Paradox Interactive, the minds behind the popular Mount and Blade series and more grand strategy titles than you could shake Stalin's bushy ‘tache at, have taken a massive step away from their usual romp through history to produce a game that is not only unique and fresh but also offers hilariously explosive fun. Magicka is Paradox Interactive's latest attempt at taking over yet another genre. Having succeeded many times in the grand strategy genre and making a huge impact within the RPG genre with Mount and Blade, Paradox Interactive now bring Magicka to the table.
Magicka is a cute yet oddly violent and often explodey third-person action adventure wizard-‘em-up. Quite a mouthful, but it’s a formula that is not only unique but also a whole lot of fun. Taking place in a fantasy world, Magicka puts you and up to three friends in the mucky boots of four wizards as they set out from the comfort of their grand castle to take on the forces of darkness. While this might seem all too familiar to the average fantasy fan, it's more Pratchett than Tolkien with the fantasy setting mixed in with vast amounts of witty humor that'll keep you laughing all through its ten-hour campaign.
Strangely enough, while the graphics are more akin to World of Warcraft than the usual blend of overzealous “super-realistic shades of brown!” we tend to see more and more of lately, it's that factor that gives Magicka its charm. The rich, luscious colors somehow make the world a lot more believable than games like Crysis 2 could ever be.
"…fling more spells than Gandalf on steroids…"
Yet where Magicka truly shines is its unique gameplay. Since you're a wizard, you'd expect to be able to fling more spells than Gandalf on steroids and, trust me, you won't be disappointed. After a brief tutorial sector explaining the uses of each of the final eight elements you'll be able to get your greasy wizard mitts on, you'll be free to combine up to five of them as you please. Earth, Water, Fire, Shield, Life, Arcane, Ice, and Lightning are all at your disposal. As you experiment with different combinations of elements you'll find that some work better than others depending on the situation. Got a horde of goblins rampaging towards you? Give 'em a little fire and earth, and you've got a fireball you can shoot at high speeds to splatter and cook the little buggers. Different elements affect various enemies in different ways too. Using life on the undead will damage them greatly and, unsurprisingly, fire makes short work of trees. The combinations are many and often wield some quite hilarious results when in coop with other players. 'Crossing the streams' Ghostbusters-style with either the life or arcane element is one of my personal favorite activities.
Where would a fantasy action adventure be without cool loot and collectables? Enter the Magicks, special combos of elements that create powerful and often deadly spells. A few of the more interesting ones include summoning lightning bolts and tornadoes to deal with your enemies – or your friends depending on how much of an evil bastard you are. This is, in fact, the main element of Magicka. You're expected to be an incompetent, oblivious trainee wizard who is no doubt bound to end up getting his friends killed more than his enemies. Magicka coop is one of the best coop experiences I've had in ages, and that's more thanks to the stupidly powerful tools at your and your friend's disposal as well as the unforgiving and always active friendly fire than actual good cooperation. Instead of being angry that my teammate just accidentally shot me with a boulder going 300 miles per hour, it’s hilarious.
If the campaign isn't enough for you, there are also two standard survival maps for you to test you and your friends, with competitive leader boards, if you're into that sort of thing. The recent release of the Vietnam DLC, which is a bargain at £3.49, provides even more fun to be had from this little gem. Complete with one survival map and an independent story mission, Magicka Vietnam is exactly the type of randomness you can expect from the original all wrapped up in a nice package that adds everything you'd expect from a Vietnam based game, such as Napalm strikes, guns, and GIs but with the added fantasy element of Vietcong Goblins equipped with AK47s and god knows what else.
The survival map is your standard affair, with increasingly harder waves of Viet-Goblins coming from all directions, but the mission map is what's really exciting. The mission will take you between ten to twenty minutes to complete, depending on how many players you have with you, and how dedicated you are to finding all the little hidden surprises that are dotted around the map. You'll be flying into enemy territory, napalming some VG forces, and busting your strangely familiar buddies out of captivity as you go. While it's not particularly challenging for a veteran of the original Magicka, you'll have some extra tricks up your wizard sleeves to help you along the way. Take the new character skin, for example, available in both the Vietnam missions and original adventure mode alike. Instead of a crummy sword and staff, this wizarding bad ass comes equipped with an M16, a flak jacket, and an American flag. The flag-staff in particular gives you the ability to lob Liberty Grenades a short distance, turning most squishy enemies into Swiss cheese. You also gain the ability to crouch behind cover in the Vietnam missions, giving you a bit more survivability in the face of the new enemies you'll meet along the way.
In conclusion, Magicka is a rare gem in a world filled with boring FPS games that use the same recycled storyline and formula, and the Vietnam DLC is there to extend the fun. Whether you'll be playing it solo or, better yet, with a group of budding magic slingers, Magicka will please gamers of all ages. For such a low price, it's hard not to give praise to this truly great game and its pint sized DLC. It bombards you with its humor, numerous pop culture references, and its unique gameplay style that many have fallen in love with since its release. If you're quite partial to roasting some goblins with fire or zapping tree people with lightning, go out and get Magicka. You will not be disappointed…