Magicka's launch week was a complete disaster. Connecting to a multiplayer game, assuming you could successfully start a game, would often delete your own campaign progress. Sessions would crash at the boss, forcing players to repeat the whole chapter because the checkpoint system only acts as a respawn station and not a save point.
Yet, despite many restarted campaigns, frustrating crashes and constant disconnects, I kept coming back because the core game was a blast.
The main genius of Magicka lies within its "element system." From the second you set foot outside the castle doors, you have access to all the pieces of the puzzle. Wizards create spells by using up to five elements, and chaining them together in a certain fashion creates Magicks. When a fellow wizard dies, load up Life followed by Lightning to cast the Revive Magick. If you square off against a Fire-based foe, be sure to load one or more Water elements to decimate their health.
Magicka is not as shallow as it may appear, it rewards creative thinkers. I'm partial to long-distance Steam + Arcane + Lightning-based beam attacks, so it was incredible to team up with players that favour Earth-centered combos. They would carefully scatter destructive elemental mines, or create a path of healing mines for teammates.
Common sense and a healthy dose of literalism will carry you through the game. Should you find yourself in a seemingly unending battle, you may have missed something. If a boss is called "The Machine," don't waste time with oncoming foes. Smash that machine!
Soloing Magicka's campaign can be a frustrating challenge. You face the same number of enemies that you would in a multiplayer game, with swarms of monsters coming at you from all sides. With no one around to cover your back or bring you back to life, death will send you back to the last checkpoint. Your progress is saved only at the end of a chapter, quitting the game after a checkpoint means restarting the entire level when you return.
Frankly, the solo mode exists solely as a chance to practice casting. Multiplayer Magicka combines the joy of shooting beams of death from your hands with the joy of said beams exploding your friends. Healing and damage spells affect friend and foe, so everyone had best coordinate who is blowing up what, where, and when.
A former teammate of mine was warned to cover my back as I used one of my usual beam attacks to clear an advancing mob. Instead, he thought he'd "help," crossed a beam of opposite elements with mine, and we all died in the feedback explosion. While this is, admittedly, hilarious, it can get old when playing with random groups online.
You should come for the elemental goodness, and then stay for a clever story. Nearly every screen hides clever references and Arrowhead Studios manages to stay on the right side of cute, rather than beat you over the head with geek culture. Your silent, sword and staff wielding, bathrobe-clad protagonists don't just fight and look stylish, they manage to actively drive the action forward thanks to their muteness.
Sure, some other wizards could simply have told the all-powerful Death about the crisis and how he could have helped, but then you wouldn't get to fight him and play a few more stages due to fallout from the battle. Magicka won't rank up top with Portal or Monkey Island on anyone's "Best Written Games" list, but the dialogue is well worth listening to at least once.
Thanks to a plethora of patches, Magicka is now stable so you can have fun without the frustration. Just one chapter with some of your friends is well worth the small cost.