[28 April 2011]
The first Magicka was a fun, peculiar four player co-op game. The joy my playing partners and I took from it was mostly provided by the chaos and death that often resulted in combining the game’s imprecise controls and volatile magic system. If, after playing through Magicka‘s campaign, you had told me that the thing that Magicka really needed was two new maps that changed out most of the fantasy goblins for fantasy goblins dressed in some strange approximation of what Swedish game developers think the Viet Cong dressed like, I’d have laughed. Nevertheless, I now find myself faced with Magicka: Vietnam, whose marketing campaign steals ideas wholesale from that of Bad Company 2, and whose gameplay is the same old Magicka chaos, but with guns, napalm, and rocket launchers.
The two new maps make the most of their new setting, changing most of Magicka‘s fantasy trappings for rice paddies, gun nests, and everything else one might learn about Vietnam and the Viet Cong from watching half of Apocalypse Now. Vlad (who continues to wear thin the “I’m totally not a vampire” joke) unfortunately returns as the mission-giver and mostly nonexistent narrator of this Magicka story. Apparently there are captured friendly soldiers being held a ways up the road. It’s up to the four diminutive mages controlled by you and your three friends (or just you, if you’re playing alone) to save these captured soldiers.
I played the campaign and challenge missions alone and with a friend, and this quickly revealed that the campaign mission is short and difficult, while the challenge mission is, as I’d expected, a long drawn-out fight against hordes of Orc Viet Cong.
The latter is nothing to write home about. The original game’s challenge missions are fun as long as you have three partners to play along with, but after you run through them once the wave after wave mechanic gets boring. Magicka‘s long single player campaign was and is a lot of fun, and Vietnam’s lone mission is also fun, to a point.
Almost all enemies now sport rifles or rocket launchers, and many of them crouch in the cover of machine gun nests or dense jungle cover. As a result, dying from unseen (or even off-screen) gunfire is common. This isn’t much of a problem for a group of four players who can easily resurrect each other, but for two players (and especially those playing solo) this mission can be nearly impossible. It’s obviously not balanced for anything less than the full four players. The same was true for the original Magicka, though it wasn’t nearly as punishing for smaller groups or loners.
Assuming you have three other people to play with, Magicka: Vietnam‘s one mission becomes unfortunately easy. If all four players are veterans of the first Magicka campaign, they’ll run through this mission in an hour or so without trying too hard. Yes, rockets, hulking gunners, and difficult to spot enemies will cause a lot of resurrecting, but as long as someone is alive, the fight can go on. Vietnam‘s campaign mission quickly turns into a re-skinned, shorter version of similar missions from the original game. It’s fun to use rocket launchers and guns in what once was a game featuring only swords and wands, but that’s all there is to this expansion (along with the new “Napalm” spell, which is functionally similar to many other spells, and is thus less interesting).
The connection issues that dogged the first Magicka‘s release haven’t been eradicated, but they do pop up less frequently. I played through two whole missions before (in the course of my third playthrough) my team and I were booted from the game. In the original Magicka, I was used to getting kicked from every single session. The UI is also still less informative and helpful than it needs to be. Specifically, when queuing up involved spell chains, the little icons that float above my mage’s head (and show what’s in the spell queue presently) are tiny and often get lost in the game’s hectic combat.
Magicka: Vietnam feels bit on the short side for something we’re going to be paying $4.99 for. It’s mostly a re-skinned standard Magicka missions and the difficulty doesn’t ever really find a sweet spot. What’s left are some guns, rockets, napalm, and the unnecessary return of the first game’s hit (and mostly) miss humor. I’m surprised that Arrowhead Game Studios didn’t wait and release this as part of a larger mission pack. Considering I’d seen all I wanted to see of its content after about an hour and a half of play, I’d skip this Magicka outing, for now.