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Review: Magicka

review-magicka

File:Magicka box.jpg

Title: Magicka

Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Parody

Release Date: January 25, 2011 (Worldwide)

System: PC

Format: DVD, Steam Digital Distro.


Magicka is one of those games that just comes out of nowhere and swiftly kicks you in the balls for being a tool in believing the standards of AAA games. It is a fantasy game, but a fantasy game in as much as Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a period piece about religion and chivalry. It is equal parts nostalgia and irreverence with a surprising amount of innovation thrown in for such a simplistic-seeming game. The guys over at indie group Arrowhead Studios hit an itch, an itch that has not been scratched for gamers for some time, and though it admittedly took three months of patches to get the damn thing playing decently, people who are blessed enough to be discovering it just now will be experiencing the game as it was always meant to be.

And they will love it.

If you’re looking for state-of-the-art graphics, you’re one of those meatheads on Call of Duty all the time or one of those willowy BioWare worshippers. Stop reading now. Magicka’s graphics are not the strongest, but it doesn’t matter, since the graphics engine is more than enough to render the strengths of the game: a vivid, cartoonish art style, a ton of simplistic character models and all the massive chaos of particle and lightning effects possible on screen. All this plays into the pitch perfect portrayal of a fantasy world that’s decided not to take itself too seriously, which is much of the charm of the game. More on that later.

The real reason you’ll be playing Magicka is hardly for the story (though hilarious as your campaign journey is); it will be for the innovative gameplay mechanics of the game’s combat. As one of four wizard companions, you’ll be able to cast spells. Over. And over. And over. And over again. There is no mana in the game to husband as a finite resource, no irritating spell cooldown times. Instead, the only limitation on your spell-casting abilities is how fast and accurate your fingers are.

Magicka breaks down spell-casting into eight basic elemental types, each with their own unique properties. The whole magic of the casting system here is the ability to weave combinations of elements together to create different attacks, and to do it on the fly– all it takes to set up a spell is to press the corresponding key on the keyboard to stack an element. Stack different types of elements together and you get an attack with their component elemental damage properties and an entirely different physical form than would be if cast as a basic element by itself. As you get accustomed to the casting system, your fingers will learn to fly across that particular section of the keyboard, launching fireballs and raising geysers of hot pressurized steam while blasting crowds with debilitating shocks of frozen lightning that both freeze the enemies and double up the damage that lightning causes because of your steam geysers wetting your enemies prior. Mass swaths of tactical options are at your disposal with this casting system; the only question is how creative and adaptable you are when facing down enemies that have different vulnerabilities. Additionally, there are 21 magick books that teach specific magicks to be cast with a specific elemental combination that have unique properties unto themselves– Lightning/Arcane/Fire, when cast normally in that order results in a beam that goes beyond the screen with both Fire and Lightning riding it. Cast with the spacebar instead (and having found the relevant magick), it becomes Haste, one of the most useful magicks in the game in that your wizard runs much faster than he does normally.

Another point about the combat is that it flows in a fast-paced, chaotic and yet still quite logical manner. In the midst of all the spells flying around, targets are truly affected by the elemental type they are struck with. Being struck with a Fire element sets a target on fire to take damage over time; being struck with Water douses the flames. Being drenched in Water again leaves a target soaked and, if a spell-casting type, unable to cast Lightning spells due to constantly shorting out. The solution? Apply a little Fire to dry the caster out. Launch a Water ball to cause strong Area of Effect knockback, now the enemies are wet. What to do? Launch a Cold ball to freeze all the enemies in the AoE solid? Stack Lightning elements and blast all the wet enemies with devastating Lightning that naturally chains between enemies? Perhaps do both; stack Cold and Lightning together to freeze the crowd and deal double lightning damage at the same time. The elemental system behaves much like common sense would dictate, and thus combat is extremely intuitive and easy to get into.

In an amusing twist, and also following common sense quite rigorously, players are also subject to the effects that enemies suffer from. This means that at any point during a multiplayer game, one player can easily accidentally (or “accidentally”) kill another player with a spell meant for an enemy standing right next to him. While frustrating, it can also be quite hilarious when it happens, so do your team a favor and try hard, but remember what sort of game you’re playing when a team mate kills you off in the middle of a pitched battle. Don’t worry though, revival is as simple as having a teammate cast Revive, which only requires Life/Lightning and absolutely no lag time from casting to action time. Additionally, there are several ways to protect yourself and counteract status effects– if you were affected by one and you’re dying from it, it’s your own damn fault you didn’t use those methods (or weren’t paying attention)!

All this I just wrote about is still just a basic explanation of the combat system– there’s a lot of depth to plumb when it comes to exploring the possibilities of this system. Thankfully, the graphics engine is more than capable enough to render all the flying chaos in bright and vivid color. It seriously can’t be overstated how much activity you can find going on in Magicka, but through it all, provided you have a sturdy enough video card, it will chug along at a smooth frame rate which only adds to the enjoyment of the game. It’s a gem to behold when a well-laid plan results in the hilariously gory destruction of dozens of enemies in the span of ten seconds. The mechanics and graphics work very well together to create the feeling of power at the player’s fingertips, and the sense of dignity having done it without any game-hand-holding that so plagues most titles nowadays is something precious to be had.

In terms of story, it’s a fairly bog-standard fantasy storyline: heroes must rise up to stop an overwhelming evil encroaching on the land. The difference is here that the game actually knows that. Instead of trying to treat the story so seriously and bore players with yet another fantasy game,¬†the creators went and took an i-see-wut-you-did-thar approach with their creative liberties and wrote in scads of well-placed references that bring smiles and chuckles to a lot of gamers that get them. They run the gamut from scenes referencing Monty Python (of which the whole game really takes the tone from as well as the specific references), Star Wars, 300, all the way down to small nods to other games like The Legend of Zelda or Warhammer Fantasy. There’s even a glaring SkiFree reference. It’s a nerd’s satire of the whole action/adventure genre and though it’s ever present throughout the entire game, the combat and opportune placing of these references create good spacing between the two, so the constant references don’t get irritating. There’s also simply a lot of original absurd humor in the game as well, so don’t expect all your yuks to come from references if that’s a worry.

Best of all, the indie dev team at Arrowhead is still completely committed to the game. Their launch on January 25th saw a very bugged and unstable release that took three months of patches to get playing right, but the fact that the team buckled down and wrote those patches to improve the gameplay experience for a community that was willing to stick with them is a testament to their dedication. To this day, yes, there are still issues with the game. On Survival game modes, you get to a wave with a large enough amount of enemies on screen (we’re talking something in the hundreds here) and the game will invariably crash, no matter how powerful your card is. Rest assured though that the team is doing something about it, alongside observing community reactions and planning out new DLC to go along with that.

As an example, their first extensive DLC pack is Magicka: Vietnam. Why? It’s an extension of a secret from the original Magicka game, but if you find that secret, you’ll sort of understand what prompted a full-blown exploration of 1960s Vietnam with wizards and M-16s. Part of the hilarity is that it’s hardly a reason at all, but the dev team went with it anyways. Beyond that, the team recently (recently as of April 27th, 2011) released new Survival challenge maps for players to test their skills on: Caverns and Marshlands. Both offer good challenges for players to sink their teeth into, especially the latter given the way the game’s undead enemies always spawn in large groups.

Ultimately, Magicka is an excellent romp through a fantasy world where cliches have been twisted to their hilarious extremes. Sporting an innovative spellcasting combat system and dynamic results alongside the ability to have a full four-player party in campaign co-op and survival challenges, there’s a lot to get out of this game for the measly $10 you’ll be spending on it. Just be sure to let it patch up before you dive in with friends.


1 Comment

  1. Comments  DarkKnightH20   |  Thursday, 28 April 2011 at 2:34 AM

    Sounds awesome. I just some a video of some of it @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_XP9OBWGKo

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