Friendly fire with friends!
Magicka was an absolute blast on PC, but its sequel feels right at home on a big screen and a DualShock 4. Preferably accompanied by three pals and an irresponsibly large pizza.
In case you don't know, the original Magicka actively shattered every videogame wizard cliché in the book, apart from the floppy robes. As opposed to demure back-line damage dealers, its protagonists were incompetent yet fearsomely powerful screwups who could combine numerous elemental forces into ridiculous situational spells. Think Rincewind, only with Vivi's skillset and an appetite for uninhibited destruction. Loosed into combat against hordes of foes, we'd translate arcane death beams, fireballs, shields, water, life and ice directly into pain.
Often "accidentally" aimed at our comrades, because why not.
It was the perfect opportunity for a hectic, silly and surprisingly deep cooperative experience, and a tradition that Magicka 2 plans to continue. Having played a very early build at Gamescom 2014, I can attest that it's shaping up to be an utter riot that's going to be best enjoyed by a team of friends in the same room. Partly because Paradox have tweaked the experience to work brilliantly on a console, but also because you'll want to be within easy high five/punching distance once the griefing starts.
To put this in perspective: within three minutes I'd set the developer on fire and pushed a fellow correspondent off a cliff with a water jet. Before they teamed up and evaporated me. Friendly fire is best shared with friends, no?
The basic premise remains the same. Magicka is effectively a dual-stick shooter, which translates well onto a traditional gamepad (though will of course work equally well on a mouse and keyboard -- the original supported both). Left stick moves, right stick aims and unleashes hell. However, as before, you'll need to carefully choose exactly what flavour of hell you'd like to unleash.
Your basic building blocks are Water, Life, Shield, Cold, Lightning, Arcane, Earth and Fire, which you'll stack into frankly silly combinations by tapping the corresponding face button (holding the bumper to toggle between two sets of four elements, as each button pulls a double shift). The choice is yours: want to create a flaming death beam that can be amplified if your comrades cross the streams? An ice-covered rock? A water jet to soak enemies, allowing your friends to inflict extra lightning damage? Magicka 2 encourages you to experiment with the dizzying array of offensive spells to discover your own combinations, and to work with your friends to discover new and interesting effects. Which are then brought to giblet-spewing life by the BitSquid engine.
The focus is ostensibly on cooperation, so Magicka 2 allows well-coordinated Wizard teams to concoct some seriously deep strategies. Shields can be imbued with elemental effects to block a particular damage type, then deployed as domes or walls depending on the situation. Wizards can now move while healing, whether selflessly patching up allies or running away in panic. If a friend's on fire, do consider putting it out. Carefully planning strategies in advance and on the fly, both in terms of offensive combinations or defensive fallback strategies, will see may a team prevail over the monstrous armies arrayed against them, especially since difficulty scales with each additional player onboard.
Magicka 2's longevity stems from the addition of 'artefacts,' which function much like mutators or cheat codes you collect throughout the campaign. Players can opt to make the game easier, harder or just plain sillier. One artefact buffs the health of all enemy units, whereas another causes every kill and death to be accompanied by a studio laugh track in 'Sitcom Mode.'
As we've discussed, though, griefing is still very much a core part of the experience. Friendly Fire is activated by default, so genuine mistakes can quickly descend into PvP grudge matches at the drop of a (wizard's) hat. This, in my mind, is what will make Magicka 2 infinitely more enjoyable when played locally on the same screen and the same sofa, as opposed to more sterile online matches, as the tiniest disagreements can spiral into ridiculous rivalries before the common goal nudges everyone back into short-lived harmony.
Or, in other words, the brief hands-on session might be the most fun I had at the entire show. Magicka 2 is probably going to be a hoot on PC, its original home, but feels like the competitive couch co-op romp that the PS4 has been waiting for -- and a native PS4 game rather than a sloppy port job.
The project is still early in development, so we don't know whether the finished product will live up to its clear potential. Hopefully the netcode will work at launch this time... but then again, the real flavour will be found in the living room.