Magic: The Gathering – Tactics is decent, but it’s definitely not magical

I’m a proud member of the original Magic: The Gathering generation. In fact, I’ve still got my original deck sitting around here somewhere, with its (incredibly dated) powerhouse cards like The Abyss, Vesuvian Dopplegangers, and a beat-up Black Lotus. As a result, I was really interested to try out Magic: The Gathering – Tactics, which promised an experience that’s both simultaneously familiar and new. After spending some time with the game, I have to say that it’s certainly not bad, but it’s not nearly as much fun as I remember the original card game being.

At its core, Magic: The Gathering – Tactics is a tactical strategy game, complete with movement ranges, line of sight, and initiative. You play as a random Planeswalker who moves about the world of Dominaria, battling other Planeswalkers in his/her way. Why? Why not. It’s what Planeswalkers do.

Each Planeswalker has 200 hit points that you whittle away at with your own physical attacks, spells, or summoned creatures. Instead of generating mana from the lands you control, you automatically generate it based on the percentages of different colors in your deck. This is actually an interesting way of getting around the problem, but you can still wind up twisting in the metaphorical breeze if you’ve got a spell that you want to play, but not enough mana of a particular color to pull it off.

You can play through both a single player campaign or take the battle online to go against real opponents. In theory, this sounds like it should be a great twist for Magic players, simply because it’ll keep the basic card-casting mechanics we all know and love while adding in an added level of depth and complexity.

And in reality, it mostly works. The gameplay is easy to get the hang of, thanks to a step-by-step tutorial, and the tactical elements are pretty well-done. Just about everything can be controlled with simple mouse clicks, and it should all feel pretty standard for anyone who’s played any type of tactics game. On the downside, though, the turn-based system feels just a little slow and clunky at times, especially when you’re maneuvering both your character and minions around the map.

 The Gathering - Tactics

It should also be noted that the game did seem to have some issues detecting the right click from a laptop’s trackpad mouse; that issue disappeared when an external mouse was plugged in.

Visually, the game is a little bit of a mixed bag. The artwork that displays during loading sequences is absolutely lovely, as is the character model on display while you’re selecting just what type of Planeswalker you want to play. The actual game, though, looks a little dated. Characters on the maps feel almost like the pre-rendered 3D model types that were so popular in games of the late 90s and early 2000s, and the animations sometimes feel a little jerky and stiff.

One of the biggest frustrations is that you need not one, but two accounts. You see, aside from your standard Steam account, you also need to sign into SOE’s Pass network. When I tried to sign into my existing account, I consistently received error messages; ultimately, I wound up having to create a new one and logging in. Other Gamezebo writers had the exact same issue.

 The Gathering - Tactics

You see, you need the Pass account so you can buy content for the game, which is most obvious way of acquiring spells for your spellbook. Essentially, the purchasing system recreates the physical card game’s booster packs: For a set amount of Sony Station Cash, you can purchase a pack of random spells that you can toss into your spellbook. While that’s all well and good, it really grates that you can only play the first chapter of the single-player campaign for free. After that, you have to buy each additional chapter; if you want to play through all the levels of the game, you’ll actually have to wind up shelling out quite a bit of money.

Ultimately, Magic: The Gathering – Tactics feels kind of pointless. The tactical strategy twist and mechanics are solid enough, and it’s by no means a bad game. However, it’s neither as fun nor as fast-paced as the other PC Magic game, Duels of the Planeswalkers. Add in the fact that this isn’t really a free-to-play game, and it’s just not that easy to recommend to anyone but the most devoted Magic the Gathering fans.