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Co-Optimized: Magicka

Magicka: Wizard Wars exited beta this week, so spell-slingers are free to bash, burn, and blast each other in full on combat. Given the competitive nature of Wizard Wars, it's hard to believe that the whole Magicka phenomenon began with a cooperative game where "accidentally" blowing up your friends is a big game feature. This week, we spotlight the original Magicka.


Magicka: Wizard Wars, a free-to-play game where wizards throw devastating spells at each other in arena battle, came out of beta this week. It's hard to believe that this humorous game, given its competitive nature, started off as a cooperative game. Let's take a look back at how this spell-weaving action role-playing game went from a wizard party to full on wizard warfare.

Originally released in 2011, Magicka is the debut game from indie developer Arrowhead Game Studios, which would later go on to make other cooperative games with a competitive twist, the most recent being Gauntlet and Helldivers. It has been quite a while since it initially released, the game received a number of regular content updates which expanded its world, and it is supported by timeless gameplay.

In Magicka, up to four players assume the roles of robed wizards of various colors. Together, they adventure through a world that makes fun of traditional fantasy tropes using plenty of splatterfest humor. These include a vampire named Vlad who is in denial about his vampirism, and scene openers like a medieval skier that completes a course just to be eaten by a Yeti.

4-player cooperative role-playing games aren't necessarily anything new, as Diablo players can attest, Magicka has a very unique approach, starting with its fantastically innovative and complicated spellcasting system. Although wizards can equip themselves with staves that grant various attacks, including Mjolner (Thor's hammer) and the M60 (a heavy machine gun), the true draw is in casting spells. In order to become a master wizard, you have to first become a master typist. 

Casting a spell initially seems straightforward. Players access 10 different elements, which include both straightforward parts like fire, water and electricity alongside forms like shield and arcane (essentially a laser beam). Each element is assigned its own key, and combining them leads to different effects. For example, combining water and fire creates steam. Earth can be used with wind to create a projectile, or it can be used with shield for a barrier.

So far, so good. But things get complicated when you try to cast more complicated spells. Inputting elements in the wrong order will cause the spell to fail. It can also be tough for right-handed players to keep track of their left handed keystrokes when there's a giant monster chasing after them. If you own a keyboard with built-in macro functions, Magicka will make great use of it. The game has gamepad support, but it might actually make the controls more complicated. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), you've got friends to cover you.

Wizards can individually cast spells and combine them to greater effect. When a player fires an arcane beam, others can join in with their own. Multiple beams can be brought together to create a more powerful one, like in Ghost Busters. However, like in the movie, there is a slight possibility of having your face melted off.

As part of the game's prankster mentality, friendly fire can never be turned off. So, flinging a fireball is just as likely to wipe out your own team as it is to blow up that enemy monster. Similarly, a wizard's beam deflecting shield can be used as a clever weapon, or it might reset your workplace accident counter. This brand of team killing, both accidental or purposeful, can be seen in recent games like Helldivers. On the bright side, there's no major death penalty, apart from dropping that staff you were carrying. Surviving players can summon teammates back from the dead.

While Magicka began as a fully cooperative game, it wasn't a very long leap to transform the friendly fire feature into a full-blown competitive mode. Later game updates added arenas where combative wizards could test their spell typing skills against each other. However, the game never abandoned its cooperative nature. Several add-on campaigns released, expanding on the world of Magicka and its motley collection of characters.

If you've already played through Magicka and all its expansions, worry not. An all-new adventure is right around the corner, as Magicka 2 is set to release on May 26th.

There's nothing like the thrill of competitive multiplayer, but sometimes it's better to kick back and play alongside your friends and family instead of against them. With Co-Optimized, we highlight and discuss games that are best played together.

Managing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 29, 2015 12:00 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Co-Optimized: Magicka

    • reply
      April 29, 2015 12:36 PM

      plenty of interesting coop stuff, magicka being the one i have played the most lately. Hope to see more in this series. I'd like to hear some reports on vagante and helldivers. there's also forced and full mojo rampage

      • reply
        April 29, 2015 1:31 PM

        I'm interested in venturing into Magicka. I tried out Magicka 2 at GDC and it was pretty fun.

        • reply
          April 30, 2015 7:36 AM

          Magicka co-op is amazing, shame about same-screen co-op, as the gamepad controls take quite a while to get used to.

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