Dustin Liaw: The very first time I played Magicka solo, I ragequit in less than thirty minutes. All right, so I admit at the time I was working off a rager,but the fact that Magicka is much better as a multiplayer game still stands. Released all the way back at the beginning of 2011 by a group of Swedish students, Magicka garnered acclaim for its unique gameplay and quirky setting, but was equally vilified for launching with so many bugs that it was completely unplayable at points. Luckily, they’ve fixed most of the major ones with a slew of patches, and released a number of expansions to boot. I joined fellow reviewer James Ku (who incidentally introduced me to Magicka) to review the latest DLC, entitled “The Other Side of the Coin”.
James Ku: Thanks for the shout-out, Dustin. For those uninitiated in the ways of Magicka, the game takes place in a fantasy world inspired by Norse mythology. The base game puts the player in the shoes of a wizard intent on saving the world from evil, a role that is reversed in TOSC. While the whole “saving the world” plotline is by no means an original concept, Magicka utilizes self-effacing humor (the player’s fellow wizards hold a “saving the world party” for the soon-to-be-heroes) and parody (one of the characters in the player’s journey is named “Admiral Agnar”… and yes, he does at one point yell “IT’S A TRAP!”) to present a unique take on an otherwise conventional storyline. At the heart of Magicka’s gameplay is an elemental spell system, which carries over into TOSC. By combining up to five elements at once, players can unleash magic-infused destruction on enemies (fellow wizards are often caught in the crossfire as well). Need a fiery meteor? It’s easy, combine fire and rock! Want to cast freezing lightning? Magicka’s got you covered, just cast ice and lightning together. Magicka’s (and by extension, TOSC’s) spell system is intuitive and highly experiment-friendly, making for a rich, rewarding game experience.
DL: The previous expansions, “Magicka: Vietnam” and “The Stars are Left” took our heroes into worlds never before explored by wizard-kind, and TOSC is no exception. Well, not exactly; fans of J.R.R. Tolkien should recognize a carbon copy of Rivendell, complete with “Rings of Power”. You play as Alucart the Vampire, intent on getting revenge and disrupting the peace councils led by fellow bloodsucker Vlad. This carries into gameplay into two ways. First, while normally players can heal by using the life element on themselves, Alucart can only heal by charging at enemies or even other players and sucking their blood. It’s an interesting twist on the standard Magicka gameplay, and it helps keep solo players from turtling up. Second, and less favorably, is the fact that while up to three other players can support him as necromancers, if Alucart dies, you’ll have to restart at the last checkpoint. It makes sense from a story perspective, since Alucart’s quest for vengeance is at the heart of the plot, but it can be frustrating when you still have three necromancers at full health and one dead vampire, and this mechanic forces Alucart to play more defensively than a bloodthirsty nightwalker should. Having multiple players to revive one another during challenging fights is a major part of what makes Magicka such a good multiplayer game, and in this respect TOSC is a step backward.
JK: Besides the new vampire healing and death mechanics, TOSC introduces a new type of enemy: the Paladin. The Paladin is impervious to damage while his holy cross, which he drops on the map before charging into combat, is still in play. This new adversary forces players to adjust their tactics from the base game; combined with the new gameplay mechanics that Dustin previously mentioned, TOSC does an admirable job of keeping the game fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, a straight playthrough of TOSC took us just over an hour, and there’s really very little reason to replay TOSC once you’ve completed it. Whereas the base Magicka campaign has tons of hidden weapons and Magick books to find, TOSC features pitifully few extras to look for. Also, because the TOSC story campaign is listed as a Challenge Map, saving your progress simply isn’t possible, which can be extremely frustrating when one of the players has to leave during the final boss fight (sorry about that, Dustin). TOSC also features four new arena challenge maps, which pit the player against waves of enemies. Besides the use of the Necromancer wizard model and the new scenery, TOSC’s arena challenge maps don’t deviate much from those found in the base Magicka game.
DL: TOSC is unchanged from its predecessors in the visual and audio departments. While the graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge, they have a distinctive flair; combining spell effects leads to colorful sprays that gib your foes (and if you’re not careful, yourself) in glorious sprays of blood and flying body parts. Enemies grunt appropriately as you carve their torsos apart like a disgruntled hooded surgeon wielding a large, multicolored laser beam, and the voice actors take gleefully to their work, speaking an odd mix of nonsense terms and English homonyms. It can come off as campy, but that’s just another part of what makes the world of Magicka so compelling.
JK: While TOSC is by no means bad, it doesn’t do much to advance the actual game of Magicka. The items included with TOSC are all standalone maps and don’t give the player anything new to use in campaigns or other game modes (except for a Necromancer robe for PvP), making this DLC expansion a bit of a disappointment considering how much more fleshed out “Magicka: Vietnam” and “The Stars are Left” were. I feel it’s reasonable to expect more content out of a $5 DLC expansion, and while the included content is mildly fun by itself, it’s nowhere near enough content to justify its price tag.
DL: A very wise man told me once that for a game to be good, it has to be like a girl’s skirt: long enough to cover the important parts but short enough to keep your attention (well…originally it actually pertained to essays. But you get my point). In TOSC’s case, this skirt is more like a G-string; it simply isn’t enough bang for the buck. If you really, really need to get all things Magicka, go ahead and pick TOSC up; otherwise, you’re better off sticking to the original or the other two expansions.