Magicka is a new title from the Swedish development team Arrowhead Game Studios. It is a spell casting centered game that features single and multiplayer game modes. A unique spell casting system and a sense of humor set it apart from any other game that I have played.
Magic is where Magicka shines. The magic system is original and wonderfully open-ended. The spells’ main ingredients are eight basic elements: water, life, shield, cold, lightning, arcane, earth, fire and two hybrid elements: steam and ice. Each spell may contain up to five elements. Couple that with five different targets: self, area, force, sword and magick, and you have yourself a delightfully intuitive and complex system.
Cast a spell with the fire element and the force target, and a jet of flame shoots out. Cast it as an area spell and fire explodes around you. Cast it on yourself and you will either dry yourself (if you were wet), defrost yourself (if you had been frozen), or catch on fire (and burn to death unless you cast water on yourself real soon). Some examples of spells are: Revive, Grease, Haste, Teleport, Charm, Thunderbolt, Rain, Blizzard, Meteor Shower, Congflagration, Summon Death, Summon Phoenix, Nullify, Raise Dead, Summon Elemental, Thunder Storm and many more.
Shield is a vertical element. You may put a shield in front of you, create a hemispherical shield all around you (make sure there are no enemies nearby lest they end up in there with you), or cast it as a personal shield. Shield+fire+force = wall of fire.
Take a fire and an earth element and cast is as force and you have a fireball. Charge the spell by holding the button for a while and you have a stronger fireball. Or put an arcane element in there for extra damage.
Cast a cold spell on your sword and the next time you strike, the enemy will become frozen. Cast the cold on a surface of water and it freezes (which is the only way to cross water as wizards cannot swim).
Magick refers to formulaic spells that must be learned by collecting spell books. You setup the spell elements as usual, and then cast them as Magick (press space on the PC). Magick spells include haste, grease, meteor shower, thunderbolt, and the multiplayer revive.
To top it off, you have staves with special powers, swords, and push spells. There seem to be an infinite number of ways to go about dispatching the enemies. And dispatching the enemies is what the game is all about. Burn them, zap them, freeze them, explode them, even heal them if you like.
The game is old school hardcore. Fall in the water? Dead. Dead? Start at the last checkpoint. Save game? There is no save game option. Prepared an awesome fireball and cast it on yourself instead of the goblins? Dead. Friendly fire? Cannot be turned off. You are not immune to any of your spell effects. Make sure to keep that personal shield up.
The controls are different. Instead of running around with WASD, you will be casting spells with those keys. It takes getting used to, but it works delightfully (and much faster than with an Xbox controller). I found that I kept trying to move my wizard with the spell casting keys which was frustrating. After playing a while (and you will, it is addicting), the controls become second nature. Casting haste is done by hitting ADF space. Launching a super earth projectile: DDDDS right click. Chare the sword with a freeze spell RRRRS shift left click. If nothing else, the game is a great dexterity and memory trainer.
Ultimately, Magicka is all about gameplay. It will not wow you with the graphics (wait till you see the sheep and horses) On the plus side, you will not need a new video card. The sound effects are OK at best, and the characters you encounter in game speak Swedish (subtitled).
The game adventure itself features a standard save-the-world story with a twist. What’s different is the self-deprecating humor. In the first level, you will encounter old wizards reminiscing about their first save-the-world adventure. It is a satire on the RPG genre that is bound to make everyone crack at least one smile. The game opens with a blackboard with sticky notes (yes it is supposed to be medieval RPG setting). Examine the board and it says ‘this sprint is going down the drain’. Programming jokes. Ha ha.
Multiplayer brings exciting tactical gameplay. While the wizards can each do their own thing while attacking a common enemy, it is more fun to coordinate and laugh as your enemies explode. Obviously, you can heal friendlies. Surprisingly, you can cast an exploding healingball. Another fun effect: beam spells may be joined together for bonus power. There are numerous spells that work with each other. A soaked (wet) target freezes completely when hit with cold. With one mage spraying water and the other casting cold, two of us were able to bring hordes of enemies to a standstill. Having the ice staff (which gives cold protection) helped avoid friendly fire in that combo.
The multiplayer modes include challenge and adventure. Both modes are cooperative. Unless you make them adversarial. Then you can fight each other and the goblins. Friendly fire is ever present. There is a vote kick system to deal with griefers.
Challenge multiplayer mode involves waves of enemies coming at up to four wizards. I found challenge mode overwhelming. There is no pause between waves and little chance to coordinate. “Need revive” was all I had to (repeatedly) say during the game.
However, other players enjoyed challenge mode and thought it quite manageable. I suppose that if you can handle the chaos of an RTS, Magicka challenge will be a treat for you.
Multiplayer adventure mode is just like the single player game, but with up to four wizards playing together. The game does not provide VOIP. So make sure to join the Tactical Gamer TeamSpeak Magicka channel before firing up the game. Adventure mode is 10000% more fun with two people. At the time of writing, the first tutorial level is still buggy for multiplayer. Get to level two single player before starting the multiplay session (thanks Specterr).
Speaking of bugs: I would note that we've had a patch every day this week. On one hand I want to scream that we are not the beta testers, and on the other I want to applaud the developers for patching it so quickly. A sense of humor is found in the release notes:
- Fixed save games disappearing when disconnecting from online game. (For real this time).
Speaking of release notes, the multiplayer came out so buggy it was incredible: Connection attempts would end up going to the wrong server. We spent about an hour getting four TG members into the same game. Eventually, it worked. The patch fixing some server issues came out while we were playing.
Magicka is currently the best seller on Steam. It is an affordable $9.99 and I think it worth every penny. A demo is available too – there is no excuse not to try it out.
Arrowhead Game Studios.