Magicka on the PC looks a lot like Death Spank to the casual eye, but it’s far more than that. The game puts the player in the role of an ambiguous, sword-wielding magician like many games before it. However, what sets Magicka apart from other “casual” action RPGs is its casting mechanics. The game allows the player eight different types of magic in which to build combinations upon. The magic consists of healing, shielding, arcane, fire, lightning, water, ice, and earth magic. From there, the player can queue up five spell commands to create a useable spell. For example: the player can queue up three bits of lightning and two bits of fire and wail it at the enemies to create a chain lighting effect that passes from enemy to enemy igniting them along the way.
If the idea of queuing up unique elements sounds awesome as it were, what makes the idea even more impressive are the nuances. Chain lighting that sets goblins ablaze is only the beginning; there are tons more combinations with satisfyingly unique punctuations. As the game progresses, the player discovers more and more spell combinations. Some that directly make sense and some that provide game changing mechanics. By combining fire, lightning and arcane magic, ‘haste’ can be cast to run at high speeds. The combinations are vast and tons of fun to discover. By happenstance, I combined shielding, earth and healing to discover a totally awesome rockshield in which to gather hitpoints by.
All of this can be a lot to take in, though. If I were to explain all the unique game mechanics, this review would be nearly a novel. The game does what it can to hold the player’s hand during the learning process, but using well-placed strategy through numerous, and sometimes overwhelming, combinations can be difficult when rams are charging at the player tossing them off cliffs more often than should be allowed. The game can be terribly unforgiving and seemingly unfair. That’s just assuming the player remembers which keys correspond to what spells in time of action. It’s sometimes a bit too easy to cast a spell on one self when overwhelmed and end up dying as an onslaught of demons whittle down hitpoint by hitpoint. I highly suggest that the player take some time outside of combat to get familiar with various spell combinations and turn the strategy to near muscle memory. Through experimentation and active learning, Magicka rewards those who take on the bull and learn what is a vast and satisfying combat mechanic.
Defeating baddies that jump on your back, spit fire, and throw bombs at you is quite the fun task, but made much better by the co-op experience that supports up to four players. While the game is indeed fun and perfectly playable alone, it’s clear that co-op is a huge focus (think akin to Borderlands). The best part about co-op, beyond its undeniable chaos, is the strategies that open up to the player. Everyone is on the same keel with all the same magic, but by thinking as a collective, players can take on roles within the group. While one player is hurling flaming rock chunks at zombies, another player can throw up some shields and revive fallen comrades. If things get overwhelming, another player can shoot a blast of air, knocking enemies back and allowing another player to heal up. Again, be careful. Not only can the player hurt themselves, friendly fire is enabled.
Hacking and casting against enemies is set to what is essentially a useless story. There is a big bad sorcerer who wants to take over the world with his minions and so on, so forth. Nothing too exciting, but that doesn’t mean that getting through the game’s campaign isn’t satisfying. The game doesn’t take itself all too seriously and the narrative only serves the purpose of there just being one. That’s a good thing. The game is simply a linear experience devoid of text-based side quests and interface-driven progression. Even though the people you meet speak in annoying, Sims-like gibberish, their sub-titled humor can be endearing from time to time. For those that are attracted to referential nerd humor, there is plenty to laugh and point at. Picking out references from various sci-fi movies and other action RPGs can be a good ol’ time, but if that’s not the player’s cup of tea, they will likely find the humor to fall short and perhaps be a bit annoying. The repetition of certain jokes that weren’t even funny the first time certainly doesn’t help.
The environments of the campaign are exceedingly fresh and quaint. The game will bring the player from Norse grassy knolls, to creepy dungeons, archaic castles, and eerie cemeteries. The environments also present dynamics in gameplay — like having to freeze a lake to cross it. Not only does the game present a slew of environments with great detail, but there are plenty of variations in evil doers. The player will encounter goblins, evil club-wielding sheep, terrifying yeti and more. The different enemies behave differently as well. Druids raise minions, bomb throwers explode when lit on fire and snakes pop out of the ground for ambush. The effects really hold up as flames look impressively realistic, lightning looks chaotically frazzling, and blood spills generously everywhere. All of this is set to an appropriate, but not awe worthy, musical composition. As a whole, the presentation really shines and serves the game extremely well.
If playing the campaign is getting old – or if the player has finished the 13 chapters – there is a horde-like arena mode for the efforts soaring to the top of the leaderboards. This mode is extremely satisfying and allows for a great opportunity to show of one’s magical chops. It only helps that this mode also supports four player co-op. The arenas are unique and provide for waves and waves of various enemies that aren’t often seen in the same progression as the campaign. Much like many of Magicka’s features, this is very refreshing as well.
Nearly all matters so far point to an amazing experience, but Magicka isn’t impressive in every way. Unfortunately, the game falls to a terrible save system in which the player is sent back to the beginning of the level if they leave the game. Being that the levels can take quite some time, check point saves would have made for a better system. As mentioned, the game is often frustratingly difficult and being sent far back can be extremely discouraging. What is even more discouraging are the bugs. Since Magicka’s release, many patches have come out in order to fixing near game ruining bugs. Many players have been turned off by the utter failure to release what feels like a well coded game. Sometimes the player cannot move on and will get stick in environments or the game will flat out lock up. Though, as said, patches have been coming out near daily and the game is shaping up to feel much more functional. It’s still hard to be forgiving when these issues should have been previously addressed and many gamers will have spoiled perspectives on what is an awesome game when it works.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m in love with this game. The gameplay is extremely innovative and made only better by every nuance. Through immersive casting combinations, pleasantly appealing visuals, and fresh innovations, Magicka presents itself as an amazingly rewarding experience. The game can be frustrating to master, especially with game breaking bugs that slow the player down, but it’s well worth learning the complicated and involving game mechanics. Truthfully, Magicka’s biggest issue may be that its idea is larger than the game – I would’ve love to have seen this become a full retail title. At merely 10$, this game takes on the idea that it can transcend the value of its price tag through innovation and exceedingly powerful ambition. Developers out there, take note. Magicka is what casual action RPGs should be shooting for.
4.5 out of 5