I desperately wanted to like Magicka: Wizard Wars. On paper, I should have loved it. Take Magicka’s brilliantly enjoyable but challenging spell-based combat system, and fun loving childish humour, and throw them into a PVP focused, free-to-play multiplayer game. It should have been fantastic, but connectivity issues plague it, and simplified gameplay begins to hamper the fun somewhat. Thankfully however, that isn’t to say that Wizard Wars is without its merits, as it’s still a mightily enjoyable game.
Developed by Paradox North, Wizard Wars was never intended to be a successor to Magicka 1, Magicka 2 takes that crown. Instead Wizard Wars is a standalone MOBA styled multiplayer experience, taking design, combat and gameplay cues from Magicka 1.
Unfortunately the notoriously poor multiplayer client from the first Magicka has also returned. Far too many games involve disconnects, usually before the match ever begins, either leaving you back at the start screen or your desktop if it’s feeling particularly cruel and crashes, or throws you into a match with uneven teams. With only 4 players on each side, it’s almost impossible for the team with a deficit to stand a fighting chance.
And it’s not just matchmaking issues that hinder Wizard Wars. Far too many times I found myself trying to enter the in-game store or player load-out screen only to have the game crash. Recent patches have begun to fix the problem, and connectivity issues are nowhere near as frequent as when the game was first released, but nevertheless it quickly becomes tiresome being booted back to your home-screen.
Thankfully it’s still fun to play once you’re in a game though. Wizard Wars retains the elemental spell-making system of Magicka 1, only simplifies the combinations down to 3 elements rather than 5. Some of the more powerful spells of the first game that required a range of elements have been replaced by hot-keyed special attacks, which become available as the match goes on, and are chosen before matches start.
The added simplification is both a positive and a negative. On the one side, it allows new players to grasp the game far more easily, especially since blowing yourself up by combining the wrong elements has been removed. But then you soon find yourself hitting a ceiling in terms of skill. You quickly learn what the most powerful spells are, and how to counter with shields. Proper spell combinations become pointless since any ultra-powerful spell is on the spell hot-bar, and you soon find yourself spamming the same spells. Of course you can always make things more interesting by changing your play style, but you always tend to find that your opposition use the same death-magic spells.
Still, the quick game modes do tend to make for some interesting magical battles, especially the ‘duel’ mode, which pitches one wizard against another in a battle to the death, in a small confined arena. In this mode you tend to find more of a proper magical duel, with players throwing up shields and counter-spells and counter counter-spells. It’s in the duel mode that I found the most eclectic mix of play styles too. Some players preferred to attack from range. Others took a highly defensive approach and used effective shield play, and then some decided on an ultra-aggressive tactic of melee-orientated combat, smashing anyone they can get close too.
Duel by far provided the most enjoyment for me, with fast paced rounds and quick magical counters not being interrupted by other distractions such as other enemies that are found in the other two modes Wizard Wars provides. The other two modes are both a 4 versus 4 team matches, with one being akin to the usual MOBA style matches, where you choose a lane and destroy the enemy teams base and defences.
The other mode is much faster paced, with teams being granted a limited amount of re-spawns. One team loses either once they’ve run out of re-spawns, or when the enemy has captured all the re-spawn points. This match mode is quick and brilliant fun, if not a tad chaotic with beams of death magic being flung at you from every angle.
Death magic certainly seems to be the most favoured spell type, and as such, players tend to customise their wizards to grant additional boosts to death type spells, while having fire magic penalised. This is done through the customisation pages. Players can unlock certain items and special spells through a talent tree, and then buy said items in the store, either through credits earned in-game or with micro transactions. They can then add these items to their wizard, granting them bonuses and penalties to spell types, or in the case of melee-weapons granting different melee attacks.
Learning what each armour set does can be a massive help when playing, as it allows you to counter each wizard you encounter by using their weaknesses against them, though this does prove difficult when so much chaos is happening on-screen.
Thankfully though chaos is fun. Certainly in the case of Wizard Wars at least. Throwing spells and counter-spells at one another makes for a massively enjoyable experience, especially when you consider that it’s completely free to play. It’s just a shame that the combat feels so simplified when compared to the original Magicka. I was expecting more and more people, primarily myself, to become overly ambitious with spells and inadvertently blow themselves in spectacular fashion mid-battle. Nevertheless, Magicka: Wizard Wars – a rare thing these days. Just make sure you can look past the ailing server issues.
Reviewed on PC