Magicka 2 Review (Playstation 4)
The magical arts are a dangerous thing, indeed. That’s something we all learned with the first Magicka, an action-RPG whose big hook was letting players combine the magical elements and what spectacular results (or spectacular failures) we got as a result. Magicka 2 is here, boasting the same elements, same spells, and pretty much the same, well, everything.
In Magicka 2, the land has been at peace thanks to the Wizard Wars killing off most of those pesky spell-slingers, but prophecy foretells of a special child who will have the powers of its fallen wizardly forebearers, and that this child will bring great prosperity to the people... so long as the bad guys don't get to it first. As one of the few wizards left, you'll go on a quest to find and protect this young'un, deliberately slaying countless goblins and accidentally slaying countless friends and innocent bystanders. Hey, if they didn't want to die, they wouldn't stand so close to a wizard, would they?
As with the previous Magicka titles, you're given command of eight distinct elements which you can combine in countless ways. Water + frost = ice! Fire + rock = volcanic eruptions! Life + Lightning = healing lightning! Each elemental combination can be channeled, applied directly to your sword for melee attacks, self-cast, or cast as an AoE spell. If it sounds complicated, it is; that's both a blessing and a hindrance. On the plus side, there are so, so many neat elemental combinations to discover, and seeing the way your magic interacts with the world is damn cool. Freezing a lake to form your own frosty bridge or super-charging powerless electronics are neat ways of interacting with the world. On the flip side, there are so many different ways to cast spells, and it requires such lengthy button combinations, that it's tough trying to cast what you want during the heat of battle.
Magicka 2's combat is just too fast, too spastic, and you die too easily for the level of complexity to its magic system. While you'll want to cast creative combinations to deal with your foes in clever ways, in reality much of the time you're going to spam heals, fireballs, and maybe the occasional shield because these are the quickest ways of killing things while keeping yourself alive.
If you're playing with a friend or three, the insanity of combat is fine since enemies will split up and attack each of you, but if you want to play Magicka 2 solo, don't bother. There are too many enemies who are too aggressive, the spell combinations are too complex for you to cast quickly and effectively, and you'll spend most of your time getting hammered or stunlocked to death by the hordes of foes all eager to cut you down. Magicka 2 with friends can be a good time; Magicka 2 alone is a horrendous slog.
While most sequels might try to refine the formula of the original, Magicka 2 does no such thing. Outside of a few quality of life improvements, such as quick-casting grimoires, which are collectible spells like Haste and Revive, this is almost exactly the same game as the original. Same elements, same hit-and-miss, overly referential humor, and the same mentor character named Vlad who goes to great lengths to assure you he isn't a vampire. Developer Pieces Interactive would have done well to do more in the way of improving the formula instead of repeating it.
As you play you'll unlock numerous swords, robes, and gameplay modifiers, which is a nice incentive to explore each area. Your gear is mostly cosmetic, but many pieces come with small modifications which can somewhat impact your playstyle, such as swords which knockdown foes or robes which make you resist one element and weak against another. The gameplay modifiers can drastically change how things play out, letting you tweak all sorts of statistical parameters to make things as easy or teeth-pullingly difficult as you please.
In addition to the traditional story mode there are also challenge maps, which are quick survival mode-style battles pitting you against wave after wave of increasingly difficult foes. Challenge mode is generally more fun that story mode, as the arenas are custom-built for large battles, and so you've got plenty of room to maneuver.
Magicka 2's graphics get the job done, but outside of the delightful spell effects they're nothing to write home about. The perfunctory soundtrack has a Renaissance fair theme to it that rapidly overstays its welcome. The controls are incredibly complex, since you've got eight elements to juggle, multiple ways of casting each elemental combination, quick spells, aiming, moving, and more to worry about, so even the most seasoned of gamers may find their fingers growing fatigued in a hurry.
Magicka's magic system was a breath of fresh air when it arrived in 2011. While the hardcore fans of the series may enjoy Magicka 2's slavish adherence to the formula of the original, not everyone will. With such a flexible magic system, a more thoughtful approach to combat would have made for a deeper game experience, but instead this is more of the same screaming, exploding insanity of the original. If you've got some friends who like blowing each other up and don't mind wearing out their fingers punching in spell combinations, you could probably have a decent enough time. If you're looking for something with more depth to it, or are hungry for a solo adventure, Magicka 2 is one spellbook best left locked in the library.
This review is based on a purchased, digital copy of Magicka 2 for the Playstation 4.