Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds
The terrible mistress that is games addiction has been cited by many a broken-hearted wife/girlfriend to be a major reason for separation. Usually, the suspect is the likes of Champ Man or the all-consuming Everquest, but another, lesser-known threat was MicroProse’s 1996 strategy game Magic: The Gathering.
A friend of mine was once so hopelessly addicted to MTG that his girlfriend finally gave him the choice of "It" or her. He chose MTG. Was he upset? Not a bit. Some things in life are just more important. MTG the computer game (as well as its various add-ons, updates and the later online version) was itself based on Wizards of the Coast’s Magic collectable-card game, a kind of Pokemon type trading phenomena but with spells. (More like Yu-Gi-Oh! then? - Ed) modes: Quest mode or Arcade mode.
Playing through the Quest unlocks new spells which can be used to create a custom spell book that you can use in Arcade mode or First appearing in 1993, this 'hobby’ game now boasts more than six million players worldwide. Now, San Francisco-based developer Secret Level is aiming to cement Magic's world domination by introducing PC gamers to MTG: Battlegrounds, a strange new hybrid of one-on-one arcade action and real-time strategy - with online play. Think of it as Street Fighter 2 but with spells instead of kicks and punches.
Battlegrounds is played in one of two to challenge other players. The whole beauty of Magic is the way the player can choose from a near-infinite variety of strategies depending on the spells (or cards) they have in their deck.
Spell It Out
As Jeffrey Tseng, Secret Level’s creative director, explains: "Each of the 70 spells in Battlegrounds is based on a real card in the MTG card game. Of those spells, 35 are creatures and 35 are sorceries, instants or enchantments." Spells are also split into five different coloured schools of magic. Black is naturally associated with the darker arts and includes pain-inflicting spells and the ability to summon the undead. White, on the other hand, calls upon such venerable wonders as healing and summoning holy monks to fight your battles. Sitting somewhere between black and white is the remaining trio of red, blue and green, which cater for the spells that aren’t necessarily good or evil.
"An interesting creature is the Krovikan Vampire," muses Tseng. "When a Krovikan Vampire destroys a creature, that creature comes back into play under the Krovikan Vampire’s control and attacks the enemy duellist." All cards tend to have a counter spell though; it’s just a question of whether you have it in your deck. Here, for instance, a white dispel conjuration would almost certainly halt the vampire threat.
Bouts take place in one of 16 arenas with your duellist facing off against another human or Al-controlled opponent. Each arena has a specific theme and 15 of them tie in to a specific colour. For example, the Drake Rookery is an arena associated with blue, and is set on an island.
Your wizard begins each contest with 20 health points and a mana pool that drains each time you cast a spell. Powerful spells cost more mana, so the key is to use your deck wisely or alternatively make frequent dashes for the mana fountains that bubble forth around the edge of the arena. The winner of the contest obviously is the wizard left standing at the end.
With so many spells available, the ability to quickly select one with the minimum of fumbling will be a critical factor in the game's playability. However, Secret Level is convinced they’ve got that part of the game right.
"We tried at least five different control schemes before choosing the current one," recalls Tseng. "We were very concerned with the speed of choosing spells as well as simplicity. We divide the spells in your spell book into three different categories: creatures, sorceries and enchantments. Once you choose a category, you see the spells in groups of three and choose from there. If you need to flip pages to see other spells, you can do that easily. We've also enabled you to choose the locations of your spells in your spell book, so you can put the spells you need fast access to (like Counterspell) in convenient positions."
With plans already in place for downloadable spells and arenas. Battlegrounds is undoubtedly a fascinating proposition. Feelings among the Magic crowd are mixed, though, and hardcore duellists claim a more arcade-orientated game will remove the Chess-like strategy element. That may well happen, but from a PC gaming perspective the fusion of gaming styles means we might have something that can be truly classed as unique. Girlfriends, consider yourselves warned.
Download Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds
I can't imagine many things more boring than a straight-up Xbox version of the Magic: The Gathering card game. Luckily, that's not what Battlegrounds is. Instead, it's a real-time RPG that features all the creatures and spells found in the superpopular card game. And I guess my luck ran out: Instead of being boring, it's totally unbalanced and infuriating. It's not so bad when tackling a human opponent, since both of you will have to deal with the game's tragic interface problems. But single player? Forget it. While you fiddle around with unwieldy creature and magic menus, wander your area looking for mana crystals, and deal with laggy battle controls, your CPU opponents work with the reflexes of a god. They never miss a beat and often overwhelm you--even on the easiest levels. It pushes the whole singleplayer mode way beyond frustrating and ultimately killed the game for me. So, if you're a Magic nut, you'll probably dig this game despite the ridiculous difficulty. But casual fans (or curious RPGers) should just pass it by and invest in a couple starter decks or something instead.
Half the fun of Magic is devising your own strategy and then testing it against an astute adversary. Battlegrounds ignores this crucial element of the card game's appeal. Nearly every match in the single-player campaign makes you cast your most recently learned spell to achieve some gimmicky victory condition (attack with a certain creature, survive for one minute while hopelessly overmatched, etc.). Even in Versus mode (local or Live), constructing your own deck is cumbersome, and you must unlock spells in Campaign mode first. Weak sauce.
Want to know what a spell of Eternal Dumbness does? It inspires developers to turn a well-loved, strategic card game into a twitchy mess that sends tactics on permanent vacation. Here, Magic is about who can collect power-ups and hurl spells the quickest. In single-player mode, the game is a joke, requiring players to play out a scenario in the one specific way the developers mapped out or face defeat ad nauseam. Where's the creativity? Gone. Where's the magic? MIA.
Based on the popular card game, Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds is an attempt to capture the essence of that card game and transfer it to a video game. Although these attempts often run into difficulties either living up to high expectations or running into serious gameplay issues, Atari has found a way to achieve a certain amount of success by combining two distinct genres. Usually this is a reason to run the other way but in this instance, qualities of a fighting and RTS style of game have been combined into a decent game.
Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds is a fighting game where you'll summon creatures and cast spells in addition to being able to physically strike your enemy. The game flows by the spell meter slowly filling, allowing you to cast spells or summon creatures. The creatures are where the RTS element comes into play as they cost a specific amount of the spell meter and will attack other summoned creatures and the enemy until they are destroyed. They can only attack one time however and then re-spawn on your side of the battlefield to attack again. When they're destroyed, crystals are left behind that increase your spell meter which helps keep the game moving instead of waiting constantly on the spell meter to fill on its own. The game requires a number of different strategies to be implemented if you have any hope of being successful and is surprisingly challenging to play.
The graphics and audio are far from spectacular but the strategy element is strong enough to keep it from becoming too much of an issue. It would have been nice to see more detail and diverse settings but generally there was enough going on that you won't focus on the graphical quality much anyway. The audio is in the same boat as more could have been done but it isn't the heart of the game either.
Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds is a rare game that stretches outside the bounds of established genres and doesn't end up either fighting itself or becoming too watered down. Although it's far from cutting edge graphically, it puts together a balanced gameplay that fans of the card game should enjoy.
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