For those of you who have been living in a cave, meditating with Shaolin Monks or have recently returned from a UFO abduction, Magicka, from Arrowhead Game Studios and Paradox Interactive, is the number one game to be playing at the moment. Top of the Steam charts, selling over thirty thousand copies in less than twenty four hours, highly recommended and most played online at the time of writing. Quite an achievement, wouldn’t you say? But why is this, relatively, small title taking the world by storm. Well, I could be wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it’s probably because Magicka is addictive, playable, funny, frustrating, annoying, yet at the same time, a very cool game indeed.
Magicka is set in the Norse fantasy world of Midgard (with the funny accented ‘a’ but I don’t know how to do that in Open Office) where magic, goblins, man-beasts, trolls and vampires are as common as quartz. You play a wizard, as if the title didn’t give that away, who’s job it is to travel to the city of Havindr (another funny ‘a’) to the aid of the king. Along the way, you are ‘advised’ and I use the term extremely loosely, by your tutor and game narrator, Vlad – who spends most of the time declaring that he’s not a vampire, despite his Dracula-Transylvanian-accent and his penchant for necks and blood. He occasionally appears in a puff of smoke and says things like ‘This used to be the lair of Jormungandr, looks like it’s deserted now.’ Which is quickly followed by the appearance of the aforementioned Jormungandr (a giant snake). Vlad shrugs his shoulders and announces ‘I guess I was wrong – go for the head’ and promptly disappears. Helpful. The locals, what a happy bunch they are, also have the odd snippet of advice to give, but usually that consists of the ‘Arrgghh, Goblins, run for the hills’ type so don’t pay too much attention to their ramblings, even if you are there to protect them.
You start the game in your cosy, warm castle sitting on the front bench of your nice safe classroom. After a brief intro from Vlad, you’re left to wander around and get used to the controls. The other wizards you come across gently nudge you in the right direction and you soon find your way to the kitchen, where your friends are having a farewell party for you. A slight accident occurs, as with most parties, which has you drop through the floor into the basement. This is the beginning of the tutorial and your introduction into the art of spell casting.
Casting spells is the name of the game here, and thankfully you are nicely led by the hand through the intricacies of wizardom. You have eight elements to use when casting spells, Fire, Water, Lightning, Earth, Life, Shield, Arcane and Cold. Each of these elements will produce some kind of effect on their own, however, Magicka has a trick up it’s robed sleeve. If you mix the elements, such as Fire and Earth you now have the ability to hurl a fireball at the enemy. Mixing Water and Fire will create steam, Cold and Rain produces snow and hail – in fact you can mix up to five different elements on the fly to create a devastating combination. But, some elements can cancel each other out, Lightning and Earth cancel out so you can’t mix them, Fire and Cold and so on, it’s all fairly explanatory really, but it does take some practise. In fact the huge array of devastating spells available is quite mind-boggling, and what’s more, they can be used in different settings. Beam spells fire out the selected element in a straight line, area of effect can damage the surrounding enemy and shield based spells can raise a force field around you. Mix that with fire and lightning and you can plant some deadly explosive mines in a semi-circle to cover your back. Make an enemy wet, then hit them with the lightning spell to give it an extra punch and the beauty of that is it can ignite other wet enemies that are nearby. The level of devastation is really quite incredible, but not all spells are used just for destruction.
Wizards are a wimpy bunch, they don’t like being wet, they prefer the safety of their castle, and they don’t like being on fire… It’s a good job you know magic then, isn’t it. Should your wizard get wet, for instance, just cast a Fire element on yourself and you see him dry off. If he begins to combust, for whatever reason, then dowse him with the Water element. Life heals him and cold can freeze bodies of water so he can slide along the surface and not drown. It’s really quite impossible to mention every combo of elements, but suffice to say it’s fantastic and you really have to play it to experience and appreciate it.
There are thirteen levels in the campaign to get to grips with, all styled in a Diablo-esque landscape. Each level ends with a boss of some kind or other and each level has various secrets, unlockable challenges and powerful magical items to locate and use. Some of the levels break from the norm, such as flying on an airship and trying to kill off the Goblins who are attacking you in theirs. These snippets certainly add a little something extra to the game and help combat the mundane drudge around, find a baddie, find a secret etc. that usually accompanies this adventure/RPG/RTS genre.
The best part of Magicka though, isn’t so much the thousands of spell combos, or the nice game engine, but the comedy. This game is very funny, with amusing references to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Monty Python, Highlander and Lord of the Rings to name but a few. What makes the comedy in Magicka work is that it’s not over worked. All those references are used at just the right moments, with just the right pinch of salt. Too often you get games that try too hard to be funny, Magicka has hit the nail on the head. From the very outset you are greeted with the voice dialogue which is spoken in a gibberish mickey-take of Swedish. The translations are via a text box and tie in very nicely, making you laugh out loud every now and then.
A lot of thought has gone into this game and if all the above doesn’t wet your whistle, then I’m sure the local multi-play, online play and challenge modes will. If you’re going up against the beasties, mad druids and evil wizards then invite your mates round for a bit of local screen spell casting. Up to four of you can play at once, one on the mouse/keyboard, the rest on gamepads. The online mode speaks for itself and has a very large, and growing, community of hosts and servers. And the challenge mode pits you up against waves of in-game bad guys in an arena type setting. Both the adventure and challenge modes are available as online playable games, depending on the host, and having four of you kicking butt makes the game that little more enjoyable. Be warned though, as damage from a friends lightning beam can also harm you. Equally though, sending out a healing beam can keep everyone in tip-top shape.
After all that I quite forgot to mention the graphics and sound – that being the case, they’re good. Just have a look at the screen shots, they speak for themselves. Very nicely drawn levels and characters are animated smoothly and keep the tone of the game. I couldn’t have done better myself (HA!). The sound relates to the inherent humour and you’re often greeted with a Goblin, waving his bum at you and shouting ‘nah nah nah.’
You can be mistaken into thinking that this is the best game ever made, but unfortunately there are some pretty hefty gripes. Number one is stability. I’m not a fan of Steam at the best of times, but when this is added to a buggy game that has already been patched considerably since it’s release you may see more of your desktop than the nice graphics. Secondly, there are moments during play, that you can become overwhelmed by the enemy and far too many of them corner you. When that happens you can’t move, you can’t even see yourself to cast a healing spell. I know that means you have to be more strategic, but it can become very frustrating very quickly. Thirdly, the game is made up of a number of checkpoints throughout the levels, reach a checkpoint and the next time you die, you start back there. But what if the checkpoint is slap bang in the middle of an enemy camp? Well you spawn back and have to hit the ground fighting, that’s what. Should, however, you leave mid-level, then on returning to the game, you have to start from the beginning of that level again and not the last checkpoint. Very, very annoying.
Despite those gripes – I know the developers are working hard on bug fixes - I still really love this game. It’s fun and immersing and well worth the pittance Steam are asking for. I’m not going to give it full marks, due to the bugs. But instead, a very respectable nine out of ten. Get your robe on and get out there.
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