Magicka

Swedish game developer, Arrowhead Studios, had teased Magicka as an action/RPG release slated to hit in 2010.  After a comical video, explaining the delay, most of us were more intrigued than upset about the delay.  Now, with the game released on January 25th, of this year, Magicka has charmed us all with it’s spell.  To say that it had a rocky release, would be an accurate statement, but I believe there is a great game, and a great concept, hidden in the faceless robes of our heroes.

Gameplay

"Don't cross the streams!"

The story is typical RPG fare–monsters have invaded the land, and you, an up and coming mage, are the world’s only hope.  You reside in a mage’s academy, in the capital city of Midgard.  With monsters invading, your task is set before you–brave the 13 levels of the game, in a quest to beat back the monster horde, either alone, or with up to 3 co-op friends.  You run through a quick tutorial, at your mage’s academy, and learn the control scheme-what really sets this game apart from the pack.  In the tutorial, you unlock your spell elements–mapped to the Q,W,E,R,A,S,D, and F keys.  Each element, such as earth, fire, cold or the arcane, will grant a unique ability.  That ability can be used with a right click, self-casting with the middle mouse button, or combined with the holding of the shift key to obtain an area effect.  Combine more than one of these elements, and you get a completely different outcome, in either the beam/attack form or the area effect form.  For example, one element is a shield.  Casting shield, simply places an impenetrable barrier in front of the player, self-casting it, places the barrier around you, like a second skin.  Combining shield, with the fire element, will cast a semi-circle of fire in front of the player, and adding earth to that combo, will create a semi-circle of fire spewing stalagmites.  Use the shift-area cast with that combo, and the circle of fire or stalagmites will create a barrier that completely encircles the player.  Self cast is good, not only for shield and heal abilities, but to negate unwanted spell effects.  For example, one can see how casting a lightning spell while wet would be problematic, a quick self-cast of fire dries you out, and deals considerably less damage than electrocuting yourself while wet.  In addition, you can find Magicka books, containing specific combinations of elements, that can be cast with the spacebar to achieve unique effects, like a meteor shower, or the revival of a fallen companion.  Be careful who you play with, there is endless fun in finding new and interesting ways to blow up your companions, and revive them for another untimely death, at your hands(insert evil laugh here).  If the campaign levels are not enough to grab you, or your friends, you can team up with co-op partners in some survival area challenge maps, and test and refine your mage abilities.

The Verdict

Who needs a bridge? Have ice, will travel!

The discovery of new spells and combinations, is the immediate charm of Magicka.  There is an awesome sense of satisfaction, those first couple of levels of the game, where you are finding new and interesting ways to use your abilities.  Even exploration can be fun, as you can freeze and traverse bodies of water to see if there are any goodies hidden on the other banks, although it is a bit tricky to freeze and make your way across such spots.  The single player hits a really high difficulty, very early on, and can be quite discouraging.  As much fun as it is trying new spells out, without co-op friends to help you out, single player tactics quickly funnel into finding one or two high-damage yielding spells and sticking to those, while keeping an eye on your shields and health.  Playing co-op lends a bit more to experimentation and trying different roles, such as ranged, tank and healer, but even there, it can be easily overwhelming.  The game definitely hits it’s stride as a cooperative experience.  Sadly, there were many bugs and issues with the online experience, but Arrowhead seems to be working harder than ever to patch the game, post-release.  Recognition should definitely be given to that continued support–the game is still being patched, and the soundtrack has even been released as a free download.  Bugs aside, Magicka is an insanely addictive, charming and innovative game.   Maybe I’m different than some reviewers out there, but I can’t hold a less expensive download title to the same yard stick that we may use to find fault in big releases such as Fallout:New Vegas or COD:Black Ops.  None of the bugs prevented me from having an insane amount of fun with the game, and the co-op definitely seems more stable than when first released.  Magicka takes a charming, adventurous atmosphere, fuses it with fantastic humor, and gives the player an extremely clever and inventive set of tools to craft their own combat choices.  I can’t wait to see if Arrowhead has anymore in store for either the current game or a possible sequel!

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

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