co-op only. I am a huge fan of local co-op, to be sure, and it's handled well in the game. But the lack of online co-op is baffling, and as far as I can tell, the only online options are 1 on 1 duels, or 4 player free for alls. Considering the co-op campaign is just as long as the single player campaign, I just don't understand why co-op was ignored online. They really could have had something great here, but clearly the designer's desired long term replay factor for the game is competitive duels online.
While the local co-op is great fun, there is one nagging issue that really detracts from the experience. Decks are unlocked only by playing the single player campaign. This is all tied to the gamertag, so if your couch co-op buddy wants to play more than the two initial decks, they have to play single player on their own. It would have been far simpler to tie it to the console, or allow decks to be shared between players at least.
Duels of the Planeswalkers is a great game, of that there is no doubt. It will be particularly appealing to lapsed Magic junkies, or more casual fans who want to dip their foot in the Magic pool from time to time. The co-op campaign is quite fun, but the lack of online co-op is quite disappointing.
The Co-Op Experience: Team up against the AI in the Co-Op Campaign.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.