Monday, May 27, 2013


There are a lot of games out there with small yet dedicated fanbases.  Magicka, a wacky Swedish fantasy title from Paradox Interactive, hit with a splash in 2011 and has developed a cult following due to its never-ending litany of pop culture jokes, off-the-wall multiplayer, and a constant stream of DLC rivaled only by tower defense game, Dungeon Defenders.  After eyeing it for a long time, I finally decided to sit down and see what the fans were talking about.

What were my expectations going in?
I've sat on this game for almost two years.  I bought it on Steam when I had my old PC, and for some inexplicable reason, I could barely run it.  My old PC before this one could run Bioshock on medium settings, but this weird little seemingly low-intensity game ran about 1 frame per five seconds before crashing.  And so, it fell by the wayside.  Once I got my new rig in Nov 2011, I always meant to pick up Magicka, but never got around to it.  But anytime I saw it mentioned online, people always seemed to love it.

So how was it?
I liked it, quite a bit.  I can't say that I loved it?  But the game absolutely oozes silly charm, and never takes anything seriously.  It features a brief, amusing single-player campaign, and up to four player "co-op" in adventure mode or a survival arena.  I put "co-op" in quotes, because half the fun of co-op is the rampant friendly fire, making your teammates every bit as dangerous as the enemies.  As many of my readers know, I don't do much in the way of multiplayer, so I think the fact that I didn't play Magicka with others is a big part of why I didn't love this game as much as I thought I would.

That's not to say I didn't like it!  I did have quite a bit of fun with my time with Magicka's singleplayer campaign.  At no point does this game claim to be a serious endeavor.  Tons of pop culture references abound, and all of the dialogue is silly and tongue-in-cheek; there are hardly any sentences without some kind of joke or pop culture reference in it.  Nothing gets by this game unskewered.  The DLC adds a ton of new character robes, all of which have some kind of reference to them.  My first robe was a Reddit robe, and my starting equipment was a double- ended sword made of an orangered upvote and a periwinkle downvote.  Then I tried using one of the robes, modeled after the Warhammer 40K Space Marine, and that....yeah that was just cheating.  I barely even needed magic.  I had a gun.

Magicka features a 3-D isometric view with a very pretty art style.  I would say that it looks very similar to an average polished MMO, only without the clutter of bars and menus and hotkeys everywhere.  What baffled me was that the PC requirements to run the game are fairly high.  From what I understand, the majority of this comes from a fairly impressive and robust lighting engine to give the spell effects that "ooh" and "ahh" factor.  There are also many that say the game is simply not well-optimized, as it comes from a tiny team of devs, with only two programmers working the entire thing.

Audio in the game is fairly high quality.  The music is lively and cute, often packed with lots of flutes and fifes.  The average overworld music tends to be very light and peppy Nordic fantasy medieval fare, while the combat music is more bombastic and deep.  The most memorable part of the game's audio, however, is the spoken dialogue.  The characters speak in a weird made-up language that is very similar to Simlish, only if it were spoken by the Muppets' Swedish Chef.  A little googling confirmed that it is about 20% Swedish, 20% English, and 60% makebelieve babble.  And then of course, there's the totally-not-a-vampire Vlad, who speaks in this language with a thick Transylvanian accent.

So why didn't I love this game?   I think a lot of it had to do with the gameplay itself.  Spellcasting controls are complicated and hard to get used to, but the game kind of helps you with that.  You have eight magic "types", each with corresponding keys QWER and ASDF.  How you combine them, up to 8 entries, determines the spell you cast.  Some are pretty straightforward, like A+S combines Lightning and Arcane, creating a beam of electricity. Others combine into actual spells for different effects, like the first actual spell you learn, Haste.  Haste is made by combining Lightning, Arcane, and Fire.  Some spells can also be confusingly combined; one asked for "steam" as one of the keys.  It didn't take a lot of brainpower to figure out that this meant Water + Fire, but it still cost precious seconds in battle.

The game assists by giving you grimoires, which don't cast the spell right out, but at least give you the combos on-screen. It's quick to point out even in the tutorial that you don't have to have a grimoire pulled up in order to cast a spell; as long as you remember it, you can cast it.  Holding the right mouse key lets a spell charge, and casting while holding L-shift makes any spell an AoE.  There is no mana, and your spells have no cooldown.  You can cast as much magic, no matter how powerful, as much as you want.  The challenge comes from using your left hand to key in spells that can take up to eight keystrokes, which you often have to remember, while facing down enemies.  

While I understand that the infinite magic is offset by the difficulty of typing out your spell, but this still gets very frustrating at times; it's very very easy to die.  Enemies tend to not be very strong, but they often come in number.  It's still kind of tough typing out lengthy spells (like a powerful ice blast, typing out RQRQRQRR) with one hand while controlling movement/aim with the mouse.  What it ends up boiling down to is learning a single spell blend that works for you, and spamming the shit out of it.  I got through the first few stages by spamming AASS (a powerful blend of Lightning and Arcane), alternating the basic beam attack and the AoE version if I got bogged down.  When the next stage came about, the enemies seemed resistant.  I switched it up to SSFF (Arcane + Fire) and stomped the shit out of them.  

I think the biggest issue I had here was that there is a promise of near-infinite combinations, but practical use inhibits this.  I would have liked to set up macros for some of the more complicated spells.  I was hoping this is what the grimoires would be: quick-access spells in the heat of combat.  But the player never really gets to experiment with magic combinations apart from random key mashing, resulting in a lot of "wait, that was the hell did I do that?  What did I just press?"

Okay so that was an overly complicated and wordy dissertation on my gripes with the game for what should be a simple review, and I know that.  On one hand, it's not gamebreaking, but on the other hand, it is the core of your gameplay.  If you can get past the complicated input, it's actually a very fun little game that I've really enjoyed my time with.  It's a straightforward, linear story, with plenty of hidden items and collectibles (why dead moose?) to find, and it will keep you laughing through the entire thing.  The main singleplayer campaign doesn't really have a very compelling story, but it keeps you moving with challenge and humor.

I enjoyed my time with Magicka, and I think that I'm going to continue playing.  I am very excited to play some of the DLC campaigns, including Lovecraft-themed "The Stars Are Left", and "Dungeons & Daemons".  Who knows?  I may even track down a few friends and see if the multiplayer really is as fun as they say.  

Play time:  About 4 hours  
Finished:  About halfway.  
Recommended:   Yes, especially if you have people to play with
Available For:  PC

1 comment:

  1. Until I saw that last line, I was going to say to you, "Do I have to 'borrow' a friend's computer, come down there, and force you to play with someone?"

    Besides, it has friendly-fire, right?
    If you ever get frustrated with them... HUNT THEM.