Hands On With Magicka: Wizard Wars

I don’t think anything else has quite gripped me in the same way this year. The current version of Magicka: Wizard Wars features only one map, and is suffering some network woes, but the Early Access release of Paradox’s arena-PvP reboot of slapstick spell-combinating hit Magicka is shaping up to be a triumph.

Let me combine the magic of words with the arcane energies of meaning, and use a ray of physics to put them all in your face.

I keep going back.

I’ll just have another game.

And another, just to see how that turns out. I lose nine in a row, and I am still hitting the PLAY button for one more game. I am immediately hooked: and that’s exactly what I had hoped for when I first saw this game in action.

As someone who generally bounces off the arena type games, and who didn’t even spend that much time with Magicka itself, you might have thought I was unlikely candidate for a Wizard Wars advocate, but I knew even before I played it that 4v4 capture point game was going to grasp my attention with Bigby’s Grasping Hand. It offers exactly the kind of tooth-and-nail fighting, where skill trumps all, that I love in the finest multiplayer games.

Magicka: Wizard Wars loosely follows Magicka’s control system and spell-casting model, while tweaking everything for PvP, and improving the visuals. While the original game allows you to combine elements for literally hundreds of possible effects, here they’ve been simmered down into a useful set. There’s still a large array of possibilities, but the useless, random and buggy ones have been pruned away. You’ll still find yourself popping up energy shields, blasting out deathrays, creating of clouds of fire mixed with electricity, throwing up earthen walls from the ground, and blasting your enemies back with water-cannons from thin air, but this time it feels a good deal more precise.

The game starts with the teams heading out from points on opposite sides of the map. There are three control points across this map, which can be captured by your presence in them. These are your spawn locations, and if they are all lost to the opposing team, then you can’t spawn. This, of course, means you get some nail-biting moments when one member of your team lives, and has to make a capture to allow everyone else to spawn. As you spawn, however, you also use up tickets. When these are depleted, you can spawn no more, and if someone on your team dies, they stay dead.

The spawn points also spawn some minions, which while not particularly powerful compared to a wizard, do liven things up. Some of them follow the player, while others guard the point. They’re nothing like as integral as the creeps in MOBA games, but they do provide additional opposition or allied damage, and make an already hectic game even more chaotic.

Initially, of course, this experience comes with the same slapstick confusion that Magicka did, and likewise, as you begin to master the combinations, it steps forward into a new zone, where your comprehension of the game gives way to a feeling of mild competence. It takes time, and it takes dozens of deaths, but you begin to develop tactics. As per the finest multiplayer games, Wizard Wars is a complex set of tools that allows players to work out how to best work with their team-mates and to bring down their enemies. The pace is blistering too: in one moment you will be setting your enemies on fire, and the nest punching out a healing ray to save your buddy from certain doom.

Right now Wizard Wars is a mess of matchmade public games, which means you can end up losing people, or being on a team that gets flattened in 30 seconds. That’s just how these things go, of course, and as soon as you begin to get to grips with the game yourself, the nuances begin to spring out. I’ve only had a couple of really tight games out of the dozens I’ve already played, but those were enough: when the teams are well matched, this is a commanding experience, with people pulling off amazing feats and inventive combos to win the day.

You can stack up spell elements on yourself for immediate casting, but you slow yourself down. Not doing so means you need to be quick on the keys, of course, but you will want to be anyway: you need to heal yourself in a tight spot, or put yourself out if you’re on fire. Knowing when to throw down defences and retreat, and when you can leave your team on their own, are things which will only emerge as you play, but those continuous decisions, and that constant feeling of crisis juggling, makes this a gorgeous experience.

Anyway, I am ranting, and it’s early days. It’s also very hard to determine whether this initial game-lust is going to endure. For the price of the game it might not matter, but I suspect the fatigue may set in quickly. I’ve got a massive kick out of this game already, and I assume Paradox aren’t going to completely fuck it up with huge systems changes, but I suppose they might be able to. It’s not really clear how gear and character advancement are going to work just yet, and getting that right will mean the difference between this becoming a solid classic, and it going off the rails into one of those great but missed opportunities.

Enough with these typings! I have to get back in for another game.


  1. Fenixius says:

    Still region locked… link to store.steampowered.com What’s even the point of being on Steam if you’re not going to be everywhere?!

    • Steven Hutton says:

      They’re in super duper early alpha and only have servers set up in the EU right now. Which is a shame but it’s still really, really early.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Oh, so that’s why! Glad I didn’t skirt around that fact and buy it with my US credit card, only to be stuck with unbearable lag…

      • Reapy says:

        They have servers set up for US WEST, US EAST, and EU currently. They will be adding more regions as they go I think. Have been able to find games pretty steadily in alpha since a few nights ago, though still lots of connection problems, although they unleashed a patch this morning to help, and it seems to be slowly improving. I think their focus right now is getting the game matchmaking stable.

        My thoughts are mirroring jim’s also, love the game, I don’t think fatigue will set in for me, but, yeah, lots of fun, definitely check this thing out at some point.

  2. IanWharton says:

    This game is astonishingly rewarding to play. Shame about the wait for servers, and that there’s only one map. And Early Access in general, really. Get games finished, devs!

    Oh, but I did mean to say: everyone buy this game. Not that there is a shortage of people to play…

    • Isheh says:

      Seems like they have added a load of servers all of a sudden.

  3. 0mongoose says:

    Wait, I thought this was under NDA? has that expired with the early access?

  4. Leb says:

    Step 1: Set macros for ROFLSTOMP spells
    Step 2: Win

    • Gnoupi says:

      Why would you make macros when you are limited to 3 elements per cast anyway? It’s faster to type them. Especially that you have to adapt, since most combos have a way to be fully countered.

      • mr.ioes says:

        No, Macros are obviously faster. Bind 1200 keystrokes (900 keydowns for spell conjuring, 300 mousedowns for casting them) to one single button. Hover mouse over enemy and unleash 300 spells pretty much simultaneously.

        Nope, manually casting them is faster. You’re right :)

        • Kollega says:

          Except I’m pretty sure that developers have anticipated this, and set a speed limit on how fast you can cast. And if they didn’t, they will once people start complaining about macro users.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I’m fairly certain all spells require time to cast, and you need to be able to pick which ones to use reactively. Given such a system, macros could allow you to cast slightly more quickly, but it would put you at a disadvantage in the end because really, if you need QFA, it’s much quicker to type QFA than to find the one key of a hundred that gives you QFA.

          • Reapy says:

            Exactly, there is a delay after you cast, so you can’t spam spells too fast. The game is also about reacting to what spells people are using and guessing what they will use next, you have to honestly be ready to cast any spell at any given moment to be the most effective, though I still right now am stuck with some ‘goto’ spells and am trying to branch out.

            Macro’s won’t really make a difference at all I think.

          • mr.ioes says:

            Pause commands aren’t a novelty to scripts. Doesn’t matter if there’s a speed limit on keystrokes (there isn’t one, since this attempt to combat macros is amateurish at best), you’d simply have to find the limit and abuse that.

            Obviously 1300 spells aren’t possible with 1 keystroke. Coding languages always have a default keystroke delay, and beyond that, there’s one in windows itself. Can’t exceed that. But 10 spells in a second? Certainly possible as long as the game doesn’t crash.

            I’d really like to see someone record such script, surely interesting to watch, once :)

          • Kitsunin says:

            Like we’re saying, it wouldn’t work. It isn’t an enforced delay to ensure you don’t cheat, it’s a game mechanic. When you use a spell, it takes a moment to be cast. Many spells need to be charged, others have a continuous effects as long as the button is held. If you overuse a certain type of spell your enemy will figure it out and counter that type. If you use completely random spells, you won’t be very effective. Spamming spells simply isn’t going to give you an edge other than against very poor players, especially not via macros.

          • Reapy says:

            Right, exactly. It is a ‘global cooldown’ essentially. And as Kitsunin said the game is about rotating damages and resistances, all based on how far apart you are, the closer you get the more options you have.

            I’m all for knocking games down too but at least come up with a good reason.

        • Gnoupi says:

          There is a casting limit, I tend to hit it myself quite frequently. There is a delay just after you cast, preventing you from putting a new element.

          And like others already said, it’s not about spamming spells but adapting to what the other is doing.

          Spamming projectiles doesn’t work, because they fall short and usually won’t reach the target. They also deal more damage if you charge them. Spamming beams deals less damage than holding it, as they gain damage the longer you keep them on the target. The other elements don’t really need spamming (fire, water, frost, lightning), as it’s more about keeping it on the target.
          The only which could make a bit of sense to spam would be shield, to spam walls, and mines. But there is a quite long delay after casting them, so you wouldn’t go faster than 3 fingers.

  5. Koozer says:

    This was the star of Gamescom. My group of four just kept going back to queue up for more.

  6. Stirbelwurm says:

    It’s quite fun, but not really there yet, I feel. Although I have to say, that when I stopped playing, it was always because of some server / connection issues. There are a lot of them, but yeah, it’s alpha.

    They made it simpler to make it more accessible, but for me they took out too much of the old complexity. They’ll really have to come up with some fun modes, to keep players in this game for a long time.

    • Leprikhan says:

      The simplicity is a real beef I have. I don’t feel as though the game really takes all that much finesse anymore, and although magicka the first never really had much in the way of a “competitive balance” of any sort, toning that down to the extent they have has really taken the magic (haha, get it?) out of it for me.

      Sure, original magicka “fights” were always usually over in two seconds or less, but they were usually ended by QFASASA (no more merging orbs) beams or being walled in by volcano-pillar lines you enchanted your sword with (no sword enchantment anymore) or lightning bolts from the sky (no more composite spellcasts).

      Well, that, or a really, really big rock. Which is still reasonably effective.

      But I don’t know- the hectic scrambling to buy that tiny bit of time you needed to cast something horribly overpowered was a big part of what made the unofficial “PvP” of the first game fun. All they’ve left is low-power spells it’s not really possible to fumble, which changes the focus from scrambling to spamming. It certainly feels less interesting.

      We’ll see- maybe the finished game will have more to it, or maybe I just haven’t found the genius here yet.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      There’s no loss of complexity whatsoever. It got more complex not less, because instead of 2 dozen useable spells and a thousand worthless ones, you’ve got 96 spells that are ALL useful. Instead of generic all-damage-absorbing shield you’ve got several kinds of defensive spells which are all useful against different attacks. There is more thought put into ever spell cast than there ever was in Magicka, and it’s all accomplished with fewer button presses.

      • Gnoupi says:

        Note that there were such protective spells already in Magicka. The full shield was knocking you down on damage, it was not really usable.

  7. chiablo says:

    Competitive Magica? I guess this means the guy with the macro keyboard will win every round.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Spoken like someone who’s never played magicka, much less Wizard Wars. There’s only 3 elements per cast, the kind you need changes from moment to moment and most of them need to be charged anyway. There is literally nothing a macro would do for you that a manual control player can’t do better faster.

      It’s not “Call of Duty but you need to press 3 buttons for every bullet” – you can’t fire spells as fast as you can click and press so shortcutting the clicking and pressing wouldn’t actually do anything.

      • chiablo says:

        I have not played Wizard Wars yet, but chaining multiple spells together makes the challenge of the original Magica trivial.

        Cast water/lightning immunity
        Cast rain storm
        Cast lightning storm
        Cast tesla coil

        That’s 14 keystrokes that are accomplished with one macro and will kill just about everything on screen. How is this not an advantage?

        • DatonKallandor says:

          Rain Storm doesn’t exist.
          Lightning Storm doesn’t exist.
          Tesla Coil doesn’t exist.

          Even if they did someone can just cast Water/Lightning Ward and be safe from any and all water/lightning shenanigans.
          Which of course leaves all the other elements to mess them up. For example:
          Being On Fire is bad.
          Being On Fire while being Water immune, and thus immune to dousing yourself with water to stop being On Fire is much much worse.

          Of course being Fire immune with a Fire Ward is cool too except:
          Being Wet sucks.
          Being Wet while being Fire immune so you can’t evaporate the Water you’re covered in with Fire sucks more.

          • chiablo says:

            Ok, it was my misunderstanding of how Wizard Wars works. I thought most of the spells carried over. So you are completely right, a macro would probably be more of a detriment than an advantage.

  8. Monkeh says:

    I’ll wait for the reviews, seeing as Magicka’s multiplayer was (and still is!) notoriously terrible because of all the lagg and connection problems.

  9. Captain Joyless says:

    DEAR GODS, only ONE MAP?? Howsoever would a team-based arena game like that survive with ONLY ONE LONE MAP?

    oh right

    DOTA has always had just one map, never had more than one map, DOTA 2 has only one map, and it’s doing swimmingly.

  10. Cronstintein says:

    Bought access based on this article and had a great time playing it most of my day off. If you like the magicka concept but don’t have co-op partners for the original (like me, sadly) this is a great alternative.

    The progression is really interesting as you get better with the controls. It starts with having a few basic attacks that you are comfortable with and lean on heavily. Then you meet people who will observe your attack type and quickly counter it. When two advanced players are fighting it’s an interesting back-and-forth as you switch through the elements trying to second-guess your opponent.

  11. racccoon says:

    Looks like a good game.
    Steam’s holding far too much of an monopoly now, its kind of sad we all fell for it, or are held by it because we have too! Steam’s truly a pointless idea that went viral for no apparent reason but TF, The reality of gaming was simple, buy it or download it, install the game in your hard drive and play it! simple azz! no steam holding your hand and updating itself vanity. We now have no control at all I can’t wait for Steam to separate itself from the PC!

  12. Geen says:

    Bigby’s Grasping Hand? My god, Jim is a D&D player! ONE OF US, ONE OF US!