Magicka is currently only available on the PC
Wizards are a staple of many fantasy worlds, often as sage beings of immense power capable of destroying entire armies. In video games, however, this status is somewhat diminished as wizards are relegated to the squishy characters with long 'cooldowns' who have to stand behind everyone else to avoid a quick and painful death. Some may try to excuse this disgrace to wizardry by appealing to a higher authority such as "balance" or "a more interesting gameplay experience" but Magicka gives wizardkind its own game in which it can run free, where the only limit to a wizard’s power is the skill of the wielder and where any accusation of being "overpowered" is easily refuted by the array of foes the wizard must face.
In Magicka, you play as a wizard, joined by up to three of your friends, as you set out under the guidance of Vlad (who carefully explains that he is not a vampire) to aid the King in the defence of the great city of Hávendir from marauding goblins. The story is well written but doesn’t take itself seriously, taking every opportunity to lampoon common fantasy tropes and to make jokes and references to other video games and popular culture.
Behold the cardboard sheep!
Magicka has many of the hallmarks of an Action-RPG but is actually much more of a straight action game than it is an RPG. The camera and basic controls will feel familiar to anyone who’s played Diablo or Torchlight, but Magicka has none of the loot collection, inventory management, quest structure or skill progression which were a major part of those games. Instead Magicka brings a spell casting system which is easy to pick up but requires skill to use well.
In Magicka, spells are constructed from eight elements: Water, Life, Shield, Cold, Lightning, Arcane, Rock and Fire. Each of these eight elements is bound to a key on the keyboard and pressing one of these keys adds the corresponding element to the spell bar. You can then cast the spell which is constructed from the elements which are in the spell bar. Each element has has one or more effects (e.g. rock does physical damage, cold slows enemies and freezes water) and a type which determines how it is cast (e.g. fire is sprayed over a small area whereas rock is cast as a projectile). When you create a spell with more than one element, their effects are combined but one cast type takes priority. For example, if you combine fire and rock elements, you get a projectile which has the effects of both the fire and rock elements. To fight effectively, you must choose the elements which are most effective against each foe but also combine it with elements which have the desired cast type.
These stones are checkpoints giving you a place to return to if you all die
In addition to spells constructed on the fly by combining elements, there are also pre-set "Magicks", such as Haste and Thunderstorm, which you can learn from reading books found throughout the game. These "Magicks" are cast differently to normal spells and sometimes bear little resemblance to the elements which are needed to create them. Although it seems strange that a game with such a deep spell creation system should also have this separate "Magicks" mechanic, it allows the inclusion of one-off spells which can’t be combined with other elements and adds more variety to the game.
Magicka can be played either solo or in a group and feels quite different depending on which of these options you choose. When playing as a party of up to 4 wizards the game naturally becomes quite chaotic with everyone getting in each other’s way and casting spells which can interact in unexpected manners. There’s no protection from the effects of your own spells or those of your companions so it’s very easy to get killed "accidentally" by one of your "friends". Fortunately this isn’t much of an issue because one of the first "Magicks" you receive allows you to quickly revive your fallen comrades. Only if your whole party is wiped out are you taken back to the last checkpoint to try the section again. In contrast, if you’re playing solo then a single death will result in your defeat and force you to start over. This, coupled with your lack of armour and general susceptibility to death, leads to a much more cautious style of play involving heavier use of defensive shields, walls and traps. Your vulnerability forces you to be more inventive in the way that you use your available spells and to discover more effective combinations of elements in order to progress.
These are rather peculiar horses
Unfortunately, Magicka is not without its issues. When I was playing online with another player, we experienced several crashes, which dumped one of us back to the desktop. If this happens, there is no way to rejoin the game other than for all players to drop out and restart from the beginning of the chapter, forcing everyone to repeat the last 20 minutes of gameplay. I found parts of the multiplayer lobby quite confusing, resulting in me creating a second character with a new name when I didn’t need to and later accidentally deleting my character when trying to change the colour of my robe. Neither of these issues actually resulted in any loss of progress in the game but it did cause me a moment of stress as I realised the button I had just clicked was labelled “Delete” rather than “Cancel”. One strange omission from the game is that once you’ve completed the story, there’s no way to go back and replay previous chapters, only the option to restart the story from the beginning. For a game with such enjoyable co-op play, the inability to pick a favourite level to play through with your buddy is a real shame.
Overall, Magicka is a game which succeeds wonderfully in capturing the feeling of wielding immense power which, used effectively, enables you to triumph despite your physical weakness.
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