EDIT: I’m going to leave these bits and pieces throughout the review since it has changed dramatically from it’s original incarnation. Magicka 2 is not the same game I played in May. It’s fun, it’s powerful, it’s funny, and the multiplayer works. Best of all, this time around it DOES feel like Magicka. So if you were turned off by my original review, then give this another look. It’s not the same at all, and this is a game I can get behind. I will leave most of my original review in place though, so it might sound conflicting in various places. Just go with it.
How many PC gamers do I have in the house? Good, Good. If you’re a PC gamer then you’ve probably heard of Paradox, and if you’ve heard of Paradox, then you might have heard of Magicka. I discovered Magicka years ago during a Steam sale while I was looking for multiplayer games to play with my friends. It came up under “Action-RPGs” and “co-op”, so I figured, “What could go wrong?” Magicka is not an Action RPG, but it is one of the best, most silly, most ridiculous multiplayer games I’ve ever played. To this day, my friends and I play Magicka regularly at LAN parties and over the internet at various points in time, almost religiously. It’s our go-to game alongside Borderlands 2, Crysis Wars and Star Wars Battlefront 2. I tell you this, so that you understand how excited we were when Magicka 2 was announced last year at E3. I received a gift copy from my friend on Steam for my birthday and eagerly awaited the release date. But when I booted it up, something was different. This wasn’t the same game I remember, everything was weird. Magicka 2 is NOT just a new campaign for Magicka, it changes the balance and focus of Magicka and makes it more palatable for console gamers. Is this a better direction for the series? I can’t answer that. But being a core Magicka player, I know what works and what doesn’t.
The Core Coding/A Polished Game
Magicka didn’t get a lot of press when the first one came out in 2011. It didn’t help that this brand new game accidentally released three days early and had massive amounts of game breaking bugs. As a result, the metacritic on release was relatively low, and, compounded with a bunch of other problems, the game never got the critical acclaim it deserved. It went on to fix almost all of those problems, and add huge amounts of features in the form of free updates, but the base game itself has shoddy netcode and an unstable foundation to this day. Magicka 2 does not have that problem. All the menus work great, the interface is great, the netcode is great, all those core system that the game is supposed to run on work great. You can drop-in and out of multiplayer without having to restart the level, that’s a first. You can save your progress in the middle of the level from your last checkpoint, that’s new too. People can join your game randomly, you can turn it into a private room for you and your friends, you could have a friend plug in an xbox controller, or you could do all three. The graphics are a lot better than the first one too, although blood and gore is no longer toggle-able for those who wanted to save some performance. I didn’t have any crashes or bugs for the 7 hours that I’ve played. In terms of making a working game, Pieces Interactive did a good job. Their game works, which is more than can be said for some companies coughUBISOFTcough.
One of the best parts about Magicka was the satirical, tounge-in-cheek references to Nerd-dom and Norse mythology that were always well executed. Just read the achievement list for the original Magicka and you’ll start to see the references. Star Trek, LOTR, Star Wars, 300, Game of Thrones there are just so many references, and they’re always presented in this silly, funny, original way that are never dull or boring.
It makes references to more obscure properties like Dr. Horrible and Cthulu as well, so nearly every niche is covered. The games own jokes about Vlad (who is definetly not a vampire) and their made-up language that sounds like a mix of Swedish and Banjo-Kazooie is always pretty funny. The game frequently makes fun of the fact that the wizards can’t talk, even though they’re supposed to be able to. The entire game is satire, and well-constructed satire at that. Magicka 2 keeps those references coming. Considering that this is a different developer than the original, it would have been easy to imitate the form, but not the essence of that humor. Magicka 2 is still really funny and I was always looking forwards to the next appearance of whatever reference they had stuffed in there.
The multiplayer works, that’s a start and more than could be said for the first game at launch. You can drop in and out of your friends games with ease, choose your equipment, etc. The interface at the bottom of the screen shows your friends status so you can tell whether you need to revive them, cool them when they’re on fire, thaw them if they’re frozen, heal them, etc. And it’s still just as fun as the first game to kill them “accidentally” while trying to kill the goblins and trolls that assault your character on screen.
As I was playing, someone randomly joined my game online and we had quite a hoot together. We had very different playstyles, but he was able to drop right in and help me finish up the campaign. If you want to play on your own, you can always turn on private session, but the game is designed for co-op and the experience, even with strangers, was significantly better. Once you get the hang of things, join someone else’s game, you’ll probably be able to find someone around the same place in the story as you, and you’ll have more fun.
It’s Still Magicka
I loved Magicka 1, and this game is still more Magicka. The spellcasting system is the most empowering, most fun system of magic I’ve ever seen in a video game and it lets you do practically anything you want. Freeze your enemies, set fire to your enemies, make them explode into piles of gore, get them wet and then lure them through a cloud of electricity, light their explosive backpacks on fire, imbue your sword with fire, freeze a lake, lure them out onto the lake and then melt the ice beneath them drowning them. And then those more complex things like creating blizzards and running at super speed are accomplished by inputting a precise recipe and casting it as a whole which makes your reservoir of available solutions enormous. The entire system is incredibly well-done, and it still works in this game. It’s nearly as good as it was in the last one (I’ll get to that).
In order to increase re-playability, the developers added things called artifacts to the game. These do things like add a laugh track, make deaths more humorous, increase resistance to specific elements, make enemies harder to kill, etc. I’ve you’ve already played through the campaign once, this will definitely be a fun way to go through again with your friends. The only problem is that you have to unlock these artifacts by playing through the chapter in certain ways, and it isn’t made clear how to find them all. Each time my friends and I restart the old Magicka, that chapter one is just so boring, so having this option available is a great way to mix it up. It’s probably most similar to Special Melee from Super Smash Bros. in function, so if you need a reference point, use that.
The Movement System
Pieces Interactive changed a lot of things in Magicka 2, and one of the most noticeable changes was what they did to the movement system. In Magicka 1, you couldn’t move while casting and you couldn’t move without clicking. You would move towards your cursor while it was held down, effectively dragging them towards the position of your cursor, and then you would stop by letting go. This made it a very slow-paced game, where your primary focus was figuring out the best way to lead enemies through a series of traps and beams that would kill them before they could reach you. You still had to move around a lot, but not being able to cast and move made a huge difference in playstyle. In Magicka 2, the movement system has been changed to make it more similar to MOBA’s like LoL or DOTA 2. This means you click at a location and go to the location. This is great because you can walk away from opponents while casting towards them. It also means that you can accidentally walk off cliffs more often than not by clicking off the edge. This was probably a good and important change to the game going forwards since it means that encounters can be more dynamic as players move around the battlefield constantly, but it also means that people familiar with the old game will be confused and frustrated. The last thing you want to do is disgruntle your loyal fans.
EDIT: The Game has been updated since it’s release. THere are now fully-rebindable keys as well as allowing you to use the old movement system. You can even move while casting still, but you’ll always cast in the direction of your movement. This goes a long way towards making the game feel the way it should.
is kinda short, and not very exciting. It’s like…6 hours long. Not a lot of enemy variety. The bosses were fun, I guess. Not many magicks (which are the cool, flashy spells).
There are a lot of un-lockables, but I don’t know how to get all of them. If you need to do it at a harder difficulty, or just hunt really hard for secrets, the game doesn’t really make it clear. The pacing for the campaign feels off too, like they just made a really long piece of DLC instead of a full-blown adventure. It just doesn’t feel that grand or epic. It was fun, just not that fun. There were some balance issues for the single-player portion, but those have already been patched.
The Little Things
EDIT: Since the game was released and the huge backlash that followed, Arrowhead admirably went back and rebalanced the entire spell system. They turned Steam and Ice back into their old elements. They re-added all the super powerful combinations from the old game and they even added a whole new element. I’m leaving this section in “Bad” for posterity reasons, but for all intents and purposes the game feels like the orignal, just with a slightly worse campaign. I would even go so far as to put this in the good section since it was such a fundamental part of the original Magicka formula.
The best way to alienate your fanbase is to change your game from incredibly complex to, at the very least, relatively more simple, to make it more casual friendly. Nintendo saw this happen with Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl and Paradox is seeing it with Magicka 1 and 2. Magicka 2 released simultaneously on PS4 and PC when it came out. Contrary to popular belief, PC players are not all assholes who look down upon console peasants. However, they don’t like it when they perceive a company took a relatively complex and intense game and dumbed it down in order to sell to a wider market (aka consoles). The same thing happened in Crysis and Crysis 2. Crysis 1 was an incredibly popular game on PC for its revolutionary graphics and interesting FPS mechanics. Crysis 2 ditched all of that in favor of a streamlined, military shooter in NYC that took away everything that made it special. MAGICKA 2 IS THE SAME FRIGGIN WAY!!!! Magicka 2 is not the same as Magicka 1, and anyone who has played both of them will tell you so. Steam and Ice no longer combine into one element, so you can’t get people wet and zap them at the same time. Shields can now be walked through, so you can’t hide behind a shield bubble and regroup. Lightning now trumps beam on the spell building pyramid, so you can’t build a death-fire-lightning beam, instead you make flame, arcane lightning which has a shorter range. Teleport is now in a random direction instead of in whatever direction you had your cursor (to accommodate for consoles who don’t have a mouse). Magicks can now be instantly cast using a hot-bar, but they have a cool-down (to accommodate for console peasants, who can’t be bothered to memorize combinations, and then to balance that accommodation). The spells themselves have a significantly fewer combinations and many of the ones that used to be more powerful have been severely weakened without adding in any new ones to balance it out. It’s like booting up Dark Souls II and finding out they switched the Item button and Action button (and you can’t change it). What kind of PC game comes out nowadays without re-bindable keys (Edit: Rebindable keys are a thing now in the default interface). A lot of other things changed to, but you mostly notice them if you’ve played the first game more religiously. Not all of these changes are bad; just like the movement system some of them were made for balance. But when as a whole, it changes the game so much for those core fans that they feel like they’re not playing the same game, you done screwed up. It would be like if you played the new Batman game and he didn’t have knife combat takedowns, batclaw takedowns, and the timings on attacks were all different. It would technically just be a re-balancing, but no one wanted you to change those things. On top of all that, you have fewer magicks to work with, and most of them aren’t nearly as creative as the ones in the last game. And of course none of this even comes close to their biggest screw-up of all.
The Tutorial Still Sucks
EDIT: Again, the atrocity of this point is mitigated by the rebalancing that they did of the game. Veterans are no longer as lost as they would be, but newbies will still not fully grasp the nuances of a VERY complex system.
Yes, in the first game, the tutorial was a little long-winded and repetitive. But it explained concepts and mechanics of an incredibly complex system, taught you how to use it, and, most importantly, how to experiment with it. The tutorial in Magicka 2 is even less helpful, and it doesn’t clarify any of these extremely important changes to the players that think they know the game by heart. It doesn’t communicate what has changed and how that affects the game balance. Veteran players who try to play the game like they used to will fail because of all the new changes, and new players won’t be familiar enough with the game to know how to get at its deeper mechanics.
So months after the official release, I can give this game a solid recommendation. The magic is back and working better than ever. Multiplayer is incredible compared to Magicka 1. The only thing that I don’t like as much is the campaign itself, which just doesn’t feel as epic or ambitious. The old movement system is back and improved, as well as allowing use of the new MOBA-like movement system. It is still marginally colored by my past experience with the inferior version of the game, but overall I think this going to be a solid base for future adventures with friends.
Note: PS4 players, I hope you have a good time with this game, I really do. The developer said that their preferred method of play is with a controller, so I think you’ll have the better experience between the two platforms. The controls do take getting used to, but you’ll figure it out eventually.