Whelp… first thing I have to apologize for getting this post up late – we were on vacation. Second, I have to apologize for not having my short story up like I said I would. It’s technically done, but it needs the editing treatment before I stick it up. It’ll probably go up next week… probably. Anyway, let’s talk about a game I recently got!
So Steam had a sort of Christmas in July type sale deal (not called that, but you get the idea). I didn’t go quite as crazy spending stuff like last time, but I still loaded up on some really sweet deals. Most significant is my purchase of Magicka – the hot new indy hack and slash/swords and sorcery (with emphasis on the sorcery) that all the cool gamers are playing. I’ve recently completed the campaign and am now going through it again with a friend. Playing the game has taught me two things about the game and myself.
That this game hates my guts and and badly wants to kill me. So much so, that I nearly gave up on it entirely.
That I must be masochistic; cause I kept coming back for more and consumes my thoughts when I’m not playing it.
The game is, pardon the pun, an impressive bit of wizardry. The star of the show is the titular magic. Instead of the prefab spells most action adventure or role playing games draw from; Magicka gives you eight elements tied to the wsad and surrounding keys and asks that you create your own spells. Pressing one of the keys gives you a spell which you can then cast forward, in a halo, on yourself, or imbue your next melee attack with it. Elements can be combined up to five times; either doubling up on specific elements to improve their potency, or combining elements (within reason – some elements oppose each other and cancel out when combined) to add additional effects to the spell. Each of the elements have unique damage types, status effects, delivery methods, and interactions with the other elements, allowing for thousands of possible spell combinations (although some of those will be redundant). Added to the mix are spellbooks called “magick’s;” these are like combo’s in fighting games – pounding out a specific combination of elements offers the opportunity to cast a unique, named spell. There is no mana bar or cooldown counter – you can cast spells as fast as you can hammer them out on the keyboard. Game plays kind of like Gauntlet Legends – disjointed levels populated mostly by you and the standard fantasy monster menagerie out to kill your squishy wizard ass (emphasis on squishy). Story isn’t much to write home about – you’re out to save the world, nothing new there. However it knows this and goes about parodying both your exploits and the hero’s journey in general, throwing in a bunch of sight gags and geek references from pop culture for good measure. The vaguely Swedish sounding simlish was a nice touch.
That’s the good, now time for the bad. If any of the above sounded confused and daunting, then be prepared to die, a lot. The controls are spread out all over the mouse and keyboard – making it easy to forget where an element is or the proper method to cast something. It takes a good deal of memory and repetition to get everything down, and the game isn’t going to stand around and wait for you to learn either. You’re going to burn to death because you failed to cast water on self in time, get shocked to death because you unintentionally casted water twice and are now wet, stand to close to a freeze boulder and become unable to move or cast spells effectively, trap yourself in the center of a rock shield with a bunch of enemies when you wanted rock armor, cross beams with an enemy mage and be gibbed by the resulting explosion, and of course, botch a magick combination and end up with a worthless beam instead of the lightning bolt meant so for that angry troll. Death is supposed to be part of the fun and revives are cheap and easy… so long as there is a buddy to rez you. If you’re like - playing alone on single player – then every death is immediately followed by a game over screen and a trip back to the nearest checkpoint. This gets really bad in the late game when there aren’t a lot of checkpoints to go around and no shortage of insta kill enemies to send you packing back to the beginning of a stage. My advice; play with a friend the first time through (preferably someone who knows what they’re doing) and change the controls – I seriously hated the defaults.
My next criticism is more of a nitpick than anything else, but one that seriously bugged me. There is no real save system; once you’ve started a level, you’re committed to finish as quitting will void all progress. Now the levels themselves aren’t terribly long, but some areas require a lot of continues to get through. If you want to take a break (or rage quit), then you’re SOL, cause there is only one way to actually save your progress, and that’s completing a level. The other problem is that the adventure mode is linear to a fault – once you’ve gone through a chapter or stage, there is no option to go back. There is no chapter select, only movement from the previous chapter to the next one. So if you want to skip those early tutorial levels or replay a chapter to find all the secrets, then you’re out of luck. The levels themselves are also only one way – if you accidentally walk into a zone transition (or get thrown into it by mines) then you can’t go back unless you’re willing to void your progress by resetting the entire level. Seriously, for a game with tons with tons of secrets to find, this feels like a real dick move.A discussion of
Magicka wouldn’t be complete without talking about its glitches. The game was notorious for being released in a horribly buggy state, making it prone to crashing and rendering the highly touted co-op system to unstable to play. It has gotten much better by the time I bought it, but I still noticed when things went wrong. Skipping the tutorial to early would leave those stupid tooltips in the bottom right hand of the screen with no way of getting rid of them, items would clip through the world and become un-usable if blown around too much, and I’ve yet to actually sleep in the Inn at a scripted point due to the model glitching out. Most of this is minor though. The one glitch I’ve had that could be counted as gamebreaking also happened to work in my favor. Close to the end of the game, the boss I was fighting had killed me but subsequently burned to death. In the time it took the game over screen to pop up, said boss retreated and I got the checkpoint for defeating it. When I respawned, it put me on the new checkpoint past the boss, allowing me to continue. I’d chalk that up as being kinda cool.
So there you have it, my thoughts on Magicka. If you’re willing to tolerate its warts, then it is a rewarding experience and definitely pushes the envelope in the hack and slash genre of games. The core game and its DLC are pretty cheap on all the digital distribution channels; although I don’t recommend DLC until you’ve played through it at least once, as they mainly add minor gameplay enhancements and challenge/versus maps outside of adventure mode. Also, play with a friend – having someone to distract the enemies, combine the beams with, laugh when you die and rez you afterward can make all the difference in how well enjoy the game.