I've never been as confused playing a console game as I was when I started Magicka 2. "Learn to spell... again," reads the game's slogan, foretelling my time with the game far more accurately than I expected. What I thought was Diablo mixed with a twin-stick shooter is in fact a significantly more in-depth beast altogether. Yes, Magicka 2 sees you trawling across numerous fantasy environments, fighting fantastical creatures, but this isn't a simple hack 'n' slash action RPG or a loot-heavy dungeon crawler. Casting spells is the very heart of the Magicka 2 experience, and learning how to do it on the PS4 controller is akin to pumping the blood around a human body via a bicycle pump operated entirely with your little fingers. It's tricky.
As a wizard you have access to eight elements, which can be used alone or combined with others. Four are immediately accessible by pressing one of the controller's face buttons, while the other four are hidden behind an L1 toggle. For example, cast fire and you'll be able to spray flames out in any direction using the right analogue stick, perform a local area attack by pressing L2, attack with a flaming weapon by hitting R2 or burn yourself using R1 - something that sounds dumb, but will dry you off when wet and help you avoid the dangers of combining water with other elements, such as electricity.
Often, however, you won't really want to use a single element, instead casting it alongside others to create hybrids. So, cast fire alongside death and that flame thrower will become a flaming beam of destruction when triggered with the right analogue stick. Up to five elements can be combined, and the learning curve to understand it all is rather steep. And even when you've got an idea of what you're meant to be doing, actually doing it all on the PS4 pad in the heat of a battle proves to be even trickier.
Take a scenario in which you're fighting large groups of enemies in an area where there is a lot of water. Water and electricity don't mix well for you (although you can use it to your advantage), so if you want to cast anything using the electricity element you've got to dry yourself first. At the same time you've got to be thinking about casting the life element to heal yourself (or others) and actually hurting your foes, many of which are immune to certain attacks. Just don't forget to hold L1 before pressing triangle to cast life, or else you'll cast death and kill yourself. You might want to put up a shield, perhaps combining this element with rock in order to give your wizard a hard outer shell. Or maybe you just want to cast death and combine your beam with those of your fellow wizards, bringing ultra-powerful destruction and fond memories of Ghostbusters.
And you absolutely will want to play with others. It's possible to play solo, but it's excruciatingly hard and the defensive play sucks most the fun from Magicka 2's frenetic and frenzied gameplay. Simply put: don't buy Magicka 2 expecting a single-player experience. This has been designed for co-op play, and the moment you add a friend (either locally or online) the game becomes significantly more manageable and the fun times begin. The ability to use a number of special magics (bound to the d-pad direction buttons), including an essential revive spell, mean that as long as one player remains on the field you can keep coming back from the dead. These special abilities, which also include a push, nippier run speed and flaming overhead assault, all have a cooldown period, but there are no other restrictions in place.
Having blasted through the campaign using a combination of local and online players, there's no denying that Magicka 2 can be fun, albeit at times rather fiddly to play. It's not a long campaign, either, with replay value coming from items you can collect and use to alter the experience, as well as a series of challenges and a number of harder difficulty settings - something I stayed well clear of as it's plenty hard enough already, thank you very much. I'd like to say I enjoyed the humour but other than the odd smirk the reference-heavy dialogue usually had the opposite effect.
There's a very real chance that a group of Magicka 2 players will become highly proficient at casting, working together immensely well and making even the hardest difficulty setting look like a walk in the park, but I expect (like myself) many will be overwhelmed by the mental and controller gymnastics required to make everything work. I improved as I played, but even as I fought the game's final boss there was a sense that I'd bungled my way through. Maybe that's how it is for everyone and additional playthroughs would each see gains in my play. But I'd had enough. I enjoyed my time battling foes alongside wizard friends new and old, but Magicka 2 takes more effort than most games, and it's tiring. I've had my fill, at least for now.
Version Tested: PS4