Review | 2/7/2011 at 1:26 PM

Magicka Co-Op Review

The very concept of Magicka excites the inner geek in me. I haven’t been this enthusiastic about the elements of nature since I was 10 years old and playing with my collection of Battle Beasts. Magicka at its core is very simple - play as a wizard with eight elements at your disposal on a quest to save the kingdom. But its oh so much more than this, because combining and weaving these elements into incredible spells is what makes Magicka truly special.

Magicka’s story is like an homage to geek culture - with references to Monty Python, Star Wars, Star Trek and many other movies you’ll be chuckling your way through the entire game. Magicka isn’t just hilarious for its ability to lampoon culture, its goofy sounding made-up language, which seems to be a cross between the Swedish Chef and the Sims, will have you laughing as well. But these planned laughs are nothing compared to the sheer ridiculous nature of actually playing and creating your own - which 9 times out of 10 - involves killing a teammate in some glorious accidental fashion.

It’s this decision, one we questioned in our interview, to include team damage that becomes so very clear once you play the game. It’s not just because it’s funny to kill a friend when you accidentally suck him into a vortex that team damage is essential, it’s because of the experimentation that can occur to create new spells and perform new feats.

You have eight elements at your disposal: Fire, Water, Cold, Shield, Arcane, Life, Earth and Lightning. You can combine elements to form new elements as well - for instance Fire and Water to create Steam - these sub elements become crucial later on for some of the bigger spells. There’s also a few ways to cast spells. You can simply press fire and hit the right mouse button to cast a flame, or you can shift click to cast flame on your sword and then attack with a fire sword, and finally you can shift right click to cast explode in flames around you. The spell’s elements can be stacked up to five deep, with the more you add to your spell, the stronger it gets.

The beauty of the game though comes with combining these spells - combine Ice and Arcane and you can have a beam that freezes enemies. Combine Fire and Earth and get a fire ball. These are just the simple combinations thought and over the course of the game you’ll pick up spell books which provide recipes for more advanced spells like Thunderstorm, Haste, and even ones that alter time.

All of these spells effects look really great too - from the rain effects to lightning, to flaming bad guys and even the frozen enemies. It’s incredibly easy to tell what’s going on - and the gore system is so over the top it’s laughable. Pumping an arcane beam into a troll until he bloats up and explodes into chunky pieces never gets old.

Playing the game single player, while fun, is also a bit frustrating. This comes from a checkpoint system that sometimes sets you back a dozen battles with enemies. When you combine that with the easy nature of screwing up and accidentally killing yourself - seriously, self casting with the middle mouse button is a bad idea - the single player just isn’t as rewarding as the co-op. There were sections in single player where I spent almost an hour trying to beat while in co-op we were able to pass it no problem.

So it should be clear by now that co-op in Magicka is where its at, and thanks to no death penalty and an easy revive system, the game almost encourages you to experiment. Just as you can combine your own elements into spells, players can combine their spells between players for some devastating damage and effect. One of my favorites is to have one player combine water and earth and cast it into a projectile at the enemy while another uses lightning to dispatch of the soaking groups of enemies. You’ll need to be careful though, if your character gets wet (as evident by the drops coming off your character) you won’t be able to cast any spell that has lightning in it - namely resurrect. The solution is simple, cast fire on yourself and you’ll steam off that water in no time flat.

Its this management of the elements that does add some complexity to the game and it can be daunting for new players, after a few hours though it’ll become second nature. Magicka is not only a ton of fun in co-op, it’s also very co-op friendly. You can play locally on the same PC with up to four people just by plugging in some Xbox 360 controllers and you can mix and match local and online play as well. While you can’t drop into a game in the middle of it, you can drop out and not break the session.

Magicka was not without its difficulties when it launched, there were numerous bugs and issues people ran into, but the team at Arrowhead have been committed to providing patches almost daily. For the most part the game has been stable for me with only half a dozen drops or issues in almost 20 hours of play.

Apart from the standard adventure/story mode the game also has a co-op survival mode and a versus mode. The co-op survival is a great ton of a fun and is perfect for just killing time or experimenting with spells. There’s a lot of value here in Magicka and while I would still recommend the game if you only plan on playing alone, its easy to see that this is an affair designed for co-op. If you can look past the few nagging issues, you shouldn’t have a problem seeing Magicka becoming a cult classic.