Magicka is all about the accidental casting of an ever-so-slightly incorrect spell and its unintended consequences. Sometimes it’s brilliant, sometimes it’s infuriatingly ineffective, and sometimes it’s powerful enough to send your co-op buddies plummeting to their death. Friendly fire is all part of the fun and practically unavoidable. Lightning arcs out and catches nearby wizards by mistake, area of effect attacks will hit anything and everything within range and crossing the streams, so to speak, can have quite explosive consequences. It’s all part of its quite unique sense of humour and Magicka 2 really loses none of this.
As Peter Cornelius, Associate Producer at Paradox explained, “We really want you to feel powerful, and when you make a mistake it should be your own mistake, it shouldn’t be because the game didn’t tell you something.”
After the rather straightforward combat that I saw before, it was pleasing to see more of what Paradox have got planned for Magicka 2’s gameplay and how they’re tackling some of the drudgery that entered into the second half of the original. There’s more variety in enemies and you have to adapt your thinking to take them out better.
Talking about small clutches of flying arrowhead-like enemies, Peter said, “These guys, the fireflies, they take away focus, so you won’t be able to use your magicks. They don’t do a lot of damage, but they get annoying because, you know, you [can’t use] your abilities all the time. […] They all have their own abilities and weaknesses.
“What I like about the big crabs is that they have this big shell, right? It’s basically going to be impervious to damage and it’s going to be really hard to hurt it head on, but the tail isn’t covered, so it’s a weak spot. Enemies in Magicka 2 are going to be a lot more interesting than in previous games, because of all these different weak spots and different abilities. I think balancing them is the only trouble!”
There’s also set to be more environmental puzzles, and one section saw us come across a waterwheel that needed to be sprayed with water to turn it as both small and large crabs come at you. The important thing is that there’s never really a single solution to these puzzles. Yes, you’ll need to turn that waterwheel, but how you deal with the problem off the crabs rushing at you is up to those playing, especially as the larger crabs come at us.
“We’ve been working really hard to make sure there’s no one go to spell or one set up,” Peter explained. “The weak spots are one thing that will make you change tactics or spells at least, but the abilities even more so. We have enemies that will freeze you, which gets really annoying, so I’m the kind of player who, when I know they’re coming, I always get the frost ward so they can’t freeze me, and if I get a full frost ward it actually heals me. Other players don’t really use wards, so they’ll use different tactics, but you’ll always have to think of a way to get around those abilities.”
You could, for example, cast yourself a set of protective rock armour as a group before all of you rush in and try to turn the wheel as fast as possible, a possible solution that Peter told me. However, after grappling with the problem for a few lives, I hit upon the method of constantly spraying an ever-growing wall of crabs with water and then freezing them, while Peter turned the waterwheel at his leisure.
The main barrier to players, new and old, is getting to grips with the control scheme. The twin stick controls on the gamepad are much more accessible than playing the original on mouse and keyboard, but they will still need getting used to. You’ll need to learn which elements are where on the face buttons, as well as what those face buttons change to when holding L1 to reveal the second set of four, for example, and then there’s the struggle to remember how to cast these on your sword, on yourself and towards your enemies.
Of course, the real trick is in remembering which elements combine well into particular spells. Making a circle of healing eggs, for example, was a favourite tactic of ours when playing the original game, but remembering how to do so at the drop of a (wizard’s) hat was never really my forte. At least the magicks themselves are now on the D-pad, giving you quick access to a handful of powerful and potent abilities which range from resurrecting your buddy to unleashing a stream of dragon fire across the screen.
Though tricky to pick up and play, it’s still a much slicker system overall, as Peter said, “You can run and cast, so it’s a bit more fast paced than the original, and with the magicks system we wanted to go the same way. Spells are completely as they were before: you combine all these different elements and you cast spells, but the magicks cannot be made by combining elements anymore. Those work as abilities that all have their different cooldowns.
“We don’t want to dumb down Magicka in any way, shape or form but we realised that it made it a lot more… people use magicks now, but people didn’t use them before because they were complicated, hard to find and most people were like, ‘Ah, I learnt one or two’ or just learnt revive. Now people use them and it’s a blast.”
One element that we’ll see more of in the future, as the game nears release, is with the familiars. Peter’s character had a fairy following him around which, when he died, would sacrifice itself to bring him back to life – a particularly useful ability when you’re suddenly finding yourselves overwhelmed. “We really care about this game,” he explained, “and we were near to beta last time we met [at Gamescom], but realised that no, we wanted to give this game some more love. So now we’re near to beta, but we’re still aiming for early next year, that’s still very much the goal.”
With this kind of care and attention that’s taking the solid foundations of Magicka and really using them as the foundations for something more nuanced, Magicka 2 looks like it could be a winner, but it’s still going to be very much at its best when you’re playing with friends and causing each other mischief.
This is very much at the forefront of the development team’s thinking, as Peter said, “We’re taking the approach that Magicka is best played with friends. Obviously we want to make sure you’re having fun if you play it on your own, but it’s best with friends, so we’re trying to find ways to make sure that multiplayer is standard. Normally, you have to go online and set up a game and invite strangers and all of this effort to play multiplayer, but we’re trying to find good ways to make sure the default is playing with strange wizards or your friends.
“Some games have done this really well, like Journey. There are lots of games that have pulled off the whole playing with strangers thing and we’re looking into that because you simply have more fun when there’s more crazy wizards around.”
I’ll readily admit that I’m less of a crazy wizard and more of a clumsily incompetent spell caster with momentary flashes of brilliance.
Thanks to Peter for taking the time to chat about and show us the game again. Magicka 2 is heading for PS4 and PC some time early next year.