Take a quick gander at some screenshots of Magicka, and you’ll probably think you know all about it. And who could blame you? There are some monsters, wooden huts, dudes with robes lobbing fireballs all over the place, and hey, it’s on the PC. So surely, surely, it’s just a Diablo clone. Clicky-clicky-stab-stab-level-up-clicky-click-get-loot-clicky-clicky-yawwwn.
The thing is, in Magicka, there are no levels, no experience points, and no inventory. Although there is a lot of clicking. It’s a co-op focused experience where the players control a group of frighteningly powerful wizards, steamrollering their way through the countryside and blasting the heck out of thousands of enemies and/or each other.
The real trick up Magicka‘s sleeve – a joke about magicians, there – is in how your spells are learned and accessed. Rather than learning them when you level up and getting new little icons to repeatedly click on your hotbar, you’re given everything right off the bat. More specifically, you’re presented with a series of elements which you conjure by mashing on different keys on your keyboard, then casting them in a variety of ways.
Examples? Sure. Hitting the ‘F’ key conjures fire, and right-clicking in the world then sprays the fire out of your little magician-dude’s hands, in the direction you’re pointing. However, hit ‘F’ and then hold shift while you right-click, and you’ll cast an area-of-effect fire spell all around you, causing less damage but, theoretically, to more enemies. But, say your target’s right on the other side of the screen, and neither of those fire attacks reach far enough. Not to worry; simply hit ‘F’ to conjure fire, then follow it up with ‘D’, for earth. Right click somewhere, and – congratulations! – you’ve just given birth to a fireball. Out of your hands, I mean. Not the usual method.
There are eight elements in total, and you can conjure up to five elements for each spell you cast, creating different combinations – and, therefore, spells – as you do so. You can imagine how ludicrously complex it gets, especially in the heat of battle. Sounds cumbersome? It is. But that’s kind of the point.
You will make an awful lot of mistakes when playing Magicka. Friendly fire is always a possibility, so 90% of those mistakes will end with one or more of your friends getting thrown down a canyon or, if they’re lucky, exploding in a shower of bloody, meaty chunks. And then, everybodylaughs. See, death isn’t really a big deal when, as long as one player is left alive, he can revive everyone by mashing ‘W’, ‘A’ and the space bar. As a result, suicide tactics often come into play, as does the temptation to repeatedly grief your friends. As an added bonus, it also makes Magicka one of the funniest god-damned games you will ever play.
There are a lot of ways these mistakes can happen. One guy prepares a lightning-fire-death beam to blast some enemies on the other side of the screen, not realising that another player is getting ready to put up a magical shield between the players and the enemies. Both spells are cast at the same time, the beam bounces off the shield and straight back at the players, vapourising them. Or, two players decide to combine magic beams to cause more damage to an enemy; one mixes his death-beam with a bit of fire, while the other absent-mindedly throws some water into his. The beams collide, and the opposing elements cause a huge explosion, sending both players flying down the nearest bottomless pit.
Having to repeat a section because of one player’s idiotic mistake can get tedious, but most of the time you’ll be too busy laughing to care. In some cases, you’ll find yourself discussing what everyone was doing in a bid to figure out why literally everyone just exploded; after all, if you can find a way to control the position and size of that explosion, you might’ve just discovered a brilliant new weapon.
While you might assume there are cheap ways to rinse the most damage out of such a system with ease, you’d be wrong. Rather, you’ll find that different players find their own favourite techniques. One player might specialise in hammering enemies with lightning-fire-death beams, while another dedicates himself to crowd control, spraying water everywhere to keep enemies at bay or, better yet, throw them off nearby cliffs. Meanwhile, a third player can observe the overall flow of battle, placing shields and mines in strategic locations. There is simply too much to the game for any one player to learn, but gather a team with varying specialities, and you’re sorted.
It’s hugely refreshing to see a magic-focused game that actually relies on player skill instead of numbers and pre-determined spells. Success inMagicka is determined by your own ingenuity, and not because you pissed away several evenings grinding for experience points or a rare item. People have complained that Magicka is too complex or confusing, but they’re missing the point. It’s a game about wielding immense power, but having to be clever to use it properly.
When you get it wrong, you’ll laugh. When you get it right, you’ll feel like a god. Either way, you are going to enjoy yourself, whether you like it or not.