Game Day: Spells are the big draw of 'Magicka'

Justin Hoeger
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Casting spells is a dangerous endeavor in "Magicka." Oh, it starts out easy. Using the keys QWER and ASDF, players can quickly choose one of eight basic spells — water, life, shield, ice, lightning, arcane, earth and fire — for their wizard to cast.

Wizards can cast spells at an enemy, in an area around themselves, onto themselves or onto their own weapon for an imbued strike.

But that's just the beginning. The real fun (and risk) comes from combining up to five spells into often volatile mixtures. A standard fire spell sends a burst of flame forward; mix that with the arcane spell and it becomes a searing beam, and with earth in the mix a giant fireball is formed.

Some spells cancel each other out — mixing water and electricity hurts the player's wizard, while other bad combinations simply fizzle — and some can ricochet off a shield. It's not a great idea to cast anything destructive, especially in beam form, while protected inside a shield dome.

This mix-and-match magic system is a lot of fun on its own — discovering the finer uses of an arcane iced-lightning explosion is worth the trial and error it takes to get there. Spell books teach the wizards specific enchantments that are cast with the space key. Arcane electric fire makes for a good attack, but casting the same combination using the space key gives a wizard a temporary boost in speed.

"Magicka" isn't easy, and players are almost as likely to die by their own mis-aimed or poorly timed spell as the weapon of a goblin or beast man. The game is structured as a dungeon crawl like the "Diablo" games, but without the genre's usual emphasis on loot and levels. Wizards can pick up and use new weapons and staffs, but there's no buying or selling, or even an inventory. Up to four wizards can team up online to wield more magical power, but the prospect of friendly fire adds to the danger and chaos.

The world of "Magicka" is a boilerplate fantasy land with a satirical streak of self-awareness, with lots of good-natured jokes aimed at RPG tropes. The story is narrated by a gloomy guide who insists he's not a vampire even as he finishes a human snack.

The game has a bit more blood and gore than typical for a T-rated game, but the tone is goofy enough to take a lot of the edge off. The gore can also be disabled in the options menu.

"Magicka" was dogged by reports of bugs at the time of its release last week, especially regarding the online play, but some have already been cleared up and others are being worked on, according to the publisher's website.


3 stars

PUBLISHER: Paradox Interactive


PRICE: $9.99






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