Magicka free-weekend impressions: Murder is fun!

Knowledge is power, and power corrupts. The first rule every prospective sorcerer must learn is whether and how to use his powers for good or for evil. Or maybe just for evil. Magicka, in a spin on the typical click-and-slash RPG, revolves completely around its magic system, which consists of harnessing and combining eight different elements (water, life, fire, lightning, earth, and so on) to cast spells of dubious practicality and increasing ridiculousness upon yourself, your friends, and your enemies.

So what does this look like in action, anyway?

Magicka set self on fire

Yeah, that’s about right.

Most of the fun of the game lies in simply discovering what you can actually do as a sorcerer. You’re given some basic ingredients and a few useful spells you probably wouldn’t guess at (such as Haste, a combination of the Lightning, Arcane, and Fire elements), and then you’re let loose to wreak havoc upon the world. The various elements can be combined up to five at a time, such as Water-Earth-Life or even Fire-Fire-Fire-Fire-Fire (of course!), and you often don’t know, until you cast, what results a certain combination of elements will produce, and that’s assuming the combo actually does anything useful. The method of how you cast your spells also matters–Haste’s combination of elements also makes a pretty useful attack spell, but for this reason it’s recommended you don’t cast it on yourself in the way you would a healing spell.

Don't worry -- all it seemingly does is merely to kill you.

Don’t worry — all it seemingly does is merely to kill you.

Non-magical aspects of interaction and combat are so limited that before long you’ll likely forget you even have a sword (which, in a brilliantly intuitive move, requires you hold the Shift key down while clicking to actually use it), since swinging at things with a chunk of metal is infinitely less entertaining than shooting lightning outward in a ring, healing yourself on demand (there’s no mana system–you cast what you want, when you want it), or laying down globs of grease before setting them and their occupants aflame.

As in real life, water will not stop grease fires.

As in real life, water will not stop grease fires.

You “could” stop and talk to non-player characters, but there’s no real necessity to do so. Follow the linear path and kill monsters, or explore off to the side and look for secrets. The early quests play typical RPG cliches straight, such as having you fight a boss monster, just before said cliches are turned on their heads (the monster was actually someone’s pet, and you killed it).

And that's precisely when the goblins attack.

And that’s precisely when the goblins attack.

The game also packs in a number of nods to other elements of fantasy pop-culture, such as a fairy who yells, “Hey! Listen,” Monty Python and the Holy Grail references in some spell descriptions, and even a seeming reference to Games Workshop, the company that makes the Warhammer miniatures.

Magicka running on stairs

It also penalizes you for running too quickly on stairs.

wizard hot dog chuck norris

And I nearly forgot this. Perish the thought!

But you didn’t come here for any of that. I know you guys. You all are mature, responsible, upstanding individuals, and I just know, in my heart of hearts, that you would think only of doing your best and giving your all to make sure each and every peasant has a terrific and, more importantly, safe day.

The first step in doing so, naturally, is to make a promise to provide for their safety:

I solemnly swear to be nice to the peasants.  Oh, and Vlad is absolutely not a vampire.

I solemnly swear to be nice to the peasants. Oh, and Vlad is absolutely not a vampire.

murdering NPCs

Well, that didn’t go well. But it sure was fun!

And you see how that turned out.

Actual combat doesn’t boast a large enemy variety, so you’ll often be fighting the same goblins over and over in the early levels, but as with something like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the point of the game is basically to find as many creative ways to murder things as possible. One boss fight in the second or third level is rather aggravating, since the boss’s one weak spot is its head, which is usually too high off the ground for the game’s targeting system to have access to (imagine what trying to fight a high-flying enemy in Diablo II would have been like, and you see the problems this causes). The “solution” I found to the boss fight was so simple and so unbalanced as to be unintentionally goofy that it basically wound up killing the boss in one hit, and he had plenty of health to start with.

Conclusion

While the actual game could use a bit more polish in terms of enemy variety and boss design, the core mechanics are more than solid, and the writing is hilarious. Magicka has a demo on Steam, but since the game is free this weekend, you have nothing to lose by trying it out. This is an amoral, ridiculous, and knowingly bland quest, and I mostly enjoyed every minute of it.

chainlightning

Because this never gets old.