Magicka: Wizard Wars may well be my favourite competitive multiplayer game since the original Unreal Tournament. I was startled when I realised that might be the caese, but the rattle of fingers across keys, weaving deadly magicks, accompanies an enormous chunk of my free time. It's a game that requires quick reflexes and the ability to switch between various forms of attack and defence without a second's hesitation. I often find turn-based games a bit too fast-paced for my sleep-deprived mind to handle so I shouldn't stand a chance in a team-based Wizard War, but the rhythms this game are in tune with the beat of my blood. The new Duel Mode, which is a one-on-one arena face-off, sounds more intimidating than team-based shenanigans, but with a built-in spectator mode it's as much a learning experience as a series of brutal bouts.
I've only played Duel mode on a LAN setup at the Paradox Convention so I'll reserve extensive judgement as to how well it works with the unwashed wizardly masses until I've had a chance to play online following today's release. It's a far more sophisticated addition than the Duel name might suggest though, integrating a mini-tournament system. Four players take part, with two spectating from a secure balcony at any one time, incapable of using magic or weaponry.
This allows them to learn their opponents' habits. Wizard Wars is a game that tickles muscle memory and, particularly when stress and panic set in, people tend to resort to familiar elemental combinations. Watch them as they work and, like poker players, they'll reveal their tells.
The first player to a set points limit wins the entire tournament, which can lead wizards to hold back their most powerful charged spells for use against a specific enemy. I was one kill away from victory at one point and my opponents each saved a 'Summon Death' spell throughout their rounds against one another, unleashing the Reaper as soon as I entered the arena. Bastards. It was a sign of respect in a way, sure, but they're still bastards.