Monday, 30 January 2012


Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Released: January 25 2011

This is the last review of indie month! Normal once-weekly reviews will resume this Wednesday, the 1st of February.

Magicka is a satirical top-down action-adventure fourth-wall-breaking game inspired by Norse mythology and modern pop culture. A group of wizards, assisted by their mentor Vlad (who is most certainly not a vampire), set out on an epic quest to defeat an evil sorcerer and his army of fantasy minions, attempting not to blow each other up in the process.

Magicka received average reviews, ending up with a Metacritic score of 74%. Reviewers mostly loved the game's spell system with its ridiculous depth and flexibility, as well as the colourful, silly, pop-culture-laced world. The main criticism was the plethora of bugs and technical issues, including such severe problems as the game being virtually unplayable on laptops due to issues with integrated graphics chips. Some critics felt that the spell system was too complex and challenging to master.

Magicka is probably one of the best-supported indie games out there. There have been dozens of patches to fix and rebalance content, and the state of the game is now very solid -- a November update in particular that improved the game engine for better quality and performance, and added a familiar to help out solo players. One free patch introduced a PvP mode, where players could fight each other on purpose. There are 12 (!) DLC packs. Some of them are simply a few new items (such as robes with new stats and abilities) and challenge maps, but they're packed with references -- the Final Frontier pack adds Star Trek: The Next Generation robes and an arena set on the planet Vulcan, and the Gamer Bundle includes robes based on Half-Life and World of Warcraft. The two most notable of the DLC packs are Magicka: Vietnam, a short co-op campaign where the wizards fight in the Vietnam War (which, when announced, sent shocks of disbelief and riotous laughter through the gaming community); and The Stars Are Left, a spoof of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and sequel to the original campaign.
The game's casting system is complex but incredibly flexible. Your QWERASDF keys are each bound to one element. You can cast up to five elements in combination. Each interacts with the others in specific ways, and modify the resulting spell. This system results in thousands of combinations and different spells. Certain mechanics are prioritized: beam overrides standard cast, projectile overrides beam, and shield overrides projectile. So, for example, you can create a barrier wall of tiny volcanoes; set up a regeneration aura; fire a boulder that knocks enemies down and freezes them; or create a beam that simultaneously drenches and electrifies enemies. Add this to the preset Magicks (spells) that you can cast with specific combinations, and you have ridiculous versatility. Before you learn how all the elements interact with each other, you also have lots of ways to accidentally blow up your friends.
Magicka is best played in co-op mode. Single player will be fun, but co-op is absolutely hilarious. It's an equal challenge to take out the enemies and avoid murdering your friends, due to the sheer power of some of your spells and the unpredictability of casting (if you haven't yet mastered the system). Seriously, play this game in the same room as a couple of friends, and you'll have a riot. If you don't have anyone to play with, fortunately, an update added a familiar to help you play through the campaign solo -- it's pretty much Navi from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I played through the entire campaign with friends, and it was some of the best co-op I've ever played. Just recently, in fact, I played The Stars Are Left DLC with three friends over Steam voice chat, and it was epic. We accidentally murdered each other constantly.
 In addition to their own humour (like the running gag with the pointy-toothed, pale, bloodthirsty Vlad constantly trying to convince you he's not a vampire) Arrowhead really packed in the pop culture references. You can witness scenes straight out of movies like 300 and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan; find weapons ranging from the Master Sword to Gandalf's staff to a lightsaber to Thor's  hammer or even an M60 machine gun; and earn achievements referencing various movies and even specific episodes of TV shows like Futurama. If you know your pop culture, Magicka is even funnier than it first appears.
The Stars Are Left intro cracks me up every time -- "Twenty years ago, between one and four brave wizards saved the world from certain doom at the hands of Assatur..."
The various challenge maps and modes are a lot of fun as well. In most maps, you try to survive through 20 waves of enemies who attack from all sides of the arena. You earn random weapon, staff, and spell drops from monsters called Sapient Pearwood Luggage that appear as walking treasure chests. Since there's no narrative, it's not as hilarious as the campaign. Also they can be very difficult if you play solo.

The game was very buggy at launch -- in particular, it almost completely failed to run on integrated graphics cards -- but a ton of updates have fixed almost all of the problems. I've been playing on a laptop with no problems. The only issue I've had recently is some severe lag in online multiplayer, but that was probably the connection and not the game.

When the group I played with first discovered the Thunder Storm Magick, someone cast it and we were all struck dead by the resulting lightning bolts. When we found a unique secret weapon, we would kill each other over who got to pick it up, since there's only one of each item in campaign mode. We regularly killed each other by mistake in the chaos, only to laugh and revive each other.

If you haven't guessed yet, I absolutely loved Magicka. I feel like it was made specifically for people exactly like me, who are very nerdy with a broad range of interests. I had a blast playing co-op, and I look forward to playing The Stars Are Left with some friends. I recommend either a four-pack of the base game for $30, or the complete pack including all 12 DLC packs for $25. Even if you don't get the complete edition, you really should get Vietnam and The Stars Are Left, for even more campaign awesomeness. The great thing about the DLC campaigns is that only the host needs them -- if you play with three friends and only one of you has Vietnam, have them host the game, and everyone can play. Anyway, the game comes highly recommended. Get some friends together and you'll have all of the fun. ALL OF IT.

Actually, I now can't believe I forgot to include Magicka in my top 10 games list this year. I'm really disappointed with myself. I love this game.

1 comment:

  1. ALL OF IT! Nice review, totally awesome game, and that's amazing that the 4 pack is only $30!