Magicka is a single player and co-op multiplayer action-adventure game for PC, developed by Swedish studio Arrowhead Game Studios and published by Paradox Interactive (Mount & Blade, Penumbra: Black Plague). The game is eerily similar to other dungeon crawlers like Torchlight and Diablo and is currently available on Steam for $9.99 with a free demo. Although Magicka was released with some serious compatibility issues and game-crashing bugs, Arrowhead has been quick with patches and helped smooth out much of the more major issues. I personally didn’t experience many issues, if any at all when writing this article.
The storyline and characters are goofy as all hell, and the game contains tons of references to other action-RPGs in the form of dialog, items, and enemies. Gameplay is decently paced, focusing on clearing areas of lots of enemies at a time, just like any other dungeon crawler. Magicka strays from the traditional Torchlight or Diablo formula in that it throws the left-click-right-click control away and takes a more advanced approach. Players are given eight elements or schools of magic with which to cast spells: water, heal, shield, cold, lightning, arcane, rock, and fire. These magics are bound (by default) to the QWERASDF keys, or the D-pad on your 360 controller. I haven’t tried the 360 controller yet, but I feel the keyboard is better suited considering you end up queueing spells pretty fast in tight situations. Each spell you cast is comprised of up to five magics, and can be cast in one of four ways: on your player, cone/beam (in front of your character), area of affect (around your player), and finally on your weapon. Some of the elements cancel each other (i.e. you cannot make a spell out of fire and cold, or out of lightning and water/rock), and water combines with cold and fire to make “hidden” magics: ice and steam.
As a player you carry two weapons – a melee weapon and a casting weapon. Most of the casting weapons have an active ability that is useful at some points in the game, and the melee weapons have different types of damage and gimmicks to them. The items themselves are not incredibly useful, and I find myself casting spells more than using the weapons or special abilities. There is still a known collision bug that intermittently causes your dropped items to fall through the world, so if you friend accidentally friendly-fires your face off, you might be stuck with the default items until you find new items or kill your friend. In addition to the magic elements, there are spell combos, or Magicks, that you can learn which give you more abilities. The first Magick you learn is haste and gives your character a move-speed boost for about 15-20 seconds. These spells look like red books lying around the levels, and some are much more useful than others. One of the first hidden Magicks called grease puts an oil slick on the ground, but I haven’t found any use for it (not even for griefing).
There are literally thousands of combinations that you can use, and most magics will stack for more powerful results. For example, 4x rock + 1x arcane behaves differently than 1x rock + 4x arcane. Most of the game is figuring out your play style and finding the quickest way to blow up dudes on the screen without killing yourself in the process. There are plenty of ways to die in the game, but having a friend or three to play with on multiplayer helps in that they can resurrect you instantly upon death. My favorite spell combination routinely gibs my teammates in one hit, but the resurrect Magick is only two elements and casts fast enough to let you get back to exploding your teammates enemies.
The level layout is linear and pretty simple. Players navigate through areas killing talking to NPCs for flavor text (or the occasional secret item) and killing monsters. Enemies have varying hit points, abilities, and resistances, and there is a boss-fight at the end of each level with a giant health bar across the top of the screen. Most bosses have minions or special resistances that make certain magic schools less effective, but they’re usually pretty easy to figure out. Enemy spawns are scripted, but there are lingering bugs that seem to break spawns every now and then. For the most part, the enemy AI isn’t overly complicated. Most of the enemies in the game just walk toward you and shoot at you or just melee your character when they get in range. The exception to this rule is the caster enemies. They can be really dangerous if you accidentally cross beams with them, and they seem to counter your abilities if your spells are getting stale.
The gameplay itself may feel a lot more like an adventure game than a RPG. However, with the enormous pool of spells in your arsenal, the way you play through the game can be drastically different from playthrough to playthrough, and from single player to multiplayer. The story is also linear, as much as it is very ridiculous. There is no way for you to really affect the story itself, although there are a couple of encounters that have different outcomes that are based on saving NPCs or buildings from being destroyed. Your character does not grow much aside from the various Magicks that you pick up through the levels. In true style for a Diablo clone, there is very little difference between what you can do at the end of the game and what you can do at the beginning of the game aside from knowing what spells combos will burn face the fastest. Good thing you can play with friends.
Multiplayer in Magicka is beyond great. The amount of spells you have access to almost doubles in multiplayer. Your beam spells will combine into stronger variants if they are similar enough, and they will cross and explode if they differ too much. The shield ability lets you reflect beams as well, so you can use your teammates and their shields as reflectors. Prepare to reflect beams off your teammate to have them cross in your face and explode, because it will happen. Having another person to heal your character makes a huge difference in gameplay as well, so forming a balanced party is a must if you want to endure.
If you are wondering about griefing, it is an integral part of the game (rock + shield = bone wall – you’re welcome). There are also spell combos that create magic land mines that blow you across the screen, status effects that will destroy your edge in battle, and these can all be used offensively or as friendly fire. Your player will take damage when you try to cast lightning while wet, so be careful to watch when your teammate starts soaking everything on the screen. The best part is that your teammates drop their items for you to grab if when you kill them, and they get to wait for you to res them as you plunder their wares. Half of the challenge in multiplayer is not killing your teammates. Also, it looks like Arrowhead has announced their goals for upcoming patches that include (surprise) more bug fixes and maybe eventual support for PVP as well as both free and paid DLC for Magicka.
If this game didn’t have multiplayer, I would have been sorely disappointed by how linear it is and how unimportant the item system is. Instead, I found as many of my friends as I could to pitch in TENBUX to get this game, and we had a blast playing. The gameplay is fast enough to be catchy, and the more people you get in the game with you, the more ridiculous the game gets. The game quickly turns from a grind fest and kicking yourself for casting the wrong spell to a grief laugh fest. Even with all of its launch bugs and single player shortcomings, I had a fucking blast playing Magicka, and if it is out of your price range, fuck you – the demo is free, so go try it anyway.