Ok so a while back I picked up Magicka on Steam when it was being sold off with a bunch of the DLCs. Watching the trailers and a little reading I figured it was worth the price as it looked like my kind of game. Kind of like the good old Cannon Fodder but with magic as well. Especially with the Vietnam DLC where you give your mage a machine gun and go nuts.
The first thing I noticed when I was playing was the language for the voice overs, since the narration and subtitles were in English then the actual game voices turned into something that was slightly Swedish, but not. I wondered if there was a setting for the game gone wrong but all the options said English so I consulted the steam forum where I was told this is the game’s own language, similar to what The Sims employs that uses a mix of multiple languages to achieve some kind of jibberish. So, ok this was cool, but confusing after all the previous English thrown at me.
The other thing that stood out was the option to co-op with another 3 people, which I figured since one of the packs being sold on Steam was a 4 pack, with three to gift to a friend. These games are becoming more common lately and is not always a bad thing. The DLC content seems to add more in the way of stand alone challenges where you do simple arena combat. But more on this later.
The first levels of play through are essentially your tutorial and it is very well made. Gives you a small taste of several aspects of game play, as well as the comical tongue-in-cheek nature of the story itself. In short, the game does not take itself serious and uses any chance to pay homage to other fantasy sets. A story character you meet at the beginning, Vlad, makes great effort to convince you he is not a vampire in every conversation even though the subject never comes up and clearly he is. Especially as you find him on one level at the beginning sucking the blood from someone before hurling him off the ledge quickly as he sees you approach.
Another thing I liked was going through a village and seeing a blacksmith sign saying Gren’s Workshop in the same fort as the Games Workshop logo. And on the anvil was an ornate Warhammer. This was a cute touch. Also characters seem to be taken from several movies and books as well, one of them blatantly being the Highlander McCleod by a gravestone telling you that you only have one life and he is sick of living forever. Also the initial release of the game was very buggy with lots of crashes to desktop. As a result of the fixes that seem to have made the game more stable they added a patch that included a new spell called Crash To Desktop where, if cast, your character glitched out of the game and vanished before the game announced that you were defeated.
All this aside, the initial thoughts on the game were good as I enjoyed the spell combo system. As you run around you will pick up spell elements pretty quick such as fire and ice and water. You can activate these up to five times before casting to increase power, and use them not only as weapons but to also solve puzzles. You can freeze water, since apparently magicians cannot swim (yes it tells you that as a matter of fact) and use fire to burn down ice. You can cast beam energies like healing or arcane, and combine them with other stuff like lightning and fire. You can hurl rocks imbued with ice to damage and freeze enemies. If you get an enemy wet by casting water first, then hitting them with ice they freeze entirely solid. You can cast a shield either in a small arc ahead of you or all around you as a dome, keep it powered by spamming the space bar (as sure a method of needing a replacement keyboard if there ever was one) or even mix a shield with other spells. Mix it with fire, you get a flame shield. Very risky stuff. Mix it with earth and you get a rock wall. Mix it with fire and earth and you get a small ring of volcanoes, or with ice for a ring of… well, ice volcanoes. Mix it with arcane and orbs drop in the ground like mines and explode when your enemies walk over them.
So as you see the possibilities are limitless. There are also some built in spell combos you have to find or learn somehow, either from a spell book or chancing on them, that have unique properties like making you run faster for a while or resurrecting a co-op partner. And you have a physical attack too with a weapon. This is another chance for the game to make fun of itself as it tells you when you pick up your second weapon that you can place the old one in your inventory, then reminds you that there is no inventory. Pfft, RPG? yeah right… There is even a steam achievement for when you reach this part of the game.
The format of movement is simple point and hold mouse button. And the view is very much like Cannon Fodder with the top down at an angle. You mix spells with the QWERASDF keys and when you add more to the mix you walk slower as a kind of difficulty trade off. The movement system struck me instantly as a bit of an issue before it became one and every frustration with the game I have can be traced to this.
Essentially you have to click to move and click to cast or attack. SO you can only do one or the other. This would be OK I guess if there is a good balance to accommodate the strategy, but there is not. It tries to mix the hack and slash game mentality of mobbing you with the strategy elements above and it just does not work. A lot of the time you are simply running around trying to put enough distance between you and the swarm of enemies right behind you, who all mostly run at the same speed as you anyway, to then turn around and queue up a small spell to cast for a second before you begin the chase again.
The game is very biased towards the co-op mode to the point that is becomes mandatory. I can understand co-op in games like League of Legends where you fight in battles like an RTS. But I have never seen the appeal of co-op in story modes. It makes gaming less of a casual affair and more by appointment where you make a time for it that fits everyone’s needs. I am not saying this does not work, but it does not work for me at least as this is not what I want from my games. The movement system and balance issues also affect the Vietnam DLC where the first wave of the deathmatch is simply unplayable solo.
And when the enemy mages in the adventure mode enter the fight then you can forget it. I am now officially stuck on a level where I cannot get past due to about 4 waves of enemies, the last one housing a mage who is lightning fast with counter attacks. I charge lightning, he instantly casts a rainstorm and I electrocute myself. I cast ice, he casts fire walls. All the while some beast men with spears are jumping across the arena at high speeds and knocking me over because I am busy charging a spell or mid cast. There is not so much an element of accompanying strategy with the AI as there is just a mob mentality that the controls they give the player cannot keep up with. My original impression, with the lack of a demo mode to play and simply watching the trailers, were that you move with the WASD or cursor keys and aim and shoot with the mouse. This would have been better given how they want the enemies to behave.
Or they could have built in a macro system letting me make favourite spell combos to cast quickly with a hotkey press. Sure you can download them if you wish and I guess for a game like this it is an essential. But resorting to outside assistance to make a game playable does not mask the flaws in game design.
Having a solo mode might also have been better, ramping down the requirements for having another three people all doing something different to make it work.
Overall I am sure the game is a hoot in co-op, I will have to leave you all to watch some Youtube let’s play vids by players on networks like Machinama. But for me the game was frustrating and poorly balanced for solo play.
This was, obviously, a short review…. maybe if I could progress in the game I could have written more but to be honest I don’t really want to try anyway so I guess Magicka will be left on the shelf to gather dust and that is a shame.