Magicka’s joy is discovering quite how powerful and dangerous magic can be

Wizard nonsense during an airship battle in a Magicka screenshot.

I like wizards because they’re the dramatic combination of powerful, cocky, and a bit dim. Through some quirk of bloodline or destiny, wizards can access impossible forces simply by saying magic words. This does not restrict caution. A wizard’s not a real wizard until they have accidentally set themselves on fire or unleashed an ancient evil. And if you throw four of these dim demigods together? Well, you get the co-op wizard action of the Magicka games, where freestyling elemental combinations can (and often will) lead you to heal a boss or torch your pal’s face. Splendid chaos.

In Magicka, spells are cast by evoking and combining the elements: water, life, shield, cold, lightning, arcane, earth, and fire. The game does have a few listed spells but largely you’re creating your own on the fly by tapping out a chain of hotkeys for elements, as fast as you can. Different elements manifest in different forms, from beams and sprays to arcs and barriers, and you can combine up to five bits in a single spell. Middle-click to cast on yourself, right-click to cast out into the world. Dangerously, Magicka will cast exactly what you tell it to.

So sure, you might create a cool beam which murders enemies in a pretty way. You might lay down landmines which explode for huge damage and apply debuffs. You might raise a barrier of deadly ice spikes, or imbue your sword with the elements. You might also fumble the hotkeys or forget your combinations and heal the boss for thousands of health. Or electrocute innocent villagers. Or drop a boulder on your own head. Or throw a point-blank fireball with such force that it launches you over a wall and breaks the tutorial. Usually, it’s a combination of good and bad. So yes, you did heal your pal, but also made them soaking wet, so they electrocuted themself when they tried to cast lighting magic. Or you mashed the hotkeys and spammed a series of spells so powerful that you genuinely don’t know what you did, only that everyone exploded in a shower of blood and now you’re flying through the air, on fire.

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Many games warn you that magic is dangerous but don’t follow through with consequences. Some make you ignore that warning for scripted plot reasons. A few let you optionally dabble in dangerous magics, like blood magic, though it usually turns out, hey, this isn’t so bad. Magicka places a magic system in your hands and, strongly encouraging hubris, leaves you to discover the possibilities.

Magicka wants you to be excited discovering powerful combinations, creating weird megabeams and spells you honestly don’t quite understand. And it really, really wants you to die in foolish ways and laugh at your mistakes. This is pure wizard nonsense. This is what I understand wizarding to be.

Wizard nonsense aboard airships

Witches learn magic through apprenticeship with a holistic view and a cautious, respectful approach. Warlocks gain power through pacts with demons and devils, a conversation which can leave little doubt that oh, you’re in trouble. Wizards luck into it through quirks of birth or bloodline. One day, turns out, you’re the seventh son of a seventh son or some other nonsense, so congratulations, you’re magic. They become toddlers all over again.

If the toddler wizard is lucky, they will have a responsible adult to warn them against putting their finger in the magical plug socket. They will not understand why this is a bad idea, and will attempt to jam that digit right in the magic hole as soon as their wizdad’s back is turned. The wizard toddler will likewise attempt to read any cool-sounding spell they find in an unsupervised spell book without a thought for consequences. They will likely mispronounce half the words, too. Wizards who survive this phase might grow up into some sort of Gandalf but most will end up as a smouldering pair of pointy shoes.

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Magicka has us play through the precise moment when, like toddlers, wizards learn that you can combine multiple powerful words into one superword. But rather than call your nan a poobumwillyfart, you accidentally burst your playmate and heal the boss. Silly wizards.