Hands On: Magicka – Wizard Wars

By Adam Smith on July 24th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Magicka: Wizard Wars is a new venture for the inept, accident prone and shell-shocked mages who first appeared in Arrowhead’s unexpected hit. Designed by Paradox North, a new internal team, it’s a multiplayer team deathmatch game, with a new engine but a similar perspective. I played for a couple of hours during a hot day in London and, despite the proximity of a beer garden and a cold pint, I would have been happy to stay at the computer right through the evening. This is my kind of war.

“I can’t believe the sheep are still standing. You do know you can burn the sheep?” The man from Paradox North is unnerved by our restraint. Perhaps he thinks that our lack of eweicide is a symptom of an underlying dissatisfaction. If a group of people refrain from throwing burning meteors at sheep then is it fair to assume they have been made weary by the day’s activities.

Nonsense. There was a very good reason that the scent of frazzled cardigans and mutton hadn’t created the miasmic haze of a knitwear barbeque – everybody was concentrating on the battle. The concept of trying to win in a multiplayer game is fairly alien to me. Drop in the middle of a Planetside 2 fray and I’ll enjoy the lightshow for a while and then run for cover. I sometimes try to take screenshots, a war correspondent with an eye for the ludicrous, but I tend to assume I’ve lost before I even begin.

That wasn’t going to happen with Magicka though. These aren’t men with guns, they’re tiny wizards with comical conical hats and gnarled staffs. My kind of people. The first round was disastrous, ending with one of the least amusing team-kills possible in a game where spell combinations can cause everyone and everything within a certain circumference to burst into flames. I trained a fully charged death ray on a wizard, barely able to target and move as the charnel negation sprang from my fingertips. He didn’t fight back though and why should he? I was confused. Everything was happening so quickly. As the wizard burst into parcels of meat, one of my team mates threw his hands in the air.

“Why did you kill me?”

There was no point in denying it. Not only had I spent around five seconds focusing the beam directly on his face, turning with all the grace of a sumo wrestler in a tub of molasses, I’d charged the spell up again to finish him off, very deliberately pressing the right keys in the right order. As in the original game, spells are combinations of elements and arcane abilities. Only three ingredients can be queued at any one time, as opposed to the five of the original, and the change is a good one. Wizard Wars is often chaotic but it’s also a far more tactical game than I expected it to be.

Two teams of four compete in each round, which takes place on the game’s single map, a colourful woodland farm with paths around the outside and cutting through the middle. It’s a simple design and the three victory points spread across it – bottom-centre and top corners – make the goal and the tactical possibilities immediately obvious. Control all three to win, perhaps leaving one wizard to defend a specific lane, or trusting that your miniature mob can sprint from one to the next, overwhelming their opponents so quickly that they won’t have time to counterattack.

There are complications. The victory points are also spawn points. Lose all three and the match continues, but your wizards are now on their last legs. Death, suddenly, is final. Except it isn’t. Even if there’s only one wizard left and all of the spawn points are lost, a team can recover. The survivor can become a hero by capturing a spawn point single-staffed. As soon as he does, his team mates will rejoin him there, making a comeback a distinct possibility.

That’s provided there are enough spawn tokens remaining. Each team starts with 75 tokens and every respawn consumes one. Therefore, no matter how well the lanes are managed and how securely the points are held, conservation of life is important. By the third round, we’d realised the importance of having a dedicated healer (obviously to be played by John when we form an RPS coven), someone content to fire healing beams rather than murderous meteors. Someone with a steady hand, calm enough to keep those beams fixed on friends rather than foes.

Minimising your team’s loss rate through skilful use of shields and counters allows for a Wizard War of attrition. Let them hold two spawn points and defend your own, killing them every time they come for it, sheltering and healing as they respawn and try again. Eventually, with no spawn tokens left, their control of the points becomes futile, and they can be hunted down and slain.

Oh. I’ve just managed to make Magicka sound like an involved tactical experience. That’s because Paradox North, developing internally and independent of Arrowhead, have made just such a game. The single map may seem stingy at first, but it’s not really a map at all – it’s a tightly designed game mode, like DOTA. More areas, modes and gear will be added post-release, although additions will be decided based on community feedback. There are plenty of ideas but no definite plans.

It’s possible that the intelligent tactical design of the game may disappoint those who came here in search of explosions, magical mishaps and piles of giblets, but they have nothing to fear. Apart from explosions, magical mishaps and the very real possibility of ITALIC becoming a pile of giblets. As we shouted commands back and forth – “to the centre”, “stay here, defend that, kill him”, “BURNING –hit me with healing water jets right the fuck now” – plans developed and the matches became increasingly competitive. It’s a mark of solid design that both teams were learning quickly, adapting and improving. But in between all of that, there was mayhem.

Casting spells is haphazard, fingers attempting to pick out the strands using muscle memory as much as personal preference. Everyone will have favourites, which they automatically key in when panicked, like an emergency call or a lover’s mobile number. At the bottom of the screen, a bar fills, unique to each player, unlocking four special abilities, in order of power. Use it when the first segment has been filled to cast ‘haste’, useful when a spawn point is open for a quick steal, or to escape certain death. Let the bar charge fully and the meteor strike unlocks, capable of killing an entire team, as well as the caster if he/she doesn’t scarper quickly enough.

The individual moments involve both slapstick and skill. Death beams strike shields, ricocheting and killing the caster. A bastard with a flame-spurting tip rampages through four opponents, setting them alight and then swiftly switches spells and freezes one victim, following up with a hefty rock, shattering the poor sod into pieces. Then the Grim Reaper appears, summoned to stalk the survivors. Two mages fire identical spells, which collide, causing feedback that sends both casters somersaulting backwards and landing on their backsides, vulnerable but amused.

Wizard Wars is a distillation of the elements that made Magicka involving and hilarious, a true comedy of errors, but the backbone of the new game is an intelligent and tactical experience. It’s the most compelling of recent multiplayer Paradox releases, built by a new inhouse team, using new tech, and mixing new ideas in with the old. While the comedy is still there, I’m surprised by how intensely competitive I found the experience. Magicka’s particular brand of madness is perfectly suited to fast-paced tactical combat as well as improvised violence. Who would have imagined?

Alpha signups are already open and unless you’re allergic to multiplayer, it’d be wise to sign up as soon as possible. There’s nothing to be lost except dignity and a few hours of these long days that make up our lives. On Friday, we’ll have an interview in which design choices, robes and the nature of free-to-play are discussed at some length.

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53 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    El_MUERkO says:

    I wonder how many items of DLC will be available at launch. I’m going with 10+. Over or Under anyone?

    • Gnoupi says:

      Using the previous game as reference which didn’t have any DLC at launch, I suppose?

  2. Premium User Badge

    lowprices says:

    The shift to a more tactical game both excites and worries me. While the idea itself sounds good, the real fun of Magicka for me was as a slapstick comedy engine, and a Dota-style game sounds like something people will be taking very, very seriously.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Yeah, i’m a bit worried about that. Powergamers and slapstick addicts in the same place? I think i can imagine what group is gonna bully the other out the game. Let’s hope the MOBA winning addiction doesn’t ruin this one. Can’t wait!

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        lowprices says:

        We shall have to arrange ‘cackhanded nights’, where 8 people who aren’t good at the game and don’t care about winning can play and accidentally blow themselves up and set teammates on fire.

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          strangeloup says:

          That is me in all games, forever. But especially Magicka.

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          Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          That sounds like an excellent idea. Sadly I am on fire and unable to make long-term commitments like that.

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            lowprices says:

            Don’t worry, I know the water spell to put that out.

            *KA-BLAMMM!!!*

            Oh. I guess that was the earth spell. Whoops.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Shockeh says:

    “inept, accident prone and shell-shocked”

    As much as I enjoy their games, this describes Paradox neatly, too.

  4. A Bunny says:

    Yay, adorable wizards!

    Adorable wizards that promptly murder each other at the cost of progressing further in their mission to do… good… things and… save… people.

  5. Gnoupi says:

    Quite impatient to see how this one turns out. I really loved Magicka, and happen to enjoy the occasional MOBA. A kind of Bloodline champions with freeform spellcasting can be fun.

  6. aliksy says:

    Concerned about going down to 3 elements per spell. Some of the best effects used more- QRQRSEA, for example.

  7. Bhazor says:

    … so its a MOBA then?

  8. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I’m not entirely sure what this adds on top of what Magicka had. The difference seems minor, so they’d better showcase the differences well. Perhaps with a demo.

    • Baines says:

      Well, it is a new engine. That means the game might actually run. That alone would be a massive improvement over the original Magicka.

    • Reapy says:

      In the forums are two posts describing in more detail the changes to the casting system. I did not play the original, but it seems the idea is to cut down on the ‘get everything you want in one spell’ and instead have to make more choices, as well as more viable spells than the few all inclusive ones of the original.

      Also I believe pvp in the original had huge damage spikes and was very action per minute oriented while this one is toning down spike damage so you can react to things while toning down the APM needed to not explode in half a second.

      There was also some talk of the reduction of ways to kill yourself, like self casting a boulder on your head won’t wipe you out, this is due to the gaming having a more frantic pace and wanting to less frustrate players with the accidental suicides of the original.

      I might be out of the majority here but I wanted magicka originally to be of the competitive PVP variety, “the wizard duel” is a favorite genera of mine, and under represented honestly, so I was disappointing with the flavor of the original, I hope this one will be well executed and populated.

  9. cyrenic says:

    What are they doing to combat team kill griefing?

    Friendly Fire is essential in a Magicka game, but friendly fire in a a genre that’s known for its hostile playerbase will be challenging to pull off.

  10. Jerppa says:

    So it’s basically Unseen University without a license, then.

  11. Cheradanine Zakalwe says:

    All of this reminds me of one of the more complex dota 2 heroes called invoker. He combines 3 elements in various combinations in order to cast 1 of 10 spells. With 8 elements the amount of room for combinations should be 50+ at least, which is probably sufficient complexity for this sort of close knit tactical game. I’m looking forward to this because of how much I love invoker’s gameplay.

  12. Captain Joyless says:

    Ever since the developers announced they were gutting the core gameplay by reducing the number of elements from 8 to 3 or 4, I’ve lost all interest in this game. It’s doomed to be Yet Another Crappy DOTA-like. YACD-l. A yak-dul.

    Oh, and it’s Paradox? So the game will be unplayable at release, have 300 different $1.99 DLCs, and might be interesting after half a dozen $15 expansions.

    EDIT: ELEMENTS IN A SPELL. IN A SPELL. Yes, there will be 10 elements in the game, but you can only use 3 in a spell, and ice and steam will both count as 2, apparently.

    • Premium User Badge

      Clavus says:

      Uh, they didn’t reduce the amount of elements at all? The special spells are handled differently though.

        • Tacroy says:

          Sorry, you are not a Street Judge. That post is not saying what you think it’s saying.

          • Captain Joyless says:

            no, IM not saying what you think im saying

            and neither are you

        • Koozer says:

          …just from counting the different keys mentioned there are at least 6.

        • subedii says:

          I’m not sure why the judge with side with the prosecution when they don’t seem to have understood the evidence they put forward.

          Three components to a spell as opposed to the previous Five. You still have all eight (or 10 if you count Steam and Ice) elements to use. And if we’re honest (which you I’m sure are extremely keen on being), the vast majority of combos on made use of 3 unique elements, with the other 2 just being repeats for potency. Occasional additional elements came into play but that was a rare combo.

          More than that in the original Magicka and the vast majority of the time you were stacking elements for more power.

          • Reapy says:

            In those posts they mention that 81 combinations are still possible with the reduced 3 elements.

            The power of them is equal, so the ddddd or whatever is the same as ddd now. The other thing mentioned is that you are limited in what you add to a spell, so the spell is not a catch all and rather you have to choose what you add to it based on the situation.

            They also mentioned that you should have a greater variety of uses for spells as opposed to the ~20 that were viable in the original. That obviously will have to wait for more public testing to see if certain spells rise to the top in the same way, but the thought is to have a greater variety of spells to cast than the original, despite the reduction.

          • Captain Joyless says:

            saying “repeats for potency” is kind of ludicrous because it’s exactly the oversimplification im talking about. you can take more time and cast a stronger spell, or you can cast a quicker, weaker spell. that choice is now OBLITERATED.

            further, doing ice or steam takes 2 slots. they wont combine into a single element anymore.

            if the balance is magically way better, that’s awesome. too bad there’s absolutely no factual evidence been submitted in favor of that; all we have is defendant’s self-serving affidavit that CLAIMS itll be better. that’s not sufficient to resist summary judgment.

            sorry your motion for rehearing has been denied.

          • subedii says:

            So you admit you didn’t actually understand what you were ranting about originally, and now you’ve decided to try and save face by retroactively attempting to change it and ranting some more.

            Glad we’re clear.

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      darkChozo says:

      I haven’t been following this too closely, but the article either mentions or shows all eight base elements from the original game, if I’m counting correctly. I don’t even see how you could limit yourself to three elements without completely reworking the core gameplay (it’d have to be life + shield + an offensive element, and then you’d lose the vast majority of possible combinations).

  13. Orageon says:

    I have Magicka, had a blast on it single and multi (coop and versus), and never acquired any DLC. It’s not like the DLC were mandatory or completing some obviously left-over feature, so I didn’t mind too much. Then later, got the whole package for a ridiculous discount on an e-store.
    So this rant about possible coming DLC is not getting to me at all.

    Then, to those complaining that some completely overpowered combinations won’t be possible anymore with only 3 slots for spellmaking, I’d say that it’s a good thing. I have used so much the infamous QRQRSEA that I wasn’t being inventive anymore….

    I prefer to lose 2 slots if that helps with balance or spells, and if it’s to make room for more tactical use of the available rest (which will still be plenty).

    Don’t think I read anything about different staves/swords though ?

    Also, it seems some people here confuse MOBA with DOTA ?

    All in all, looking forward to this gem ! Hopefully it won’t be as bugged as Magicka was when it came out (especially for multi)

  14. Commissar Choy says:

    Alpha Gameplay here:

    Looks quite fun and mad. One of the few F2P games I’m looking forward to.

    By the by, Magicka: WW is closer to BF Conquest (or like Dominion in LoL) than a traditional MOBA. There are creeps (sort-of-but-not-really) and that’s about it. It is also F2P multiplayer only, with a very limited number of items on launch, the community will direct which path the devs take (more maps, items, etc) AND they plan to update every Friday (probably liable to change).

    • subedii says:

      Engine and spell effects looks fairly improved as well.

      And I’ll note for those intent on whinging: All 8 base elements on the bottom left there.

  15. kirby_freak says:

    Can anyone explain to me what the stages are and how to proceed along them? (drools at exclusive items)

    • Commissar Choy says:

      They’re basically signup milestones. Once enough people have signed up, it unlocks (presumably for the people who signup after that particular milestone as well).

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    jrodman says:

    Does it have a spectate mode? And can I search for games involving the most inept players?