Bethesda Hates Mages: 12 Reasons Magic in Skyrim Sucks

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Four pages long, did not read through all of it, so I have to ask:
Did anyone else mention the sheer joy of Runes yet?

Magic in Skyrim has its flaws, to be sure, but nothing makes me happier than placing a dual-cast Fire Rune in a hallway, tossing some magelight next to it, and waiting for the inevitable explosion.
"What was that?" ... *BOOM!*
*watches plates and pots come tumbling out of the room, trailing fire*

Yeah... I mean when my frost/storm mage gets rushed by 5 bandits and one single cast of ice storm kills them all, or when I snipe them with thunderbolt from 50m, or kill a dragon with 5 thunderbolts, or duel a mage and turn invincible with greater ward and hit them until they run out of mana and disintegrate... I'm not feeling underpowered.

In fact my mage is facerolling everything.

Some of the undead take 2-3 casts from lightning, they resist frost. But they never reach me.

TopazFusion:
The way Skyrim does it, it would be like an FPS forcing you to equip a 'throw grenade' ability to one hand, and only being able to wield a pistol in the other.

It's not that outlandish...

Playing as a mage in Skyrim (first time I really tried to play one in Elder Scrolls) I found that conjuring and illusion mixed with enchantment to lower mana consumption was the best way to get any where without being completely murdered, though hiding round a corner while summon creatures do all the fun combat gets old. Even then you have to power level to get the top tier perks which make those skills go from underpowered to well overpowered.

Like most things in Skyrim now, I can only play a mage with mods.

Alleged_Alec:

craddoke:

Alleged_Alec:
I'm someone who mainly likes playing stealth characters, but I found that as soon as I enter melee combat, tits go up pretty rapidly. If I use two weapons, stuff dies quickly, but so do I. If I use a single sword, I can block, but it seems to do very little. Am I playing it wrong?

Don't enter melee combat is my advice; use a bow and unlock all the perks -- combined with high-level stealth powers, most enemies in Skyrim die before they even know you're there. As a last ditch defense weapon, get something that can paralyze and you should be okay when facing the exceptions.

Regarding the article, I completely agree. The Elder Scrolls games are one of the few RPGs in which my default character is not a mage. It is just too much hassle for too little reward.

So how does it work for people who actually want to go into close combat?

It works fine, people here saying otherwise just don't have enough faith in their character builds or are spreading their skill points too widely. I've got a stealth character that specializes in Bow (Legendary), Light Armor (Legendary), Sneak, and 2-Handed (Legendary). Even with the handicaps associated with the Legendary process he's kicking all kinds of ass.

Just make sure you whittle your opponents down with your bow weapon (invest in Deadly Aim and Power Shot at later levels to make your long-distance attacks more effective), and you'll be totally capable of rushing in and taking out the stragglers in close combat. Oh yeah, get a good set of enchanted light armor -- that will raise your survivability odds significantly.

Agreed. I think the same thing every time I forget why I hate mage characters and try one again. The fact that magic requires mana and swinging a sword requires nothing means that magic should, logically, be WAY more powerful than swinging said sword. Instead, it's crap from the get-go and only gets worse. I don't know how much damage the lightning storm spell does, but I can't imagine it's DPS is any better than my orc character's berserker rage fueled >800 per swing. Never understood why it didn't scale with level.

Darth Sea Bass:

craddoke:
Incidentally, this does mean that some scripted battles (where you can't choose your distance/moment of attack) are extra hard for stealth characters.

I f**king hate that! found that with Oblivion, all the way through the game i was a stealthy bastard then during one of the end game story quests it just throws you into a massive melee situation and i was toast.

I think I know which part you're talking about; fortunately, I had some really strong invisibility spells and just ran through the place without fighting anything. It feels like a cheat, but what can you do? Kind of like in Skyrim when a big bad would get caught on some landscape/furniture giving me free shots; it breaks immersion, but serves as a kind of unintentional balancing tool.

In Morrowind, a simple detour to another town earlier than the quest log wants you to results in the ability to make spells, which results in being able to make spells that buff your stats. Permanently. As in, I cast this spell every 3 seconds, and in an hour my fireball has the power to kill the final boss. Also, in Oblivion if you can't get through the whole game with only fireball and spark, you don't know how to backpedal. Skyrim takes more effort, sure, but if anything it's Oblivion Lite in most of its mechanics.

teebeeohh:
i have to admit i never ran into this because i only started playing skyrim last summer and the first thing i did was mod the magic system to be good.
damage scales with skill, a shitload of new spells and armor and enchants with +magicdmg.
except that made the game too easy so i had to boost enemy strength, which meant they broke some quests so i had to fix that but by now i heard of another cool mod that gives you a magic castle and like 8 new schools of magic that are different kinds of destruction and interact with each other...
and i spend more time modding the game than playing it. again

You sir have discovered the true way to play Elder Scrolls games. The true game is not about the main quest line, nor is it about the sidequests, the stories, leveling your character, or any of that. It is to see how many mods you can pile on and make work together at once, preferably while just barely maintaining a vague resemblence to the original game. I learned this long ago with Daggerfall, as I spent many more hours trying out mods and other changes than I did actually playing the game. That was the game where I first learned how to use a hex editor, and the pattern has held with every TES game since. As the games have evolved and become more complicated, so to have the mods and combinations of mods. TES games are not meant to be beaten or completed, they are meant to be shaped into a magnificent mountain of mods! Only then can their true grandeur be appreciated.

One of these days I'll have to get around to seeing how much damage I can do to Arena!

But I like the Master mage robes... They make your character look like a scholarly professor who's knowledge also allows him to light people on fire. I love how casual they look compared to how over the top everything else is

My one and only character on Skyrim was a full blown mage but that wasn't my intent from the beginning. In both Morrowind and Oblivion I started as light armor, short sword fighters and slowly became a Jack of all trades as I leveled and got bored with other skills. By the time I was basically invincible, I would level up magic skills but at that point I didn't have a lot of magicka so I had to use a bug to increase it. I expected the same thing to happen in Skyrim so I only raised my magic at first and that became my main strength.

Honestly, I liked playing as a mage character but I had to turn the difficulty down at first. I was surprised when a friend of mine wasn't even level 30 and was playing on legendary. I had no idea how much easier and broken the other classes were. I just assumed the game was harder in general. It didn't really matter because I had plenty of time to level up all the skills I wanted. Plus the summons in Skyrim are way better. Magic doesn't suck that much when you can call 2 dremoras to fight with you. I also loved the Master magic quests to get the best spells.

I still liked it way more than Oblivion and Morroind's magic systems which were broken and boring due to the simple spell making mechanics. All spells were just a variation of "X damage for X seconds to X area" and spells were way too easy to get which made them unexciting. In the end, the stuff you said is still true and system definitely needs the tweaking provided by mods

In general, the combat in Skyrim (and in fact in all TES games, in my experience), is pretty poor, be it melee, archery or magic, at least in my opinion.

Melee feels VERY unsatisfying. All the combat with swords, axes or hammers feels very "floaty", like I'm not actually hitting the enemies.
Archery is incredibly overpowered, specially when combined with stealth. A million jokes have been made of an enemy with seven arrows stuck in his face wondering if that noise he just heard is a rat or just a breeze of air.
Magic is just boring. You don't have the variety of the older games, and every spell just feels the same (in their respective groups), or is almost completely useless, even high level ones. I mean, as a Conjuration mage, how many times have you used "Bound Bow"?

Anyway, TES games aren't to be played for the combat. There are many better games in that regard.

i think the DnD system of a limited amount of overpowered spells works best in these sort of games

It's because warriors and rogues can attack indefinitely, but mages get stuck in situations where they run out of mana and can't do anything but run around and get beat on.

Mana is a dumb concept. As is endurance.

You are already inhumanly capable of swining heavy objects. In real life, you couldn't do that more than 20 times or so in a given day without injuring your muscles...

Alleged_Alec:
Since I argued this on your blog, I must agree, I guess. I had a worse time in the first few hours of Skyrim as a mage than I had as a pure stealth user (fuck those distance-activated zombies). I have one question though: I'm someone who mainly likes playing stealth characters, but I found that as soon as I enter melee combat, tits go up pretty rapidly. If I use two weapons, stuff dies quickly, but so do I. If I use a single sword, I can block, but it seems to do very little. Am I playing it wrong?

Yes, you're entering melee combat. Tits don't up when you've entered melee combat, you've entered melee combat because tits have gone up. The only way to bring them back down is to exit melee combat and hide ASAP. If you can't sneak past a threat, dispatch it with a bow from a distant shadowed corner.

If the modders can make the magic both powerful and balanced, it means that Bethesda is very lazy to make their own game balance and fun. Because in their brain, Skyrim is the land where every people only like to use swords and steels to kill bandits and dragons. Sneaking and marksmanship is too overpowered while magic is too slow and unreliable most of the time, and Bethesda Game Studio are going one sided with their choices of gameplay lately. Hoping that Todd Howard realized these flaws.

This is why you say screw robes and run around in fully enchanted daedric armor. You can take a lot of hits and you can enchant it to get yourself free destruction spells. Is this abusing the system? Yes. Does it make playing a mage a lot more fun? Yes. Also, mages are actually quite overpowered due to one perk: Impact. Stun lock your enemies forever. But ya, even still, without mods, magic in Skyrim does get old.

Although, you probably know everything I just said since you've actually played the game about a hundred hours more than me.

Given how randomly NPCs run around in combat, I wish the game had a lock on feature for spells. At low level, each miss is a costly mistake.

This is way too true, scarily so. I feel that this may have possibly arisen from the game's Arena-y hacky-slashy roots creating an inverse of what goes on in D&D (well 3.5 and before). In this case we have our melee fighting types progressing at quadratic rates whilst the mages are progressing linearly, and as with the usual situation (Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards) it's not good for the game in general.

Although there are a couple of cheese-heavy methods of boosting magic to god levels in Morrowind and Oblivion if you try (most of which requires you to sludge around in mediocrity for like 10 levels or so) the case still stands in TES in general: magic (destruction) really sucks.

One thing I will admit though is that because direct blasting is terrible in TES I'm forced to think creatively about how I handle my mages (like in D&D), my main combat skill is no longer destruction in any capacity but instead a melee weapon or bow. Augmenting that with illusion, mysticism, restoration, alteration etc. can be one of the optimum ways to play. Interestingly enough I'm finding more and more parallels between the ways that Mages kinda of handle themselves in D&D and TES. This development might be a coincidence but it's interesting to think of from a design perspective. As some posters have described before, magic can be powerful in the hands of those who can wield it, which leads to it being a kind of an indirect method of combat: through subterfuge and trickery. Kinda like how magic should work or has been described to work in folklore and somesuch.

I don't know about ESO (since I've been very out of the loop with recent TES developments) but I don't find that the state of the rest of magic is that terrible, mainly just synergetic problems with resource management and destruction sucking ass.

IMHO, one of the big Problems with Magic in Skyrim is the perk tree, especially for destruction, as well as some really odd design decisions with how some skills affect leveled enemies.

The Novice, Apprentice, Adept, Expert, Master perk tree in Skyrim is just completely pointless. Spells already get cheaper as your respective skill goes up. For some reason, Bethesda put in two systems that do the same, when you could have used those perk points for something that is actually interesting.

Overall, destruction perks are boring: Dual casting is inefficient and practically useless, if you don't have the Impact perk, which is overpowered because it is not based on a formula. Out of 17 perk points, 11 are just damage or efficiency increases. None offers any reason to switch or chain spells. Of the remaining perks, Rune Master is gimmicky (could be tied to skill instead), Intense Flames and Deep Frost are very situational. Disintegrate seems cool, but in reality it's just another damage buff. Basically, Destruction magic is really boring. Oh and the Master level destruction spells are very situational, too.

Added to that are Conjurations summons that aren't leveled, meaning that they will be OP when you get them, and useless later. Several different raise dead spells that all do the same thing. Also several different Illusion spells for each kind that all do the same thing. A paralyze spell that simply paralizes anything that isn't immune isn't really the best idea, either.

The Mage Armor perks are necessary if you want to play a pure mage, but mean that most of the enchanted items you find, including important artifacts like Dragon Masks, are off-limits for you. Until you get the Master level Alteration spell Dragonhide, which offers 80% damage reduction no matter your perks, which makes Mage Armor completely redundant and thereby also removes any limitation on what you can wear.

Mister Chippy:

Alleged_Alec:
So how does it work for people who actually want to go into close combat?

You play a warrior. Later in the game skyrim doesn't really have too many viable options.

If you wanna melee you gotta be a warrior of some description. If you want to sneak you should probably be an archer. If you want to do fuck all level destruction magic. If you want to do fuck all but not die level conjuration. If you want to do anything whatsoever late game level enchantment and alchemy.

Kudos to Mister Chippy. Enchantment and Alchemy are indeed the keys to success in melee combat.

That said, I had terrific success as a melee/sneak khajit in Skyrim. In the early game, you can often one-shot targets using sneak attack, or at least whittle off enough health that they only take a couple of good whacks to finish off. There are some drawbacks to this strategy, however. Inevitably, enemies will become aware of you and you'll be swarmed. This is particularly a problem in boss fights. To help with this, I recommend the following tactics:
- Where possible, have a fallback position. Don't be afraid to sprint away from a fight and come back when your health is restored.
- Alchemy is your friend. Carry potions of restore health and paralyze. The benefits of restore health are obvious. Even a one-second paralyze will buy you about five seconds while your opponent keels over and has to re-orient themselves.
- Bring a companion with you. They won't be seen unless you are and they are excellent at drawing enemy fire. And they can't die unless you kill them yourself or they fall to their deaths.
- Level your conjuration. Flame atronachs are relatively easy to summon, do good damage and also draw fire. If they die, just summon a new one.
- Learn to use a bow. There will be times you can't easily get up close and personal and bows are much more effective for a sneaky character than destruction magic (as should be clear from Shamus' article).
- Save often. You will still die frequently.

In the late game, all characters are melee fighters. By then you will be all but invincible anyways.

Braddon Dent:
i think the DnD system of a limited amount of overpowered spells works best in these sort of games

Nah that just means you've got OP but narcoleptic mages. "Well I just facerolled that fight, time for a nap".

Don't worry, melee sucks too. There is no impact in your attacks and your hits just go trough enemies. It's very "airy".

And bow and arrow? I had to shoot 6 arrows to this guy's head before he died. And he was a mage!

I actually think the robes in Skyrim looked cool. I admit though, I was really only focused on restoration magic. I went onehanded/resto heavy armor. It is awesome.

Alleged_Alec:

So how does it work for people who actually want to go into close combat?

Go into close combat. Stealth archery is the strongest by far, but outside of assassination missions melee is still crazy overpowered if you have good crafting skills.

Has the writer for this never played morrowind?
Seriously mages in morrowind had to be the most viable and over powered class in the game, soon after you join the guild you get the ability to make spells from the effects you have spells for which leads to soultrapping buffs to yourself and extremely lethal destruction magic along with an army that you can summon that never expires.

If anything in morrowind a mage was the most lethal class, in skyrim you may need some mods to make them powerful which is fair enough considering how powerful they used to be, can't say much on oblivion since I haven't put that many hours into it yet and haven't been too focused on mages as by that point I was more into stealth builds.

I also felt the mage side weak, but once I went with an Arcane Fighter combo I enjoyed the game much more.

Sidenote my already OP mage is currently playing through: The Last Altar
Pretty long questline for a mod that is mainly there for the reintroduction of spellcrafting into Skyrim. Even adds a whole new area and several dungeons.

Overall, I liked the system in which Skyrim gave its perks, but I would've liked to have seen some synergies for ALL tech trees.

For example, investing in Fire spells and specialties from the Destruction tree should make Flame Atronachs from the Conjuration tree either more efficient or more powerful.

Or, delving into Alteration results in making Ward spells more powerful - such as the ability to deflect physical ranged attacks or enhanced damage reduction/magic absorption.

You're a melee class that uses 2-handed axes? Invest enough in your melee skills and you'll be able to conjure a 2-handed axe with a random magical property! Add in Extra Effect for being a Master Enchanter, and you get 2 random properties!

Oh, you use a shield AND you can use Restoration? Invest enough in both, and you can summon a Ward while raising your shield!

Got Impact from the Destruction tree? Awesome, 'cuz now you can dual cast Illusion spells to make them more effective against higher level enemies, have a larger radius and/or last longer than ever before!

Got Snakeblood from the Alchemy tree? If you have Necromage from the Restoration tree, gain a 50% resistance to disease as well as an additional 25% resistance to poison!

You have Arcane Blacksmith active? Conjuring Armor will have added benefits now!

You know, that kinda shtuff.

Captcha: spread the net

Oddly fitting for this example, Captcha.

"But as a mage your skills are scattered over Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Illusion, Mysticism?, and Restoration, and these skills have no synergy."

Mysticism? Someone didn't look at the skill trees, or even visit the wiki for half a minute. Mysticism was rolled into conjuration, alteration, and restoration in Skyrim.

Magic combat in Dawnguard is much better. Using the sun fire spells is very satisfying and absolutely destroys dragur. Generally, though, magic is very weak in Skyrim. Despite that fact, I'm still expecting TES: VI to be the best game ever released.

Each fighting style has advantage and disadvantages, magics disadvantage was being stat heavy with great scaling. A mage in Morrowind could clear a city with 1 fireball, but a Kwama Kuttle can easily kill one at level 1.

So I suppose you didn't try summoning or illusion magic yet?
Yes destruction is a waste of time (then again, you can STUNLOCK DRAGONS WITH DUAL SPELLS) especially on consoles since every higher level spell has to be aimed like a precise railgun but thankfully, that's not all you can do.
Especially illusion magic levels up hilariously fast if you keep spamming buffs on npcs.
It completely breaks the game if you dual cast it to double the level limitation so you can literally walk through dungeons without anything attacking you or you can watch enemies fighting themselves with silent casting and sneaking or flat out invisibility.
The max level spells even affect entire dungeons outright.

As for summoning, as soon as you can summon deadric lords, you have broken the game.

And you don't have to wear robes.

Yes, Magic is easy to friendly fire with. There was so many times I was shooting magic spells around for fun that I would eventually hit some npc and have them instantly turn on me. Fuck, I just slightly burn my helpers and they just start attacking me like I'm the real enemy.

Is there a mod to stop friendly fire? Or at least one that stops the npc's go berserk after?

I tried going all Illusion magic once. Its amazingly effective at killing small groups of bandits over the course of ten minutes and very weak at everything else. Also they only made 3 different spells for it which is both uninventive and poor balancing.

Yeah, totally. I stayed with my dad, last week, my main form of entertainment was playing Skyrim on the Xbox. No mods, of course. I had fun which came with playing the game, naturally, as I do, but the main issue was that the magic my character used sucked utter balls. I deliberately kept my weapon skills lower than it to avoid overshadowing it too much. Emphasis on too much. Yes, it was worse even with the perk advantages.

But being the sentimental dimwit I am, I persevered with my magic for the entire stay. But things got worse and worse as I levelled. To begin, I had a nice low damage spell that took out enemies in the nick of time before they could close the distance. Usually. For reference, I played on expert, and we're talking the usual bandit rabble. But for apprentice destruction, I took on the lightning bolt spell. It does about the same amount of damage overall as if I used my sparks spell for its duration, probably slightly less for the time saved in a few quick zaps, but my magicka was gone before I knew it and I was forced to run around like a pansy while I waited for it to recharge, which it does at 33% of its usual rate during combat. I understand, lower the rate to make combat harder, but that would only make sense if the magic was powerful in the first place! Which it isn't!

Reaching adept, like anyone would, I moved on to chain lightning and lightning cloak. If you hadn't worked it out by now, I was specialising in shock, and had taken a perk to boost it. However, chain lightning used up half my magicka as an imperial who had focused on boosting it every level, as did lightning cloak, and neither did enough damage to excuse it. Even chain lightning's ability to jump between targets wasn't predictable enough, versatile enough or had enough range to warrant such a drain. So it was back to being a pansy or whipping out the good ol' axe (however, it was the Rueful axe, which Bethesda messed up by making it as slow as [if not slower] than a warhammer and not nearly strong enough to make this in any way sensible, so it's not very good at all).

So, back at my mother's house where I have my computer, Skyrim and internet. What do I do? Mods, obviously. A level scaling mod (similar to Oblivion, enemies scale in strength as you level. What? I liked it. And it caps for different enemies at a certain level, so no worries about never feeling strong) and a mod to rebalance magic to scale with me in strength, and to boost magicka regen during combat to 75%. And it's perfect. Playing on expert and having all fun, no rage. Not to mention all the balance-unrelated aspects. All the nice little tidbits such as weapon variants, boosted versions of my favourite armours and more dragons to slay. Skyrim summation: Better on PC.

The only good on Xbox magic user I've ever seen was the High Elf my little brother made. So much magicka, endless spells but challenge remained. That porridge was just right.
Some have mentioned the lack of the ability to equip spells as off-hand in Skyrim being silly. I partly agree. Off-hand spells should be limited to 1, in any case, and for full power, you must abandon your arms in exchange for spells on their own. Then you can still dual-cast and use master spells at a cost of safety.
As for robes and non-armour clothing, It's really beauty in the eye of the beholder. There's little artistic license with a traditional robe, but the mage I mentioned earlier that my little brother created looked fancy in the ArchMage stuff. That's a pretty creative looking robe, so I wouldn't say Skyrim's completely dead on that front, referring to Skyrim specifically, of course. Oblivion's robes all used the same model, and you didn't get the nice alteration perks to encourage you to use them!

Then again, you can be a battlemage...why not both? However, Oblivion ruined the image for me. I can't help but think of a Breton in full daedric with a magicka-boosting birthsign one-shotting everything with lightningbolts. Seriously man, Bretons were without question the best race. Argonians, coolest race.

However, in Skyrim, every race is kind of awesome-looking. Khajiit were the greatest step up, I think. They really shine in Skyrim. They even gave them their own voice acting for shouts, rather than reusing the human one, again...I guess they thought 5 or so times was too much. Anyway, I'm starting to ramble, so it's time to hit the post button. Again. Because this is an edit.

Magic's power level was fine. You could clear the game with it no problem even at high difficulties.

What was terrible is the play-style. A crowd-control juggle is fine (which is what magic was, even destruction) but your entire direct damage tree having one useful combo that you spam is not in any way even remotely acceptable. Timed buffs are fine, but baseline "you're a little bit better" incremental buffs need to have LONG timers, anything with a shitty 2-minute timer needs to be a buff of OVERWHELMING power and probably an associated cooldown. Making me recast a shitty mage armor variant every couple minutes is incredibly annoying.

That and, as a direct caster, you couldn't really do much else. A melee character could toss other stuff into the fray, like illusions or pets, just by taking a short break and messing around. Someone using spells as their main offense had to keep stunlocking or they'd die.

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