Review: Magicka (PC)

Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Arrowhead Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: 01/25/2011

2011 is a year which will see the releases of two heavyweight “Der Klickenfest” RPGs, Diablo III, and Dungeon Siege III, Paradox interactive teams with a Swedish indie Arrowhead Studios to release the first of the over clicking genre of RPGs and beat Blizzard and Square Enix to the punch.

Arrowhead is actually a group of eight college students in Sweden, so I’m worried it will hinder them similar to how Mount and Blade couldn’t achieve its full potential with the limited resources of the Turkish Team.

That being said, Mount and Blade was a fun game, so can Magicka follow in its footsteps?

1. Story/Modes

Magicka takes place in Midgard, a fantasy world inspired by Norse mythology. An evil wizard is unleashing his army of orcs, goblins, and trolls upon the noble kingdom. You are one of four wizards (if playing co-op) sent to aid the King in his battle.

We’ve heard this story literally hundreds of times over by now, but Arrowhead uses this to its advantage and basically produces a spoof of not only the fantasy genre but pretty much any video game and geek related things it can get its hands on. Highlander, Star Wars, The Lord of Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and even goddamn Rambo get referenced. Yes, Rambo reference in a colourful fantasy world.

Speaking of colourful, the world and even your player character’s design is a joke by the designers. The world is bright and cheerful and your character looks more like the Darth Vader kid from the VW commercial in a cute wizard robe. When you get to battle, the whole thing changes. You’re blowing people and monsters in huge explosions of blood, gore, and body parts, and innocents are routinely getting hacked down in the crossfire between you and the murderous monster hordes.

I really enjoyed the world in Magicka and finding all the references was kind of a side quest for me during the game, but I have to admit that this game isn’t the first to play with the idea of a satirical fantasy world and isn’t the best at it either. They seemed to go for quantity rather than quality with their jokes and while I was smiling and chuckling the whole way through, I can only recall laughing out loud just once which is not bad but it could have been funnier.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

2. Graphics

Magicka is an indie game and it looks like it as well. It’s not going to win any awards for best graphics or anything like that, but the graphics get the job done quite well and play up the “cuteness” look mentioned above. The engine also handles a lot of action on screen without any noticeable dip in framerate of any sort, which is good when you have four mages running around shooting lasers and fireballs at multiple enemies at the same time.

And did I mention that enemies explode in giant showers of blood and guts? Yeah, that’s awesome too.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

3. Sound

The first thing you notice when you start up Magicka is how awesome the title theme is. It’s really quite an epic fantasy tune that kind of makes sitting at the menu looking for an online game almost worth it. Sadly, the rest of the music in the game isn’t as memorable. It’s not bad in any way, but it doesn’t stink in your mind like the main title theme does.

However, the absolutely best part of the game is the voice acting. Since this game is Swedish you’d expect the game to either be voiced in English or Swedish, right? However, keeping with the hilarious theme of the game, everyone speaks like the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. That is, everyone speaks a combination of Swedish sounding gibberish interspersed with some English words to clue you on what they’re talking about.

That Swedes would intentionally make a game where everyone sounded like a mock version of the developer’s language is genius. So genius, in fact, that I demand every video game have a choice of Swedish Chef voiceovers.

Sound rating: Incredible

4. Control/Gameplay

The gameplay in Magicka is summed up like this: Imagine Diablo, then imagine it was based on skill and seat of your pants thinking instead of number crunching and micromanaging and you’ve pretty much got Magicka.

Unsurprisingly, in a game with a name like Magicka you can only play as a wizard. But that’s okay, because you can fight as well as any warrior and heal better than any cleric in any game ever as there are no mana points or any of that bullshit, simply cast what you like as often as you like.

You may think that makes you overpowered, but by god you WILL need that firepower, as you not only have to deal with mobs of lesser enemies but also massive trolls and ogres that have large amounts of HP, as well as enemy wizards who have the same spell casting abilities you do.

That’s why it’s best to play the game the way it’s meant to be played: co-op. You and three other dudes can don the wizard’s robe and finish the storyline together and this makes the game much easier and more enjoyable, though watch out for the friendly fire! Your friends are more of risk to you than the enemy! Unfortunately, the current version of the game has lag problems online and this dampens the fun somewhat.

The way magic works in the game is genius. You have eight elements: Water, Heal, Shield, Cold, Lighting, Arcane, Earth and Fire that each have their own attribute and you can mix several together. For example, Earth and Fire gives you a fireball while Arcane and Fire gives you a fire laser. Not only that but how you cast them also effects their use and you have four ways to cast: regular casting at the enemy, casting in an area around yourself, cast right at yourself, and cast on your weapon.

How does this affect gameplay? If you cast heal regularly you get a laser that heals anything it touches (including your enemies!). If you cast it on yourself then you heal yourself (pretty self-explanatory), and if you cast in an area you heal everybody around you (including enemies). Why would you cast other things on yourself? If you’re frozen in ice, casting fire on yourself deals some damage to you but thaws you out immediately. In addition, if you’re wet you can’t launch lighting attacks so you need to dry yourself immediately by lighting yourself on fire.

The amount of potential combinations is staggering and frankly is quite genius. No longer does the person with the highest level and best loot win, it’s a matter of quickly and accurately entering in your spell combinations and using them effectively. Magicka finally brings skill to the Diablo-style RPG and it is glorious.

There are a few niggles, though. You can’t map hotkeys to specific spell combinations so you’re constantly wasting time entering in spells while enemies close in on you and explosions go off across the screen. Once I accidentally fluffed three revive attempts….and revive is one of the easiest spells in the game (Heal+Lighting) all because I actually couldn’t see my spell bar due to the amount of action on screen. This is all the more confusing because you can’t use WASD to move because the magical elements are mapped there. So you use the mouse for nearly everything; right click casts spells and left click moves BUT WAIT if you hold shift, right click casts an area spell and left click attacks with your weapon. The middle mouse button is required as the game cannot be played without it as it’s the only button used to cast magic on yourself BUT if you want to imbue your weapon with a magical element you must first queue the element up and then shift+left click. Confused yet? All this reuse of the same keys means you WILL get mixed up in the middle of a particularly exciting battle.

Other than the control issues and lag problems, Magicka has an excellent and innovative combat system in place.

Control/Gameplay rating: Incredible

5. Replayability

Magicka is designed to be played in an online multiplayer environment and with the variety of spells and tactics you encounter online, there’s a good chance every encounter will be different than the last time you ran through the story mode as well as the two challenge mode levels.

While there is a variety there, I hope we get some more levels in challenge mode because at some point those levels will get boring. Either as free downloadable levels or a DLC map pack of some sort.

Just ANYTHING to keep the game from going stale

Replayability rating: Above Average

6. Balance

In general, most of the elements in the game are useful in some way or another, but some are clearly more useful than others. Arcane, Heal, Earth, and Cold are the elements you’re going to be using over all others simply because Arcane makes anything attached to it into a friggin’ laser, Heal…Heals, Earth deals huge damage and makes everything into a projectile, and Cold freezes and slows down enemies.

Water’s only use is to make people wet so they’re more vulnerable to Lighting and Cold attacks and Fire, strangely enough, deals very little damage but is supposed to make enemies panic if they’re set ablaze which I rarely saw during the game for some reason.

Another problem is the difficulty; playing alone the game is incredibly difficult but online the game becomes a cakewalk, especially if you have some dude who finished the game already and has like a silver sword of ultimate doom or something equipped.

It’s not like the game is the same when you play alone. In multiplayer the enemies are more numerous but they can’t offset the fact that four wizards are nearly an unstoppable force while one wizard is an easy mark.

Bad showing, Arrowhead. Bad showing.

Balance rating: Poor

7. Originality

As I mentioned before, the satirical fantasy world in Magicka isn’t a new idea and has been done in games before and while it’s not the best, it’s still a good attempt at humour.

But the real originality lies in the game system. Gone are the number crunching and endless clicking of Diablo II days and instead we have a very tactical and very cool magic system that gives players a LOT of power but also requires skill and brains to use and you can’t rely on your stats or a single magic spell to bail you out; you’re on your toes the whole time.

Honestly, I really don’t think Diablo III can be as fun as Magicka. The system is THAT good.

Originality rating: Great

8. Addictiveness

Honestly, this depends on whether you’re playing alone or online but that has its own issues as well.

You can play just fine in single player until you’re killed by at least two dozen enemies ganking you. Or perhaps a couple of enemy wizards take turns zapping you and healing each other so the fight lasts forever before you die or just get knocked off stage by a stray arrow and die instantly. After those cheap deaths, you kind of lose your appetite for the game.

Online co-op (the way the game is meant to be played) is much more addictive not just because the game is less cheesy but also because the social aspect of the game makes you stick around similar to crazy multiplayer games like Castle Crashers. The problem is that online right now is a laggy mess and it’s difficult to find a game that isn’t private or, indeed, find a game at all. This is an indie title so you’d be lucky to find more than 10 games with halfway decent pings at all.

You WANT to play this game for a long period of time but you just can’t. The game won’t let you.

Addictiveness rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

The game is only ten dollars on digital download services such as Steam and Gamersgate and you’re getting quite a bit for ten dollars, and many gamers today are quite savvy with their money so Paradox did a great job with pricing this title. In addition, Arrowhead did quite well to pick Paradox as their publisher (the fact they are both Swedish helped) as Paradox are well known for publishing many other indie titles with great success and have “street cred” with many diehard PC gamers (like myself).

Also, that Magicka infomercial style viral ad was a stroke of genius.

The only thing that counts against Paradox is that they have a nasty habit of releasing buggy games. A reputation they haven’t improved with this release either.

Appeal factor rating: Great

10. Miscellaneous

Let’s get this out of the way first: I love Paradox. I love “Ëœem to death. Hearts of Iron II? One of the the best games of the last decade. Andreas Waldetof? One of the best composers in gaming today. Gamersgate? One of the best digital distribution platforms out there.

So in essence: If Paradox the company was a woman, I would greatly desire to have sex with that woman.

BUT GODDAMN PARADOX PLAYTEST YOUR GAMES BEFORE RELEASING IT! How can a game so dependent on online play have a completely broken online component? HOW?

Forget the bugs. When the game was first released, you could not rank the online games in any order including the universally used “lowest ping to highest ping” and you couldn’t even filter out password protected private games from public ones. These are the bare basics of an online component yet we had to wait for a patch to include these “features” into the game, except the first patch actually did nothing for the online experience and I couldn’t even play the game in singleplayer. Good job lads. Really, you’ve outdone yourselves.

Please Paradox, please please PLEASE playtest your games properly.

Miscellaneous rating: Worthless

The Scores

Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Incredible
Control and Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Poor
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Magicka fully deserves the sales success it has gotten so far, with a funny lighthearted storyline and innovative action RPG mechanics. This game reinvigorates the Diablo-clone genre arguably better than Diablo III (though we’ll have to wait and see with that one). Unfortunately, this game carries on Paradox’s reputation of buggy releases, so wait a couple months untill the game is patched up significantly.



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