Magicka fails to deliver on its potential

Although _Magicka_ has the potential to be an entertaining game, its many glitches seriously discredit the game and its developer studio, Arrowhead. (credit: Katie Chironis | Copy Manager) Although _Magicka_ has the potential to be an entertaining game, its many glitches seriously discredit the game and its developer studio, Arrowhead. (credit: Katie Chironis | Copy Manager)

Here’s a concept: Take the versatility of Minecraft or Doodle God’s mix-and-match system and combine it with the high-fantasy top-down style of a franchise like Warcraft. The outcome, Magicka, is one of those games that sounds like a dream come true. But in all honesty, this game is one of those cases where an early release is a terrible business plan — and it shows. Magicka in its current state is suffering more than a beached manatee in August.

Running through the campaign will get players quickly acclimated to the world and interface. The battle system largely consists of one main mechanic, which turns out to be surprisingly versatile: You get five slots, and there are eight different “elements.” Players can slate any elements in any order to fill those five slots, with certain combinations creating powerful spells that are satisfying to watch. Four lightning elements in a row, for example, makes a lightning storm that uses an area-of-effect spell to damage everything in a certain range, while casting a shield combination plus a fire element creates a flaming wall of protection.

Even playing around with the elements outside of combat offers a lot of simple, creative fun. The charming factor of what appears to be Norwegian-Simlish voice-acting works in tandem with the simplistic story line (fight enemies, drive back evil, the usual shindig) to create a pleasantly immersing plot that’s tried and true. The best part is that the game acknowledges its own cliché factor; NPCs make jokes and references to popular nerd culture, and it’s all tongue-in-cheek. If nothing else, Magicka has an aura of humor that self-serious games rarely seem to have these days, a friendly atmosphere more characteristic of Nintendo titles than, say, Dante’s Inferno.

However, the glitches of the game in its current state are sort of a crime against humanity and a serious blow to Arrowhead’s creditability as a developer studio — especially on its first major title. Half the time the multiplayer match-making system drops player connections entirely without warning — even while connected locally, matches often run up some serious lag. In the campaign, it’s possible to walk through walls or floors, and cutscenes sometimes fail to initiate. Directions and written lines often have typos or text formatting errors, which looks sloppy, as if the lead writer couldn’t be bothered to use spell-check. There is no remap option for key commands, so users who are playing on limited hardware (such as a laptop with a touch pad) will be hard-pressed to enjoy the game at all. In what seems to be a strange design choice, friendly fire is turned on in multiplayer mode, so attempting to dry yourself with a fire spell may quickly escalate into accidentally killing off your friends.

Overall, there’s a certain charm about Magicka that merits playing it — and with a free demo available on Steam, consumers would be wise to at least give it a try. However, whether it’s worth buying the full version of the game remains dependent on Arrowhead’s ability to roll out patches.