Hands On: Magicka 2

The first time I killed one of my teammates, it was an accident. The second time may have been an accident as well. The third time was definitely deliberate and after that, the relationship was one of mutual murdering.

Magicka 2 [official site] is a brilliant, challenging cooperative game about killing your friends.

A quick recap first. Magicka the first hit like a bolt from the blue, and its intentionally cumbersome and ingenious elemental spellcasting system was loved by almost all who played with it. In a nutshell, Magicka’s magic is about combinations – fire + shield = fireshield, earth + self = rock armour, death beam + water = direman’s hose. To cast a spell, players input combos, much as if they were playing a beat ’em up, except every input has an immediately logical output.

In the heat of battle, fingers trip across keys and stumble onto new elemental cocktails, many of which are as dangerous to the wizards as to their enemies. Throwing an energy bubble over your allies just as they unleash a death beam causes the deadly ray to reflect back at the caster, exploding him.

Magicka is a game about exploding. It could have been the origin of the term “friendly fire”.

Creators Arrowhead parted company with Paradox, though not before releasing a new multiplayer game, The Showdown Effect (sadly overlooked, I feel, although possibly a little undercooked as well). They’re now working on Helldivers and were the developers behind last year’s Gauntlet revival, which had Magicka-style spellcasting for its Wizard character.

Magicka passed into the hands of Paradox North, where it transitioned from a cooperative adventure into a free-to-play team deathmatch game with some borrowings from the lane-pushing likes of Dota. It seemed natural to take the friendly fire and make it deliberately unfriendly, and Wizard Wars is an excellent variant of the original game.

Now, Magicka is heading back to its roots. Pieces Interactive’s sequel continues the story where the original left off, following a team of colour-coded wizards through environments loosely inspired by Norse mythology. Tongues are firmly planted in cheeks, even (ESPECIALLY) when hapless wizards are reduced to chunks of meat, and returning characters include Vlad, who is still definitely not a vampire.

I played a small part of the campaign and two challenge maps, which see waves of enemies approaching with increasingly complex variation. The campaign section ended with a boss fight of sorts, in which we (eventually) worked out that the spawning monsters would never stop. The key to escaping was an environmental puzzle, which made clever use of specific elemental powers.

The challenge maps were the best part of the experience though and also the place where the new Artifacts came into play.

Artifacts, which are unlocked by playing through the story, allow players to fiddle with the game’s settings. Many of them act as tools to customise the game’s difficulty. It’s possible to increase or decrease enemy health and speed, and the same can be done to the wizards. Dashing around with wizard speeds doubled should make things easier, and if all four players were competent it well might, but double speed can lead to double the disasters.

Individual elements can be buffed or weakened as well. Convert death magic into an instagib death ray, or reduce the damage that flames cause. With a few sliders and toggles, each challenge can be tweaked and overhauled. The weirder artifacts might be the most enjoyable. There’s a twin set, one of which causes dying enemies to harm everything around them, while the other causes death to throw out an area effect healing spell.

Then there’s teleportation. The most tricksy artifact I saw causes a wizard to teleport immediately to the location of any enemy that he/she kills. It changes the tactical approach hugely, reducing the potency of any magic that lays down sheets of damaging elements, because as soon as one enemy falls, the wizard that made the kill ends up in the middle of the carnage he/she caused.

On top of all that, there are artifacts that exist simply to entertain. A laughter track. Bloated wizard models, huge knock-backs for corpses, gratuitously gory deaths. Ludicrous gibs of the most splendid and harmless kind.

The new ideas and tightly designed maps didn’t stick in my mind as much as the sheer pleasure of playing Magicka again. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the spell system and the silliness of the world. If the netcode is strong from day one this time around – and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t be – Magicka 2 might end up being my most played cooperative game of the year.

Wizard Wars, even with its reduced bank of combinations, has been a great training tool. When talking about the farce and the deaths (accidental and otherwise) that pepper a session of Magicka, it’s easy to ignore how clever the spell system is. A good player can perform efficiently, almost uncannily so given the bumbling nature of the wizards, and with the right Artifacts in place, Magicka 2 should offer a stern test of elemental mastery.

If the studio can provide a robust challenge that squeezes the best out of Magicka’s systems, while also allowing for experimentation and silliness, they’ll hit an incredibly sweet spot. The slice I’ve seen suggests they’re on the right path – the team of four I played with found time to discover the wonder of healing mines, the horror of creepily animated floating daggers and the tension as the final surviving wizard attempts to stay alive while his resurrect ability recharges.

That last feeling is the key. Tension. Magicka is an extraordinarily silly game, but it had us perched on the edge of our seats, shouting instructions as we tried to survive wave after wave of preposterous odds. If it can sustain that sensation for more than the couple of hours I’ve spent with it so far, it’ll be fantastic.

(It’s worth noting that I played on a PS4 controller. I expected to struggle but the controls map well, with elements activated using the face buttons, with the second tier requiring a push of a trigger at the same time. Controller support will hopefully open up opportunities for comfortable local co-op.)

Magicka 2 is out on May 26th.

12 Comments

  1. TheoCecerus says:

    First ever RPS comment!
    So…..there’s that
    Crazy site by the way, just might’ve found my a-binge home

  2. aliksy says:

    QRQRSEA forever!

  3. Nixitur says:

    “as the final surviving wizard attempts to stay alive while his resurrect ability recharges”

    Oh. So, magicks all have cooldown? That is… really dumb. Being able to spam lightning bolts in the original Magicka was fun until you killed the entire party and then it was a riot.
    Not to mention that it goes completely against what they said in the interview. They said that they wanted players to “irresponsibly, overpowerd-ly bring in that chaos with the simple tap of a button.” which isn’t really possible if they all have cooldowns.
    Unless it’s only the Revive magick? Even that sounds like a terrible idea. After all, when you know that you can’t quickly revive people, you are going to be much more careful and stay away from irresponsible, overpowered chaos.

    How does the magick system work in general? Are they all on hotkeys? How many are there? I can already think of about 15 magicks from the original which were incredibly useful or really funny and you couldn’t possibly fit all of those on a controller.
    So, I’m guessing that there’s either only about 4 or so which would be a huge shame or you have to map the magicks to your hotkeys in some clunky menu that takes way more time to navigate than just mashing SEDQFS.

    Neither option is good. Magicks worked fine in the original Magicka. I know the devs of this one complained about how hard they were to remember, but I feel like that’s kind of the point. If your spell fizzled because you couldn’t remember it, you’re gonna be in a tight spot, but if can remember it, you can rampage all over the countryside.
    Not to mention the hilarity of seeing your friend constantly zap himself because the Revive magick contains Lightning which can’t be cast when wet.

    • aliksy says:

      Some of them had mnemonics. Like the charm magick spelled ‘wed’.

    • MrStones says:

      I don’t think your quite remember how casting the spells worked if you think there will only be 4 spells or hotkeys. The first game only used qwerasdf and space to make every single spell in the game, so putting those on a controller is a case of 4 face buttons and a trigger to modify (which they didn’t do in 1, they mapped them to directions on the right stick in a moment of madness).

      As for cooldown idk but the article does say they’ve added ways to adjust most things in game and I’d be amazed if they did add cooldown without making it a option.

      • Nixitur says:

        They clearly said that they would put the magicks on hotkeys, so there will be no more combining of elements to form a magick. And looking at the gameplay footage, that is exactly what they did. And they added cooldowns from some unfathomable reason.

    • TheCDC says:

      It is exactly like you said, it can be seen in the gameplay videos on the Paradox channels, one of which can be found here: link to youtube.com. It looks like the cooldown is very short.

    • Schiraman says:

      I agree completely with Nixitur: the way magicks worked in Magicka was perfect and really should be left alone. Learning to cast them in the heat of battle was a real skill, and made you feel like you were mastering something powerful – and messing them up in the heat of battle was often hilarious.

      Changing them to hotkeys with a cooldown just feels like watering the whole game down and brings it a step closer to the boring low-skill standards of every other RPG. What a shame.

    • Reivles says:

      I can’t help but suspect there was another aspect to it – I knew of many, many players who simply macro’d their favorite magicks, and promptly spam-casted the things as needed.

      There’s funny challenge, and then there’s “Press Button 7 on your mouse to chain-cast three spell combos in a go”.

  4. piratmonkey says:

    If anyone owns a PS4, Helldivers is out now and it’s quite good if you’re interested in a co-op game. It can be played singleplayer buuuuuuut I wouldn’t recommend it if that’s what you’re looking for. However, the matchmaking to find groups is relatively painless and it plays smooth even with strangers. And it even has fairly decent writing/lore!