As always, Magicka's real strength lies in its spell combat system. From the first level, players are given complete control of eight elements: Fire, Earth, Water, Lightning, Ice, Shield, Life, and Death. At any point, players can summon elements, combine them, and cast them into their surroundings, onto themselves, or even onto weapons. Cast Shield in front of you, and it creates a simple energy wall. Cast Shield on yourself, and you're resistant to damage. Cast Shield and Rock as an area blast, and you're surrounded by a rock wall. The possibilities are endless, to the point that some combinations might literally blow up in your face. Figuring them out is simply part of Magicka's appeal.
In combat, these elements are your tools against scenarios that only certain combinations can solve. Each enemy type, from lowly goblins to massive trolls, has various resistances and weaknesses that can be discovered through experimentation. Have you triggered a massive skeleton horde? No problem - use Life and Lightning to wipe them out at once. Facing enemies that deal fire damage? Just cast Fire and Shield on yourself to make yourself resistant.
Of course, there are two caveats - friendly fire is always on, and you'll have to cast elements on the fly, usually while dozens of enemies rush your position. Killing other teammates is pretty much guaranteed, assuming you didn't press the wrong element button and wipe yourself from the Earth. And that's not even getting into "crossing the streams" of elements like Life/Death, generating explosions with devastating effects. Each unfolding disaster is like its own work of art, and usually leaves your fellow players in hysterics. It certainly helps that death has no consequence thanks to frequent checkpoints and easy-to-cast Revives.
As you progress, you'll even discover magicks - special element combination effects like Haste, Summoning Dead Living armies, or the constantly-used Revive spell. There doesn't seem to be quite as wide a selection as Magicka 1 - or at least not so many hilariously overpowered ones - but they still encourage you to watch the environment for unlockable objects. Unfortunately, the levels are linearly designed with limited opportunities to explore - you'll usually just notice a small branching path, follow it for two seconds, find an item with little fanfare, and then return to the regular encounters. Not that Magicka 1 was a sandbox, but finding each magick and weapon felt like a unique event - not a checklist presentation at the end of each mission.
Where Magicka 2 surpasses the original is making complex magicks easier to cast. Along with the elements, Magicka 2 has four prepared magick slots that can be activated with a single button press. While the options aren't fully customizable - each magick only fits in a specific slot - it means you never have to fuss over casting your favorite spells. What's more, they aren't affected by external effects, so if your magick requires lightning you won't be harmed if you're covered in water. But that doesn't mean you should rely on them entirely - prepared magicks have a recharge time so you can't cast them repeatedly. But you can still prepare them manually using the elements until then, which is a fantastic trade-off fans of the original will love.