Version tested: PC
As a writer, sometimes you're glad when things aren't published. About a month ago I wrote a preview piece for Eurogamer based on the Magicka beta - but the 3DS reveal took over, so we held off running it.
In that now-lost preview I praised the game highly, but there was one caveat; the multiplayer was infested with bugs. We assumed it would be fixed in the remaining beta period,which was sure to be extensive and comprehensive.
The following day we heard that Paradox was releasing the game on the 25th of January.
Positive preview scrapped; horrified review begun.
Here are the types of crashes I've experienced since launch: a crash to desktop. A frozen screen. A screen where I'm trapped in-between screens with no way of escaping. An endless 'connecting' message. Getting trapped in someone else's game, which I've crashed by connecting. My network card spontaneously and repeatedly disconnecting from the network (I even tried running my computer through two separate networks simultaneously - it still happened).
I've also been trapped staring, poignantly, at the sausage in the opening animation. I really, really want that sausage.
When Magicka was first released, the multiplayer was a bad joke. It's almost like they made a multiplayer game then put the netcode in as an afterthought. Perhaps they didn't bother and decided to fake human interaction and install bots that pretended to be your friends, but could only maintain Turing compatibility for about 120 seconds, necessitating regular disconnects.
Since then, the network play has got much better. Now I can go an hour or more without a crash, disconnect and so on. It can still be hard to find a game and the game browser is missing a dozen basic components, but the potential for the perfect game we saw at preview is re-emerging.
This is a real boon, as so much is good about the game; the plot, the combat and the wit all combine to make it exceptional.
Taking on the role of a naive team of silent apprentices dispatched by the sinister Not-A-Vampire Vlad, the de facto head of the school of Wizardy, you bumble your way across highly varied and naturally-progressing farmland, wasteland, besieged city and the bizarre floating staircases of the World's End (which feel like they've been pulled out of Pathologic or Dr Parnassus). Your mission is to aid the kingdom of Hávindr in its battles with the hordes of the evil Khan (and you just know what parody's coming with that name).
The hugely flexible magic system, which forms the core of the game, is totally worthy of praise. Your characters can engage in melee fights, with a wide range of weaponry dropped by enemies, and can also blow lighter enemies and objects away from them (a bit like the Team Fortress 2 Pyro's concussion blast, analogy-fans!). But the main damage, and fun, of the game is in exploring the range of effects created by the various elements of magic you can combine.
There's a limit of about five elements you can put into any spell - but that can be exceeded in certain circumstances. There are eight elements to start with - water, life, fire, cold, stone, electricity, defense, and arcane. Other elements, like steam or ice, are created combining by two more elements in your chain.
So, an equation would be (8 ^ 5) + (8 ^ 4) + (8 ^ 3) + (8 ^ 2) + 8 = some ridiculously huge number of combinations. Seriously, it's around 40,000 permutations. Of course, a lot of these don't work and others are duplicates, but even after many hours I'm still finding new tricks to stave off death for a little longer - and regularly getting killed by online partners also discovering new ones.
From these elements you can make two types of spell. First, there are standard spells - so combining arcane, fire and electricity makes a Beam O' Death that makes enemies pop; combining earth, defense and fire makes flaming rocks burst out of the ground; combining water and frost makes ice (another hidden element) which is expressed as flying icicles.