Magicka 2 lies somewhere between a fully formed game in which would-be wizards learn to chain elements into powerful spells and a low-rent improv show, in which everybody just makes things up as they go. It’s an exercise in frustration from start to finish, no matter how many wry and misplaced chuckles a player may find upon encountering NPCs like John Frost or Katnipp Everkeen. There will always be too many enemies (or allies) to keep track of, and unless spamming the spell Haste, your own wizard will always move too slowly and aim too erratically to be of any reliable use. Battlefields are overly chaotic and leave players with no time to actually strategize or experiment, which means every battle boils down to a few easily input and reliable spells.
Given all of this, success comes down to equal parts luck and skill (especially after learning the Emergency Teleport spell), and that’s on the easiest setting. Throwing in co-op partners only complicates things, especially since the always-enabled friendly fire makes it very easy for allies to turn on one another. At the same time, Magicka 2 is designed with four-player co-op in mind, which makes some enemies irritating to dispatch alone. For instance, hitting a shielded enemy’s rear weak point requires a solo player to use lightning to bypass it, and the puzzle-like mechanics of the final encounter require a lonely wizard to master the art of spell juggling. (A player must heal oneself, reflect a magical attack, and then simultaneously damage a wave of foes while maneuvering an orb into place.) The game is too comically chaotic to require such serious precision.
When Magicka 2 isn’t focused on fending off wave after wave of seemingly identical fodder, it makes good use of its fundamental core, tasking players with combining spells to trigger hidden puzzles. Here, individually learned techniques can be combined: For instance, a player must remember to cast a water-absorbing shield on themselves before safely conjuring lightning to use on a generator. These slower and more methodical moments allow for actual play instead of the repetitive, workmanlike spellcasting that occurs during hectic battle sequences, and Magicka 2 is more enjoyable for it. Trials, challenges, and other custom modifiers can momentarily help to alleviate these concerns upon a second or third playthrough, forcing players to adapt their strategies when certain spells are banned, but even here, the overall gameplay eventually boils down to the same tedious strategy: Find a vulnerability and exploit it at range. It says a lot that while players carry both a sword and stave, the former of which can be enchanted with an elemental attack, there’s almost no scenario in which melee is required or desired.
Ultimately, Magicka 2’s spellcasting system—based on logical elemental properties, such as the way that fire and water combine to create steam—is too at odds with the rest of the gameplay. With a few exceptions, fighting doesn’t require intelligence so much as it depends on brute force, and level design is by and large a linear affair. The game’s best jokes are self-referential, but that’s only because the absurdity of, say, crabs and goblins dancing on the beach makes little sense in the midst of a dire invasion. There are many magical combinations available in Magicka 2, but there are none that make the game itself more palatable in the long run.