Genre: Satirical Fantasy Shoot ‘em Up | Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive | Platform: Windows
Players: 1-4 (Online/Offline) | Rating: T (Teen)
Magicka aims to relive the glory days of PC gaming, but it seems to have not only hit its mark but carried a slew of flaws alongside it.
Now that Steam is flourishing on PC and Mac, and both Sony and Microsoft are interested in bite-sized games for their online platforms, indie development is at an all-time high. Teams of sometimes just one or two people establish themselves to make games that sell tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of copies. Arrowhead Game Studios, developers of Magicka, is one of these studios.
With its isometric camera and model-ish sprites, it’s hard not to dream back to 1995 when playing Magicka. It breathes the same air titles as Diablo and Baldur’s Gate, only shattering the illusion with faster, twitchier gameplay than either of them had. It certainly is easier to control than these spiritual predecessors and it’s nice to finally be able to move around this easily in isometric environment.
Having eight spells quick-slotted on the keyboard, the player is capable of casting any of these on either himself, an enemy or the entire nearby area. It gets more interesting when you start combining these spells for greater effect. Throw fire together with an earth spell and you’ll be throwing out long-ranged fireballs. This system deepens once you start picking up scrolls, which teach you unique combinations that have completely different effects, such as running faster and reviving players.
Slinging spells is all you’ll be doing—from combat to solving puzzles in dungeons, along with the occasional quirky task. Sword combat is available, but generally isn’t worth the hassle. Fun, but with your most important and practical spells being available to you early on, it gets old relatively fast. With no small reward system like in classic RPGs (there’s no gear to find, let alone an inventory system), the only thing hoping to drive you forward is the storyline.
This story is anything but dark, more relying on witty dialogue and funny moments than actual character development and the occasional M. Night Shyamalan twist. There’s some pretty smart jokes, like a stereotypical quest NPC giving you a quest that you can’t complete because, as she tells you, there’s no reward system in the game to do this with.
Not having much of a story only makes sense in a quirky title such as this one, but it’s the lack of a sense of progression that continues to dumb down the experience. There’s something missing in the game that could’ve kept players reeled in longer, something that could have really captured players, even with Magicka‘s obvious self-mockery.
Players with friends willing to raise their spellbooks needn’t worry about losing interest halfway—having three people you know tag along makes for some excellent team-oriented anarchy. Cooperative play adds several additional layers of tactical spell casting, such as crossing beams to create more powerful spells. It harkens back to Castle Crashers, where fellow cooperative play felt far more fulfilling than taking the lone ranger route.
While the 90’s can be thanked for Magicka’s graphical style and atmosphere, you can also thank that time period for all of its flaws as well. A lack of optimization makes the game unplayable on even the most capable machines, something that Arrowhead blames on not having the funds or manpower to make it run ideally. This would’ve been okay for a graphically intense title, but with Magicka’s mostly 2D graphics it’s downright inexcusable.
Multiplayer might be Magicka’s strong suit, but it’s also one bogged down intensely by technical difficulties. There’s a very basic networking hub which, ironically, mostly resembles the old Battle.net one from Diablo 2. If players want to connect in more direct manners, there’s the option to set up a room and exchange IP addresses. However, despite being a more direct route, this often doesn’t work due to unknown complications.
Eventually, Magicka boils down to being an extremely circumstantial game. Have the hardware to run the game without it chugging along, the friends to tag along for the ride and the sheer luck of being able to connect for a multiplayer game? You’re in for a world of fun. If not, you might be better off waiting a couple of months, hoping that these technical issues will eventually be patched up.
Had the singleplayer been enough to hold one’s attention more, Magicka would’ve been one hell of a game. Only being able to enjoy it if you’re lucky enough to live up to the developer’s sporadic expectations, however, turns it into a flawed mess and is easily overlooked.
- 5 / 10
A copy of this game was given to The Gaming Vault for review purposes.