Swedish developer Arrowhead Studios’ first project is an ambitious foray into the isometric-fantasy RPG. Joining theDiablo, Torchlight, and others. With a colorful array of spells, monsters, and locations what else does this hack-and-slash bring to the table? A lot.
When you first load up the game, you’re brought face-to-face with Magicka‘s most endearing feature: its charm. This game defines the phrase “little touches”. The main menu is a large book, complete with full-color illustrations showing what each of the menu entries bring, of which there are only a few: Campaign, Challenges (a variation on the “survive waves of enemies as long as possible” type of game), Leaderboards, Online Play, and Options. Not wanting to waste much time, I selected campaign, chose my robe color and my name, and I was off.
The first section of the game (most of Chapter 1) takes place in the keep of the Order of Magick, when you’re greeted by your narrator/teacher/possible-vampire, Vlad. From there, it’s a quick jaunt down to the dining hall and your going away party, as you’re off to save the world. I won’t spoil much as the story, while familiar, is hilarious with tons of pop-culture references and humor that will, at the very least give you a good laugh every couple of minutes. The games main tutorial section takes place in the dungeon of the Order of Magicka. It’s here you’re introduced to the spell mechanic.Calling this system clever would be an understatement. You’re give a series of elements bound to keys on your keyboard and five slots to mix and match the various elements to craft spells on the go. The elements (Life, Arcane, Fire, Earth, Water, Lightning, Shield, and Cold) can be combined in an obscene number of combinations. Want to zap your enemies and light them on fire? Just mix some fire with some lighting and watch as your enemies are shocked and set ablaze. And it just doesn’t stop with offensive abilities either. Use cold to freeze water, making sheet of ice you can walk on (as everyone knows Wizards can’t swim!) or start a generator with a jolt of lightning. The various combos are further utilized by the use of modifier keys, making spells that enchant weapons, rings of fire and ice, and this isn’t even getting into the pre-defined spells that are found via spellbooks. I found it a little unwieldy at first, and there’s definitely a learning curve, but it’s nothing that can’t become second nature after a couple of play sessions.
After getting out of the dungeon, I finally made my way through the world. The game has bright and vivid feel that pulls you right in. Characters are squat little things with cartoonishly large and small bodies, which is not to say they aren’t detailed. Everything is well animated and smooth. All NPC speech is handled by what boils down to a bastardization of Simlish with a bit of Swedish thrown in. Almost everybody has something funny and unique to say. This level of detail and charm carries over into the combat system as well. Enemies explode into bloody chunks and bits after a good kill. Shocks of electricity are shown with flashes of the poor monster’s wire-frame skeleton.
Everything has a good feedback to it that keeps you wanting to drive forward, getting to the next group of enemies. Wanting to try out new combos of spells on poor monsters never gets old and really sets you further and further into the story. I should also mention that on singleplayer, the game is hard, as it doesn’t scale the amounts based on the number of players in the game. But, even with that deaths seldom felt cheap.
The game is not without its faults, however. There are still a good amount of technical problems that remain to be resolved. It’s still a pain to get a multiplayer game running. But, Arrowhead is patching the game on a near constant basis and are striving to get the game as polished as possible. It’s a valiant effort and it’s really nice to see a dev support a game to this level.
All in all, I think I’ll be coming back to Magicka quite often. Its sense of charm and humor would normally be enough to keep me coming back, but with the incredible spell system, I know I can keep myself busy with this one for quite sometime.
(version viewed, PC. Steam $9.99 USD)