Magicka 2 is the kind of the sequel that clearly adopts the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of game design. While with many games that can be seen as negative, when it comes to the slapstick parodies and simple-but-deep gameplay systems of Magicka, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” isn’t so much a philosophy as a requirement.
Paradox’s flagship series has a huge fanbase – it’s the game which saw the publisher begin its meteorotic rise to being a heavyweight in PC gaming, and for good reason. Get some friends together and Magicka is simply fun, without needing vast amounts of features or having a steep learning curve. It’s the sort of game you can enjoy with a nice cold beer on a weeknight in short doses, but which can easily cast its own spell on you, leading to play sessions lasting until the wee hours.
Magicka 2 is immediately enjoyable: The tutorial is fun, with clever writing and dialogue on top of a great introductory level that explains what each of the elements do and how they interact with the other seven elements. Handy for newcomers, more of a refresher for returning players. After the tutorial, things become progressively harder – eventually culminating to a point where solo play becomes frustrating and far too difficult. Magicka 2 is a game built from the ground up for more than one player, and while you can have some fun playing by yourself for a few hours, you’ll soon need to grab someone else to help you overcome tougher monsters and some of the environmental hurdles.
Here’s a quick overview of how Magicka works: There are eight elements assigned across eight different keys – Water, Life, Shield, Cold, Lightning, Death, Earth, and Fire. Combining these elements will give you varying results. Some elements have unique effects: Death and Life turn many of your spells into beams that you can shoot across the map; Earth will make your spells a projectile that you can charge up and release; Shield can be used to make yourself immune to certain elements, or to turn elements into fields and mines. There are also certain elements that can go together, but others that are incompatible: Water and Fire will create steam, but Earth and Lightning will cancel each other out. With 5 slots to fill for each spell you cast, the result is thousands of different spell combinations, and impressively each has its own unique effect.
While you mix and match the elements together, you control your wizard from an overhead view by pointing and clicking where you want to go. Different key combinations give you different ways to cast your spells: Right-click to release the elements in front of you, middle-click to cast them on yourself, shift+middle-click to cast your spell in an area, shift+right-click to store the spell on your weapon.
It’s a system that can take some real time to get used to, but once you pick it up, you’ll be mashing keys with the dexterity of a Shaolin monk on speed, hurling fireballs and lightning bolts across the map to decimate your enemies.
The first few areas of the game are pretty tame, with only a few goblins to harass you – they’re easily dispatched with a few flaming lightning bolts, or an Ice+Death beam. But then the game starts throwing more and more enemies in your way: Goblins with flamethrowers, lobsters that freeze you, skeletons that want to separate your wizard head from your wizard body, and plenty more besides. Alone, they’re nothing that a few spells can’t easily take care of; but when there are dozens of them on screen at the same time, things start to get tricky. Thankfully, you can continue running even while you’re casting a spell, although you do move more slowly.
A couple of mechanics work differently than they did in the first Magicka. Self-casting a healing spell can now be maintained: Gone are the days of five elements of Life only restoring a quarter of your health – by holding down the middle mouse button, you can continuously heal yourself until you’re back at 100%. Like all spells, this one has a cooldown (no doubt to mitigate the addition of spell shortcuts), but it’s pretty significant, so healing yourself isn’t as much of a hassle as it was in the first game.
Shields don’t only offer resistance and immunity anymore: If you cast four of the same element followed by Shield, you’ll actually be healed by that particular element. Casting one element followed by a Shield grants you immunity, while casting multiple elements makes you resistant. The new system is particularly useful: although you can continuously cast a healing spell on yourself, the impact on your movement speed means that you need to decide whether to try and out-heal the damage you take while attempting to run away, or if it would be more prudent to just try to outrun the danger first before getting some health back. Giving yourself a Fire shield before a battle means that you can spend less time trying to calculate the odds, and more time killing goblins with lightning.
The Magick system is more in line with the recent Wizard Wars than the first game. You can still cast special spells with a certain combination of elements, but you also now have a hotkey bar where Magicks (spells like Teleport, Grease, or Revive) can be assigned to 1-4 on the keyboard or the D-pad on a controller. Certain magicks can only be assigned to specific slots, but it’s a welcome change.
An artifact system lets you customize your experience by changing different variables of the game. You can increase wizard health and decrease enemy health, boost your damage, reduce or increase friendly fire, and a slew of other things like changing the game’s visual appearance. The system allows you to decrease the difficulty if you just want to spend some time blowing things up, or increase if it if you’re looking for a challenge. It’s a nice touch of customization that goes a long way to keep the game fresh.
On top of artifacts, there’s a range of different robes and weapons to discover. Equip a robe that increases your fire damage (but makes you vulnerable to cold damage), and carry around a giant hunk of meat to beat goblins senseless with, or equip a Skull Staff that greatly increases your Death damage (but makes your Life element very weak). Unlike Magicka, where you had to find a weapon in a certain location and then pick it back up every time you died, Magicka 2 gives you an equipment screen that will let you start with your favorite loadout from the very beginning.
The greatest thing about Magicka 2 is its sense of humor. The game is rife with funny dialogue. A villager says “I keep hearing that the ocean has the power to solve all our energy problems, but I think you need to have some carbs in your diet, too,”; a man standing near a seagull nest with a telescope says “I watch the birds… but who watches the birdwatchers?” in a gruff, brooding-hero voice. Your numerous encounters with Vlad – who is not a vampire – are equally amusing. His Romanian accent and suspiciously bat-like ways are augmented by a plethora of prosthetic hands, and they change every time you meet him – a pirate hook, a giant foam sports finger, or a Lego claw. It’s never mentioned or highlighted in any way, the ridiculous hands are just there.
These subtle, quiet jokes make will make you want to explore the world just find the little hidden gems that aren’t on the beaten path. Maybe you’ll find the discarded journal pages of some explorers who are terrible with their documents, or maybe you’ll find a “totally ordinary” chest that’s growling and tied down to “prevent accidents”. Magicka 2 contains a huge amount of witty little one-liners, or more elaborate conversations and setups.
If you’ve got some friends, buy Magicka 2 and play it with them. If you don’t have any friends, buy Magicka 2 and use it to make some friends. If killing someone six times in a row with a giant, flaming rock while they shout “Oh my god, stop!” isn’t endearing, then I just don’t know what is. You’ll have a ball mimicking the game’s silly language (“seprender!”), killing each other; and then getting revenge on each other, learning and explaining new spells, and just generally wreaking havoc across the land.
Magicka 2 doesn’t make and radical changes to a winning formula, but it simply doesn’t need to. In this case at least, “more of the same” is a Very Good Thing for both players and Paradox, and they deserve to be rewarded for what they’ve accomplished.