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Jeffrey Thompson

I'm a Software Engineer from many places, currently working in Sydney.

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The Diary of a Young Wizard

Magicka 2 is a sequel so first, a little background for those that didn’t play its progenitor. The first game was a great combination of difficult controls and ridiculously powerful spells that were just as dangerous to the caster as to everyone else (exactly what magic use should be, in my opinion), executed with a sense of humour that resonated with me. The taskboard in the wizard school with only one post-it in the done column still makes me laugh, as well as the head of the school, Vlad, who is most certainly NOT a vampire.

It came out of nowhere for me, I’d never heard of the guys making it and I’d never played anything quite like it. It felt like the developers really had a great time when they were making it, and when I saw Magicka 2 in my Steam feed I bought it immediately as I reasoned that if it was even half as good as the first, it would be worth it. It downloaded in a couple of minutes and my first impression was that everything felt a little more polished compared to the original. I felt in more control of my character, as I could now move a bit while casting, although to be honest it did feel a little unresponsive. That could be a symptom of playing too much Osu though.

I played through the prologue but set it aside as it just wasn’t as fun playing by myself as it was with others and in a way I didn’t want to ruin it by playing through it on my own so thought I’d hang about until a few more friends had bought it.

Learning to Spell Again

It wasn’t shelved for long as this weekend my brothers and I found ourselves with an evening to spare, so they both picked it up and we jumped on the opportunity to learn to spell again.

We had started on Normal difficulty but because I had already played through the prologue and when I clicked “Adventure” the game decided to start from Chapter 1. We restarted (on one of my brothers machines) and increased the difficulty while we were at it as we were kind of breezing through the first chapter even without remembering what we were doing. We started again on Bananas and it was a lot of fun, we really felt as though we were battling to make progress, wiping on the first few encounters until we found our rhythm and got our comms back up to scratch. It was quite rewarding on this difficulty level, we really felt like we were battling to progress.

There was an encounter in the early chapters involving some crabs. It took us a few waves to figure out how we could stop them spawning, and we beat the encounter. We were also exploring the levels as much as we could, trying to find the inevitable jokes hidden around. We were loving it, until one of us got stuck.

My brother (the host, unfortunately) had gotten stuck somewhere off the map. There are no checkpoints after encounters so at this point we tried basically everything we could to get him out of that spot. We didn’t have any emergency teleport spell at that point, but he was unable to summon any elements anyway so he couldn’t have cast anything anyway. The camera for some reason at that point wouldn’t let us leave a man behind (while it quite willingly leaves people off screen in other situations). All the fun and reward that we were experiencing while we were playing the game on Bananas difficulty was instantly converted into anger and frustration when we were unable to progress in a level because of a bug.

Angry, we quit the level and switched out for a mini retrospective while we took a short break.

What went well?

  • The game was fun and challenging.

What didn’t go so well?

  • The game crashed, punishing us for playing it, especially on higher difficulties.

What would we do differently?

  • Introduce a suicide option so when a player is glitched they can opt to die and a fellow player can res them.

Oh wait we didn’t build this. OK…

What could we do differently as players?

  • We were out of the refund window, so getting a refund was out of the question
  • Stop doing things like pushing each other off the map
  • Stop trying to explore every little corner of the map
  • Don’t spend as much time in the game so it’s less likely to crash out (rush through it)
  • Don’t spend as much time on encounters so if it does bug out it is less punishing (reduce the difficulty)

I postulated during our break that since we were only in the early part of the game and we had already encountered such a bug, the probability of encountering these again was quite high, and we all agreed, so we dropped it to Hard difficulty and started again from the level we were on. All the above basically boils down to: have less fun. And we did.

Hard was still a little challenging, especially in the later levels, but we didn’t really get stuck on any encounters because of our ability to cast spells fast enough, we’d get stuck because we’d do something stupid. We avoided the area we were in. We were a lot more cautious in exploring the the maps, so we didn’t find as many secrets, -especially- towards the end of a level when we had been playing for a few minutes and didn’t want to risk losing our progress. In my opinion, that’s the worst feeling to have when playing a game. To not want to play it for fear of it crashing.

We finished the game a few hours later. We encountered another bug there as we all only got 8/9 on the progress achievements. We weren’t playing it for the achievements though, it was just a little strange to finish a game on hard and then get a “so close” notification for it”.

Key Elements

Graphics

  • Pretty graphics; prettier than the first, and although I found the style a bit brighter and more cartoony, I enjoyed it; it felt lusciously hand-painted
  • Animations were good but buggy; sprites would often remain electrocuted or in other states incorrectly
  • New spell effects are stylish but sometimes distracted from the gameplay more than necessary
  • UI took up WAY too much of the screen, needlessly in my opinion.
  • Wizard sword effects would randomly not be shown, or would show even if they were already used; that was quite annoying
  • The camera got really excited about cutscenes and left players behind

Controls

  • Movement sometimes jerked around, probably netcode (we really felt this during the final battle with the orbs)
  • Overall felt a bit more in control of the wizard at least in terms of movement
  • Casting didn’t feel as fast/responsive to me; also might be network related, but conjuring some elements and then casting using the “right click” too quickly would often miss mouse input; this happened many, many times and forced me to introduce a conscious mental delay between when I would cast an element and when I would click the button to cast. That broke my immersion greatly and really frustrated me as it felt like I was battling with the input system.

Sounds

  • Buggy. Every level started with NO sound effects, just music, for like the first few seconds. We couldn’t figure out a reason why, and it broke our immersion every time.
  • Music was enjoyable and fit the atmosphere
  • Sound effects were fitting when they worked, but didn’t play a huge part of the game; I would have liked more audible feedback for some aspects of casting, like some kind of clearly audible sound that indicated that you had successfully started charging an earth element’s casting.
  • Ultimately they didnt’t feel as satisfying

Gameplay

  • Similar to the first - pick your elements, spells and combinations based on your opponents and the situation
  • Spells didn’t carry the same powerful feeling as they did in the first game; it was more about balancing your elemental use, which meant we had to strategise a fair bit
  • Reduced number of elements made combinations simpler but I felt a little less fun as it was less tricky to cast thing
  • Quick cast slots seem totally unnecessary to me, an addition to try and make the game more playable using a controller maybe?
  • Bizarre UI in multiplayer; really don’t need to see the HUD of my teammates

Conclusion

Overall, we enjoyed the experience but not as much as I had hoped. The game is riddled with bugs, but not fun ones. The experience of being a wizard feels nerfed from the original; spells feel less powerful, and I didn’t find the graphics anywhere near as attractive as in the first game. We had issues with controls, we had issues with stability and we had engine glitches that lost us progress and we had consistent sound bugs. I think once they iron out the bugs a bit more it will be much, much better and I’m really looking forward to the expansions.

As a fan of the first game, I feel a little let down though; I feel like the balancing and simplification might have removed more gameplay fun than it added. If you have some kind of physical impairment (like owning a console) that means you can use a controller but not a keyboard+mouse, this might be a better choice than the original as casting has been simplified and you don’t have to remember spells as much. But if you are a veteran wizard who was looking forward to using all 8 fingers on your left hand again, you’ll likely be disappointed.

Magicka 2 lives up to the original in most regards, and the new engine shows a lot of promise. I’m hoping that it will improve over time, and I’m looking forward to more adventures through DLCs. We had fun.