Magicka Wizard Wars preview
Magicka, a whimsical independent action adventure game released by Arrowhead Game Studios in 2011, took everyone by surprise with its excellent spell-crafting system and blend of satire and comedy. Using its original as a base, developer Paradox North has wrapped a MOBA framework around Magicka and created a Frankenstein's monster of pick-up-and-play fun.

Magicka: Wizard Wars, a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA) set in the Magicka universe, is currently in Alpha testing. The premise is simple: two teams of four mages do battle over three spawn beacons, with the entirety of combat being driven by the spell system and some rudimentary melee combat. As saturated as the MOBA genre is, Magicka: Wizard Wars surprisingly never felt like retreaded ground. Its delightful marriage of spell construction and tug-of-war gameplay ultimately left me wanting more.

Playing Magicka: Wizard Wars is a lot like playing the original game: You queue up different elements to create a spell for a desired effect. Offensive beams with different elemental properties can be cast, you can heal your friends, unleash elemental resistances, create rock walls, throw meteors and develop many other, more interesting spells by simply spooling up different elements. The deep and involved system was a highlight of Magicka; however, a lack of primer or tutorial in the Alpha build of Magicka: Wizard Wars put a lot of guesswork into the magic system.

Players ignorant to the system will be at a loss as to controlling the severity of a spell. For example, spooling up one earth element will toss a pebble; adding elements to it will alter the projectile's nature. Adding more earth elements will increase its size and damage output. Explanation is essential for the final game because, without the context offered by the original Magicka, spell-casting is currently an exercise in trial by fire in a genre known for being unkind to those without a strong grasp of fundamentals.

Magicka: Wizard Wars features a number of melee weapons to choose from, each with different speeds and damage ratios, but I found a melee-exclusive game was a death sentence. It's tough to get near an enemy when they're blasting you with magic, so melee is less an avenue to success as it is a supplemental tool.

Unlike other MOBA titles, riddled with various classes, only mages are present in Magicka: Wizard Wars. Character differences rely on minor modifiers associated with the robe, hat and weapon a mage has equipped.

Magicka Wizard Wars preview
Each mage can unlock four powerful super abilities: haste, revive, death and meteor. A meter beneath each mega-spell will fill as you capture spawn points and defeat enemy wizards, then the spell can be cast. Death and meteor are purely offensive spells, which I found to be more trouble than they were worth. Each does a remarkable amount of damage, but the time needed to unlock these skills was a turnoff for my gameplay style. In a support role, haste and revive were far more useful.

In one session, my team was pushed back to single spawn point, which the opposing team quickly captured. Alone, as my comrades lay dead on the ground around me, I used haste to get out of the area, run to another spawn beacon and take control of it, allowing my teammates to enter the game once more. Haste also gave me the ability to quickly rush toward an ongoing battle to support my teammates after spawning away from the action.

Timing revivals while in those conflicts is another invaluable tool: While teams battle head-to-head, reviving people to come back into the fight and double-team mages, or simply to heal those mired in battle, is a very productive strategy. Grinding to the big damage spells didn't nearly produce as favorable results as sticking to the cheaper mega-spells.

Magicka: Wizard Wars still has a lot of time left in development, but even in its Alpha incarnation, a very solid foundation is visible. With a little more hand-holding in the spell-casting department, teaching players how to counter enemy spells and support one another, Magicka: Wizard Wars could be an enticing prospect for anyone looking for an interesting twist on the MOBA genre.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.