Last year's Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers was an unforeseen success for Wizards of the Coast and developer Stainless Games. Planeswalkers 2012 is an attempt to capitalize on that newfound audience and bring them into the tangible Magic: the Gathering TCG fold -- a goal it ambitiously reaches for with improvements to last year's model, such as a more robust campaign, and more cunning AI -- a much-needed fix for the previous game's pushoverable foes.

Another key feature is, of course, the addition of more modern cards that will release as part of the 2012 Magic: the Gathering core set. Yes, even in the virtual world, you can't avoid the good old fashioned (and costly!) pattern of trading card game iteration.
Planeswalkers 2012 is composed of three core campaigns: A standard path of one-on-one duels with AI opponents whose decks you unlock with each victory, a "Revenge" mode in which said opponents have even beefier decks and an entirely new gametype, Archenemy. In this mode, three players are pitted against an overpowered opponent; a fun mix on the traditional Magic formula. It's a variation that's perfect for the TCG's video game adaptation -- it's not always easy to find three other friends to play some Archenemy in the real.

The online portion of the game has received really only one notable improvement: You can now play the game's Two-Headed Giant mode online. In the original, you could only play the frantic two-on-two matches locally -- being able to do so without being within punching distance of one another makes the co-op experience a much more accessible (and safe!) way to play.

For many, the inability to import any cards or decks from the previous game is likely going to be the sequel's biggest drawback. It's disappointing, not only because of all the hours returning players assumedly spent grinding for cards in the first game, but also because some of the new decks lack the punch of their O.G. counterparts. What good is the ability to almost completely customize my decks if it's simply not a fun deck to use, or is far less competitive than it was in the last game?

That qualm aside, it's refreshing to see the new ability to customize decks, a feature the community clamored for in the original game. While some may take issue with the inability to tweak land count, being able to tweak just about everything else is a vast improvement over the last game, in which tweakability was an afterthought. There's one catch: You can only customize the deck with its own expansion set of 16 cards. For example, if you're trying to tweak the game's basic white deck, you can't pull in white equipment or artifact cards from other decks. Considering the basic white deck has fewer equipment cards than it did after Expansion Three was released for the original game, that fact is a bit upsetting.

Also, though the AI as a whole has seen a major improvement, you'll find your computerized cohorts intolerable should you play through the Archenemy campaign by your lonesome. If you've got some Magic-playing friends, plowing through that mode in co-op is absolutely the way to go. You can't imagine how incredibly frustrating it is when you wish the AI would just play that one card that would ensure the win -- and then it doesn't.

It's small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, however. Stainless Games has improved on the previous game in almost every way: There's way more content, a slicker interface and even more cards to tamper around with. The only real disappointment is losing all of those hours spent in the previous game, and the earlier edition decks it offered. With all of the expansions, the game offered much more variety -- something I don't doubt will eventually happen in Planeswalkers 2012 -- but for a card game that's designed to encourage customization and coming up with your own strategy, not having that from the outset is a slight disappointment.

For those who tore through the last game and are hungry for more, the inclusion of Archenemy, an online Two-Headed Giant mode and some new cards to play with are features worth the price of admission. However, if you're only interested in the odd game of Magic here and there, the first game will suit your needs just fine. It boils down from what you want from Wizards' timeless TCG franchise: With all of its expansion packs, the first game has greater card variety; but if you're looking for some innovative changes to the classic gameplay formula, Planeswalkers 2012 deserves your attention.


This review is based on a Steam review copy of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 for PC provided by Wizards of the Coast.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

Steam: Darkspore 40% off for Midweek Madness