Diablo-esque RPGs are making a major comeback. With the success of Torchlight and the return of Diablo itself, it seems people are ready to click click click away. Magicka is the latest entrant into this genre of role playing games, and while it has come out of nowhere, there's enough here to warrant some attention.
The characters are wizard students out to adventure. The world of Magicka is a fusion of Norse mythology and pop cultural references, the voice work a cross between Swedish and Simlish, and the humor will reference anything from modern fixation on vampires to Family Guy. Sure, some of the humor falls flat, but there is a quirky charm to Magicka nonetheless. It even goes out of it's way to call itself a generic fantasy land, but there's a fine line to walk between self-referential and trite.
While some may say this is just a simple hack and slash, it's a lot more complex than that. Early on in the game, players are granted eight different spells. Water will throw out a stream of water, Earth will peashoot rocks at enemies, Arcane is a laser, Cold is an chilling wind, Fire is a flamethrower, Shield will drop a yellow barrier, Lightening throws out purple lightening, and there is a healing spell. Additionally, two other spells can be made by fusing two spells at the same time: Fire and Water will make Steam, and Cold and Water will make Ice, a shard-based projectile attack.
What makes Magicka so enthralling is playing around with these different basic spells. Firstly, there are five magic slots below the wizard, and players can fill up each one with a magic before unleashing it in a massive attack. Fire and Earth will make an explosive grenade, for example, or a player can use Arcane and Electricity to shoot an electrified laser out. Shield, arcane and electricity will make something else happen. There are huge amounts of variety to these combinations, and while many of them are not particularly special, for every dud there is two or three spectacular spells.
These spells are often used in puzzles, and players will have to pay attention to their surroundings. Being wet, for example, will not let players use Electricity, and if the wizard finds himself dampened, he'll have to apply Fire to himself to dry off. Many of the puzzles in the game entail how to get around the stage while using these spells and combinations of them. Sure, you won't be able to go to town with every combination, as some spells cancel each other out, but there is an insane amount of combinations here. Additionally, each spell can be used in an area of effect spell, so thinking about how to deal with the enemies can be an all encompassing ordeal.
Throughout the game, players will unlock spell books what will have recipes for different, more powerful spells. For example, some of the very high end spells will summon the Grim Reaper, a Phoenix, or a tornado. One of them, such as the rain storm, will make everything wet, and a smart player will dry himself off, then summon a huge electric storm to take everything out. Many of these spells take seven or eight steps to perform, utilizing combinations of Steam and Arcane, but a good player will have these memorized for a quick blast.
The Magic system is not just good for spells and attacks. Magic can be used to imbue weapons and shields. Imbuing your defenses is as simple as picking some spells, tapping a key, and then your wizard will have resistance to those spells for a period of time. Applying the magic to your sword will give some unique and special abilities. For example, by applying Cold to your sword, players can drop an ice barrier in a straight line. It's pretty flexible, and it surprising how many ways players can make spells. Most people will never see every combination.
Magicka supports up to four players, online and offline co-op through the 13 levels. Additionally, there is the challenge mode, which allows players to take on wave after wave of enemies. Those massive, mega spells will be dropped as prizes in between waves, and the healing and revival spells are very helpful in this mode.
Graphically, the game is nothing outstanding. The visual effects from the spells are cool, but everything else is generic fantasy, with with wizards themselves no more than hooded figures. The art direction is particularly bland, and from what I saw it doesn't look like it's going to be blowing anyone's computers away. However, while it doesn't look like it is a visually heavy game, it does look like it will run on plenty of different rigs. That is always a good thing.
After spending some time with Magicka, I can see that there are some exciting and special elements about it. The spell system alone is incredibly deep, and everything else looks like a solid backbone to the great magic system. With a release for early next year, publisher Paradox Interactive and developer Arrowhead Game Studios could have a great little indie hit on their hands.