What Magicka needs   Leave a comment

Despite receiving lukewarm reviews, Magicka sold very well and there are certainly a lot of good reasons to get it, I certainly don’t regret playing it, but it fails because of things that would be so easy to solve. There’s DLC already available and an expansion coming out in the form of Magicka: Vietnam. However, the game still sports so many bugs that makes going through an entire chapter only for the game to bug out at the boss battle (for me, that averages once a day) or having everyone bar the host get stuck in cutscene mode a nuisance, and while we are here: what is it about the beds in the inn at chapter five that makes it impossible for wizards to sleep on them properly?

These are just examples, there are more, but the game is no where near as bad as it used to be. If it was in its current state upon release, I imagine the reviews would have remained lukewarm and the mention of bugs would have still been there, but at least the game is playable. The Arrowhead team, however, had best tread carefully with this new expansion as they need to keep squashing bugs as well as adding content and that new content must not add new bugs itself.

There’s the deal breaker and what really determines whether or not Magicka will really be worthwhile in terms of continued investment for players. I think it’s already missed the opportunity to become a real gem of indie gaming in the same way Darwinia, Braid or World of Goo have, but I will admit possibility of error here. I just imagine it will take its place amongst games like And Yet It Moves, as a great B-list member of the indie games menagerie.

Still, despite all its problems, Magicka shines brightly through the murky problems and that is where it differs from Dungeons (reviewed in the last entry). Dungeons’s problems are such that the game feels like it’s made by programmers who aren’t the most committed of gamers. Magicka feels like the reverse and so the charm really is there behind the lacklustre coding. I’m normally the first to want to string up games companies that release buggy software, but something here makes me think Arrowhead deserve a second chance.

But they do need to work on a few improvements and here is my short list of things I think they really should do.

1) Check points

A lot of people were bemoaning the lack of a sufficient number of these and while I did find it irritating to get past a particularly tricky part only to die shortly afterwards and have to go through it all again, I found those moments fairly rare. What I did find especially irritating was that if your game crashes, you have to finish or you click restart thinking it will take you back to the start of the boss fight then you are propelled straight back to the beginning of the chapter. Many games, like Braid or NightSky, have the ability to select levels within chapters and there’s no reason why selecting a chapter in Magicka shouldn’t send you straight to a checkpoint selection screen.

The problem is that games obviously provide a level of frustration and irritation. These are often vital parts of the enjoyment of the game as long as they remain in the background of the overall experience most of the time. I was fighting the boss at the end of the Murky Swamp level, I’ve reached a point where I can see that I’ll win too and then an explosion sends us both flying. Before we land, the screen blanks then I see my desktop. If I could load up the game and resume my battle from the boss then I would have kept playing, but the thought of all the effort I had to put in getting through the swamps being for nothing just left me with the frustration and that just leads to a sense of burnout. I tend to turn to other games after those moments happen and I doubt I’m the only one who does that.

2) Single player games and difficulty

I learnt very quickly that Magicka was a multiplayer game. The game feels a lot emptier when playing it by oneself and what detracts from that experience is the frustration of being swamped and cornered by a vast array of opponents that would be a lot easier for multiple wizards, but just chew you down and don’t really give you much opportunity to counter them. This is actually a bit annoying in multiplayer, but it’s something the players can potentially use to their advantage.

One possible solution is AI-controlled wizards a la Left 4 Dead. The AI of enemy magic-users leads me to believe that this would require quite an overhaul of the AI, so maybe the solution is just allowing a difficulty slider in the options. If it can be dynamically adjusted in-game then all the better.

3) More bugfixes

I understand that they must be busy creating more content for Magicka but I don’t really think that Vietnam should be released with a lot of these bugs still remaining in the core game. Personally, I would be more likely to buy Vietnam a month later with all the bugs that really hinder the game squashed.

Of course, I can’t really blame developers for this rush to get out content. It seems that a model favouring earlier release dates and increased DLC and content does sell a game more successfully that one of methodical QA. Given this, I can’t really expect that all the bugs will be gone by Vietnam’s release, but what is ultimately important is whether or not Vietnam brings more bugs into the mix or the game remains a relatively stable, playable experience with it.

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