March 17, 2011
An adventure game with a twist, Magicka puts players into the role of a caster who sets out into the world to right wrongs as best as he can. With the aid of a teacher named Vlad - who is absolutely not a vampire - players will learn new spells, blast away a pretty wide variety of enemies and, at the same time, probably kill a whole lot of innocent people.
Players start off by learning the basics, which consists of eight types of magic. Cold, Water, Arcane, Fire, Earth, Life, Lightning, and Shield can all be used separately to handle various situations like crossing open bodies of water by freezing it over, and while some enemies can be overcome with a single fireball or perhaps a well timed rock blast, players that simply use one spell will find themselves floundering hopelessly in Magicka. Real success comes in using spells in combination and knowing which combinations are the most effective.
As a result, Magicka is a game of trial and error. Some combinations, for example, meet with great success such as Arcane and just about any elemental magic (which creates a stream of that element). Others, however, are a lot less intuitive such as Shield and Life, which creates healing knockback landmines, it's not always easy to see what sort of spell will come out of a combo until you've tried it. However, once the experimentation process is over, it's pretty easy to see how this wide variety of spell-slinging really comes into play. Hordes of enemies will be weak to one kind of element, extremely susceptible to another, and provided that element is combined with something equally useful, players should find themselves able to take on hordes of enemies from just about every direction.
Magicka's real lure however, does not lie in its single player mode, but rather in multiplayer where players will not only be forced to work together against overwhelming odds, but will also need to pay close attention lest they kill themselves in the process. Every single character in the game from NPC to player-character is able to be killed and although a revival spell is offered for multiplayer use, the best way to avoid an unfortunate situation is to simply communicate. If one player is attempting to blow back enemies using a wave of water for example while another fires bursts of electrical waves, the damage will be quite significant to the opponent; but on the same page it's completely possible for the player unleashing water to be caught up in the electrical flow and instantly killed. Hilarious, but obviously counterproductive, and with up to four players being able to brawl at once the odds of a stray spell killing a friendly target is pretty high.
Naturally, this sort of trial and error also means that players get access to almost every single useful spell set at the very beginning of the game. The entire challenge of Magicka lies in overcoming each obstacle, with or without friends online, and with that comes a double edged sword. While playing through the first time can be an extremely fun, enjoyable experience, this kind of gameplay can rapidly get old on a second play-through. Challenge modes and achievements exist for those perfectionists interested in making the absolute most of their game (as it should be), but even taking that into consideration, it's easy to get bored when one knows what is coming next.
That being said the game does have an absolutely fantastic sense of humor that bleeds into almost every single aspect of the game. From obtaining quests, to NPC interaction and even those rare loot drops. Anyone who enjoys "nerd culture," or gets a good laugh out of pop culture references, should have an absolute blast with Magicka's story. Clever voiceovers done in a made up language work well with the games great writing, it is without a doubt one of the most entertaining dub/subtitle setups players will ever listen to.
Graphically Magicka succeeds at creating a fairly memorable, well designed world, but can often suffer from framerate and lag issues depending on a few things. How many enemies are on screen, what spells are being cast. Even operating on a higher end PC, players may find a bit of lag will jump into the gameplay. It's fine during a single player experience, but this kind of thing is absolutely crippling in multiplayer where a miscast spell can spell disaster. Magicka's soundtrack naturally doesn't share the same experience and is easily forgotten. There is nothing too special about the music here, but on the same page it's not the worst thing out there. Players will be far too busy killing enemies or attempting not to be killed by one another to notice.
Ultimately Magicka's greatest flaw is also its greatest triumph, which leaves me wondering how long the experience can last. Amazingly fun to play the first time through, with a catchy mix of good humor and unpredictability, Magicka is an experience that's best had with a few good friends. Past the first playthrough, however - and maybe a stab at the challenge mode, it's hard to say that there is much to look forward to in the future. With Magicka Vietnam on the horizon, there's a good chance the games spark will be reignited for many, and perhaps Magicka is a series that's best experienced in short doses from expansion to expansion. If that's the case, more power to 'em, just as long as players know what exactly they are getting into.