If you haven’t heard of Magicka by Arrowhead Studios by now, you’ve either been living in a cave or you’ve not followed the news we’ve been posting here at Mana Pool. We’ve been following the developments surrounding Magicka closely and were really excited when we got our hands on the first copies of the game. So excited that we spent the next few days solidly playing Magicka and entering the Global Leaderboard in challenge mode – instead of focusing on ‘just’ reviewing the game. Of course the positive side of this is that we have played the game through and through, and haven’t just finished adventure mode or tried challenge mode once or twice before forming our opinion! Our team was so enthralled by the game that the score we’ve given it consists of the aggregate opinion of no less than 7 members of our team – if that doesn’t lead to a fair indication of what the game is like we don’t know what would!
Magicka describes itself as a satirical action-adventure game set in a rich fantasy world based on Norse mythology. The player assumes the role of a wizard from a sacred order, and is tasked with stopping an evil sorcerer who has thrown the world into turmoil; his foul creations besieging the forces of good. This might sound like a very cliche setting, and you’d be quite right to think so. That’s the whole point of Magicka, which essentially is a giant pisstake of both itself and RPG’s in general. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, where you don’t have to worry about why the plot is written in such a terrible way but instead are able to fully focus on enjoying yourself.
And remember: Vlad is not a Vampire!
Magicka obviously focuses heavily on spellcasting. The entire game is built around a very simple but effective spellcasting system where the player uses eight different elements to cast an incredibly wide variety of spells. By combining different elements, the player is able to produce certain effects. For example, combining earth and fire results in the classic fireball, while combining lightning with arcane creates a lightning beam. To add further complexity, additional elements can be created by combining basic elements. Fire and Water would produce steam, while Water and Cold would produce Ice. This system leads to literally thousands of different spell combinations and experimenting with the possibilities is half the fun. The spellcasting system and the way spells are bound to keys reminded most of us of Ultima Online – and given how popular that game used to be among our team, this is a HUGE compliment to the developers!
To add further depth to the spellcasting system, Magicka includes some effects which we would have liked to see in games several years ago. Everyone knows that Wizards don’t like getting their ‘bathrobes’ wet, so if you try casting lightning while you are wet – you will instantly take damage. Since you are a wizard, you can easily dry by casting fire on yourself. Very effective, but don’t try this when you are already dry! Wizards don’t like running around like human torches either. Again, would a Wizard accidentally set himself or a friend on fire, a splash of water will do the trick and put him out again. This sort of basic functionality might sound very simple but you would be surprised what kind of difference it makes once you are in the middle of a huge battle with several Wizards casting seemingly random spells. The net result is a chaotic but incredibly fun experience, where killing yourself or your friends occurs almost as often as killing enemies does.
In addition to the above, the game also includes specific ‘Magicks’. These are special spells with particular effects which are found in spellbooks throughout the game. Once found, the player can scrolls through the various Magicks at his or her disposal – and cast them by combining the right elements in a very precise order. These Magicks include spells such as Teleport, Summon spells and extremely devastating spells such as Meteor Shower and Thunderstorm. More often than not, these spells will indiscriminately kill the players as well as the monsters on your screen – and friendly fire becomes a rule rather than an exception. This is part of the charm of Magicka and ensures that the game is still challenging in co-op mode.
Speaking about co-op – the entire game can be played by anywhere between 1 and 4 players, with no exceptions. This includes the adventure mode as well as all challenges, and Arrowhead Studios have really created a brilliant mode here. The game is exponentially more fun with more players involved, so finding some friends to play with is more than worth doing. Healing someone else is also vastly more powerful than healing yourself, so it pays off to develop some sort of team spirit.
The ‘adventure mode’ of the game takes the player(s) through a story split up over various chapters, and is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The boss fights are varied, the story is full of quirky humor and expected plot twists, and the entire game contains a ton of pop-culture references for those players keeping their eyes open for them. There are also a number of amusing steam achievements to earn, which again are all named for some pop-culture reference or another, and this provides additional pleasure for those among us who like hunting them.
Besides for adventure mode, the game also comes with ‘challenge mode’ which currently consists of Havindir Arena and The Glade. Both of these involve the player(s) fighting off 20 waves of enemies, and trying to last all the way to the end while scoring the highest amount of points. Leaderboards are included, which track both your highest scores compared to your friends on Steam, as well as your Global rankings. Challenge mode can best be described as something very similar to ‘The Last Stand’ in Dawn of War 2 – for those who know it. This mode can be incredibly addictive if you’re a competitive person and want to get your name on the Leaderboard, or even just keep trying to beat your own previous score.
Below is a 2 minute long gameplay video we stiched together, which captures the spirit of the game pretty well:
Unfortunately the launch of Magicka was riddled with bugs, some of which were rather game breaking. The most annoying ones included connectivity, performance and crashing issues. Commendably, Arrowhead Studios and Paradox Interactive have really pulled together on this one and have already released several patches in the first 72 hours. They have promised that they will not rest until all these bugs are fixed and players are able to enjoy the game in a stable and pleasant manner – so expect patches on an ongoing basis until things work smoothly.
By the time you read this review another major patch will have been released which fixes all major crashing and instability issues, ensuring the game can be played without major frustration. The level of support has really been excellent, and we feel that many larger publishers and developers could take some lessons from how the developers have responded to the feedback of the community. Some of the patches less than 48 hours after release already contained things the community had requested as game improvements, not just game fixes and this is really the sort of support we feel all companies should adopt. A game doesn’t end at its release – it starts there!
UI & Controls
The UI and controls are elements that are very personal. Most of us absolutely loved it, but 2 of our team members had a few issues due to personal preference of for example the ‘cast on self’ key. (By default this is on the middle mouse button). Luckily the developers have listened to feedback and already patched in the options to change the key bindings, making the game a lot more accessible for those among us who aren’t a big fan of the default settings. Personally, I love the default controls. The UI is very functional but some players will prefer some additional information on their screen compared to the current minimalistic interface. Again, I am not one of these people and I hope that Arrowhead make some optional settings in terms of the UI to accommodate these players. (I wouldn’t like seeing an additional health bar on my screen, but other team members would prefer a more WoW-style health-bar in a fixed location over the current system).
All in all, taking everyone’s opinion into account the UI and Controls do an extremely decent job and the game is very easy to pick-up through the start of the adventure, which functions as a very good tutorial.
Graphics & Audio
When judging this game on ‘eye-candy’, we have to bear in mind that this is an Indie title, developed in XNA and not the latest game using the Unreal engine. Being an isometric action-rpg, Magicka has some lovely environments and monsters, and most of us have fallen in love with the enchanting world the developers have created. The enemies are well-detailed and of sufficient variety, and the environments are very pleasant to look at. Some of the animals in the game, such as sheep and horses, are portrayed in a light-hearted manner which made us chuckle when we first encountered them.
The audio is equally impressive, if not more so. We love the funny accents, we love the music and we love the sound effects. It makes the whole game come together in an absolutely brilliant fashion and made us constantly laugh out loud throughout the adventure mode.
Magicka might not be the most technologically ground-breaking game that has come out in the past years, or even be close to contending for that title – but it does something a lot of other games forget these days. It provides players with the core essence of gaming: FUN. If it wasn’t for a few technical glitches and a few imperfections, this game could easily have scored full marks. Given that the developers fully intend to support this game and add more content to it, this game is pure spellcasting fun at it’s finest and you can absolutely not afford to give it a miss. It’s £8 on Steam ($10 / €10) which is a fantastic price for a game which will give you many hours of enjoyment. It’s highly recommended to play this game in multiplayer co-op – especially in challenge mode, so after you’ve finished the Adventure mode be sure to try that. In fact, why not join our Steam Community while you’re at it to find some co-op buddies? The Global Leaderboards await, so grab your robe and start casting!