So, real talk: I am kind of an easy mark for Magic Legends. The initial conception of it, at least. I was very excited to see an MMO using Magic: the Gathering as a starting point rather than simply adapting the card game directly, and I was similarly more than a little disappointed at the idea that it was being scaled down from that point into being more of a direct action RPG with traces of the MMO still lingering there. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still hopeful, though, just that it definitely diminished what I had been hoping for.
Now, however, I’ve actually played it, thanks to Cryptic’s recent press preview event. And on the good side of things, it’s solid! It is, in fact, very solid for what it’s trying to be; it demonstrates genuine flashes of brilliance. Despite that, I still find myself more than a little disappointed by the fact that it is limited in its ambitions. It’s a solid action game that hits all of the notes you’d want for a Magic title, but I’ll be honest, the fact that it’s indisputably not an MMO just leaves me thinking this game could be so much more.
But let’s focus on the positives first. First and foremost, the game does something that I find endlessly pleasant when it pops up: seamlessly shifting between mouse-and-keyboard and controller interfaces. This means that I can happily navigate menus with mouse and keyboard as I wish, and then the actual game can be played with a controller as I wish. The reminders even shift between the two based on input.
Moreover, the game’s controller interface feels solid and functional. Class abilities are on the shoulder bumpers, your main attack and big cooldown on the triggers, with your current hand of cards using the face buttons. Intuitive and quick, and I felt like everything quickly fell into that welcome cadence where it just works the way you expect it to without requiring a bunch of configuration. Well done on that.
The actual mechanics are similarly straightforward. Your deck consists of a dozen cards, with four in your hand at any given time. Each card costs a certain amount of mana, which generates over time on screen. Casting spells is as simple as pressing the corresponding button, at which point the spell takes effect and after a short delay you get another card. A snap!
The two decks I played with also worked wonderfully for this. The red-white Boros-themed deck was a swarm deck bringing out lots of creatures and boosts to those creatures, and bringing huge swarms of goblins with buffs out worked exactly the way you’d expect if you’ve played the card game. Similarly, the Golgari black-green deck was more about a handful of powerful creatures with some powerful spell backup and disposable minions, which also worked the way you’d expect. Minion AI seems solid and intuitive.
I also quite liked how the classes worked. While each class has a certain color that it’s associated with, it really has no bearing on your actual deck beyond the obvious thematic implications. The Necromancer, for example, worked just fine with the Boros deck, especially with one of its innate abilities being summoning a pair of skeleton minions to clog up the battlefield with more minions.
Helpfully, the game does put some limits on minion swarms. The story mission I played in the jungle of Tazeem had four distinct “sections” to the mission, with my summoned minions going away each time I moved into one of the two boss fights and each time I departed one. This meant that building up a nice army was helpful, but I couldn’t count on bringing that army with me at all times.
The other mission I took on was an Ordeal in Gavony. Ordeals are somewhat akin to Star Trek Online’s Task Forces (something that was explicitly brought up as a comparison). It’s meant for multiple people, but I was trying to do it solo, which meant that it was a bit brutal, but it had the definite feel of something that could be more fun with several people defending the points of interest across the map.
In fact, at least from my perspective, the biggest problem with the game’s combat was simply that it feels a bit flat at this point. Not in a horrible way, but in every given confrontation, your goal is to be pouring out spells as fast as you can afford them, summoning as many minions as you have available, and generally using as much of your kit as you can at all times. To a certain extent this is to be expected, but it did make every fight feel a bit same-ish.
Then again, some of that is also a result of using pre-made decks I didn’t get to customize ahead of time with only limited time to examine the spells. More intelligent use is possible, naturally, and over time you can no doubt find the skills and builds that you prefer using. And there are a lot of build options, between the different artifacts you slot in, different equipment options, different decks, and even different traits and classes. You could easily wind up with a different overall setup by bringing the same deck on different classes with different artifacts, for example.
Unfortunately, there was only so much time in the press demonstration to explore, and so I didn’t get to really take a look at the open area maps (which look suitably large and filled with stuff to do) or really play too much with deck construction. There are clearly a lot of moving parts going on here, though, and I approve of this fact. A lot of it looks like the sort of stuff I’d love to dig into in more depth… especially with a fully featured MMO.
That’s the part that I can’t help but be a bit stung by. I definitely enjoyed my time in the demon and thought that the game looked like fun, but I also found myself thinking that I’d be more excited if the game did more with its MMO elements. There’s so much stuff in Magic that it feels somehow a bit limiting, like half of an MMO with a lot of the same elements but not quite all of the pieces you’d expect to see there.
So where does that leave us?
Well, if you’re not me and just want a solid action game with a lot of online functionality, you’ll probably be very happy. I really do enjoy the game’s overall interface and found it intuitive to play, and I freely recognize that my genre considerations are more me pining after what could have been than criticizing what is. In that regard, you should take this as an unqualified endorsement of what Cryptic has done here.
At the same time, though… I keep feeling like I’d enjoy it even more if it had that actual MMO flavor to it, rather than pulling back just shy of it, especially considering that I am generally impressed by the MMOs Cryptic makes. Right now, it looks like a solid game. My biggest complaint is just that it could have been more.