Sunday, January 30, 2011

Magicka: Review

Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform: PC

Ripe with humorous dialogue and an innovative spell casting system, Magicka brings some flair to a self-described “generic fantasy world” that helps to distinguish it in an ever-growing sea of orcs, demons and wizards of which we have become accustomed to. While, from a distance, many aspects of Magicka may seem familiar to you, these individual pieces of gameplay and design are able to culminate into a truly unique and enjoyable experience.

Beginning your journey as nothing but a lowly wizard tasked with saving the world from certain destruction, you will battle countless hordes of goblins and trolls who hope to someday use your “bathrobe” as a new blood-covered towel. Magicka never claims to break any new ground with its storytelling, instead, the game embraces its conventional roots through a combination of clever humor and media references–which only increase in absurdity as the story progresses.
At first glance Magicka may appear to be a fantasy game like any other, but looks are most certainly deceiving. Throughout the game there is an apparent absence of many basic fantasy game cues that you may be familiar with such as inventory, currency, quests, and even a mana bar. However, although these conventional gameplay features may seem to be missing when compared to similar games in the genre, there is never necessarily a feeling of desire for them to be included.

As someone who has always been a fan of customary fantasy games, the humor and borderline nonsensical story of Magicka compared to that of other, more serious titles is a relieving breath of fresh air. Sometimes it’s satisfying to be able to play a game without concerning yourself with storyline or developing characters.
This is the first game to be developed by Arrowhead Game Studios, a company that originated as a simple student project. Despite the fact that this is the developer’s first release, the quality of the game should speak volumes about the future of the studio.

What You’ll Like

Spell System: Magicka is a game in which your only class option is a wizard, so it makes sense that the gameplay is based around spellcasting. More specifically, Magicka revolves around the idea of combining different elemental spells. In total, there are ten elements that you can utilize in the game–eight basic and two sub-elements.
Spell combinations are primarily based on logic, for example, casting the earth spell individually results in only a simple rock being thrown in the direction of your enemy, however, if earth and fire are used together, that regular rock instantly becomes a flaming projectile. While each element can be combined with almost any other, there are a few exceptions that exist in the form of opposites.

Opposites are restrictions that are set in place in order to prevent you from combining certain elements with each other. Each element has at least one opposite which, similar to spell combination, is based on logic. Casting electricity and earth, for example, will negate both spell effects–similarly, attempting to use electricity while you are wet will result in self-inflicted damage.

In order to cast even more complex spells, you must rely on magicks. Magicks are spells that require specific combinations in order to work, and can only be learned by picking up spellbooks that are hidden in the world–or, on a few occasions, through story-related events. The effects of magicks can range from invisibility, summoning creatures, or even creating a black hole.

The various spellcasting systems that are present in Magicka ultimately result in a type of gameplay that feels unique when compared to that of similar games in the genre.

Humor: Within seconds of beginning a new game, it’s immediately apparent that humor is a very integral aspect of Magicka. Without a doubt, you’re almost guaranteed to find some kind of joke around every corner–whether you realize it or not.

A significant portion of the humor found in Magicka is devoted to referencing other forms of media. Monty Python, SkiFree and Star Trek are just a few examples of what kinds of references you’ll discover as you play through the campaign.

Game Length: It took me approximately 7 hours and 20 minutes to complete the single-player campaign. I hate to bring up the “dollar per hour” argument, but considering the fact that Magicka is only a $10 game, the fact that the campaign lasts upwards of 7 hours–not including either multiplayer or the challenge mode–goes a long way.

Challenge Mode: Once you complete the campaign in Magicka, the challenge mode exists in order to continue holding your attention. Starting with only basic equipment and magicks, you are pitted against waves of enemies with the hopes of surviving until round 20. As time passes, you are provided with new weapons and spells in order to help make your survival slightly more possible.
This mode makes use of leaderboards, which can be used to track your survival compared to your friends.
Multiplayer: The multiplayer in Magicka is virtually identical to the single-player, the only exception being that there are significantly more wizards.

Both the adventure and challenge modes are capable of containing up to four people at once–either locally or online. While playing these modes individually is certainly fine, the addition of multiplayer opens up entirely new strategic possibilities for you and your friends.

Despite the fact that there are certainly a few flaws in the multiplayer, such as the fact that you cannot join a session that is already in progress, the way that the game is played in a group when compared to how it’s played individually is different enough that it’s worth experiencing a second time.
What You Might Not Like

Save Structure: Magicka utilizes a save system which is comparable to that of many old school games. What this basically means is that you are unable to save your progress in the middle of a chapter. This structure of saving ultimately forces you to make a commitment whenever beginning a new section of the game. If some sort of problem, such as a power-outage or real-life obligations, comes up while you’re in the middle of a chapter, you have no choice but to start from scratch during your next session.

Regardless of the fact that none of the chapters in Magicka are ridiculously long, it becomes a hassle to have to restart a level entirely due to something as simple as the game crashing.

Technical Issues: While playing through the single-player campaign, Magicka locked up on me three time. Unfortunately, these issues coincidentally occurred near the end of a chapter, which of course resulted in me being forced to play through the entire level a second time in order to recover my lost progress.

Persistence: This may seem a bit trivial to complain about, but items and magicks sadly do not carry over between multiplayer and single-player. While character progression isn’t exactly the cornerstone of Magicka, having the ability to use weapons and spells from your single-player game with friends in multiplayer would be a welcome addition.

Magicka is a game that’s full of charm and genuinely funny moments. While many other games attempt to hide their generic roots, Magicka embraces that fact and instead wears it proudly on its sleeve.

Every once in awhile a game will come along that completely grabs me for no discernible reason other than the fact that it’s simply fun, and Magicka is easily one of those games.


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