Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Bethesda Hates Mages: 12 Reasons Magic in Skyrim Sucks

Shamus Young | 25 Feb 2014 19:00
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Destruction spells don't scale with skill level.

If I'm a fighter, my sword does more and more damage as my skill goes up. On top of this, there are perks you can unlock to boost your damage even more. But for mages your spells don't hit harder, they just cost less mana to use. And unlike for fighters, the perks don't stack. Once I move on from novice level spells to apprentice level, the skill point I spent on novice spells is no longer helping me in battle.

You might try to boost your magical damage using gear, but...

Spell damage can't be boosted by gear.

A fighter can spend time smithing, thus letting them improve their weapons. At higher levels, a fighter can easily double their damage output just by sharpening their sword. On top of this, they can boost their damage even more by poisoning their weapons with single-use potions. Mages can't do either.

But it's even worse than that, because...

Spell damage can't be boosted by enchantments either.

A fighter can add enchantments to their armor to boost their weapon damage even more. They can also add enchantments to the weapon itself to have it do additional elemental damage. A mage can't do any of that. They can only make spells cheaper to cast. That's nice I guess, but it's kind of stupid to waste your late-game enchantments just for the ability to fight continuously, since fighters can do that at level 1. And after a certain point it's just not useful to make them any cheaper. Even when spells are free, you're still doing a lot less DPS than a fighter, and unless you're an armor-wearing battlemage in heavy armor, you're going to be taking way more damage too. (AND your max health will be lower. AND you can carry less.)

But since fighters augment their gear with smithing and enchanting, maybe mages can augment their powers with more magic? Well, actually...

Magic is spread out over six skill trees.

If you're a fighter, then maybe you'll want to specialize in two-handed weapons. Or maybe one-handed weapons. Pick one and go for it. Level up those skills, buy those perks, and watch your power level climb. But as a mage your skills are scattered over Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Illusion, Mysticism?, and Restoration, and these skills have no synergy. Getting the ability to dual-cast restoration spells doesn't let me dual-cast destruction spells. Making illusion cheaper to cast doesn't make destruction cheaper to cast. And most of the perks are dedicated to making stuff consume less mana, which is nice but generally not nearly as helpful as equivalent fighter perks. And they're all slow to level. And really, each school of magic has only a couple of really useful spells.

And you'd best be careful when using them, since...

Magic is prone to friendly-fire.

Fireballs are slower than arrows, and the flames ability is kind of flamethrower-ish. This, mixed with the tendency for NPCs to rush out in front of you in battle, greatly increases the chance that you'll hit a guard or a peasant or an ally and end up having everyone turn on you. It's just yet another thing that's harder for our beleaguered mage and easier for everyone else.

And as icing on the cake, the fire and ice based magic puts a lot of particle effects in your face so you can't see who you're shooting. Very often I'd end up with this wall of fire in front of me and I'd have to stop attacking so I could see if my foe was dead, or if they had run off, or backed away.

The point is...

Magic in Elder Scrolls is a sad, weak, unsatisfying hassle.

You can alleviate some of these problems by augmenting your magic with fighting, but why bother? Rather than propping up my gimped magic with gimped fighting, why not just ditch the magic and go full-on fighter?

I've leveled numerous mages and numerous fighters. There's no comparison. Melee isn't just slightly ahead of magic. It's massively, outrageously more powerful, safer, more expedient, more thrilling, and more profitable. Going from fighter to mage has a bigger impact on difficulty than the actual difficulty slider. As a fighter you'll kill faster, have less between-fight downtime, see more cool animations, make money faster, get more interesting and useful loot, look cooler, and die far less often. This is a massive middle finger to anyone who wants to be a wizard.

I don't know when the next single-player Elder Scrolls game is coming out. It hasn't even been confirmed yet. (Although of course they're going to make one.) I just hope next time around mages get a little love. I don't need the different systems to be in perfect balance, but it would be nice if they were in the same ballpark and offered the same level of visceral impact and variety of gameplay.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, Spoiler Warning, and about ten thousand dead Skyrim bandits.

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