Magic Legends Open Beta First Impressions: A Solid Start for the ARPG

by in Magic: The Gathering Arena | Mar, 24th 2021

Magic Legends is officially in Open Beta status, so it’s time for me to dive in, and give you my impressions on it. I remember, when I was still in the MMO/Games Journalism field, I already knew this was coming, per sources. Seeing it and finally being able to play it has filled me with an immense amount of joy. However, it’s important to note that Magic Legends is in Open Beta on the Arc Client and Epic Games Store, so our impressions could change between now and launch. There are a lot of people who forget the purpose of a Beta. It’s not “to play a finished game early”, but “to offer feedback, find bugs, errors, and issues with the game, gameplay, client, etc”.

While it’s definitely fun, and it captures the flavor of the Magic: the Gathering universe flawlessly, it is not without its issues. I do have some issues that need to be addressed if this is going to be a banger MMO/online experience, and I also have worries about the monetization. As a free-to-play game, it’s going to have a few ways to spend real money in the game, and that is fine. Provided it doesn’t become a p2w experience, it will be fine, and my impressions of Magic Legends won’t be dampened. But I do draw a fine line between “Pay-to-Go Faster” and “Pay-to-Win”. Either way, I’m really looking forward to this ARPG with a little MMO Twist.

What is Magic: Legends?

Magic Legends takes place in the universe of the titular card game, Magic: the Gathering. We’ll travel across the Multiverse, through various planes of existence. Each one is reproduced exactly as I pictured it from cards, lore, and time spent playing Magic. You will control a planeswalker, a magic user that can travel between planes (as the name suggests). When you create a character, you pick one of the five classes, each built around one of the five colors of Magic:

  • Geomancer (Red): Conjuring attacks of Earth, Stone, and Lava, they can defend themselves with the power of the Rock Shield spell.
  • Mind Mage (Blue): Psychic powers embody the Mind Mage. Much like Blue users in MTG, they fight from a distance, use telekinetic powers, and lock their foes down. They put their enemies to sleep or take over their minds.
  • Beastcaller (Green): Primal Might, savagery, they use a mighty spirit axe to deliver crushing blows. Between this and their Aether Fox companion, nobody can withstand their power. Beastcallers predictably can also summon useful monsters to help them fight.
  • Sanctifier (White): Holy light and searing fire are their weapons. Oh, and Angels. Angels, Paladins, and others will heed the call of the Sanctifier. They also have the power of healing, which is going to be useful in multiplayer content.
  • Necromancer (Black): The dead never die. Large, high-powered AOE attacks, the power to summon zombies and skeletons, they curse and punish their foes with unholy magics. The class I started with!

Players will dive through the various realms, gaining power, unlocking equipment, artifacts, and new spells. You control the character either through a keyboard and mouse, or a controller. To be honest, the controller gameplay is smoother and easier. Aiming abilities feel better, easier. One of the things about this that I would like to see change is with the mouse. I would love to see the character rotate and aim when moving the mouse. It doesn’t do that right now. It’s fine when you click on enemies, but other than that, it’s not an enjoyable experience. It’s also important to note that PS4/PS5 controllers will have to use a DS4 tool or Xpad app to get Magic Legends to recognize your controller. If you use a PS4 controller, use DS4, if you use a PS5 controller, use Xpad. Either way, it will still show the Xbox buttons, a thing I hope will change as well. At least I can count on the PS4/5 version using the correct buttons.

Gameplay Is Good, But. . .

At first glance, you might say “Oh, this is just another Diablo clone” and normally, I might agree with you. However, our impressions of the Magic Legends beta really say something else. This is thanks to the major gameplay mechanic of the Spellbook. Each planeswalker starts with a list of a few spells, in addition to their two primary abilities. For example, Necromancer can summon a pair of skeletons with one primary ability, and the other will summon a miasma that sacrifices your skeletons and deals a constant flow of damage.

Through gameplay, you will unlock more spells for your character, which you can put into a deck. Here’s what makes the game so interesting. You use Q/E (L1/R1) to use your primary abilities, and the keypad (1-4) or the Face Buttons to use those deck abilities. What makes it interesting, is when you use one of the powers, you’ll begin to recharge your mana. After a brief cooldown, those spell buttons will randomly switch to one of the other cards in your deck. You can set a few deck loadouts too, to make sure you have what you want to draw in any situation.

I love the random nature of this because it’s both unique in the Diablo hack’n’slash genre, and true to the Magic: the Gathering style of gameplay. You have to ask yourself if you want to hold onto your spells, or if you want to blow one now, in hopes of getting something better (or getting that same spell back soon). The card art is gorgeous, and the spell effects look great.

Here’s where some of my issues come in though. The game doesn’t seem to pre-load any assets. So the first time you cast a spell, load into an area, move forward in an area, or see something new, you’re likely to get some in-game lag or slowdown. This happened on both me and my roommate’s PCs. You can probably lower the graphics to reduce how badly this affects you, but it doesn’t happen all the time. It’s not consistent. It sounds to me like it’s more something to make the game easier to play for lower-powered PCs, but it wasn’t doing me any favors.

When you’re exploring an area for a mission, at least right now, there’s another problem. It doesn’t appear that the game saves where you’re at. I got to the next-to-last part of a mission on Zendikar and had to step away to get other work done. So I closed out and logged back in about a half-hour. I then had to do the entire mission over. It’s not the worst, but it’s something to be aware of.

As you collect gear (Artifacts, Equipment), you can improve their power with the in-game currency and other sources, which is nice. You can also increase your Spells power, through Spell Pages. These as far as I’m aware can drop in-game (but I haven’t seen it yet). You can also get them through the Booster Packs in the shop. Speaking of which, it’s time to talk about monetization.

Is Magic Legends Pay-to-Win?

Technically, Magic: the Gathering on its own has always been a pay-to-win game. You have to spend money on packs, singles, decks, et cetera. It’s just how CCGs are. However, one thing I always worry about in f2p MMOs is the nature of monetization. I don’t begrudge a game making money, but as long as it’s not pay-to-win, I’m good.

One of the first things that worried me is that a class is hidden in the Booster Packs – the Dimir Assassin.  The existence of the Dimir Assassin tells me that you can have multiple spell colors on a character (since Dimir is Blue/Black in MTG). You have these Booster Packs that you can buy in-game. They have Artifacts, Spells, Classes, currencies, and more. In a blog post by the devs, the insistence is that these other classes aren’t stronger than the base classes. Instead, they offer different styles of play, different spells, and more. It’s horizontal, not a straight power advantage. Time will tell on that. But if you unlock spells and artifacts this way, you can use them on any class it sounds like.

It sounds like there will also be planeswalker classes to purchase separately, that have their own class options and loadouts. As long as they aren’t required to be relevant in the game, I’m going to be okay with it I think. I did buy a set of the Booster Packs with my own money, and while I didn’t get the Dimir Assassin, I did unlock an Artifact, and some Spell Pages to boost the power of my spells.

So far, it does not sound like Pay-to-Win. Pay-to-go-Faster? Sure. If you want to spend some real money to progress a little faster, you absolutely can. There’s also the Battle Pass, which has a Free Track and a Paid Track. All the good stuff, as is standard, is in the Paid Track. Lots of awesome costumes, unique spells, and Artifacts will be available in both tracks, but the Paid Track also has in-game currency, cosmetics, and loadout customization items.

We’ll have to wait and see if it does become pay-to-win though. Right now, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. One thing I do sort of like, is you can buy the other classes on one planeswalker, so you can swap to another set of powers and spells as you like. Or you can just make separate characters, and just play different characters if that’s what you want to do.

Aesthetics Are Great But Slow

I wanted to briefly talk about the look of the game because it is sharp. The character dialogue, for the most part, fits the various planeswalkers perfectly. Ral Zarek has the same snark I recognize from MTG Arena. However, the dub doesn’t line up with how/when the characters speak. It does take me out of the immersion of the game, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I’ve seen a fair amount of delay in the Spell animations versus when I cast them also. This happens pretty frequently, too. I like how all this stuff goes, but it just seems like it needs some optimization. That will no doubt make things significantly better. I also appreciate there are some customization options (skin tone, a few body types, some hair types/colors). Not being gender-locked is a pretty hot-button topic in the MMO community it seems. Never bothered me personally, but I can understand why some people feel different.

Off To A Good Start

My impressions of Magic Legends are honestly positive coming into it. Most of the critiques I have can and likely will be fixed as time goes on in this Open Beta. It feels like a genuine beta, as in, they’re going to improve it as time goes on. Magic Legends isn’t due out until later this year either way, on PC and console. I’m more curious to see how it will play on PS5 if I can be honest with you. It feels like the game was designed for the controller, and that’s how I play myself. It felt clunky and awkward on keyboard and mouse, but that might not be the case for everyone. I’m willing to come back and take another look, once I’ve hit level cap and had more time to experience high-level gameplay.


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