It's an easy mistake to make. You've got the isometric camera angle, a dark but cartoonish fantasy landscape, and a map full of players flinging spells at each other until the screen becomes a fireworks show of light and colors. Magicka: Wizard Wars really does look like it should be a MOBA. But spend a bit more time with this upcoming PvP title from Paradox North and you'll discover a frenetic action game with short rounds and a rule set that has more in common with Battlefield than League of Legends. It is, in many ways, a game geared toward players looking to skip the obtuse strategy of a Dota- or LOL-style game and jump straight into the head-to-head combat.
Wizard Wars is a spin-off of 2011's Magicka, an action-adventure game best known for its novel spellcasting system that let you mix and match different elements to solve environmental puzzles or simply troll your teammates with friendly fire. Wizard Wars keeps the spellcasting system, but trades in the co-op exploration of its predecessor for an experience built entirely around competitive multiplayer (unlike the PVP mode that was patched into Magicka well after release). These are quick, 5- to 10-minute matches with two teams of four going at it in a hailstorm of spells and counterspells.
It's all intended to feel a bit like the intense but rhythmic back-and-forth found in a fighting game. If you see another player charging up a fire spell, you can rain on his or her parade with a quick spray of water. If you get hit with an ice attack that freezes you solid, you'll need to cast fire on yourself to melt free. If you're on the ropes and need to heal up, you can create some distance between you and your opponent by knocking your foe back with a powerful stream of water or just summoning a wall of stone that pops up from the ground.
It's all intended to feel a bit like the intense but rhythmic back-and-forth found in a fighting game.
Player interactions are made up of all these little give-and-take moments, with an added layer of unpredictability stemming from the fact that friendly fire is very much a factor. The whole thing feels a bit like the end of a MOBA match, once all the prep work of leveling up and buying items is out of the way and you're finally able to go at it unrestrained for the last few minutes.
The development team at Paradox North promises up to 400 different spell combinations, which will hopefully provide plenty of strategic depth in the combat system despite its somewhat chaotic appearance. More straightforward is the actual rule set. You're not trying to destroy the other team's base or navigate a system of lanes to push back your opponents. Rather, it's a sort of spin on Battlefield's conquest match type, where you seek to control all the respawn points on the map. Once you've got all those capture points, it's lights out for the other team. Paradox North is hoping to add in new game modes after release, but for now, this is what it's focusing its energy on.
There's something very appealing about the way Paradox North is taking the swords-and-sorcery combat system typically found in much larger strategy and role-playing games and adapting it with a precise eye toward competitive multiplayer. Will the deep spellcrafting system give it the staying power to keep players coming back for one quick round after another? We'll have to wait and see.