Magicka 2 PC Review
The first Magicka was an eye-opener for me, because it arrived during my time at university while I was studying computer games programming in Microsoft’s XNA framework. The original game was built on Microsoft XNA, a framework that allowed developers to built video games for Xbox 360 and Windows platforms, so seeing a fully fledged game developed in this framework and released was inspiring. It also showcased the craziness you could make with the software, as Magicka combined an isometric perspective with 3D visuals and a crazy amount of spells that could be combined for entertaining results, from the amazing destruction of enemies to the accidental explosion of your allies, or even yourself, when trying to keep on top of its hectic action. Magicka was a unique and humorous game, with nothing out there featuring its elemental cast system, but it suffered from bugs that soiled the overall experience, especially in multiplayer. Can Magicka 2 fix all this and still capture the fun madness that ensures when four wizards are let loose with their magical abilities?
Paradox Interactive has bestowed the responsibility to develop a sequel to Magicka with Pieces Interactive, a small studio from Sweden who has a few Magicka expansion packs under their robe and some other titles to its name (Leviathan: Warships, Roby Tumbler). With a new developer comes alterations to the series, but an area that hasn’t changed much is the story. Magicka 2 is a tale about a wizard (or four) who survived the events of the Wizard Wars – a free-to-play multiplayer battle game that features lots of wizards fighting each other – and are now needed to stop a prophecy coming true that involves a woman who will remove the existence of magic from the world. That is about all I got from the plot, since the overall story is a mess of nonsense that only offers an end goal to the players.
The real piece of entertainment from the game’s writing comes from the jokes and references that litter every corner of the world. A lot of the humour isn’t based on jokes as much this time around, rather, the writers have decided to focus on making amusement by referencing popular memes, fantasy tropes and entertainment, such as Games of Thrones, Doge, Skyrim and other various video games, even shaming itself with jokes about bugs and rough releases. The dialogue is still a mixture of random gibberish and Swedish, which is funny when in short bursts, but when the game tries to tell its lacklustre plot, it becomes a little grating on the ears, but worst of all, it breaks the flow of the game.
At the heart of any Magicka game is the spell system, which returns here with the same eight basic elements – Water, Life, Shield, Cold, Lightning, Arcane, Earth and Fire – all unlocked from the beginning. These elements are easily cast with the press of the corresponding key and activated with the right mouse button. Casting one stock will perform a weak version of the spell, but keep tapping the spell key until a maximum of five are stocked will cause more power to be channelled into the casting spell. It’s fun to blast enemies with various elements, such as electrifying a group of enemies, setting fire to a goblin who thinks they can hide from you in a tree or freeze a lake to walk on it to reach a secret island. There’s joy playing with those basic elements, and they can even be modified by casting an area of effect version (new for this game) or casting the spell on yourself, but the elemental system was built for much more potential, and this truly comes into light when you begin mixing spells together.
At first it can be tricky to adjust to the play style of Magicka 2, but sticking with it until you understand it makes the experience more fun. It might be easy to use basic elements, but you are missing out, as experimenting to find the combinations is part of the fun and surprise in a Magicka game. This is a game that goes deep with its mechanics, offering plenty of options to overcome all situations. A simple combination can cast new spells – adding a mixture of earth and fire will cause a flaming rock ball to shoot from your wand or mixing water and cold will cast ice spikes that blast out incredibly fast and spray wide like a shotgun – to help aid in destruction, but protection is key as well. Casting shield will seal the wizard in a yellow force field protecting against magic, but also nullifying any healing spells on them. You could cast earth and shield to cover the wizard in rock armour, increasing the defence in exchange for slower movement or you can make yourself absorb a specific element by casting shield along with four stocks of the element to gain health when an enemy (or a friend) zaps you with the same magic.
On top of the freedom to mix spells is the chance to activate more powerful abilities, the “magicks” as the game calls them. This follows the same structure as casting spells, but if you have discovered a magick’s combinations from unlocking them in a chapter, then pressing space bar when the name of the magick appears under the stacked spell box will result in performing the magick instead of the general spell, which can still be done by clicking right mouse button. Casting massive thunderstorms, summoning a group of killer skeletons, increasing movement speed, dropping carpet bomb flames and even a handy and constantly used revival spell are some of the magicks to be discovered. Disappointingly, the game seems to be coming up short in regards to the variety of magicks compared to the first game. The developers have also added an additional way to perform magicks, as four hot keys can be used to assign a quick cast for a magick for each of the four categories it groups them into. There is cooldown on using these quick casts, but the spells can still be cast the normal way by typing in the button combination and pressing space bar. Sadly, spamming can no longer be done, as there is a small cool down on casting a magick from a key combination, although it isn’t as long as using a quick key. The removal of silly spells (they could have replace them with other new stupid spells) is a bummer, as there is no longer a surprise that comes with doing something like casting the crash to desktop spell.
Changes have been made to the elemental combinations. Steam and Ice can still be cast by mixing fire and water or water and ice, but they no longer combine to take one slot of the stacked spell bar, instead, using two blocks to cast them. This has come due to the powerful nature of mixing these spells with lightning, as it was the go to spell in the first game. Rather than reduce the damage, the developers have opted to have them take up more slots to cast, but the problem with this is that you can no longer mix ice and steam with other elements like the crazy lightning steam spell from the previous game. Add that to the elements that prioritise their focus over other elements, such as lightning forcing arcane to become lightning chains, rather than being a beam of lightning if arcane was first in the cast list means a reduction in spell types compared to the first game. It seems the developers have done this to streamline the game, as battles are focused on using the right element to take down the weaknesses of an enemy – there is a lot of situations now that require you to use opposite elements to damage – rather than going bat-shit crazy with casting magicks that require 10 key presses to destroy everything.
Magicka 2 is a game aimed for cooperative sessions, up to four players online, and it clearly shows, because trying to play through the game by yourself is a nightmare, due to dealing with groups of bad guys – there is nearly always a gang at every corner – who are built around different elements. This is a game that I recommend buying only if you plan to play with someone, as it’s just not as enjoyable on your own. It’s incredibly difficulty to try keep away from enemies without getting surrounded. I’m sure it is possible to do it, but you must have amazing reactions to be able to keep up with the various spells you need to cast on yourself and at the enemy to keep off the debuffs (damn you slowness) and stay alive for a decent amount of time – StarCraft players will surely be good at that. A patch has come out that has weakened the enemies for single player, cutting down the time needed to kill them, which helps, but still expect to be debuffed constantly later on in the game.
Playing cooperative is a nicer experience, especially so with maximum players, making it simpler to stay alive, as extra players means more chance of revive and healing spells being cast, and can help wizards in need when overcome with enemies. Even so, in a sadistic way, Magicka 2 is built on its hectic spell system, and with the game featuring friendly fire, you can imagine just how inevitable it is that someone is going to die from another player. This happens… a lot. In fact, the game is just as much about keeping yourself alive from your friends as it is from the enemies, but the way it is implemented means that death comes with a bunch of laughter from everyone remaining alive. It’s humorous seeing a wizard become wet from walking in water, but someone not realising and casting electric, which chains onto the player from the enemies because of his wet status. It helps that revive spells are fast to perform, bringing the once dead wizard back to life in a jiffy. The game only ends when all players are dead and the resurrection familiar has been used, which comes back after a revival spell.
No class system exists in Magicka 2, instead, giving players options through equipment, such as cloaks, swords and staffs. These are unlocked by playing through the campaign, which feels short this time around compared to the first, lasting around 5-6 hours to clear the nine chapters. Gear changes attributes towards elements. One cloak could make you immune to the wet status, but be weak to earth, while another one reduces the efficient of health spells in exchange for stronger arcane damage. This allows for people to have a build that focuses on their favourite element, and because you’re playing in cooperative, having, for example, the weakness to life, isn’t that big of a deal, as you can cast shield with full stacked fire and walk in front of your friend’s fire spell to gain health. There are options to replace weaknesses from equipment with other combinations of spells, which is incredibly neat.
Artifacts are another unlock that comes from beating campaign levels. These modifiers can change many of the game’s settings to make things harder or easier, up to six at a time. Feel like making yourself faster? Enable the double speed. Want to make the game harder, give them 600% more health. Feel small? Make characters larger. Want some randomness? Enable teleport on death to be spawned next to where an enemy dies. There’s fun and sadistic artifacts for people who just want to change the base game of Magicka 2, and this of course adds to giving the campaign added replay value. Challenge mode is also included to offer something different than the campaign, and as the name suggests, it offers modes, such as wave mode, to see how well you perform in the given challenge.
The original Magicka had a rocky launch, with online issues and crashes causing problems. Thankfully, Magicka 2 seems to have sorted the online issues, as playing with other people felt smooth and never once did the game have issues with connections or crashing out. That doesn’t mean it is bug free, there are occasions where strange things happen. One of my colleagues reported issues that sound would vanish after a loading screen and would only come back when his wizard was hit. I also experienced a strange issue with my wizard constantly having the slowness debuff on when the visual effect was no longer active. The only way to remove this was to reload from a checkpoint – dying and repsawning would not fix the problem. The developers have begun working on patches, and some patches have come out that solved other issues, such as problems activating key items in the world, so hopefully these will be solved in the future. They aren’t game breaking, but are annoyances that shouldn’t happen.
Explaining Magicka 2 is easy if you don’t want to go into much depth – it’s more Magicka. It arrived more stable, looks better, still contains the amusing humour and bundles of references, and its spell system remains hectic and unique, but slight changes in the game design mean that it feels less exciting and safe than the fresh-faced original, and that’s a little disappointing when so much could have been done to take it forward. It’s a good game that leads to bundles of fun when playing cooperative, but on your own, you are best to go somewhere else, as this combat-focused sequel just isn’t made for a single player’s mind and will frustrate more than the fun it brings when battling with three other masochistic wizards.