I don't want to write this Magicka review. That's partly because my fingers are still aching due to the godlike levels of dexterity which Magicka demands from players. It’s so exhausting that even Slash would be reduced to a puddle of sweat with a floating top hat after an hour of playtime. Still, at least the troublesome first paragraph is out of the way in a witty, interesting way that makes you want to read on, right? Good.
Magicka initially feels a bit tired and old-hat as it stumbles from one fantasy cliché to another, but it eventually becomes clear that there's more to it than it. Underneath the cookie-cutter setting and characters is a dry and deeply witty script that pokes fun at the fantasy genre as a whole. Magicka is actually a cannily sharp parody of fantasy fiction, although at first it seems to fall into some of the pitfalls that it later satirises.
You can literally bring a gun to a knife fight once you find the M60
You’re cast as a student wizard who’s been sent to protect the King from a marauding dark wizard who's laying siege to the capital city of Hávindr. Apparently only you, a wizard still sporting his L plates, can save the King. You’re not alone on your quest, though; you’re accompanied by your teacher, Vlad, who speaks with a distinctly Transylvanian accent but maintains that he’s definitely not a Vampire, even when tossing drained corpses into the river.
Vlad’s role extends to little more than a guide however, and you’re expected to fight your way through the various goblins, trolls and dragons between you and the capital by yourself. This is both good and bad, as the combat is both the best and the worst aspect of the game.
As a wizard you have control over eight elements - water, fire, lightning, earth, cold, shield, arcane and life - which you can combine in a mind boggling number of ways to electrocute, maim and burn anyone who so much as looks at you in a funny way. You can stack up to five elements at a time and release them simultaneously to create monstrously powerful attacks, such as flaming lightning or frost rays. Some elements don’t sit well together, though; earth and lightning cancel each other out, for example, as do ice and fire.
Battles can often become confusingly colourful
Some elements can be stacked into special combinations to unleash specific, learned spells that you’ll find in spell books along your journey too. These range from summoning a rainstorm, which soaks enemies and opens them to electrical attacks, to dispelling magic used by enemies.
In addition to all this, there are four separate ways to cast your rack of elements once you’ve got them stacked up. You can cast them onto yourself, in your immediate vicinity, on your weapon or by line-of-sight, which is cryptically called a 'force cast.' This amount of variation equates to a biblically huge number of potential spells, and makes the number of spells in Magika a truly dizzying prospect.
You can, for example, cast the shield element around yourself to make a forcefield. Combine shield and earth, however, and your spell will summon a boulder barrier to protect you. Throw the fire element into the mix and these boulders become mini-volcanoes. Elements can also combine while they're in your spell rack, so fire and water creates a blast of steam, while cold and water creates ice.