At first glance, Magicka seemed to have everything I could want in a game--action-RPG goodness, a novel spellcasting mechanic, and a relentless tongue-in-cheek assault on every part of geek culture. And all of these things were fun, for a while. But after the hundredth exploded goblin and untold number of accidental deaths, Magicka begins to stale.
Players begin the game as brightly-robed wizards-in-training, and the game wastes no time kicking off the action. In a comically brief exposition the entire plot is laid out, and the mayhem begins. Boiling the action-RPG genre down to its bare bones, Magicka gives players almost all of their entire arsenal of powers in the first few minutes of the tutorial dungeon. Although armed with a crude staff and sword, most of the firepower comes from the wizardlings' abilities to channel eight elements of power. Each element is bound to a hotkey, and casting a spell is as simple as hitting a key and clicking the mouse.
Well, that's not entirely true. The magic system in Magicka is actually quite innovative and anything but simple. A straightforward, single-element spell can be cast with just a quick keystroke, but for players to actually stand any chance of survival, they will have to learn to combine and weave the elements into much more complex patterns. Spell combinations, consisting of up to five elements, make for the most potent of magicks. Given that there are eight basic and two hybrid elements from which to choose, the sheer number of magical effects that can be called forth can seem overwhelming. Experimentation is key here, and many of these magical experiments can go catastrophically wrong. After a while, the whole system begins to make a sort of intuitive sense, and it becomes apparent that many of the spell combinations are minor variations of each other.
While the spell experimentation and discovery of new combinations is fun at first, I found myself settling into five or six default patterns. Unfortunately, almost all of these patterns required at least 6 to 10 keystrokes to pull off, making for an overly-complicated dance every time I wanted to make a single attack. Imagine typing "QFAASS-shift-click" or "QRQRQRQRD-hold mouse-click" over and over, ad nauseam, until all the enemies were chunks of goo. But for a few bosses, there was little challenge once I figured out a few of my favorite spells, and the game devolved into a frenetic key-fest.
My biggest problem with Magicka was the lack of any sense of advancement. There are very few weapons to collect, and players can only carry a single staff and sword at a time. There are some special combination spells to find, requiring a discovery of an appropriate spellbook and yet another special key pattern. These super-magicks are fun, but some can be even more overpowered than the "regular" spells. For the most part, players have access to everything within a few minutes of play, after which spellcasting is just rinse-and-repeat. There aren't even any resources or attributes to monitor--spells can be cast continuously, with no need for "mana" or "willpower" or any other form of energy. Also, there are no "classes" of character here--each character has exactly the same spells and abilities at their disposal.
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