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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2011
Mages are an extremely versatile, powerful character archetype to play in The Elder Scrolls series, and the fifth installment of this outstanding franchise is no different.
Mages can also be frustratingly difficult to succeed with (I can personally vouch for that...), but when done "right", they can be some of the most powerful of characters to play.
Due to my strings of failures at creating Mages in the past, I had to look at how I was playing a Mage, and realized upon careful observation, that I was playing them in directly opposite the way that I should.
So I tweaked (severely) my playing style, and over the course of three characters I created this guide to making the most out of your Mage.
Character race is just as important as anything else that I mention in this guide. While any race can make an efficient Mage, some races are more naturally suited for the job than others.
Altmer (High Elves) are the most naturally suited for the job of Mage. Their starting Skill scores in each of the six schools of magic average between 20 and 25, and they have the highest starting Magica score of any other race. The down side is that they also have a 100% weakness to magic, so investing in magic protections is a must if you pick this race.
Dunmer (Dark Elves) are another great choice for a Mage as they are proficient in Destruction (starting Skill of 25) as well as Illusion and Alteration. They have a racial 50% resistance to Fire, which helps out wonderfully against spells of that type as well as Dragon breath. The downside is that their racial ability of Ancestor's Wrath is really only useful at early levels being that it is a weaker (by far) version of the Flame Cloak spell.
Bretons (Half Elves respectively) are my final choice to play a Mage. Their starting Skill scores are average, but they come with a hefty racial resistance to magic. This is great in defending against spells from the Destruction school, but also means that it takes much more magic to heal them with spells from the Restoration school.
As far as the other races are concerned; Argonians, Khajiit, Nords, Bosmer (Wood Elves), and Imperials are all middle-of-the-road in terms of magical prowess. You can make efficient Mages out of them, but they are far from the premier choices.
Schools of Magic
With six schools of magic available to your Mage character, it's extremely tempting to want to create a "Renaissance Mage" who is good at all of them. This is a temptation that must be resisted!
Perks are few and far between (one per character level), and with liberal use of the six schools, simple math says that there is no way to get everything you want for your Mage if you are putting points into all six schools.
My solution is to plan out your Mage well ahead of time. A little planning for the direction that you want your Mage to go in will help you along the entire course of your Mages career.
Pick two or three schools of magic (max should be three in my opinion) and focus your Perk points in those three schools. This will keep you on the cutting edge of competitiveness in the game (remember that your enemies level up in direct relation to your characters' levels...), while also enuring that you have the Perk points necessary to build your Mage exactly as you want (my personal favorites are Destruction, Illusion, and Conjuration).
Eventually, you will hit a point where you gain a character level, but your individual skill levels for your chosen 2 or 3 schools aren't high enough to use another Perk point. Don't fret. You can either save the Perk point and use it later, or you can carefully place it into one of your secondary schools. This ensure that when you might need said secondary school, you will probably have a spell just powerful enough to give you the help that you need and be useful, but it won't take away from the schools that you are primarily focusing on.
When placing Perk points in Destruction, it's also very tempting to try and Master all three element types (Fire, Frost, and Shock). I've found that it's best to focus on only one or two element types, this way the school of Destruction isn't eating up valuable Perk points that need to go into another school you are focusing on. I usually let Frost be the neglected one and focus on Fire and Shock.
Why Frost? It has an amazing ability to drain Stamina off of your enemy as well as doing decent damage, however this is the home province of the Nords. Nords are highly resistant to Frost damage, and most of the NPC enemies that you meet in the game are going to be Nords. So I go with Fire for the extra damage it does when a target is burning to death, and Shock against the enemy Mages as Shock also drains Magica whilst damaging Health.
The Destruction Perk 'Impact' is a must have for this school! The Perk description reads: "Your spells have a chance of staggering your enemies when dual cast." This is amazing, because if you have also taken the Augment (pick an element) Perk, then it's possible that you can keep pelting your enemy and stagger him/her with every hit of the spell! An enemy that can't attack you while you plug them with magical death from afar is the best kind of enemy. Can you imagine using a dual cast Chain Lightning spell on a group of Bandits or Draugr? The usefulness of this Perk can't be described strong enough.
For the school of Illusion, get your skill up to 50 as quick as possible and get the Quiet Casting Perk. It makes for a very, very sneaky Mage (you make no sound when casting any spell in your repertoire), and when coupled with the Muffle spell...well, your enemies will never know you're there until they're hit with your Frenzy spells. Or drop a Dremora Lord into their midst. You get the idea.
Speaking of Dremora Lords...
For Conjuration, these summoned combatants will literally save your butt as a Mage in Skyrim. They tend to run intercept and draw the aggro of your enemies off of you and allow you to toss spells around from a safe distance while still engaging the enemy for extra damage. With the right Perks, you can have two Daedra or Undead servants with you at a time. You can also almost double the amount of time that they stick with you to around the three minute mark. Until you get Dead Thrall... the sweetness of a permanent, high level undead Follower cannot be praised high enough! Also, if you dual cast the summons, then it creates a more powerful (i.e. longer lasting) version of the spell just like any other dual cast spell does. Conjuration is easily one of the more powerful schools of magic built into this game.
Alteration is important as it deals mainly with protecting you for those enemies who do happen to get close. The 'Mage Armor' Perk coupled with highly enchanted regular clothes (no armor or the Perk won't work!) can give your Mage an Armor Rating the equivalent (or better than) a Warrior in Heavy Armor. Definitely useful. Also the Transmute spell is one of the best ways to fund your Mage's education in the game! It turns Iron Ore into Silver Ore, and Silver Ore into Gold Ore. The Gold Ore can then be smelted into ingots, which can then be crafted into very valuable (to sell) Jewelry... there's your funding.
Enchanting is very important (I always have it as a strong secondary skill after my first three choices) and can outfit you with equipment that can drop your Magicka costs to cast spell in a certain school down to zero! Plus, enchanting weak items with weak enchantments and then selling them is another great way to fund your career.
Restoration is obviously great as it's the school that holds all of the games healing spells. It also turns the undead which can come in handy in a pinch when exploring a long-forgotten crypt. The ability to turn undead are also a wise investment for those "uh-oh" moments in the aforementioned crypt, and the NecromagePerk can't be touted enough for all of you Vampire Mages out there. Believe me, with the way it will beef up the spells that you use upon yourself, the Necromage Perk is a reason in itself to play as a Vampire!
Followers will save your butt!!!!
As I mentioned earlier, Followers are almost a necessity for Mages in Skyrim. Not only do they run intercept on enemies that are rushing you (which enemies often do...), but they can be given commands to operate suspicious looking levers, trip wires, hold extra loot, etc. etc.
I hihgly recommend getting a Warrior follower for your Mage as opposed to getting another Mage or an Archer.
An Archer is a ranged character, and when teamed up with your Mage, that makes for two ranged characters. When in combat the enemy has to rush somebody, and if given the choice, the game will have the enemy rush you and not your follower. This is pretty counter-productive to the whole point of having a Follower in my personal opinion. Go with a sword-and-board Follower instead. Their "valor" in protecting you by rushing an enemy and keeping it at a distance is invaluable.
Having a Mage Follower is just redundant in my personal opinion, though a serious argument could be made in regards to doubling your magical firepower... this choice is up to you. Though if you should choose to have another Mage as your Follower, I highly recommend the Khajiit that you will meet in the College of Winterhold. Go ahead and test out his scrolls for him (it isn't very hard...), and then he'll follow you. Trust me, he's a competent Mage.
But for my Mages, I typically go with a standard sword-and-board Warrior Follower as they (pretty reliably) give me at least three degrees of separation from my enemies, and even if I accidentally tag them with one of my spells, they typically have enough Health to survive it.
Plus, a follower effectively doubles your loot carrying capacity, which comes in handy as raising a Mage will get very expensive.
Loot and Training
Sell what you can't immediately use. Why? Some things might be tempting to hang onto for later possible use, but this is a behavior that we need to burn out of you (heathen). Because Magic levels so slowly in comparison to your (and thus your enemies) character levels, there will need to be much gold spent on training in the magical schools in order to keep your Skill levels in competition with that of your enemies.
Join the College of Winterhold, which is the equivalent of the Mages Guild in Skyrim. You don't have to do the Colleges quest line (though it's very well written should you choose to knock it out), but know that the College has within its walls a Master Trainer for all six schools of Magic!!! Plus the trainers also run small shops out of their own inventories, so you can always keep your arsenal of spells up-to-date with regular trips to the College.
Joining the College also gives you a free room where you can rest and sleep, plus it's free storage for the things that you do want to keep. The storage in your room at the College is safe, none of the containers in your room respawn, so feel free to pack as much loot in them as possible, and then sell it all when you have the chance.
When you level up, you obviously get to raise one physical stat for your character before choosing where to spend your ever-so-valuable Perk points. Obviously, Mages are going to want to pump their points into Magica for staying power in a variety of situations, but don't neglect your Health stat!
Even with all of the Magica in the world, eventually an enemy or three might get past your carefully laid plans and accidentally poke you with the sharp end of a sword. It happens and Health is there to keep you from expiring like old milk.
I've found that increasing your stats on a 3:1 ratio of Magica:Health will keep your Health gaining at a fairly decent rate for survivability while still making sure that you have all of the Magica that you need for any spell situation.
Now, so far I've neglected Stamina, and for good reason. Aside from increasing your carrying capacity (which your followers can help out with), the only other real use for Stamina is in lengthening the amount of time that you can Sprint (to remove yourself from a bad combat situation of course...). So for a Mage, Stamina can pretty successfully be forgotten about since your Magica and Health stats will pretty much take care of every need that you'll have. Should you decide that you're going to toss a few points into Stamina, I'd personally adjust the ratio to 4:2:1 just to make sure that you stay on top of your game.
So that's it for my Guide to playing a Mage in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
If anyone has any problems or improvements that can go into this guide, then please let me know. I'm more than happy to keep learning and adding to this massive piece of work.
My next Guide?
Why my personal, absolute favorite character archetype of course!