One of the top posts on the Magic: Legends subreddit is titled “fastest uninstall of my life,” which isn’t the sort of reaction the free-to-play action RPG was looking for during its first week in open beta. Perhaps worse, popular commentator and streamer Sean “Day” Plott, who’s big in the Magic: The Gathering Arena scene, called the game “awful” in a livestream. What seemed like an exciting launch has quickly begun to sour.
Putting aside Day’s design criticisms for a moment, dominating the conversation right now are three big complaints: the complicated currency system (there are 13 distinct resources), monetization, and performance issues.
The biggest pain point is the Dimir Assassin class, which is the top-tier random drop from “booster packs” that each cost about $3 worth of premium Zen currency. The class can also be purchased with in-game Gold, but players report that the price is so enormous they’d have to grind for eons to afford it.
A different in-game resource, Aether, can be traded for Zen in a player-driven marketplace, so there is another grindy way to get booster packs without paying real money. It’s also noteworthy that the Dimir Assassin is currently the only locked class; there are five free classes unlocked from the start. If you’re the sort who cares more about what a free-to-play game offers up front than what you can acquire as you go, the Dimir Assassin may be a non-issue. (After an hour of playing, I don’t get the impression that I’m going to exhaust the possibilities of the free classes quickly.)
Even putting the Dimir Assassin aside, though, the Magic: Legends monetization is a bit much. Along with cosmetic items, the store contains boosts and services, like character renaming and new deck slots for about $5 each, plus there’s a battle pass with two premium tiers, $10 and $25. There are also daily limits on resource gathering, an unpopular convention, and fairly so. It’s no anomaly—lots of free-to-play games have stores like this—but some restraint might’ve helped smooth over the other issues in Magic: Legends.
Players are reporting framerate problems, and I’ve experienced some stuttering, as well as choppiness due to network lag and occasional glitchy movement. The opening cinematic is quite rough, too, with rigid-looking characters whose lips are out of synch with their goofy dialogue. It is in beta, but it’s tough to make allowances on that basis when the game is already slinging loot box equivalents and premium battle pass tiers.
The design of Magic: Legends has also taken a good share of the criticism. I had fun mucking around in the game for an hour, and the deck system is potentially interesting: It cycles spells out of your small hotbar after you use them and deals in new ones, which adds another thread to hold in your mind in an already hectic genre. I’m not sure the system will be appealing after the novelty wears off, though. In combat, my best strategic option is often to cast a spell that I don’t want to use just to make room in my hotbar for something else—which is almost the same as casting indiscriminately. I tried adding multiple copies of one spell to my deck so that it would appear more often, but decks can only have one copy of each spell. Perhaps things get more interesting when mixing and matching colors; a blog post breaks down advanced deck building, which I haven’t gotten to yet.
Based on the early game, Day had an even harsher take on the system.
“It’s not that the game lacks interesting decisions, it lacks decisions,” he said. “I hit my buttons on cooldown. I do not manage mana. There was no point in the first three hours that I managed mana, period. I really think that the current implementation of the deck and how that works in combat feels like an anti-system. It feels like it hurts the gameplay rather than creating something new and cool and fun.”
Magic: Legends is stingy with loot, too, which is an odd choice given how fundamental the joy of picking stuff up is to so many popular games like it. I have found nothing so far, and Day found one tunic over multiple hours. Ultimately, Day (who I should mention hosts our yearly PC Gaming Show) said he’d give the game “either a zero or a one” out of ten in its current state.
It’s not a great start for Magic: Legends, then, with every major category of complaint being logged in the first couple days: design complaints, technical complaints, and monetization complaints. I don’t think it’s necessarily a disaster, though. People like Magic, and ARPGs, and it doesn’t take much to get me to enjoy clicking on monsters to make them pop. The environments are nice, and aiming area-of-effect spells felt quite satisfying—despite the complaints, I think there’s something to it.
Magic: Legends is free, of course, so you can give it a try without any risk. It’s available on the Epic Game Store or direct from Perfect World’s Arc launcher. You might prefer to allow some time for feedback to be processed and a few patches to come out, though.
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