As Magicka: Wizard Wars heads to Steam Early Access today, I was able to delve back into the game for a more concerted hands on effort in a good few fully stocked 4v4 efforts.
The decision to go with Early Access mirrors that which Paradox have taken for War of the Vikings, opening the doors up to those who want to pay and get to see the game develop. The same as there, this release is still a very early and almost feature-starved version of the game, to hone the community in on a more singular point of feedback, the core gameplay, and build from there.
As I covered in the wake of Gamescom, Wizard Wars is all about taking the rather crazy gameplay and distilling it into a form more friendly to online play. Where there were wilder and more powerful spells in the original single-player and co-op game, as the players and community quickly hit on a certain formula for success, this evens things out.
The gameplay is simple enough, as you left click to send your wizard walking in a direction, right click to attack and middle click to self-cast a spell. Picking your spell is where it gets a little tricky. Eight elements are arrayed across the QWER and ASDF keys – water, life, shield, cold, lightning, death, rock and fire – letting you combine three of them at will.
It cuts off the supply of affectionately labelled “ARSE grenades”, because you’d only get to ARS before running out of spells. Instead, the more powerful Magicks are set on numbers 1-4, and must be earned as you play in a round. Though you’ll be able to customise your Magicks loadout eventually, this is currently set to give you a faster run, being able to revive players, summon death and call in a meteor strike!
The task of balancing all of this is still going to be quite formidable, especially when the customisable robes and staffs are taken into account; items which not only look different, but boost your stats. The clever thing here is that they’re designed to kind of betray the elements that they boost visually, so you should be able to see what is likely to come at you, but also have a stat reduction in addition to the improvement, pushing players down a more specialised role, with both greater strengths and weaknesses.
Taking this gameplay into a multiplayer arena is quite fun, and deathmatches will surely be possible, even if currently there is just the one map and a Domination-style control point match.
However, for all the simplistic sounding design, the problem is with learning the game. Right now, there’s just the most basic of tutorials, which tells you how to move around, cast spells, self heal and capture a control point. It is nowhere near enough to teach people how to play, and this is something that David Nisshagen, Lead Designer on the title, admitted was something they needed to address during the Early Access period.
Pulling the gameplay mechanics back does simplify matters and make things more accessible, but even with the reduced number of and complexity of spells, there’s a daunting amount of information to take on board. How best to shield yourself, the best way to deal with a particular situation, and certain key spells which have the most general purpose utility.
They’re hoping that, as with Magicka, the community will step in to help out. There’s a particularly prominent Feedback button on the game’s main menu, through which players can drop ideas, point out bugs, ask for balancing or even demand a sandwich – though this last one is least likely to be fulfilled. However, as with Magicka, the community can very easily come in and help newcomers learn the game quickly, through the creation of Wikis and tutorial videos, almost as well as Paradox North can.
I still find it an interesting process for a company the size of Paradox – although the team on Wizard Wars is just 14 strong – to head into development like this almost across the board, and as with War of the Vikings, it feels like it’s going to bring dividends.
The gameplay is fun, if somewhat exasperating, with how poor I am at it. Throughout, I never really feel like I’ve found spells that will do enough damage to go head to head with enemies, and it means I am often on the losing side.
Additionally, there are matches which end in just a matter of minutes, as one side manages to take control of all the control points, and kill all of the other team, leaving them with nowhere to respawn. This, David says, should hopefully even itself out as more players join in, and they can implement better matchmaking across a wider range of players.
Even within our small subset, getting this early group, the matchmaking does counter these blitzkriegs with others that manage to go the distance, with hard fought matches that run down the respawn counters.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Wizard Wars develops, and the other games Paradox are using this model for. At this stage, there’s so much potential for this to really perfect the combat and gameplay, and it’s really going to take the input of the wider community to help them get there.
Magicka: Wizard Wars is now available via Steam Early Access. You can also still sign up for the alpha test process, but that won’t let you in right away.
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