Magicka's launch week was a complete disaster. Connecting to a multiplayer game, assuming you could successfully start the game at all, would often delete your campaign progress. Sessions would crash during boss fights, forcing players to repeat whole chapters because the checkpoint system acts only as a respawn station and not a save point. Yet, despite many restarted campaigns, frustrating crashes and constant disconnects, I kept coming back for more.
The genius of Magicka is found in its "element system." Wizards create spells from up to five elements, and chaining them together in a certain fashion creates Magicks. When a fellow wizard dies, load up Life followed by Lightning to cast Revive Magick. If you square off against a Fire-based foe, be sure to load one or more Water elements to decimate their health.
These are just examples, and Magicka's system is deep enough to reward creative thinking. I'm partial to long-distance Steam + Arcane + Lightning beam attacks, so I teamed up with players that favoured Earth-centered combos. They would carefully scatter destructive elemental mines, or create a path of healing mines for teammates. Common sense and a healthy dose of literalism will carry you through the game. Should you find yourself in a seemingly unending battle, you may have missed something.
Tackling Magicka's campaign on your own can be a frustrating challenge. You face the same number of enemies that you would in a multiplayer game, with swarms of monsters coming at you from all sides. With no one around to cover your back or bring you back to life, death will send you back to the last checkpoint. Your progress is saved only at the end of a chapter, so quitting the game after a checkpoint means restarting the entire level when you return.
Frankly, the solo mode exists solely as a chance to practice casting. Multiplayer Magicka combines the joy of shooting beams of death from your hands with the joy of said beams exploding your friends. Healing and damage spells affect friend and foe, so players need to coordinate who is blowing up what, where, and when. A former teammate of mine was warned to cover my back as I used one of my usual beam attacks to clear an advancing mob. Instead, he thought he'd "help", crossed a beam of opposite elements with mine, and we all died in the feedback explosion. While this is, admittedly, hilarious, it can get old when playing with random groups online.
You should come for the elemental goodness, and then stay for a clever story. Nearly every screen hides a few witty asides, and Arrowhead Studios manages to stay on the right side of cute, never beating you over the head with its obvious love for geek culture. Your silent, bathrobe-clad protagonists don't just fight and look stylish, they manage to actively drive the action forward thanks to their muteness.
Sure, some other wizards would simply have told the all-powerful Death about the crisis they faced and asked for his help, but then you wouldn't get to fight him and play a few more stages due to fallout from the battle. Magicka won't rank up top with Portal or Monkey Island on anyone's "Best Written Games" list, but the dialogue is well worth listening to at least once. And thanks to a plethora of patches Magicka is now much more stable, so you can have fun without the frustration.
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