PAX East 2020 - Magic Legends Hands On
Checking out Magic: the Gathering's upcoming AMMO/RPG
Arriving at Cryptic's Magic: Legends booth on the show floor, I found myself immediately greeted by a giant Abyssal Fiend and surrounded by banners that displayed a symbol of each elemental type in Magic's lore. While I admit that I'm not very familiar with the source material, I did know that a giant demon and ominous war banners meant I was about to enter a world that was ripe with intense battle and fascination. They led me into the center of the booth and I was given two different stands with very simple instructions: Play the kiosk on the left, and then we'll talk about what's over here on the right. Simple and to the point, which I like. I grabbed a controller since I'm not a big keyboard and mouse guy, and we dropped into an area that was reminiscent of an ancient prayer ground.
Inside this demo, I was given a specific task: Cleanse the area of evil and then pray to the shrines to restore their light. I first began my journey as the Mindmage - This character reminded me a lot of the Mesmer class from Guild Wars. While the Mindmage could summon skeletons similar to what you might expect from a Necromancer, the Mindmage also had the ability to drop a lot of crowd control, as well as summon clones of themselves which would taunt enemies in order to help the Mindmage escape and heal up. Using a frontal cone attack, I could blast enemies away from me in order to create a gap so that I could summon my clones who would mimic my attacks as well as draw aggro. This led to a pretty easy command of the area, and quickly I was able to progress my mission in order to fight a boss at the end.
Fans of Magic the Gathering will be excited to see that the team has included many memorable characters from within Magic’s illustrious lore, and doing battle with them will continue to keep you coming back for more as we always know that battles aren't ever over until they're over. This fight was no different, as this enemy essentially disappeared into the mist upon his defeat. I apologize for not getting proper names, but there was a lot going on and I feel like the vague descriptions will help players be surprised when they see people.
Playing through the demo a second time, it was time to do battle as the Geomancer. The Mindmage didn't fully click with me on what was going on, but the Geomancer more than made up for it as the developers walked me through some mechanics that I missed on my first playthrough - we'll talk more about those and what to expect a little bit later on. The Geomancer uses fire and earth spells in order to fight up close and personal, which made for a completely different feel of the game in spite of playing through the exact same area. Summoning a giant Stone Golem and fire imps, the Geomancer finds herself with a small army of support units while she can rush straight in with fists of fury blazing, slamming her fist into the ground to create a small impact crater that does AoE damage. She could also dash, combo, and protect herself with a rock shield that would strengthen her defenses temporarily. After getting the hang of what I was doing, I was able to smash the boss in about ten seconds, which made the Mindmage look like a chump.
The second demo had me playing as their newly announced class: The Beast Caller. On the surface, this class reminds me of Diablo 2's druid, as she could summon different nature allies, including a treant that would spin through in a straight line smashing anything in its path as it spun around. She was also proficient at fighting with a ranged weapon, so not only was I able to create distance to stay safe, but she could cast support skills that would heal or buff her companions or allies. The Beast Caller had the ability to summon a giant basilisk, and using some of her support abilities I could make it twice it's normal size making it a one man wrecking crew for short bursts.
The second demo area was less forward than the first, as this time I found myself fighting around elemental hazards that would damage me or my companions if we walked through the lava, but it would also damage enemies which made their AI look for the shortest possible route instead being able to easily kited to their death while taking continuous damage. At the end of this area, a large dragon awaited - who did as dragons do, which was left fire and lava everywhere for me to have to avoid in order to really cement the focus on the importance of avoiding level hazards and working around them. I loved it.
Because Magic: Legends is an isometric ARPG, there’s a lot of similarities to Diablo, Neverwinter Nights, and other games of the genre - but the combat is an all too familiar feeling. You have basic skills that can be used with the triggers or bumpers, while the face buttons play one of your selected cards. As you use a card, the skill goes on cooldown and is replaced with the next available card in your deck. The mana point system feels similar to games like Hearthstone, but things happen so quickly that you don’t have to do the math on the fly in order to get the most out of your available mana.
After a while, you’ll build up a meter that allows you to perform a mana surge. The mana surge allows you to basically play cards as quickly as they come up, and your cooldown timer is greatly diminished for the duration of the surge. This is what allowed me to basically maul the boss on the Geomancer the moment he spawned because I had saved my surge for the final battle. Gameplay is tight and feels good, though I would prefer that the right stick have dodge mechanics similar to what Diablo 3 has on the console, but it’s a minor gripe. Deck building is fairly straightforward, even for people like me who don’t know much about Magic at all. It’s very easy to use whatever you’d like on any character you’d prefer to use, and each area can be completed with up to three players - three is the limit so you can’t cover every single element. By limiting the party to three, preparation is of the utmost importance for each mission.
Overall, I had a blast playing Magic: Legends. I liked it so much that not only did I want to go back and play it again (the booth had such a terrific turnout that I couldn’t spare the time to wait) but it was also my pick for the best game of the show for Marooners’ Rock, another outlet that I contribute to. I’m really excited to play more, but I’m slightly concerned about how monetization is going to factor into progression. Cryptic expressed to me that they don’t, nor will they ever, block progression off by requiring real money purchases - but I’m curious to see if it’ll be necessary to buy card packs in order to create cards you need, or how the microtransactions fit into the equation. I’m reserved, but otherwise looking forward to spending a lot more time with Magic: Legends once it releases.