Hands-on: Magicka Preview

Greg Tito | 24 Jan 2011 17:00
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I mixed water and fire to make steam and thoroughly cooked the designers in their own game.

Magicka is a fast-paced action PC game where you control one of 4 wizards with primary colored robes. The trick is that you can combine strings of up to 5 different elements into spells on the fly, often with devastating effect. Combining earth and water will shoot mud at your enemies, for example. Friendly fire is possible, and sometimes necessary if your buddy is surrounded by baddies, but you can cast life magic at your comrades to heal them. The vast number of spell combinations available make for a frenetic, sometimes frustrating, but always fun play experience. On top of that, the story and dialogue of Magicka has a whole tongue-in-cheek vibe that references Star Wars, Monty Python and Lord of the Rings seemingly all in the same breath.

"We're nerds, and we make nerdy games," Johan Pilestedt, CEO of Arrowhead Games told me. CEO is a bit of a misnomer, as Pilestedt designed and programmed Magicka together with his partner in crime Emil Englund, Executive VP. "We're into comedy like Terry Pratchett."

As soon as Pilestedt connected Magicka to the British fantasy author Pratchett, it all clicked for me. Here is a story that exists in the same genre as Tolkien or Robert Jordan but doesn't take itself too seriously. "There's a lot of predictable plot-twists in the game, as well as some that will be cliché and cheesy," Pilestedt said. "We're really mocking fantasy, as it is. The fantasy genre hasn't changed much since Gary Gygax made Dungeons & Dragons. It's been 40 years, for Christ's sake."

Englund was quick to point out that the game isn't all a joke. And as I picked up the controller to test drive Magicka for myself, I quickly became mesmerized by all that I could do. The 8 elements of magic that you can combine start with the obvious: Fire, Water, Lightning and Earth. Then there is Life, Arcane, Shield and Cold. Some of the elements are opposites, so stacking Fire and Cold will dissipate the spell, while adding Cold and Water together shoots ice. Shield spells take perhaps the most skill to use, as you can use Shield alone to create impassable barriers with the click of a button, or combine it with another element like Arcane and cast it on yourself for a protection from Arcane effect. There are also specific combinations you can mix to produce special effects, such as mixing Life and Lightning to revive dead companions or mixing different elements to create a Meteor Storm.

The spell system is a little hard to grasp, so it makes sense to pay attention to the launch trailer that Arrowhead and Paradox released last week to see it in action.

Johan Pilestedt talked me through some of the more fun possibilities in Magicka. "The shield element on its own creates a force barrier, but if I add earth to the shield, it becomes an earth barrier," Pilestedt said as he demonstrates, creating a circle of rock with his wizard. "If I add fire to that earth barrier, it becomes a ring of volcanoes. If I also add arcane to it, it becomes an enchanted barrier that explodes like mines for massive damage." And indeed, a hapless barabarian wanders over his arcane volcanoes and blows up with big damage numbers flashing on the screen.

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