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Review: Magic Duels: Origins

Jul 31 // Caitlin Cooke
Magic Duels: Origins (PC [reviewed], iOS)Developer: Stainless Games Ltd.Publisher: Wizards of the Coast LLCReleased: July 29, 2015MSRP: Free As its name implies, the story mode within Magic Duels: Origins centers on the early lives of well-known Planeswalkers in the series -- including Jace, Chandra, and Liliana. Each backstory is broken down into five chapters, which detail coming-of-age moments in their lives before becoming full-fledged Planeswalkers. Chapters begin with a short prologue and art piece which set the stage for the upcoming duel, and upon completion end in a similar vein. Battle Mode is the main attraction, containing the normal modes you’d find in any Magic game -- Versus battle (vs Human), Solo battle (vs AI), and Two-headed Giant (2v2). Solo battles come in three flavors -- easy, medium, hard -- however, you’re not able to select your AI opponent (the deck is random). It’s also unclear how the matching system works for the Versus battle system, since the servers were down the majority of the time and I wasn’t able to test it out. I also found it unfortunate that there are no extra fun modes present, as was common in the DoTP series (like Planechase or Archenemy), which I personally miss. In Origin’s free-to-play model, players collect coins via completion of Story and Battle duels or by shelling out cash. Coins are then used to trade in for booster packs, which are added to your overall collection. A single booster pack runs for 150 coins, which equals roughly $2.00 if you were to purchase the coins yourself. You can also buy coins in bulk at a discount, going all the way up to 7,500 coins for $39.99. Origins makes it surprisingly easy to collect coins -- completing a Planeswalker’s story (5 duels) is enough to get you a pack, or dueling a random human roughly 7 times could net the same amount. Quests, which are essentially achievements, rotate in and out and dish out coins when certain stipulations are met (for example: win two duels with a forest/mountain combo deck, put 20 +1/+1 counters on a creature, et cetera). After only a few hours of playing through some of the story, a few battles, and earning Quest achievements, I had enough coins to unlock 3 or 4 packs. I was surprised that the built-in cards were fairly solid (and a lot of new ones, to boot). Origins also features Planeswalker cards, an added layer of challenge which is also a first for Magic’s online games. It didn’t take me long to build some decent decks after opening a few booster packs, although with 251 total cards and only 6 cards in a pack collecting them all seems daunting. Deck-building has come a long way since the Duels of the Planeswalkers series was first introduced. In Origins, the two options are to build everything from scratch or to use the deck wizard. Building a deck from scratch gives players pretty much any freedom they need when building a deck -- it even has a nice filter system, allowing players to sort by parameters including rarity, type, and cost. Swapping cards in and out is pretty seamless, and I like that I could go through my booster cards to pick out the ones I want and have the game do the math and complete the rest of the deck for me. The deck wizard is much more restrictive, but probably the best option for brand new players. After selecting mana types, it walks players through three steps and explains which cards to choose along the way. Being a casual player who doesn’t really enjoy building decks, I actually found the deck wizard to be even more overwhelming than the “build from scratch” option. It’s oddly restrictive, as it doesn’t really give you much room to look at your available cards -- each step only displays a handful of cards to choose from at any given time. Although Origins has a number of viable options for deck-building, there were a few strange occurrences I noticed when building decks. When using autocomplete in the deck-builder, sometimes odd choices would be made -- for example, a lone forest land card would be slotted in when no forest mana was needed, or a card that calls for enchantments when none were found in the deck. Origins also makes it difficult to rebuild a deck if it was originally made with the wizard, as you’re not able to switch freely between modes. This means that if you get new cards in your booster pack that you want to add to your decks built with the wizard, you’re pretty much out of luck. My attempts to join a multiplayer duel over the course of two days were pretty much thwarted with network errors, which is a real bummer seeing how playing with actual people is the crux of playing Magic. I also found that occasionally the game would boot me out of the server entirely, rendering my account virtually useless. Hopefully Stainless will be able to sort out the server issues, as the game does not allow you to collect or spend coins, even in Story mode or AI battles. This is quite frustrating since the main purpose of the game is to collect these coins to spend them on booster packs and improve your deck. I also found it disappointing that you’re not able to earn coins via playing with friends. I’m assuming this is because it would be much easier to cheat the system, however, even giving small rewards via Quests, or a small amount of coins seems like it would encourage more friendly duels versus people taking advantage. Despite their servers not being ready, I feel Magic Duels: Origins brings the best of both worlds together, finally: a fun way to learn and play Magic with the competitiveness of collecting and putting together strong decks for duels in a fairly balanced system. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt, hoping that the server issues improve with time, but in the meantime playing through the story and battling AI is still entertaining. Those new to Magic will find it easy to dive in and learn the intricacies of deck-building, while more experienced players should finally have the customization and card variety they’ve been asking for. Nothing beats the real thing (playing in person) for a lot of expert Magic players; however, I feel like this is a big step in the right direction. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Magic Duels: Origins photo
Free-to-play done right
My addiction to Magic began with the first Duels of the Planeswalkers game for the 360 back in 2009. Although it had its shortcomings (mana tapping, anyone?), the DoTP series created an accessible way for new (or rusty) playe...

World of Tanks photo
World of Tanks

World of Tanks rumbles on to Xbox One today


Time to blow stuff up
Jul 29
// Laura Kate Dale
The cannons are prepped, the hatches are down, and the big wheel roller things have begun to turn, World of Tanks is finally rolling out on Xbox One today. For the uninitiated, World of Tanks is a game about using tanks to sh...
Dota 2 wildcard matches photo
Dota 2 wildcard matches

Dota 2 wildcard matches are now underway


Fighting for a chance at millions
Jul 26
// Patrick Hancock
The wildcard matches for the biggest eSports tournament of the year have officially begun! Dota 2's International 2015 tournament has already raised over $17 million, and four teams are about to fight for their shot at the pr...
Hearthstone Expands photo
Hearthstone Expands

Blizzard announces The Grand Tournament expansion for Hearthstone


With over 130 new cards!
Jul 22
// Jed Whitaker
Blizzard announced today that 132 cards are headed to Hearthstone in an upcoming expansion called The Grand Tournament. New hero power cards are on the way, including Maiden of the Lake, which makes the cost of your her...
PSO2 in English photo
PSO2 in English

Phantasy Star Online 2 available in English with no modding


But there are some drawbacks
Jul 22
// Jed Whitaker
Phantasy Star Online 2 has been out since 2012 in Asia but never made the jump to English-speaking countries officially until now, sort of. The Southeast Asian version up until a couple of days ago had IP blocks in place...

Rising Thunder aims to shake up the fighting game scene

Jul 20 // Alessandro Fillari
The developers at Radiant Entertainment have quite a history with the Fighting Game Community -- particularly Tom Cannon, who not only was the co-founder of the development studio, but is also one of the founders of Evolution Championship Series -- and after Seth Killian joined the studio, who's been a key figure within the FGC for many years and has worked on several fighting games during his time at Capcom (the final boss of Street Fighter IV was named after him), they figured it was time they try to bring their own desires for what a fighting game can be into reality."For me, a big part of my history with fighting games has been trying to show them to people, talk to people about them, and try to get people excited about them and give them a chance," said creative lead Seth Killian while discussing his history with genre. "And while I've been doing that for a lot of years, and while I love it and I think fighting games are one of the greatest genres and one of the proudest achievements in gaming period, it's exciting and a little sad to see that of the twenty people I talk about fighting games, only one will have the same experience that I have. Fighting games are really hard, and often times the core game is buried behind this very tall executional wall. And it's not about making it easier so we can all be Justin Wong, but I'm saying the basic moves and mechanics can take a long time to get a handle of. Once you do, then you can start learning the intricacies of player strategy." Set in the far-future, players control a select group of battling robots from different areas of the world and duke it out for supremacy. Each of the six starting characters have their own unique skills and abilities, and special combos used from the variety of weak, medium, and heavy attacks. In addition to that, super moves called Overdrives are activated when the super meter is filled to unleash devastating attacks. Moreover, they can take advantage of kinetic abilities that range from breaking enemy combos and dash cancels. The developers wanted to allow for a great level of customization, and players will be able to select loadouts for their favorite characters, which determine what special moves they bring into battle. The minds behind this title have some ideas on how to make this new fighter more accessible to players who aren't as well-versed in the classic formula of fighting games. On the surface, Rising Thunder looks very similar to titles like Street Fighter IV or Mortal Kombat X. Action is on the 2D plane, with two fighters duking it out until their enemy's health is depleted. Using special moves and strategies unique to each character, players will have to equally overpower and outsmart their opponents to claim victory. Sounds familiar, right? Well, the formula is largely as is, which is a testament to how timeless the setup is. However, the developers saw an opportunity to alter certain parts of the formula in order to remove the initial anxiety and awkwardness from new players seeking to break into competitive play."We were really excited to build a game that could open the door to what's glorious about these games to more people, and to try and let everybody understand what's exciting about these game and kept us excited about them for most of our lives. We basically ended up making a list of all the things that kept most people out of fighting games. For one, Online Sucks, it's terrible and you can't have a serious competitive experience with others. And even if you like fighting games, you also need to be in a place where you happen to be around twenty or so friends that are willing to play with you all the time."Given that it's a PC exclusive fighter, and how candid Killian was about the state of online fighters, the developers wanted to ensure they didn't drop the ball in that regard. Not only is the game completely playable with the keyboard (which feels great, by the way), and they even consider it the default setup, they also have the means to update the title quickly when needed. But course, online play is the make or break point for online fighters. Thankfully, the other founder of Radiant Entertainment, Tony Cannon, is also the creator of the famous GGPO (Good Game, Peace Out) netcode, which started out as a fan-made solution to poorly designed netcode for online fighters, but has since been implemented into retail releases. With Rising Thunder, the creators are bringing in their new GGPO3 netcode, which ensures even more sophisticated tech powering online play. Even during its alpha state, my time online was rock solid and ran at a smooth 60 frames-per-second."The other thing was -- we didn't really know, but it was our suspicion, so we built a prototype to test it -- but when you look at a fighting game match you never go 'Wow, that guy did all his moves. He didn't mess up any fireballs, what a champion.' When you look at the great history of fighting game matches, it's all about the great decisions, reads, an in-genius play, using moves in ways that you would never thought of before -- no one cares about the guy who can do the moves, that's the basic bottom layer of skill," Killian explained. "My thinking was basically, what if we were to make these moves not a problem? What if we were to remove special move inputs?"You might have done a double-take after reading, and I kinda did mentally when he first explained it to me. Accessibility was a major focus for Rising Thunder. Though while many fans may cringe at the thought of moving or adjusting the bar to make things easier for the common player, the developers wanted to think up of ways to allow players who aren't as skilled or knowledgeable as many other players to get into the core gameplay of the fighter much faster. But in doing so, you'd have to go against an established and accustomed idea. In Rising Thunder, all core specials moves, along with the Overdrive moves, are executable with a single button and don't require directional inputs. Every character brings in three special moves, which are activated by three special buttons, and each move works on a cooldown.Initially, I was a bit taken aback. As directional inputs for special moves are pretty synonymous with the genre itself. However, this idea works much better in practice, and Rising Thunder makes great use of the mechanics. I was able to jump into the game pretty quickly, and with much of the initial awkwardness of having to get a feel of the character's inputs and moves correctly, I got over the awkward character introduction phase and started to think about how to utilize their moves within minutes of play. It sort of gave me some callbacks to MOBA titles that emphasizes setups and pick-up and play mechanics, but of course, it's still a deeply refined fighter at its core."Well, all the theorists on the internet will tell you you'll destroy fighting game, it wouldn't make sense anymore, it wouldn't be a fighting game, and if you would've asked me five years ago I probably would've agreed that it wouldn't work," said Killian. "But the way we decided to try it was to build it, and to test it. And not only did the game work, but I started to see things happen in a game ever in my twenty years of talking about fighting games. One guy went from total scrub, to started playing mind-games with me. Like for real. It opened a lot of interesting match-ups. [...] That's where fighting games to me really shine, it's where they can show off people's minds and the way they work in relation to one another."In addition to these tweaks and modifications to the classic fighting game formula, the developers also added in a number of interesting visual and gameplay changes to accommodate the focus on online gameplay. Certain character utilize moves that are telegraphed and use visuals that can used for strategies, For instance, the character "Crow" is able to drop a dome barrier that makes him invisible while inside of it. While the player using Crow is invisible (which is still somewhat visible on their screen), the opponent will not be able to see them during invisibility on their screen. This is to add a layer of unpredictability. With opposing players using their own screens, they'll be able to hide the more nuanced aspects of their moves from their enemies to surprise them.Radiant Entertainment is certainly confident in their new fighter, and given that they're allowing the FGC and newcomers full access to their game very soon (early alpha beginning on the 28th), they're looking forward to hearing their feedback. As with their other title Stonehearth, the community will have a major impact on the state and feel of the game. While Rising Thunder does a lot of things that may go against the more iconic aspects of the genre, there's a lot of thought that went into the intricacies of this fighter. As this title is still in fairly early stages, many features and visuals are not in place quite yet, but the developers are confident enough in releasing it as the true heart of the game is in place. They also plan to actively update the game, introducing new content, updates, and other additions to keep things interesting. "We love fighting games, we've loved them for a long time. We've seen a ton of games come and go, there's plenty of great fighting games out right now, but -- at least in our view -- they're not focusing on the real sources of the trouble [accessibility]," he said. "Don't charge people to try your game, don't ask them to spend six months practicing the game before they can actually start having a real game, and make the online good god dammit."If anything, Rising Thunder will prove to be a pretty interesting experiment. During my time with it, it was clear that a lot of love and passion went into the game, and the folks behind this title are putting a lot of trust into the FGC to be as honest and vocal about the game as possible. Which certainly won't be hard for them. In recent years, the fighting game genre has evolved significantly, and with more players mindful of the true core gameplay with every fighter, Rising Thunder aims to get players to the nitty-gritty of what fighters are all about right from the get-go. Rising Thunder [Alpha Sign-Up] 
Rising Thunder photo
PC, free-to-play, powered by GGPO3
If you were one of the many watching the EVO 2015 livestreams over the weekend, then you no doubt saw a trailer for Rising Thunder, a brand new fighting game featuring battling robots. While viewers didn't get much info about...

Dragomon Hunter photo
Dragomon Hunter

Dragomon Hunter puts Hatsune Miku in Monster Hunter


That name is art in its purest form
Jul 16
// Joe Parlock
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RaiderZ shutting down photo
RaiderZ shutting down

Perfect World is closing RaiderZ next month


It doesn't have a developer
Jul 13
// Jordan Devore
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Slay Momma, slay

Watch Dragon's Dogma Online beta gameplay right now!


Free-to-play, free-to-slay
Jul 11
// Jed Whitaker
The free-to-play Dragon's Dogma Online beta is now out in Japan on PS3, PS4, and PC for the lucky few who were selected to test it. Sadly the game hasn't been announced for other regions, but never say never. For the time being, feast your eyes on what you're missing out on.
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DDO (dee-doe)

Capcom looses trailers for Dragon's Dogma Online


PS4, PC, PS3
Jul 07
// Steven Hansen
Dragon's Dogma was a weird one. It was a Japanese take on the Western role-playing genre (Witcher 3 et al) that did some interesting things. The pitch black nights stood out to me. So, too, did the horrible combat barks. Doe...
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Card Hunter on Steam

Browser-based tactical card RPG Card Hunter headed to Steam


New expansion coming soon too
Jul 02
// Darren Nakamura
Somehow I have missed out on Card Hunter for the past couple years. It released in 2013 and Destructoid's reviews patriarch Chris Carter loved it. I don't know how it wasn't on my radar; it has a lot going for it I'm into. I...
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Nintendo mobile

Nintendo opens up about pricing mobile games


'Please understand'
Jul 02
// Jordan Devore
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Team Fortress 2 becomes Counter-Strike tomorrow


New map, mechanics, and balance changes
Jul 01
// Patrick Hancock
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Dirty Bomb

Meet the Dirty Bomb team and maybe nab a Fragger


100,000 keys over at PC Gamer
Jun 16
// Darren Nakamura
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Fable Legends

Fable Legends has 'years of content' planned


Not a one-and-done
Jun 16
// Darren Nakamura
At the PC gaming show this evening, Xbox's Phil Spencer came out and introduced a few developers working on PC and Xbox One. One game in the presentation was Fable Legends, which I liked the last time I played it. In addition...
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Fable Legends

There's a Skyrim-lookin' dude in Fable Legends


Shout, shout, let it all out
Jun 15
// Brett Makedonski
Are you into Fable Legends? There's some kind of neat stuff in there. And, it's free-to-play, so you can keep your wallet in your back pocket (even though that's bad for you and tilts the axis of your pelvis). This trailer h...
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SQUARE ENIX

Square Enix reveals online shooter Figure Heads


Fighting robots strike PC in 2015
Jun 08
// Kyle MacGregor
Today, Square Enix unveiled a new online third-person shooter by the name of Figure Heads. Set in a future where meteorites make the surface of the earth uninhabitable and force mankind to live underground, unmanned robo...
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MWO update

Mechwarrior Online retools its MechLab again


Hold the phone, NEW MENUS!?
Jun 05
// Nic Rowen
Have you seen a commercial where a company basically throws its last product or several years of service under the bus to promote its new stuff? Like those bizarre ads for Domino's Pizza a few years ago which basically boiled...
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Hearthstone DLC

Hearthstone adding new heroes for $9.99 each


Only they aren't really new per se
Jun 04
// Jed Whitaker
Blizzard has announced it is releasing new heroes for Hearthstone at $9.99 a piece. Don't worry though, the meta will stay exactly the same because the heroes are little more than cosmetic changes on existing classes. Your te...
Marvel Heroes anniversary photo
Marvel Heroes anniversary

Now is the best time to play Marvel Heroes


Two-year anniversary begins today
Jun 04
// Patrick Hancock
It's the two-year anniversary of the free-to-play ARPG Marvel Heroes today, and that calls for a celebration! The game is releasing its 48th playable hero today, Dr. Doom. Doom is essentially painted as the main villain ...
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Dirty Bomb

Splash Damage's team-based shooter Dirty Bomb hits Steam


It's still in beta!
Jun 02
// Jordan Devore
Huh. It feels like literal years have passed since I last paid much attention to Dirty Bomb, the free-to-play, class-oriented, multiplayer first-person shooter from Brink developer Splash Damage. It's still around. Stranger y...
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International 2015 $10M

The International 2015's prize pool is now over $10 million


Two-thirds of the way there!
May 30
// Patrick Hancock
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Dirty Bomb photo
Dirty Bomb

Dirty Bomb is hitting open beta on June 2


It's not quite Brink, but it could be
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Pokémon Shuffle

New Pokemon Shuffle update makes the game slightly less sleazy


But it's not enough
May 27
// Chris Carter
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Pokemon Shuffle

Pokemon Shuffle reaches 4m downloads, celebrate with Shaymin


Love that Shaymin
May 25
// Chris Carter
I've moved on from Pokemon Shuffle (Pokemon Rumble World is my jam now on 3DS), but it still continues to be supported by Nintendo in the form of the occasional special event. To celebrate four million downloads, they've...
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Heroes of the Storm

Tychus' cigar isn't in Heroes of the Storm


I need someone to hold me... please...
May 25
// Joe Parlock
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Pac-Man 256 photo
Pac-Man 256

Crossy Road developer working on Pac-Man 256


I must have missed about 250 Pac-Mans
May 22
// Darren Nakamura
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Smite

Smite's now in closed beta on Xbox One


Oh goody! Gems! My favourite!
May 15
// Joe Parlock
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Wildstar photo
Wildstar

Wildstar might be going free to play in August


Just as predicted
May 14
// Joe Parlock
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TERA photo
TERA

TERA has finally come to Steam


Only took it three years
May 07
// Joe Parlock
Aaah Tera. The little free-to-play MMO that featured action-based combat and some really rad non-human playable races (and some pathetic pieces of nipple-covering string for women’s armour). It’s been sat on Steam...

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