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Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds

Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Secret Level
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds is a little different from other electronic versions of the popular CCG Magic the Gathering. This video game pits players in a 3D, real time world with moving creatures and emphasis on creature placement. The rest of the visuals are littered with special effects and pyrotechnics, which happen to look pretty good. The 3D models themselves aren't all that great, and the animation is a bit lacking, but the speed maintains even when the screen is full of rampaging monsters.

As for the sound and music, it's about what you'd expect. Very gothic, very medieval and violence inducing tunes encompass the battlefield as you, err, do battle. The special effects fall along the same lines, neither standing out nor falling below the line of par. In the end you shouldn't be disappointed with the bells and whistles unless you're an elitist.


Gameplay:

The 'battleground' in Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds is a small arena where your avatar runs around and fights against another avatar. Fans of the card game will instantly find many things in this game familiar, but what changes have been made are very distinct. The basic premise is the same, with one player fighting another, but the slow turn based system has been thrown out in favor of a faster real time fighting system.

Battlegrounds offers a Single Player dueling experience, as well as an online mode where you can face human opponents. The Single Player aspect takes you through a series of duels, the first couple of which act as a tutorial for the rest of the game. This is where you can unlock new spells (i.e. cards for your deck) as well as new avatars. There is a drawback to this, as you have to beat the Single Player mode in order to be able to fully customize your online avatar. Otherwise, you're stuck with pre-generated avatars.

All five colors that were in the card game make it into Battlegrounds, and there are 14 spells per color in the game. When you create your deck, you can use up to two different colors and a maximum of 10 spells. This keeps things very simple, so you won't be playing some guy out there who has a million rare spells that will kill you in one hit.

The online portion of the game is undoubtedly more entertaining than the Single Player Quests. Online is where you really get to test out how well you can customize a small spell set. Though the game is generally simple, there is plenty of room for tactics that just can't be employed in the Single Player mode.


Difficulty:

Don't be afraid of complex rule sets or inch-thick instruction manuals. The rules in Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds have been greatly simplified so newcomers can easily get into the game and also to facilitate the faster gameplay. The Single Player mode isn't all too difficult, and the AI gets a little predictable, but the challenge does ramp up near the end. Online is where things will get difficult. Fortunately, you don't have to play the tougher opponents if you don't want. The Online feature lets you pick which opponents you want to face based on their experience.

Game Mechanics:

Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds is more like dodge ball than the original Magic card game. Each avatar stays on their side of the battlefield and casts spells. These spells come in the forms of enchantments, sorceries, and creatures. Enchantments affect the general playing field, usually hindering your opponent or aiding you based on a broad rule. Sorceries are more focused forms of enchantments, and creatures are the physical way of getting your message across. In Battlegrounds though, you have to worry where you place your creature, whereas in the card game you didn't. Once cast, your creature will move across the line of demarcation and try to attack your opponent. If it meets an opposing creature before it gets there, they do battle and the winner remains while the loser is returned to their creator's deck of spells.

Mana, like in the card game, also plays a large role in Battlegrounds. Instead of accumulating mana through how much land you control, you actually run your avatar over mana crystals lying on the ground. Things like dead creatures leave mana, and in some levels it spawns there at given intervals. You can cast any spell in your deck once you have enough mana to do it, but you have to work through a very choppy interface. Even though you're limited to 10 spells, trying to find the right one takes too long and usually results in a costly delay.

Magic: Battlegrounds is definitely one of the better computer versions of Magic, but it still doesn't come off as smoothly as the card game does. Fans will definitely find the real time aspect a thrill, and newcomers will easily be able to pick the game up. A bad interface and a boring Single Player mode hurt the game badly, but there is plenty of fun to be had online if you stick with it.


-Snow Chainz, GameVortex Communications
AKA Andrew Horwitz

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98/ME/2K/XP, 800 MHz Processor, 128 MB RAM, 1.4 GB Free Hard Disk Space, 8X CD-ROM, 32 MB Video Card with Hardware T&L Support, Broadband Internet Connection Required for Online Play
 

Test System:



Windows XP, 1.4GHz AMD Athlon, GeForce FX 128 MB video card, 40 gig hard drive, 56x CD-ROM, 256MB DDR Ram, Sound Blaster Live! sound card, Cable Modem Internet connection

Windows Legion Windows Medieval: Total War

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated