So here we stand, I and thou at the end of ends.
And look, shadowy reader, at what our folly has wrought. Cities burn. Forests smolder. People lie bleeding on a hundred battle fields. The Gathering's nascent software has been corrupted and roils like a stew around us.
I beg thee this one final time: lift the veil of delusion that holds thee loyal to those who will only betray thee time and again, as they have betrayed me. Join me in vanquishing their kind and at least all this mayhem will have meant something...
I admit it, I'm a geek, and I play Magic: The Gathering. I've even got a couple of decks that are pretty damn good. So it was with great excitement that I began to play Acclaim's Magic: The Gathering: Battlemage. The next few hours were filled mostly with disappointment.
For the few of you who haven't played the card game, it is a duel between competing wizards. You use land cards to draw mana (magical power) and use that power to cast an array of spells: flinging fireballs, weaving enchantments, and summoning creatures to do your bidding. I don't know how many different official cards there are, but it's in the thousands. The goal? Kill the other guy before he kills you.
If you have the patience to learn the card game, it's great fun.Battlemage tries to bring something new to the game... namely action. The game is played very much like the card game, except instead of being turn based, it is timed. Each 'turn' happens in about 15 seconds (you get to throw another land, things untap, etc.). You and your creatures and spells all appear on an overhead view map. You can order your creatures around at any time.
Unlike the card game, you can order creatures to attack specific other creatures. There are no attack or blocking phases. All the creatures and spells look different; the graphics are sharp and pretty well animated.
Its quite difficult to get the hang of Battlemage. Even as an experienced Magic player, it took me probably two hours before I was able to win my first duel. The instructions are poor and the game is very difficult to follow.
Unfortunately, in the rush to bring action into the game, the strategy has taken a nose dive. The action is so fast-paced that it is really useless to try and use creatures' special abilities, cast counterspells, etc... So take all of those out of your deck. Big creatures are much more important inBattlemage and small creatures more useless.
Actually, once you finally get the hang of the controls, it's really quite easy to win against the computer. Stack your deck with some land and the biggest creatures that you have along with some smaller ones and maybe a fireball or two. Then just cast as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don't look at what your opponent is doing, get your spells out as fast as you can, and order all your creatures to attack the enemy mage.
The problem? Simply put, this isn't fun. You don't even really get to watch any of the action.
There is also a 'campaign mode' where you attempt to control the land of Crondor by attacking different areas on the map. Each area has a full screen graphic that is usually very beautiful, especially some of the animated ones (falling snow, crashing waves, etc..). You must consolidate power and gain cards to improve your deck.
To make a territory yours, you may have to duel against a mage. Other times you are confronted by a non-mage person or being. They talk to you and you are offered a choice of three responses (usually). A response may lead to further dialogue, or it may end the turn. Depending on how you respond you may gain control of the land, gain spells and silver, lose spells and silver, or nothing may happen and the turn ends. You can only try once per turn.
Unfortunately, that part of the game really isn't much fun either. There is no strategy to it, and is really just an excuse to set up a long series of duels. Crush all your enemies in an extended campaign (probably 70-100 duels and several hours) and for your reward you receive........ text reading: 'You Won The Game'. Whoa.
There is support for network and modem play, but trust me, what isn't fun against the computer isn't fun against your friends either.
Acclaim had a good idea, and actually implemented it quite well. This is not a shoddy piece of software at all. The designers put in a lot of effort and it shows. There are hundreds of magic cards represented in this game, and animated graphics for each and every one of them. Want to see your Grizzly Bears run across the field and take a swipe at your enemy? It's all here. But the concept just didn't work out. They should have either kept to a more strategic format, or abandoned some more of the card game rules in favor of a better action game.
Magic: The Gathering: Battlemage tries hard, but doesn't succeed. There is no shame in that - however, I can't recommend this game. Magic players will find it disappointing, and non-Magic players will find it nearly impossible to learn or follow. Hopefully the next hand will be better.