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I mixed water and fire to make steam and thoroughly cooked the designers in their own game.

Magicka is a fast-paced action PC game where you control one of 4 wizards with primary colored robes. The trick is that you can combine strings of up to 5 different elements into spells on the fly, often with devastating effect. Combining earth and water will shoot mud at your enemies, for example. Friendly fire is possible, and sometimes necessary if your buddy is surrounded by baddies, but you can cast life magic at your comrades to heal them. The vast number of spell combinations available make for a frenetic, sometimes frustrating, but always fun play experience. On top of that, the story and dialogue of Magicka has a whole tongue-in-cheek vibe that references Star Wars, Monty Python and Lord of the Rings seemingly all in the same breath.

“We’re nerds, and we make nerdy games,” Johan Pilestedt, CEO of Arrowhead Games told me. CEO is a bit of a misnomer, as Pilestedt designed and programmed Magicka together with his partner in crime Emil Englund, Executive VP. “We’re into comedy like Terry Pratchett.”

As soon as Pilestedt connected Magicka to the British fantasy author Pratchett, it all clicked for me. Here is a story that exists in the same genre as Tolkien or Robert Jordan but doesn’t take itself too seriously. “There’s a lot of predictable plot-twists in the game, as well as some that will be clich√© and cheesy,” Pilestedt said. “We’re really mocking fantasy, as it is. The fantasy genre hasn’t changed much since Gary Gygax made Dungeons & Dragons. It’s been 40 years, for Christ’s sake.”

Englund was quick to point out that the game isn’t all a joke. And as I picked up the controller to test drive Magicka for myself, I quickly became mesmerized by all that I could do. The 8 elements of magic that you can combine start with the obvious: Fire, Water, Lightning and Earth. Then there is Life, Arcane, Shield and Cold. Some of the elements are opposites, so stacking Fire and Cold will dissipate the spell, while adding Cold and Water together shoots ice. Shield spells take perhaps the most skill to use, as you can use Shield alone to create impassable barriers with the click of a button, or combine it with another element like Arcane and cast it on yourself for a protection from Arcane effect. There are also specific combinations you can mix to produce special effects, such as mixing Life and Lightning to revive dead companions or mixing different elements to create a Meteor Storm.

The spell system is a little hard to grasp, so it makes sense to pay attention to the launch trailer that Arrowhead and Paradox released last week to see it in action.

Johan Pilestedt talked me through some of the more fun possibilities in Magicka. “The shield element on its own creates a force barrier, but if I add earth to the shield, it becomes an earth barrier,” Pilestedt said as he demonstrates, creating a circle of rock with his wizard. “If I add fire to that earth barrier, it becomes a ring of volcanoes. If I also add arcane to it, it becomes an enchanted barrier that explodes like mines for massive damage.” And indeed, a hapless barabarian wanders over his arcane volcanoes and blows up with big damage numbers flashing on the screen.

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Once you pick the perfect combination of elements, you can cast the spell in a number of ways. Casting a projectile shoots out the magic in whatever direction you are facing, while the area of effect button surrounds your wizard with the energies. Casting the spell on yourself either powers your weapon or imbues you personally with the magic to varying success. Casting water on yourself just makes you wet, but casting Life will heal you for a small amount.

As a PC game, Magicka‘s default control scheme is the mouse and keyboard, so creating spell effects by combining elements means tapping a series of keys. However, where the game sang for me was while using an Xbox controller, where combining elements is handled by a series of half-circle movements with the left analog stick that felt like a fighting game.

Playing through by yourself is fun enough, but the strength of Magicka is in the 4-player co-op. Wizards can link spells together for more power, but there is of course the danger of blasting your friend by mistake. That’s especially important when you have effects cast on yourself. Getting hit with water spells will make you “wet” for a period of time and if you happen to use lightning while wet, well, let’s just say you don’t want to throw a toaster into a bathtub, do you? But you can use these effects with your friends to take out enemies faster. If your buddy wizard blasts the bad guys with water, for example, it just makes sense to follow up with a lightning spell of your own for some eye-popping damage.

Mixing any element with Arcane creates a beam of that type and these beam spells can merge with your friends’ for dramatic effects. If there’s a boss coming at the party, you can direct a Fire beam at him, your partner can do the same, and these beams will merge for a massive boost in damage. Beware crossing the streams, though. “If you cross the beams of opposite elements, it will explode instead,” said Englund as he indeed merged an Earth and Lightning beam and fried us both.

The best part of the magic system in Magicka is that there are no mana points or pool of energy to draw from. You are limited only by your imagination, your ingenuity, and how much your trust your companions as you play through the romping campaign.

I only got to play for a few minutes and was certainly sucked in, but the action-packed design of Magicka was praised by my fellow journalists and even other developers at the Paradox Interactive Convention. If you’re looking for a fun diversion from the normal hack-and-slash action title and feel like experimenting with an innovative magic system with your friends, Magicka has definitely got you covered. With the price only $9.99, there are more expensive and less fun games out there.

Magicka is available tomorrow, January 25th, from Steam or publisher Paradox’s own GamersGate. A retail box will be out February 15th.

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