The original Magicka was something of a surprise hit for publisher Paradox Interactive. The top-down dungeon crawler through twin-stick shooter was a big enough seller in early 2011 to support half a dozen updates since then, including Magicka: Vietnaman iOS spin-off, minor paid extensions, and of course a MOBA link in the form of Magicka: Wizard Wars.
The series’ popularity probably has something to do with its built-in sense of humour. Magicka was a colorful, light, and pun-filled fantasy spoof featuring wizards endlessly setting each other (and themselves) on fire with a silly and incomprehensible magic combo system. This is especially surprising from Paradox, a company also known for its dry European war simulations and political strategy games.
Magicka 2, the first direct sequel to the original, continues that tradition, but without the original developers at Arrowhead Game Studios. Since then they have moved on to games like Glove And Hero Diverstitles that keep playing with the idea of accidentally screwing yourself and your friends, but with new twists and styles.
Magicka 2 has a lot more of that friendly fire absurdity without doing much to distinguish itself. At least that’s how I feel after playing through the first three stages of a publisher-provided preview build.
How did I do that again?
Any gaps in your memory of the largely unimportant story from the previous one Magicka games are quickly filled in by an opening sequence narrated by Vlad, the first game’s dubious magic instructor. After the events of Wizard Wars (yes, apparently the MOBA is canon) clad, nondescript, monochromatic wizards aren’t as common as they once were. The story establishes that there are only enough wizards left to support a crew of one to four players (this statistic is constantly repeated as a self-referential nod to the game’s inherent game-iness) to team up and create a magical, baby messiah.
After you’ve probably ignored most of this exposé, you’ll mostly be doing what you did in the original Magicka: Roam colorful, civilian-filled environments and combine eight elements into pick-a-combo spells with effects ranging from the absurd to the downright harmful. Spells can be used as projectiles, on yourself, over your melee weapon, or in a burst, and have a wide variety of effects depending on the combination of elements you use, from fire, ice, water, lightning, earth, death, life , and “shield.”
For example, mixing your death ray with frost will fire a damaging ray that also slows advancing enemy goblins, ogres, spiders, and the like, before finally exploding and everything in its vicinity. Mixing earth with fire, on the other hand, can generate a projectile shell, or a shield of shock waves from those elements at close range.
There are many elements to keep track of, each leading to even more combinations to remember. Occasionally you’ll find spellbooks that provide access to unique, powerful abilities that can be assigned to one of four hotkeys, but that doesn’t feel like a lot of space given the number of wildly different recipes for destruction I encountered (and immediately forgot about) by combining random elements. And friendly fire is still on, which means you’ll still accidentally blow yourself and up to three friends after confusing the fire and life keys.
A new element that immediately caught my eye is the ability to move and cast spells at the same time this time around. Click where you want to go and your characterless mage follows on autopilot. That gives you the freedom to create and execute combos on the fly, usually while being chased by hordes of obsessed opponents.
That brings up something else that feels different Magicka 2. Enemy AI is simple – everything basically chases you in a straight line – but frustratingly persistent. Every single encounter I had boiled down to one formula: fight, take damage, run away while healing, and try to memorize a valuable spell. Some enemies are resistant to certain types of damage, or can bounce spells back at you in bulk, making it even more complicated to handle all at once, with little room for error. Playing with a few friends helps spread the load, of course, but the added worry of reviving teammates and avoiding friendly fire balances the shared responsibility with more confusion.
Comedy and tragedy
I suspect I could get the hang of it better over time Magicka 2’s complex rhythms. With enough practice, I might be able to dodge enemies, heal myself, prepare a spell, and cast it all at once, without having to stop and check my fingering, so to speak. But frankly, I’m not sure the satisfaction I get from finding the right combination at the last minute is worth the deceptive levels of concentration, especially when the game presents itself as a fun, silly distraction.
In this way, Magicka 2‘s early performance feels like the result of two different philosophies. On the one hand, you have the overly complicated, deliberately messy controls of a physical comedy like games I am bread, Operation SimulatorAnd Octodad. Messing up is presented as part of the fun. On the other hand, you have half a dozen tireless trolls who are bound to your scent and give you little time to experiment.
that can reveal itself as a satisfying skill test as it progresses. Survival mode seems like a better sandbox to play around than the main game.
There’s also a series of ‘challenge’ maps, based on areas from the campaign, that add modifiers like slow movement speed to the mix for chasing the leaderboard. So the challenge mode adds more elements to keep track of. Beautiful.
Based on the opening missions, Magicka 2 resembles a slow burn. Given more time and more missions, it can become more satisfying once I’ve had a chance to master the intricate controls and challenges. So far, though, the game just feels a bit too much like the original MagickaIt’s a good thing that after a few years he suffers from the kind of overload that often occurs with numbered sequels.
Magicka 2 is scheduled for release on May 26 for Windows and PlayStation 4.