Review: Magicka (PC)

Magicka is a combination of an rpg and puzzle game, developed by Arrowhead Game Studios and published by Paradox Interactive.

As an rpg it is unusual as you play without the traditional incentives of loot or upgrades.  One of the first things you’ll notice about the game is its lack of an inventory system (one of the characters actually makes a joke about this), and no quest log. You do occasionally receive new spells by finding books littered throughout the landscape, and you can take weapons from vanquished foes.  All in all, however, the focus of this game is not self-improvement.  It’s more about finding new and unusual ways to make enemies die by combining elements (such as water, fire, lightening, earth) to create powerful spells.  Surprisingly, this is done so well in the game that you end up forgetting about the lack of upgradable armour and just start to enjoy mucking around with throwing mud in people’s faces or setting them alight.

The game has a top down perspective, with a slight angle so that you can see most of the action unfolding on the screen.  There were a few times when my character was hidden/stuck by trees or in a tunnel so that I couldn’t really see my health meter.  I found the best solution was to wade out into the middle of the screen when enemies attacked so that I could see myself at all times.  This may sound basic, but in this game it is crucially important to be able to see your health meter as you tend to die very quickly and a lot if you don’t heal/restore yourself on a regular basis during battles. I found the graphics to be beautiful.  The scenery does make want you want explore, however the path you’re on a fairly fixed, with no real sense of exploration or discovering things on your own.  The AI seemed a little unbalanced – at times I could kill several enemies with one or two spells, but then I’d die instantly at the hands/claws of another enemy.

You can turn off the “Blood & Gore” setting, which makes it a fairly innocuous game for kids.  There is still a little blood when enemies die, but the game is so cartoonish that you barely notice.  I might recommend it for kids under the age of say, 12, if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t think many would be able to coordinate the furious moves you need to make on the keyboard just to survive.  As it was I had trouble keeping up with the spell casting moves by myself.  This game was designed for cooperative play, and I think having two or more companions helping during the battles would take a lot of the pressure off.  I didn’t try this, but eventually (after dying numerous times) I got my 7 year old to do the spells for me while I healed myself and moved with the mouse.  This seemed to work quite well, but I’m sure this is not what the developers had in mind.

The tongue-in-cheek dialogue is actually quite funny, and is a mix between Swedish and broken English (with subtitles).  You can also skip through dialogue and cut scenes, which is a very useful feature as you die a lot, and there’s nothing worse than having to hear the same old witty banter over and over again.

Unfortunately the mouse controls are a pain.  For example, clicking the middle mouse button is supposed to heal yourself.  I found instead that clicking the button brought up the desktop.  Once I had configured the “heal yourself” button (I used the “/” key) it was fine though.  Using the mouse wheel is supposed to bring up a menu of spells, although once again I found this hit and miss, so stopped using it altogether during the game.  Because of the sheer number of elements for spell casting, it was inevitable that frantic key tapping was going to be feature of the game.  Unfortunately this can be overwhelming during battles.  There is the option of using a controller with the game, although I’m not sure how effective they are.  If I was going to play this game regularly I’d probably look into configuring my X360 controller to see if I could reduce the strain on my fingers a little.

One thing I found very annoying was that when you cast spells you attack everything around you, even allies.  There is no real way to avoid this.  You can heal other characters, although in the heat of battle I didn’t really find I had time to stop and heal anyone other than myself.

The music is perfect for this type of game – neither catchy nor offensive, and you probably won’t even notice it during gameplay.

I haven’t tried multiplayer mode, so can’t comment on how that works.  From what I understand (and what I read on the Steam forums) the multiplayer mode has had many problems, however I understand that as I type Paradox are working on a patch that should hopefully fix some of the known issues.  Once the patch is released I might try and play a few games online to see what it’s like.  I’ll keep you posted on the results.

Overall I’d definitely recommend Magicka, as long as potential players can look past some of the quirkiness of the gameplay.

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