I’ve never played Arrowhead Game Studios 2011 indie hit, Magicka. Partially, or mainly depending how you want to look at it, due to the fact I didn’t own a gaming PC at the time of its release, but also because it just didn’t seem to be a game for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love four player co-op slash fests a la Marvel Ultimate Alliance, but the fact that Magicka has you play wizards and wizards only didn’t appeal to me.
• Developer: Pieces Interactive
• Publisher: Paradox Interactive
• Reviewed on: Windows PC
• Also Available On: PlayStation 4
• Release Date: Available Now
It wasn’t until I saw the final trailer for its follow up, Magicka 2, parodying the Game of Thrones title sequence with hilarious results that the now series caught my attention. The trailer pulled me in with its awkward humour, and kept me watching with its show of chaotic and colourful gameplay. That’s the power of a great trailer, because my experience playing was quite different.
The opening cinematic sets the scene and tells of a prophecy; a child infused with magical energies that spilled out during the Wizard Wars. The prophecy states this child will be the saviour of the land of Midgard, and is in grave danger from dark forces who wish to take the land for themselves. It’s here that the player comes as one of four wizards tasked with finding and protecting the child.
What follows is an adventure spanning nine chapters and varying locales, and countless hordes of enemies to cast down with powerful magick. The plot and writing aren’t going to win any awards, but they’re just here to give a reason for the magic infused carnage to take place. Each level is full to the brim with pop culture references that sadly never seem to shake that ‘trying to hard’ vibe, but still cause the occasional giggle.
The opening chapter is your standard training level, and essential because things get complicated fast. There are eight magical elements that can used to create spells. Five elements can be selected and queued up at once, and various elemental combinations can be used to create new, more devastating spells. Some elements don’t work together so will cancel each other out when queued together, which can be useful when you accidentally queue up an incorrect element.
Each spell has four different casting types; Forward Cast, Self Cast, Area Cast, and Weapon Cast. Forward Cast fires the spell out in front of you in a beam or projectile motion, Self Cast casts the spell upon yourself, Area Cast causes an explosion around your wizard in the cast element type, and Weapon Cast fuses your weapon with that chosen element for a short time.
It sounds simple enough on paper, and it works well enough when using mouse and keyboard, with each element set to one of the top left letter keys, and Magicks (pre-set interchangeable combinations) set to the number keys, but when playing with a pad, like I did, it can get quite confusing.
The elements are set to the face buttons; offensive being the default, and defensive appearing on the face buttons by holding down the left bumper. Forward Cast is triggered by pushing the right analogue stick toward the enemy or the direction you wish to fire, Area Cast with the left trigger, Self Cast with the right bumper, and weapon cast with the right trigger, which is also the melee button.
Trying to remember elemental combinations and which button to use to cast correctly becomes easier as time goes on, but is initially quite overwhelming and made me feel like I was playing a digital game of Bop It.
Magicka 2 is made to be played with friends, and that unfortunately is its biggest downfall. When I first loaded the game I was asked to link my Paradox account in order to access the online features, which I didn’t have. I clicked the link to create an account, only to be met with a rather lovely messages telling me the game was ‘Unable to communicate with the paradox server’. I figured this might be down to me playing a pre-release review copy, and started a game by myself.
Once I’d wrapped my head around the confusing control scheme I was off, slaying goblins and orcs by the cart load. And I haven’t been that bored in a long time. Gameplay quickly fell into a pattern of move into area, kill all mobs, move into area, kill all mobs, repeat ad nauseum. The difficulty jumped from insultingly easy to infuriatingly difficult at times, at least until the correct enemy elemental weakness was worked out at which point the single player becomes a spam filled snooze fest.
The thought of finishing the game like this filled me with dread, so after another failed attempt to create a Paradox account through the game, I visited the publishers official website and was able to create one there. Once that had been linked to my Steam account I received some special items and was able to join an online game. So I did. And within seconds I was murdered by one of my fellow wizards and kicked from the session.
Every game I tried to join I found myself killed or kicked within seconds, and that was when it could retrieve information from the servers. A couple of times I received a message saying I was joining an ongoing campaign, only to have my single player game load on me. Even writing this I loaded up my file and tried to find an online game to take some screenshots to no avail. Eventually I gave up and carried on, on my own, with the Private Session box unticked so people could join my game, if they so wished, without being killed of kicked because I’m nice like that. And I really needed to finish the game.
In time a couple of fellow adventurers joined my adventure, stayed on for a chapter and promptly left because I chose to watch the cutscenes in an attempt to draw something from the narrative. Eventually my party grew into four, and most of them stayed on until we finished the game. Granted, one of them wanted to go for insane achievements, another was obsessed with searching every nook and cranny, and another was obsessed with the group using the Black Hole spell on everything, but we got there in the end. My interaction with the Magicka 2 community was not fun at all.
Four players just made everything that much more confusing, and with friendly fire turned on as the default, the carnage became infuriating in places. Magicka 2 is a game that needs to be played in local co-op, which is thankfully included, in order to be any fun. It’s definitely designed to be a local experience, sitting on a couch with three friends, laughing at the dumb meme references, or when you oh so hilariously kill each other with fire. Which, if you think about it, is an odd design choice for a PC game.
That’s not to say Magicka 2 is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that it’s so average it’s painful. It’s competent, with mechanics that given a better control scheme could have been great. The various chapter specific locations have some nice comedic touches; one time we saw an owl fall off a branch, although we only witnessed it happen because our characters were frozen in place due to a failure on the games part to load us into the area properly.
The graphics are simple and colourful, and will resonate with fans of League of Legends or Warcraft 3. All the animals look like wooden models, giving the setting a playful aesthetic. The music is nice, I guess, I don’t remember any track specifically, but I’m taking that as a win because nothing annoyed me enough to be forever etched into my brain.
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The voice acting, however, grated on me. The prologue video has Vlad, the narrator and instigator of the quest, speaking in English, then when the game starts up that same character, and all subsequent characters you encounter, is speaking what sounds like Sims-esque gibberish combined with Swedish and the occasional French phrase thrown in for good measure.
Start to finish Magicka 2 took me around eight hours. There is more to do by way of achievements, challenges to complete, and items to collect, but unless you’re a completionist the replay value really isn’t there, at least not for me.
Like I said before, Magicka 2 is a good, if somewhat underwhelming game. It plays well enough, and has an interesting spell system, it’s just not very engaging. If you’re a fan of the original then you’ll no doubt love it, and if you know you’re to be able to get yourself and three friends in a room together for eight hours then you’ll most likely have an absolute blast.
What the game lacks in depth it makes up for in charm. There are some genuinely funny moments, and the designs of the various unlockable robes help give characterless avatars a bit of personality. As harsh as I’ve been to it, I do think I’ll play Magicka 2 again one day, with a group of friends, beer in the fridge, and pizza on its way. But until that day, it will be collecting digital dust in my Steam library like an ancient and forgotten tome yearning to be read once more.Review copy provided by Johnny Atom Productions