Launch thoughts on Magic: Legends

Finally, Magic: Legends has launched. I’ve been excited for this one ever since I got to demo it at last year’s PAX East. Technically this is open beta, but with the promise of no wipes in the future, it’s basically a launch, so let’s call it such. Let’s be honest, it has been far from the smoothest game launch in history. I’ve been seeing a lot of hot takes on this game, and I disagree with a lot of them. Yes, I know Cryptic and PWE are bajillion dollar companies and don’t need me to do their PR for them (not that their PR has been great), but it has been bothering me, so I thought I would write up my thoughts. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, or maybe there are others like me out there who just aren’t as vocal about it. Either way, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

First of all, I see a lot of people saying that this is not an MMO. Sure, just about every time we have an MMO launch, some guy goes on the MMORPG subreddit and complains that X isn’t a REAL MMO and should be banned from discussion there because it doesn’t have something or other, but I’ve been seeing this even from people who usually champion a really broad definition of the term “MMO.” 

I take issue with the idea that this isn’t an MMO; if you say that this is not an MMO, you have to discount every MMO that is structured with social hubs/lobbies with heavily instanced zones, from Guild Wars to Star Trek Online to Destiny. Maybe these people haven’t gotten past the tutorial, which, to be fair, is extremely long and handholdey, into the part of the game where you enter Sanctum, which opens up the game significantly and allows you to craft and trade with other players on the auction house and all of those MMO trappings. Maybe they’re even confusing it with Torchlight III/Frontiers, another PWE ARPG that definitely did get downgraded from an MMO to just an RPG that happened to have online multiplayer. Sure, I wish it was a traditional, open world MMO where I can run into other players all the time. I wish party size limits were higher, at least four so my wife and I could play with another couple and one of us wouldn’t have to sit out. It’s fine to be disappointed with the game we got. But I don’t think it’s fair to say it isn’t an MMO because of those restrictions. 

This is very much a Cryptic MMO: It’s more than passably pretty, there are myriad customization options which players can swap between freely, and characters are equally highly customizable from a gameplay standpoint. On the other hand, it’s also a Cryptic MMO in that it is buggy, poorly optimized, and does a terrible job explaining its systems (which makes its frustratingly drawn out tutorial all the more frustrating). I guess you could say that it’s beta and that will get better. I’m sure it will get a little better, but I remember all too clearly Star Trek Online’s launch being plagued with similar problems 11 years ago (was it really that long? Dang, I’m old) and it is still struggling with many of them. 

Oh, and there are lockboxes. Lockboxes are bad and they should feel bad, but I’m kind of past getting worked up about them, I just don’t buy them. It was a dumb move to put the very first premium class in a lockbox (during soft launch beta, mind you), but again, I’m not going to get worked up about it. At least they don’t shove them into my inventory as drops and beg me to buy keys — or worse, spam my screen when someone somewhere on the server opens one and gets a rare shiny — like Star Trek Online does. I don’t mind the battle pass. If I decide I’m going to play a lot, I will happily drop $10 on that. If I’m going to play only casually, I’m fine with ignoring it. And I think putting the class at the end of that grind was a good compromise. 

I especially think the outrage over the lockbox class is overblown because classes don’t even matter that much in this game, cards do. M:L’s classes only determine your autoattack, two cooldown abilities, and a few passives. The meat of your combat is determined by cards, and you can still use any cards you want with any class. Are the abilities and passives on that lockbox class better than on the ones I get for free? Maybe, I haven’t even bothered to look, but I doubt it’s better enough to justify all the fuss. I think it’s pretty analogous to STO’s pricey, cash shop- or lockbox-only Tier 6 ships. You can easily do all of the story content in STO with a free T5 ship, even on hard more, and, while I haven’t done group content in years, I doubt your dungeon run is going to wipe because you don’t have a few percent better stats. Gear matters more. STO even gives away T6 ships periodically, if you’re willing to do some daily grinding to get it. That’s basically the same as the battle pass. Technically, yeah, I guess it’s pay-to-win, but, unless you want to be an elite endgamer, it can be very easily ignored. 

All of those rants aside, I’m having a lot of fun with this game. Once the game takes the training wheels off, things really open up and it’s a lot of fun mixing and matching cards to come up with crazy builds that function just the way you want. I’ve always been a fan of summoner-type classes in any MMO, though ARPGs seem to be where they thrive the most for whatever reason. In this game, some deck types (like the black and green) focus on creatures, but pretty much any class will allow you to summon at least a few different varieties of minion. I’ve personally been running the brawler Geomancer class with a lot of red cards, with big earth elementals that taunt and a lot of little goblins that swarm my enemies, not to mention lots of mobility for getting in and out of melee range. I’ve combined that with a few blue cards that give me some crowd control and additional minions. Since red is themed around rock and fire, and blue is themed around water and wind, I’m calling this my Avatar deck.

Like in every MMO, I’m sure the decks and gear sets in this game will eventually shake down to a number of meta setups, but I hope players don’t get too snobbish about weird, fun builds. Even if they do, I will probably run some of them solo, because, to me, that’s the selling point of this game. 

The story is… there. Maybe I would be more excited if I was more familiar with Magic lore, but so far it seems like it’s mostly just an excuse to move me from zone to zone. The voice acting is so-so.

What I am impressed with is this game’s animation. Previous Cryptic games tend to suffer from very stiff, awkward animations, but everything in M:L is buttery smooth. The particle effects are beautiful, if a little overwhelming at times (I guess this is part of why they chose to limit instances to three people; imagine the mess that twice as many particles and minions clogging up your screen would create).

Will this be my next big MMO obsession? Nah, but it might be a good side game I jump in and out of from time to time. That’s what Marvel Heroes was for me, and since that has shut down with no apparent hope of return, this seems to be the best replacement for that that has come along. I have no connection to the Magic IP, but then again, I really didn’t care much about Marvel when I started playing Marvel Heroes (I didn’t even see The Avengers until it had been out on DVD for a year or two). I just want an MMO ARPG with nice gameplay variety that is constantly updating and adding new things to do. Despite its flaws, that seems like what Magic: Legends is going to be, so I’m excited to play it more. 

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