Many RPGs tend to be a stagnant pile of generic regurgitation (like most military FPS titles today). In truth, a limited amount of RPG titles have innovated and offer something new. Apparently, developers such as BioWare and Bethesda have re-invigorated the genre, however this is highly debatable. Although by the same token, RPGs can’t seem to claw away from the tropes that generally plague the genre. RPGs try to present themselves as god-like entities, ubiquitous in nature, wrought by what the developers deem an original concept. Few titles are original, and thus this is the sad state of affairs for RPGs. Arguably, Magicka isn’t a wholly original concept, but what has been lacking from titles such as Dragon Age, Fallout New Vegas and Mass Effect is a definitive co-op experience that is fun, engaging and addictive (as well as extremely witty).
Addictive? It’s quite addictive, especially with a friend, and warrants excessive amounts of retries when being owned by enemy warlocks, orcs and goblins.
Worth The Time? It is most definitely.
Things Loved: The gameplay, elemental combo system, witty dialogue and awesome parody.
Things Hated: The awkward gamepad controls, bugs and the lack of a definitive single player campaign.
Reasons to Buy / Not Buy : The game has a lot of replay value and is fun to play with a friend. The longevity for an indie game such as Magicka is astounding.
Quick Conclusion: Magicka offers a break from the more serious titles out there. With witty dialogue, innovative elemental mayhem, and a host of awesome spells the game is for any RPG fan bored of typical fare.
Genre: Action RPG
Developers: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publishers: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: 25 January 2011
Price: ~R70 (Steam) R180 (Retail)
Magicka embraces all the clichés of RPGs, and is not afraid of its heritage. The game ardently positions itself as a parody, with its ludicrous storyline and somewhat squeaky garbled dialogue which sounds a tad Swedish (with the benefit of text dialogue boxes to clarify what’s going on). Even as a parody, by simplifying the core elements of the typical isometric RPG (a.k.a Diablo) Magicka becomes an exercise in chaotic tomfoolery. The game was developed by Indie dev team Arrowhead Game Studios who hawker the goods in a nostalgic, yet incredibly satisfying release. The developer consummates the marriage of a “shoot em’ up” with the versatility of an RPG game. Born from this unholy union is a full fledged multiplayer blood bath, involving hooded midgets in bath robes, and magical beam battles that would rival even Dragonball.
Magicka’s setting is familiar to most fantasy buffs and draws on this heritage (with nods to Norse Mythology) with a perturbed hysterical grin. The game follows the scenario of a magical kingdom under siege by an evil sorcerer who employs the help of Orcs, goblins and warlocks in order to conquer the magical realm. You (the hooded hero) stand in said evil sorcerer’s path of magical realm domination, brandishing your sword and magical staff. For all your destructive needs, Magicka allows you to create your own mage with all the trimmings. With the available DLC, you can vary your appearance between a pointy wizard’s hat (alla Gandalf) and a simple hood, with a kaleidoscope of colours. There is the added bonus of a range of different weapons from a machine gun (which the game acknowledges as being strangely out of place) to enchanted maces, swords and axes. Such detail for an indie game is admirable and intensifies the parody that Magicka is going for.
The game requires plenty of back-ups because dying is part and parcel of Magicka’s appeal, and makes it frustrating at times as you swear constantly, while secretly desiring a chance to kick a friend straight in the nuts. When it gets down to the gritty, Magicka’s gameplay is where it takes form and assaults you with a haphazard mix of environmental destruction, popular culture references and the frenzied interplay of players. Magicka relies heavily on its humorous veneer which parodies anything from Monty Python to the film 300, yet the game isn’t about being ‘original’ as such. It focuses on the fun of destroying friend and foe in magical mayhem. Basically this means, casting as many destructive spells as you can punch into your keyboard. Meaning you might end up with a few broken keyboards in the process. Largely, this is the general ‘laboured’ experience of the game with all of the elements (water, fire, lightning, earth, cold, shield, arcane and life) bound to certain keys on the keyboard. Punching in the right order of elements in sequence, followed by pressing a certain key (such as the space bar or right click) allows you to cast a variety of spells.
In-game, the player can cast spells which imbue weapons with an elemental enhancement, set off a ranged projectile or beam, an area effect and even a bodily effect. Plus, there are a variety of unique spells which the player can acquire throughout the whole game, such as haste, time warp and lightning bolt (referred to as ‘Magicks’ in-game). The combination of elements sequentially means that if you mess up the results could be disastrous, and one should be wary of this. You have to figure out which elements don’t mix (like water and lightning, obviously) and prepare for what your fellow mages (or opponents) select in the heat of battle. This affects the multiplayer aspect of Magicka, where pandemonium ensues as doppelganger mages kill each other (often by mistake, or sometimes by purpose) and enemies in magical warfare. In turn, Magicka is best played as a co-op game with four players taking up individual roles. So for example, one player would assume a support role healing other mages, someone could be on the offense utilising an amalgamation of arcane, fire and lightning spells, with another in a defensive position utilising water and ice spells, simultaneously casting area affect spells. The options are endless and players can play Magicka however they see fit. Mainly, as there is no true class structure imposed on the player. This is made more apparent by the lack of a mana bar meaning that huge spells can be cast without falter, and disregard for any type of limitation. At the other end of the spectrum, the experience in the single player campaign is lacking; consequently, Magicka is truly a multiplayer game. I still feel that Magicka should be able to stand on its own two feet as a single player experience. It seems Arrowhead Game Studios were only concerned about its multiplayer component. As a single player game, Magicka becomes unwieldy at times with later boss battles requiring loads of effort, unattainable for the average player without the help of a friend on-screen, or online.
With the addition of noticeable bugs and glitches, gameplay can become a maddening process that never ceases to rear its ugly troll-like head. For example, at one stage you have to battle hordes of goblins amid an armada of airships that constantly attack you. In this instance, I was playing Magicka with a friend. He departed fleeing the safety of our own airship for the welcoming hostility of the goblin-infested airships that flanked us. After finishing off said hordes, the ship that carried my traitorous friend promptly flew off-screen, and he was never heard from again. In another instance, it was decided that we should quest forward across a particular lake. This entailed the usage of ice-related spells and ended in great disaster as said traitorous friend continually froze me to no end. Following his trolling antics, we made it to the other side of the lake and stumbled upon a Magick tome (in the case of this adventure, the Magick was ‘grease’ which materialised an oil slick for speedy travel). ‘Grease’ was particularly useless in the context of a frozen lake, wherein it would have more disastrous outcomes than benefits. So again, we quested back across the lake and attempted to plant our robed-feet on fresh soil. Nevertheless, another glitch made itself known and we couldn’t proceed any further, and in such unforeseen circumstances we met an icy fate. The glitches and the overall buggy design began to wear thin on my patience, and a few muffled swear words could be heard in the background while playing.
Furthermore, I honestly believe that Arrowhead Game Studios seem to favour a lax approach to game design as even the control system implemented for gamepads is flawed, and at times makes Magicka unplayable. Really, putting the complexity of elemental selection (involving combos) into an analogue stick can amount to periods of pure stress during raids by goblins, orcs, warlocks and the occasional zombie. This becomes apparent in any co-op experience on the same computer, and defeats the whole purpose of Magicka (which is to be an all-out arcade experience). Even, with the additional downloadable patches such issues have not been resolved. This mars the total enjoyment of the game, and leaves me with the sour tinge of discontent. Yet all is not lost as Magicka does redeem itself in certain ways.
Visually, Magicka is great with a host of cartoon-like characters, dazzling spell effects and very funny character interaction. On the sound design front, Magicka’s score isn’t anything to write home about. It doesn’t have an incredible impact like an AAA title. That is a good thing because the incredible witty dialogue makes up for it. Most of enjoyment in Magicka comes from self-destruction of one’s own character and friends. The game is ultimately a destruction derby of sorts. It compels the player to be ingenious and creative in the direst of circumstances. ‘Direst’ implies situations where a large mass of orcs, goblins, warlocks and various ‘head crushing’ beasts of burden attack, cornering you. Subsequently, the game loves making you pay for your insolence, with quite a steep learning curve, and tight-knit situations where one could be stuck on the edge of a cliff, in the middle of bridge, midway through a frozen lake beginning to fracture, on top of a tower with no escape and amid a multitude of flesh eating zombies. This type of masochism is prevalent in the other game mode aptly named “Challenge”. Essentially, players are stuck in an arena and have to face wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. While playing, various Magick tomes are dropped in-game and each player can pick up new spells on the fly. This makes the mode a speedy alternative to the long winded single player or co-op campaign.
With a relatively affordable price (roughly R70 on Steam) Magicka is a title best played for the sake of gameplay. Its story isn’t that strong, and although humorous and fun to watch pan out, doesn’t have the heftiness of a more serious title. Magicka is by no means a game you’d dedicate long hours to and is a fun while it lasts. I must say, however, for my tastes it’s not memorable in the slightest. Arrowhead Game Studios have developed a co-op title heavily needed in the world of PC gaming, and with its somewhat sardonic attitude should find a relatively comfortable niche online. With that said, I’d suggest giving Magicka a spin as it’s readily available on Steam, with a whole new host of DLC, and the expansion Magicka Vietnam awaiting the intrepid mage. Yet please do remember, as the Ghostbusters educated me in the early days of my adolescence, be careful when crossing the streams. I learnt that the hard way whilst being incinerated to a crisp by Arcane beams.