I grew up during what I think to be the the spark of console gaming – 1987 was the year the NES boomed in Britain – and once I was old enough to hold a controller in my hands, my gaming career took off. Eventually, as technology grew, my gaming took a new turn and the world of PC games opened up to me. Everyone knows of the array of excellent games on display back then, but the genre that really took a hold of me and my friends was the RPG (role playing game), and with it, Diablo.
We spent hours playing these games, clicking enemies to death with our then feeble fingers, and exploring the fantastic worlds that sprawled in all directions. I must make it clear though, Diablo wasn’t the first RPG I played – but it was the first online RPG we experienced (namely Diablo II), which was the real eye opener.
Since then, the genre has spiraled out of control. Recent games seem to have lost a large chunk of the charm that made games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate so appealing: subtle humour, twixt with more outrageous comedy (I’m looking at you, Wert/Cow King/Minsc and Boo), grand stories and brilliant gameplay. Games now tend to just be clones of these memories past, replicating the gameplay, but losing the charm which made them so appealing. After a while, I began losing interest in the genre.
Then Magicka fell on my lap.
Rather than being a carbon-copy of old favorites – replicating the gameplay but losing the charm – Arrowhead Studios have managed to vamp up the “charm” and thrown the gameplay out the window, starting from scratch. Why then, you may impatiently ask, have I spent so long setting up this whole shtick about the “good old days”? Well, I now feel inclined to state, this game manages to capture the feeling I had while playing those games, while totally scrapping the old gameplay mechanics.
The rules of Magicka are unlike any other game I’ve played before. No longer are you tied down to limited lives, small pools of mana or tiny inventory space. Instead, everything is at your disposal from the get go, something that can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing…
Set in the world of Midgård, the game opens with the vampiric sounding voice of Vlad, teacher at the school of magic (and most certainly not a vampire, as he habitually points out). Vlad informs you the quest at hand, how the capital city of Hávindr is under siege and that you, a Wizard of the Order of Magick, must to go to the kings aid. He quickly becomes your guiding force through the game, appearing in a poof of vampiric smoke to tell you about the new areas you visit and what’s next in your quest, often while chomping down on a peasants neck (in a totally non-vampiric way, I’m sure.)
I have to say straight away that the voice work in this game is superb. Vlads accent and pacing when he talks made me laugh every time (which is obviously something to do with the brilliant writing, too). But aside from these bookend segments of dialogue from Vlad to open/close each chapter, the rest of the voices in the game are somewhat… different. It really confused me at first when I began talking to others in the game. Much like the RPGs before this, the majority of the games dialogue is in text form – standard fare with RPGs. What was throwing me off, however, was that all dialogue in the game is spoken in some sort of exaggerated, gibberish language that vaguely coincided with what was being said. Key words in sentences, highlighted in white, would be pronounced similarly to how they sound, but the excellently exaggerated voice work (that at times reminded me of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets) had me cracking up with laughter from the start.
Soon after your initial briefing with Vlad, you gain control of your little wizard and head downstairs to your farewell fanfare before you embark on your courageous journey. After giggling at your fellow wizards voices for a few moments, you’re soon accidentally blasted through the floor by a Magicka spell gone awry. With the floor boards below you blown to bits, you find yourself in the dungeon. Here you learn the basics of the game: how to move, attack, force push and, most importantly, how to use elements.
As you move through the dungeon you start to become familiar with the 8 spells at your disposal: Water, Life, Shield, Cold, Lightning, Arcane, Earth and Fire. All simple enough – but the tricky, and most exciting, part is combining them to create new spells with differing effects. Water + Cold, for example, create ice. Add Shield to this and you create a wall of ice, or Earth to shoot out a ball of ice. Mixing an element with Arcane, such as Fire, will turn said element into an intense beam, which can get pretty deadly in multiplayer (more on that later…).
Each element has its own benefits and weakness (for example casting lightning on a wet opponent can be devastating, but casting it while soggy yourself can be deadly) and the real fun of the game comes from your experimentation, and with no mana or magic reserves to hold you back, you can get pretty creative.
Experimentation is the crux of the game, and was easily the most enjoyable and rewarding part. Put simply, you’re able to combine any 5 elements to create various concoctions of destruction. I’m not sure how to describe it without explaining every spell I created, and if I did that would dampen your own experiences. Imbuing your sword with Arcane Fire, igniting your foes as you slice through them, then blasting them away with a cloud of steam is great fun – and all the more rewarding since nobody told you that you could do that in the first place.
As the main source of fun from the came comes from the Magicka (who would have thought?) and experimentation with the elements, there is no need for items and inventory space. Instead, the only objects in the world you can pick up are melee weapons and staffs. As you’d expect, different weapons can grant different abilities, from the Knife of Counterstriking which grands you increased speed (because everyone knows you run faster with a knife) to staffs, such as the Staff of the White Wizard, which grant all sorts of abilities, often with quick-key spells (from shooting an Arcane Blast, to summoning Tree Ents). These small additions to your arsenal manage to add a traditional layer of tactics to the game, without ever infringing on the real fun – spell casting.
To say this game “nods” to it’s predecessors would be the understatement of the century. The game is littered with references to all manners of sci-fi – from games, to books, film and even TV. The opening dialogue talks about a world of “Ghouls and Ghosts, of Dungeons and Dragons” and near the start of the game, I encountered a woman with a giant yellow exclamation mark above her head, talking about rats in her cellar. Almost all the items in the game can be linked to iconic titles of the past, too. The achievements even follow this motif, wither references galore to not only all things sci-fi, but iconic chunks of the internet, like the achievement for making steam being the Steam logo. The one that made me giggle the most though was the achievement you progressively work towards while gathering all the Magicka tomes called “I put on my robe and wizards hat” (something I remember reading online back when dial-up was a rare luxury!)
Throughout the world you can also find Magicka tomes – unique spells that are cast through specific combination’s of elements. These can range from environmental spells like Rain (making it rain, obviously, and coupled with cold can freeze your enemies), to attack spells like Lightning (drops a bolt of lightning on your foes), Haste (increasing your movement speed) and even things like Time Warp (slows down time for a while). These spells, although powerful and extremely useful at times, mostly went unused for me, as in the heat of battle my flailing fingers would rarely bash the correct sequence of keys.
In fact, that became a reoccurring problem for me. When the screen started filling with enemies, tactics began to wither after the first few foes had fallen. Starting with a blast of water, I could moisten the enemies before making short work of them by blasting them with lightning. But, as more back-up arrived, I ended up just bashing every key I could in hopes of a similar effect. Before I knew it I’d be casting force-fields around myself, reflecting Arcane-Water blasts into my face before frying my damp self to death with my own Lightning.
After several failed skirmishes, with the battle field strewn with rocky pillars and patches of unplanned ice, I eventually fell into a pattern of using the same spells over and over. I found (spoiler tags in case you’d like to discover these spells for yourself) that Lightning, Arcane and Fire combined was a pretty formidable force, and when used rapidly as an area of effect (AoE) spell, most enemies would explode in seconds. (Pro Tip: when Vlad appears to inform of the next step in your quest, attack him with everything you’ve got. He has an extreme amount of health, so won’t die any time soon, and you can see how powerful your spells are by how much damage it causes). This put a dampener on proceedings a little, as I found myself using this tactic for most of the game.
Hopping online, I noticed most people were using the same spell, albeit in beam form rather than AoE. That said, however, it was pretty tricky to comprehend what was happening at any given time, as the slew of elements flying through the screen created an confusing mess of colour and death.
To say online play is hectic is a glaring understatement of what was actually happening. With 4 wizards on screen, each able to harm, heal and hinder one-another, things can get pretty tricky – but in an incredibly fun way. As each wizard is equipped with with infinite Revive spells, death is merely a minor inconvenience – a mild set back on the road to explosive destruction! Battling the enemy becomes much more thoughtful as you try to assist your fellow wizards spells to the best effect – you don’t want to be using Water if your chum is currently trying to fight them off with Fire. This is where the power of beams come into their own. When multiple beams of compatible elements cross paths, the result can be devastating on the opponent. But, be warned, when using opposing elements – NEVER CROSS THE BEAMS!
As fun as online was, the rife friendly fire becomes a griefers paradise. If a player gets bored, or is just “that kind of person”, a fun little game can become hugely frustrating. This, couple with the painfully long time it takes to join a game (the game filter can’t turn off full games or games with a password, so it means you have to resort to a “trial and error” approach to finding a game) multiplayer can frustrate you to no-ends. Recent updates are improving on the “connecting to/finding a game” side, so that pain should soon be nullified. I do, however, strongly recommend playing this with friends. Talking over skype (as there’s no in-game voice chat) and blasting through the levels is incredibly fun, something everyone should experience.
Overall, the experience is one I thoroughly enjoyed, and are still enjoying. There’s a reason this little gem quickly became top of Steams best sellers list, and it’s clearly a game that won’t tire out any time soon. Plus, with constant updates (there’s still a few bugs out there), frantic online multiplayer and future DLC to come, this game easily becomes a must-buy.
No brainer. If you like this sort of thing, anyway.
Which I, once again, do.
Magicka is available to download through Steam, £9.99/£7.99