Not So Massively: Magic: Legends isn’t at all what I expected – it’s better

    
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When we first got word of an MMO in the setting of Magic: The Gathering years ago, a Diablo-style ARPG probably isn’t what anyone had in mind, but that is exactly what Cryptic’s Magic: Legends has now been revealed to be. Some people who had their hearts set on a traditional MMORPG are understandably disappointed, but I find my surprise is a pleasant one. Not only am I fan of this genre, but ML is looking to be a very strong entry in the genre, though I’m not entirely without concerns.

Before we knew anything, I had some curiosity about a Magic: The Gathering MMO — I’d played the card game as a kid and remember enjoying the setting — but I didn’t expect much from it. From one thing, I was pretty much just expecting Neverwinter with a Magic skin, which is fine as these things go, but not really something to get super excited about.

For another, I just don’t expect much from Cryptic generally. I’ve sunk a decent amount of time into Neverwinter in the past, and I’m currently playing a lot of Star Trek Online, so I’m not a total hater, but Cryptic’s games do have a lot of problems.

Of course, PWE’s overbearing monetization strategies — so extreme they give even my tolerant self pause — are an issue, but much has already been said on that front, and I don’t need to repeat what we all know.

What’s worse for me is just how, well, janky Cryptic’s games are. There’s just no other word; from the dodgy voice-overs to the confusingly over-complicated game systems to the bad UI to the copious bugs, Cryptic’s games are titles steeped in jank.

Cryptic often has good ideas, but its MMOs are just utterly lacking in polish. They’re like the anti-Blizzard. If you told me Cryptic’s quality assurance department department was just a single Macintosh II crewed by an elderly man named Ernie and his diabetic cat, I would believe you.

So even as I write this piece, I’m still worried that Magic: Legends will turn out to be another game with cool ideas but poor execution. But that’s something we won’t know for sure until we get our hands on it, so right now we can judge based only on the information that’s been released so far.

And based on that, this looks like an exciting game.

An ARPG may not have been what we were expecting, but having thought about it, I think it’s a good decision. This is a much better genre to showcase the awesome power of a Planeswalker than a more conventional MMO, especially when you consider the game’s heavy emphasis on summoning minions. Using an isometric camera to avoid making your view too cluttered by your own summons is a good call, and on a personal note I’m really excited by the emphasis on summons because as you know I love me some pet classes in ARPGs.

Even more importantly, this seems like a game that’s bringing something genuinely fresh to the ARPG genre.

I honestly didn’t expect much in the way of build customization in this game. I expected one class based on each of Magic’s five colors of mana, each with a rigid skill set, and nothing else. What we got is far more interesting.

There are five classes based on the five colors, but those classes form only a small part of your total playstyle. ML imports the deck-building concepts of the original game. In this case, the “cards” are your abilities. You build a “deck” of any cards from up to two colors, and these colors need not be tied to your base class. You could play the Geomancer (a red class) but take only white and green cards.

This seems to add an incredible amount of build flexibility. While I don’t expect quite the same level of depth, it does remind me a bit of the original incarnation of The Secret Word, and “reminds me of The Secret World” is pretty much the highest praise I can offer a game.

I also like that right now acquiring cards is the primary source of progression in the game, and so far ML seems to be eschewing traditional gear entirely. While I can still foresee some potential problems with this system — lots of room for bad RNG and aggressive monetization — it does seem a lot better than the standard gear treadmill, where today’s best-in-slot is tomorrow’s vendor trash. Even just from a roleplay perspective, learning new spells feels a lot more appealing than being entirely dependent on your equipment.

It also helps that the spells themselves look really damn fun. The gameplay videos thus far are full of players devastating whole crowds of enemies with massive AoEs and flinging monsters around like rag dolls with powerful crowd control abilities.

My one major concern with the card system right now is that cards are randomly drawn in combat. This may be faithful to the source material, but it could be pretty frustrating if the spell you want for a given situation just doesn’t end up being drawn.

But there are other things about Magic: Legends that appeal to me, too. The idea of the “Director” — an AI that dynamically varies monster spawns to keep the players on their toes — sounds very interesting. It’s meant to provide a way to keep content replayable without resorting to randomized maps, and as someone who finds random maps create as many problems as they solve, I find it appeals to me.

However, I do have my doubts. It’s such an ambitious idea I question how well it can be executed in practice, especially given Cryptic’s usual lack of polish. The Director is not something you can really judge from trailers, so right now it’s all just a lot of buzzwords being thrown around. The proof will be in the pudding.

It’s a small thing, but one other detail I appreciate is so far potions don’t seem to be a thing in Magic: Legends. I’ve always found chugging potions a cheap mechanic, and I much prefer the idea of actually interacting with monsters and the terrain by picking up health and mana globes. It’s more intelligent and tactical than just hammering a potion button whenever your health dips.

Familiar?

It’s too early to say anything with certainty about this game, and there is some cause for concern, but based on what we know right now, I think Magic: Legends could be a real contender in the ARPG field. With its flexible builds and dramatic combat, it looks like a far more worthy successor to Diablo III than its actual successor.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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tiltowait

Seen one ARPG and you’ve seen them all.

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Yuge McBigly

The Secret Word you say?

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Skoryy

HE SAID THE SECRET WORD!

secret word.gif
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Mikka Hansen

I can already see it, free players get “tiny fireball”,while the cash shop has “raging firestorm of apocalyptic doom” for $29’99

The main problem I see here is that all parties involved are extremly greed-driven. there’s no counterbalance.

WotC needs a GGG or a Digital Extremes that not only makes a good game but also reigns in their characteristic inmense greed.

PWE/Cryptic will instead make a lame/mediocre game while cheering each others to come with more and more ways to milk their playerbase dry

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Greaterdivinity

It was not at all what I was expecting, and honestly it was a huge letdown for me.

We went from “Next-Gen MMO!” to “it’s an ARPG with small parties that may have some unique mechanics”. I’m not opposed to it being an ARPG, but it’s not at all what they said it was going to be last year (or a few years back) and it’s pretty underwhelming compared to what is possible.

But I guess we should have known better. Cryptic/PWE don’t have mountains of cash (as evidenced by their layoffs earlier this year), so I guess I probably should have kept, “It’s likely a title with a tight budget” in mind when musing about the possibilities : /

WrathOfMogg
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WrathOfMogg

I would be more willing to embrace this game if they hadn’t given it the MMO label and then turned around completely. They even scrubbed their website of any language that made it sound like a next-gen MMO. Something very weird happened at Cryptic. I don’t trust this game or this company.

0kShr00mer
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0kShr00mer

Something weird is happening in the MMO market in general. It’s industry standard practice to completely shift the focus of your game after garnering enough support for the initial concept.

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3dom

Somehow people have irrational hatred towards PWE/Cryptic but so far both Neverwinter and Start Trek exceeded my expectations – at least before leveling have been turned into exceptionally slow and boring grind (after Chinese aquisition). Nonetheless I’m sure initially the game will be easy and fun – to create a positive buzz. Going to play the heck out of it.

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Armsbend

ARPG where I have to buy cards packs for skills. Nope.

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PanagiotisLial1

The game feels fairly polished for having seen only Alpha version videos. Most games on Alpha have interface and most other graphical parts in a flux. I cant wait to try it out

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Anton Mochalin

I’m really glad I read this article, it really makes the game worth checking out in the future in my eyes.

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Castagere Shaikura

I always check out the latest ARPG’s but PWE is involved and that always gives me pause.