Magicka GDC 2010 PreviewBy Eric Eckstein - Posted Mar 10, 2010
I admit it, I mocked Magicka sight unseen. The name alone conjured an image of a bad third person action adventure game and I walked into my hands-on session with Paradox Interactive pre-disposed. I didn't expect to be pleasantly surprised by its innovative nature, nor to walk out of that demo still thinking about it and dying to play it again!
At first glance, Magicka looks like your typical co-op action/adventure game. You control a young wizard and fight off hordes of creatures like goblins and spiders a la Gauntlet. There is no level system or other RPG mechanic; this is an action game. But like its name implies, there's a trick up its sleeve. One that yields one of the coolest spell combo systems I've seen in recent years.
Remember when Dragon Age: Origins was heralded as having an inventive spell system. You could Grease the ground, and then cast a fire-based spell on the Grease to make it catch fire. I always thought that spell combinations was a clever idea, but when I actually played through the game, I found myself rarely experimenting with anything of the sort. While NOT an RPG, Magicka is full of experimentation as you dabble with its mystical arts.
In real-time during the game, players choose between eight different elements (Fire, Water, Lightning, Earth, Cold, Life, Shield and Arcane) to cast upon enemies or the world itself. Each spell has two outcomes: an area effect and a single attack. For example, selecting Fire will allow you to either use your staff as a flamethrower for a while or to quickly radiate a circular heat wave dispatching nearby enemies. In addition, elements can work in tandem with one another, so a player can use a Water spell to wet a creature, and then either a Lightning spell to shock them for extra damage or a Cold spell to freeze them solid. Elements can also be combined, so if you choose Water and then Cold, you'll have Ice at your disposal while Water and Fire make Steam.
You can stack up to five elements into one spell, so putting five Fires yields a more powerful and longer lasting flamethrower. But where things get really interesting is when you mix and match different elements. Take a few Fire and a Shield, and you can make a Flame Barrier. Add Lightning to Earth attacks, and you'll have electricity-infused rocks that do massive damage. There are also spell combos to be discovered and learned; for example, I stumbled upon a combination of Water and Arcane magic that triggered Rain, which wet every creature on screen.
Now all of this is going on in real-time as you're being hunted by goblins, chased by critters or shot at with arrows and bombs. I was using an Xbox 360 gamepad and the controls had me using the right analog stick to access a radial menu to queue up spells dynamically mid-combat. It's frantic, frenzied, and considering the developer's insistence that there is no off mode for friendly fire, chaotic! But it's also incredibly fun working together to freeze and shatter enemies or casting shields to protect hurting wizards while another heals them. With up to four wizards able to play together, you can imagine the pandemonium.
As one of the two games headed to consoles this year from Paradox Interactive (the other is the team-based Western game, Lead & Gold), Magicka could be yet another sleeper hit for fans of cooperative gaming. My only reservation is that, outside of a truly innovative dynamic spell system, the core game seemed fairly mundane for a game titled Magicka. It's still early, so who knows what the fates may hold but either way, I'm definitely checking this one out when it's ready for primetime.
Magicka is coming to PCs and consoles later this year.