As a long-time PC gamer I have become accustomed to having games patched after release. Sometimes a patch or two goes a long way towards solving issues, but other times the patches are too long in coming or don’t resolve the main issues. Occasionally you get patches that simply show that a game will never be as good as it seemed before release.
One game-patching experience I remember well is the original Sacred from 2004. The game was a MESS on release, but Ascaron worked hard to get it patched, and then as a bonus gave away the ‘plus’ pack that was supposed to be a paid add-on for free! It won them tremendous good will with gamers.
I mention that because over the first two weeks after release, Arrowhead Studios patched Magicka EVERY SINGLE DAY. Since then it hasn’t been each day, but there is rarely a time I have logged into Steam and NOT seen ‘Steam has finished downloading Magicka’.
They have also tossed in free DLC and added features along the way as well as patching bugs. It has been a great example of a customer-focused company making things right – so regardless of remaining issues, I absolutely recommend folks who find it remotely interesting to buy it now! Also – it is only $10!
So exactly what IS Magicka? On the surface it looks like a fairly typical Diablo-clone, with a wizard wandering through villages and dungeons and forests, facing Goblins and Dragons and so on … but it isn’t quite so simple.
Magicka is played from an isometric top-down perspective in a three dimensional world. You move around the world by clicking on the ground where you want to go. As is typical with these sorts of games, you will continue to move as long as you hold down the mouse button and stop when you release – this is important as you will often start moving and then get swarmed by enemies and need to stop to take them out!
The world is divided up by screens – each screen is an independent area you need to get through to move on to the next area. Sometimes you are constrained, but generally it is a matter of survival. As a result there are many areas but very short load times – it is a great way to give an open feel but keep things under control.
As the introduction says, this is a game about Wizards and … this is a game about Wizards. Unlike many games such as Gothic, Divine Divinity and Risen where you will absolutely need melee skills, your sword will do you little good here. This is a game where you will live or die by the use of magic!
In the tutorial, you are granted access to all eight elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Lightning, Ice, Shield, Arcane and Life. These work as you might expect – pressing ‘F’ for Fire then right clicking allows you to spray fire from your fingers.
There are two other basic spellcasting modes ‘cast on self’ and ‘area of effect’. If you choose ‘W’ for Life and then use the ‘cast on self’ button, you will heal yourself. If, on the other hand, you press ‘F’ for Fire and then use the ‘cast on self’ button you will torch yourself! Area of Effect is done by pressing ‘F’ for Fire, then holding Shift while pressing the Cast (right click) button to build up the charge, and then upon release casts flame in all directions around you.
As I alluded to, you can do yourself as much harm as your enemies. If you toss a fireball when someone is a meter away from you, expect to get toasty! It makes spell selection and strategy more important to consider as you get swarmed by enemies.
But the real magic happens (did you see what I just did?) when combining spells. Early on you learn to combine three elements to cast ‘Haste’ on yourself – and learn to use that to get through traps that you would otherwise be too slow to escape. Similarly, Fire and Earth combine to a Fireball, Water and Ice to make Ice Shards, and so on. You learn new spell combinations by discovering tomes either as you explore or in shops.
Magicka is a blast as a solo game, but is also designed for up to four players to explore cooperatively. Since the game is screen-based you never worry about getting lost, and it is just a great romp to roam around with friends. Since spells get so powerful and friendly fire so dangerous, prepare to laugh when your friend wanders into your fireball and gets blown into bits!
I have had an absolute blast playing Magicka – but it is still a work in progress. Multiplayer issues greatly outnumber single player problems, but there are still plenty of bugs, and overall the game doesn’t feel particularly well optimized. I had been reviewing a HP laptop and ‘all-in-one’ desktop and used Magicka as a test game, and was surprised at how much it stressed those systems!
But as I said from the start – Arrowhead knows about the issues and has been patching the game nonstop for the last month since release. The first day the game wouldn’t let you cast spells on yourself unless you had a middle mouse button – which killed me playing on my laptop without an external mouse. The next day that was fixed – so I could get ahead to the next show-stopper.
I haven’t encountered a show-stopper bug since day 2 -January 26th. All I have had since then is FUN. The game is great as a solo experience, great with friends, and is fun enough that replaying it on FOUR different systems over the last month was never an issue! For $10 this game is a no-brainer: it isn’t perfect but these are the types of customer-first developers we want to encourage. Creativity and risk-taking are dead at the big studios, and it has fallen on folks like Arrowhead to generate great new ideas and worlds to explore!
+ Excellent mage gameplay system
+ Great sense of humor
+ Awesome support!
+ Perfect blend of gameplay, music and graphics
- Still not particularly optimized, and still too many bugs
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Arrowhead Studios
Release Date: 1/25/2011
ESRB Rating: Teen
Source: Review code provided by publisher