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.
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.