Reviewed: October 29, 2003
Released: July, 2003
Unless youíve been living under a rock for the last ten years, you know what Magic: The Gathering is, and since the online version comes with plenty of different instruction manuals, tutorials, and what have you I wonít bore you all with the rules of the game. You have cards, you cast spells, you know the drill.
The present incarnation, Magic: The Gathering Online 2.0 is probably one of the few really good online gaming concepts. You can play as often as you like, you have permanent online statistics and inventory, and you do not have to spend your life in an electronically rendered dreamscape to be good at it (not that thereís anything wrong with that, just ask your girlfriend).
Magic Online features all the cards from the following Magic: The Gathering product releases - Seventh Edition, Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse, Odyssey, Torment, and all expansions and base sets moving forward.
Additonal Online Game Features:
If youíve ever played a board or card game on the computer then you know pretty much what to expect here. You have everything in the real world, just digitally rendered. So you really have no intense combat controls, frustrating jumping puzzles, or anything of that nature. You just point and click, unless of course you actually want to talk to your opponent, in which case you have to type, with your fingers!
So thereís nothing complicated to the controls. Despite that however, and despite the overabundance of tutorials, instruction manuals, and rulebooks they can still screw up a simple thing. There are a few interface issues, mostly with peripheral options (undoing moves during a game and the whole trading interface to name the more prominent and problem causing ones) that they do not tell you how to operate in all the aforementioned materials. It is stuff that can be cleared up by talking to folks already playing, and trust me thereís a lot, but youíd think that it could have been taken care of by the company.
I am getting a little ahead of myself here. See, Magic, the card game, isnít based on a simple deck of fifty-two cards. It is a game where you build your own decks and play them against other peopleís decks. The more cards you have the better your deck and the more likely your chances of winning. Unfortunately buying the online version doesnít give you the ability to circumvent the whole Magic gold mining operation. Now, instead of buying actual cards, that you can hold in your hand and lay on the table with a satisfying (though profit ruining) snap, you buy electronic cards. So if you like using that credit card you can spend a whole lot of electronic money to buy a whole bunch of electronic cards to play against all of your electronic friends.
Magic Online 2.0 features a completely redesigned interface with options for new and experienced players. The designers have added an artificial intelligence (AI) to the gameís tutorial, and skill-building options that take players beyond the basic concepts of the Magic game, such as strategies for building a powerful deck with which to battle opponents. An expanded observation feature enables players to post their games for others to watch Ė a great way to learn how to play or improve your Magic skills. Players can also now acquire and trade the gameís avatars, and Wizards is expanding the number of tournament formats with new team tournaments for new players and a premier events room for the highest-level of competition.
Magic has always stood partially on the raw playability of the game, and partially on the excellence of the artists who have provided the illustrations on the cards. Magic: Online is no different; it just has a few other features, like an avatar for you sitting at table and various backgrounds to play your cards on.
The biggest complaint I have here is that the resolution on the cards is at best grainy and all other times, just too small. If you get the card big enough to read the text on the screen, then the all the artwork looks something vaguely like Matisse, but if itís small enough to see the picture crisply the text is unreadable and it looks like you have a 10-inch monitor to play on. I would have thought that the cards being such an important part of the game that the folks at Wizards would have tried to get it right.
The opening cinematic is another chink in the armor. It looks like something that would have been about average on a PSOne. Um, guys, there is a whole computer here, please feel free to make it expend some sort of effort. Fortunately it can be skipped.
As for the actual cards themselves, when you do get a good look at them the art is what you would expect from Magic. While they arenít quite the collection of horrors you might find in Yu-Gi-Oh!, well you might be surprised with what could pop out of the deck, (My particular favorite from back in the day was the Lurgyoff- I think thatís the right spelling) especially if you find a few of the nastier black monsters.
The avatars that I mentioned earlier are fairly simple constructions, but many are interesting, especially if you manage to get a good ranking and unlock some of the more unique ones. I however am still stuck with a lowly goblin, and Iíd whine, but I like the little snot rag.
Ummm, there really isnít any sound to speak of. No music at least. There are sound effects here and there, a roar of attack, life points draining, and spell effects, etc. I canít say theyíre anything special, but they do fit, and Iíve heard worse. Itís not that theyíre bad, but theyíre not good either.
Here is one of the reasons that Wizards of the Coast is a brilliant company. You buy a starter deck of Magic: 8th Edition and the online version comes with it. Now you have one of the most important decisions of your life: are you going to play Magic online, or are you going to play against your friends in real life? Why is this so important? You have to buy cards either way you want to play, and in order to get the cards you want that usually means that you have to buy a LOT of cards. Doing it twice is well nigh ridiculous.
However you choose to play the game, it is up to you how much you want to play. If you want to beat a lot of heads, you have to spend a lot of money, but if you just want to play around then you donít have to do much more than hang out in the training room and play with the ready made decks. There is a lot of replay in this game, but to really enjoy it, and more importantly to advance, you have to keep spending money.
If you like Magic: The Gathering, you canít go wrong here. There are plenty of extras and features to fool around with, and if youíre really into it then youíll be more than happy. Also for those of you noobs it does an excellent job of sorting cards, assisting to build decks, and letting you know what kind of cards you have. So itís worth a nibble no matter what your preference, and youíre only out a little bit if you donít want keep up.
Existing players will be able to upgrade to Magic Online 2.0 just by connecting to the game server after launch. Players existing card collections will remain intact. New players will be able to download the game software for free at www.magicthegathering.com or purchase a Magic Online 2.0 CD-ROM at retail. The retail version will come with an extensive manual and player-friendly rulebook for online play, and two decks of physical Magic cards Ė offering players the option to play tabletop too.
Editorial Note: Wizards of the Coast published a "State of the Game" release just as this review was being posted. This press release explains the current status of the new Version 2.0 game and can be read here.