Magicka 2 Review
The magic of the original is lost for this sequel
When you see Magicka 2 on the digital shelves of Sony or Steam, you might be tempted to think, “Who asked for this?” Even in the world of sequel-happy video gaming, Magicka was a relatively low profile release to be getting a sequel. But with a large potential audience and DLC which expanded on relatively slim original material, Magicka might have a more avid following than you’d expect. To reward this fanbase, you'd think Paradox Interactive would have asked their new Magicka developer, Pieces Interactive, for something more initially satisfying than the original; a sequel that perhaps includes the PvP experiment that was Wizard Wars, or features a more robust campaign. Unfortunately, Magicka 2 doesn’t really do any of that. It simply rehashes its old ideas, which don’t feel as fresh as they did four years ago.
Magicka 2 begins with a short cutscene to bring new players up-to-speed on the game’s story. After explaining the events of the first Magicka and the canon aftermath of Wizard Wars, the stage is set for a new narrative. A special child has been born and you (likely with the help of a friend or three) must find this child and protect them from evil.
In the deluge of fantasy worlds with magical super-beings filling up video game libraries, Magicka 2 attempts to turn the formula on its head. The game avoids being completely wacky or over-the-top, but it’s filled with plenty of winks to the player, making sure that everybody is in on the joke. The game bathes itself in tropes of the fantasy world, much like its predecessor, with references to classic fantasy worlds like WarCraft or Zelda. It’s never laugh-out-loud funny, even when at its most clever. All Pieces Interactive is trying to do is give you a reason to battle monsters and keep pushing through enemy-filled maps.
Magicka 2 plays much like the first game, but is a little more forgiving than its predecessor. The game does a better job of peppering different elements throughout its campaign, allowing players to get comfortable with the many aspects of the game’s magic at their own pace. To battle the many foes of Midgard, players can combine eight different elements to create magic spells with a multitude of functions, from defeating enemies to healing allies. Some of the more complicated spells of Magicka have been made easier (notably, using shield spells is considerably simpler). The game is also much more lenient about self-inflicted magic damage.
While the gameplay has gotten better in Magicka 2 (or at least more forgiving) the level design is more rote than ever. Very similar to the first game, the gameplay centers around discovering which element does the most damage to an enemy and exploiting their weakness. Sometimes it’s a matter of tricking your enemy into the wrong area or taking away their advantages. For instance, luring a batch of enemies into water so you can easily finish them with a lightning spell is a common strategy. Other times, it’s not about the elements, but rather using the right spell to slow an enemy or a fire spell to do long-lasting damage.
Mixing and matching magic is fun for about an hour, but quickly it becomes tiresome. Instead of coming up with new encounters to challenge players in unique ways, Pieces Interactive just throws more bad guys into the mix. The enemies change aesthetically, but the crux of “find weakness/exploit weakness” never varies. There is also an explosion spell that really allows you to wreck shop. Once you figure it out, there really isn’t anything that stands in your way.
There are alternative costumes, items, special staffs and weapons to gather as you make your way through the campaign. But the loot in Magicka 2 isn’t going to keep you grinding through its maps time and time again. Most of the loot I found were things I already possessed; even the items I didn’t have weren’t much of an upgrade, they just had different strengths and weaknesses. The game tries to suggest you should min/max your character based on the elements of the enemies you’re fighting, but the enemy elements change often enough that this can hurt you as much as help you.
Magicka 2 a relatively short game, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise since the first one wasn’t all that long either. The campaign might take a handful of hours, longer if you’re determined to go at it alone - though that isn’t really Magicka 2’s style. There’s little of the game that feels like it is designed around one player. A few spells, like summoning skeletal minions, help out, but Magicka 2 is best enjoyed with friends. The friendly fire aspect still remains, but it's not as punishing as before, and it’s always nice to have someone around to resurrect you when a battle is turning against you. Also, the most powerful spells and attacks are designed around players working together to combine elements and abilities.
Aside from the co-op and solo campaign modes, there is little to do in Magicka 2. There is an arena mode where hordes of enemies are thrown at you in a series of waves, but the main campaign is already so heavily designed around this concept, that arena mode hardly feels any different. It’s nice that Pieces Interactive wants to give us more to play with, but it all feels tacked on and repetitive.
There are also some technical issues with Magicka 2. For a game that pushes players toward online-cooperative play, it can sometimes take a while to find a game. Even when you do connect, oftentimes the host will drop out or you’ll complete a stage to find the connection has been lost. There were also issues with the sound cutting out at the beginning of each level. For the most part, these are more annoying than anything, but in a game that puts so much emphasis on getting players together to run through cookie-cutter maps, the hope would be the online experience is a bit smoother.
The moment-to-moment gameplay of Magicka 2 is perfectly capable. While Arrowhead Games went on to make another cooperative, friendly-fire-happy title Helldivers, Magicka has been left in capable hands. The trouble is, the moment-moment gameplay needs to be part of a larger whole, and that whole is pretty empty in Magicka 2. It’s not only that the game short, but that the overarching design of the maps and long-term gameplay is boring. There’s no carrot for you to follow, there’s no drive to see more of the game's world. It all just leaves you disinterested. I think the concept of Magicka has something going for it, I think there’s potential in the semi-goofy world of wizarding mayhem, but Magicka 2 does little to bring this out.