In the last part of this series of Skyrim character guides I detailed exactly how to create, build and develop a character of my own favourite class – the assassin. This instalment will focus on a hugely popular character class in this, or any other, RPG – the mage.
There are many different types of magic in Skyrim, many different ways to use it, and so many different kinds of magic using character. But for the purpose of this guide, a mage is a character specialising purely on the use of magic spells and powers, with a particular focus on raw magic combat, so we’re not going to be talking about utility magic or support magic that much. This mage is all about sheer magical power and force.
We’ll cover race selection, what skills and attributes to focus on and how to increase them fast, which Perks really help and which are a waste of XP, what kind of equipment load-out you should use and even what quests to prioritise in order to develop the relevant skills and earn bonuses to suit your character’s specialisation.
This is by no means a definitive, rigid set of instructions – the beauty of Skyrim is that you can do anything you want with your character – but it will, at the very least, give you some effective blueprints to work from.
Mages are a popular choice in RPGs because most RPGs have fantasy settings and what’s more integral to fantasy settings than magic? No, not beards. No, not pointy ears. Magic powers tend to be more varied and spectacular, especially later in the game, too, which many players find more fun than just hacking their way through the whole game with samey physical attacks. A mage’s weakness of course is that he’s very dependent on magical power and physically vulnerable. These weaknesses are especially acute in Skyrim which, aside from a few companions, is a solo RPG, in which your character does not form part of a balanced party. So your Skyrim mage has to be able to protect himself.
For a pure magic user there’s no better race than the Altmer high elf. They get a skill bonus to every type of magic, along with hefty bonuses to starting Magicka and Magicka generation. The only slight downside is that they’re not that well geared towards combat magic, so you might want to try one of two other options.
Bretons are the most magic of the human races in Skyrim and are extremely good at defending against magic, as well as using it. Not only do they have a natural magic resistance of 25%, they can also absorb the Magicka from magic attacks using their Dragonskin power. They specialise in Conjuration and don’t get a starting bonus to Destruction, which isn’t ideal early on, but Conjuration does become extremely powerful at higher levels.
The main reason to opt for a Dunmer dark elf for your mage is that +10 starting bonus to Destruction, the most to-the-point combat magic you can get. They’re handy with Illusion and Alteration too and their fire-based trait powers are cool but, aside from Alchemy, their non-magic skill bonuses aren’t great for a pure mage.
Magicka should obviously be your main focus as a mage, but it’s worth bumping the other two up here and there just to make sure you don’t end up an ultra vulnerable wussy.
Every Destruction spell is essentially a weapon so for a character specialising purely in magic, Destruction is a must. If you essentially treat Skyrim as an FPS then you’ll rack up your Destruction level in no time.
This is essentially a mix of bound weapon spells, which aren’t much use to a pure mage, and summon spells, which are really useful. Even the weak ones are good for drawing enemy attention away from your poor, vulnerable mage, and the stronger ones will be powerful enough to fight most of your battles for you. Having a summon ready to cast the instant enemies are encountered is a good habit to get into.
The spells might be boring protection and healing types, but overall Restoration is a pretty useful skill, not just for mages, but for any character, really. Of particular use for mages though, are the Perks that improve Magicka regeneration.
This school of magic boasts a good variety of spells, mixing support magic with psychological effects on enemies that can make them much easier, less threatening opponents. Using a Calm spell followed by a Destruction attack is a solid strategy.
It’s mostly utility spells in this school, which are useful, but you’ll hardly want to be ploughing that much focus into them. Combat-wise you’ve got various types of protection spell, which are handy given that you’ll probably not be wearing any armour and, later on, Paralysis spells, which are even better than Calm spells for keeping your targets still.
This Restoration Perk speeds your Magicka regeneration, which is useful for any mage, no matter what your particular specialisations.
The coolest way to top up your Magicka is to absorb it directly from enemy spells, and that’s exactly what this Perk allows you to do.
Aspect Of Terror
It’s supposed to just give a bonus to Fear spells, but this Perk also enhances the damage done by Fire spells (because they have a fear effect). It is technically a glitch and might get patched, but you might as well take advantage while you can.
This Perk adds a stagger effect to most of your destruction spells, which can be incredibly useful, especially when faced with charging enemies. More efficient than using a separate Calm or Paralyze spell too.
Higher level Summon spells are powerful as they are, but doubling up with this Perk makes some of them ludicrously good, especially Dead Thrall.
It’ll be no surprise to learn that the most powerful item for mages can only be earned by completing the final main quest of the College Of Winterhold mage faction campaign. It has generous bonus to all magic skills and to both Magicka and Magicka regeneration. Also note that despite the built-in hood, you can wear these with a circlet or Dragon Mask.
This Dragon Mask might count as heavy armour, but it’s still great for a mage, thanks to huge bonuses to Destruction and Restoration, and a pretty hefty one to Magicka too. It can only be obtained during The World-Eater’s Eyrie quest towards the end of the main campaign. Just don’t forget to loot Nahkriin’s body when you defeat him – you can’t come back.
This is the perfect staff for the mage who wants to summon a badass Dremora – and what mage doesn’t? – but can’t be bothered spamming lesser Conjuration spells in order to get good. It’s a reward for completing the quest A Night To Remember.
Staff Of Magnus
Another item only available during the latter stages of the College Of Winterhold campaign. It has huge range and capacity and absorbs 20 Magicka per second (Health if the target has no Magicka), making it both useful against mages and useful if you are one.
Skull Of Corruption
The regular damage rating of this creepy, but fun, staff isn’t that great, but if you absorb dreams from sleeping people with it before use it packs more than double the punch. From the quest Waking Nightmare.
This Magicka boosting headware is obtained halfway through the main College Of Winterhold quest line, and its power depends on your level. If you want the maximum bonus of +70, don’t start the Good Intentions quest ‘til you’re at least level 25.
Savos Aren’s Amulet
This +50 Magicka boosting amulet is another quest item from the College Of Winterhold faction. You get it at the end of Containment.
Armor Of The Old Gods or Shrouded Robes
You get the Armor Of The Gods for siding with Madanach on No One Escapes Cidhna Mine and the Shrouded Robes during the Dark Brotherhood campaign. Both give you a +15 to Destruction, the only difference being that the Armor Of The Gods is armour, obviously. For pure mages, I’d suggest going with the robes.
Helmet Of The Old Gods
This Magicka boosting helmet comes with the Armor Of The Gods.
Mythic Dawn Robes
These robes speed your Magicka regeneration and can be looted from the body of Silius Vesuius who lives in Dawnstar. You can, in theory, kill him any time. But it’s better to wait ‘til you’re level 20 so that you can get an invitation to his museum and begin the Pieces Of The Past quest.
Every player starts with this spell, so you might think it should probably suck, but when used properly it’s the most Magicka-efficent spell in the game. Using it in short bursts stacks the “on-fire” damage bonus inflicted on enemies and, as described above, combining it with the Aspect Of Terror Perk makes it even more powerful.
Without Aspect Of Terror, this is the most Magicka-efficient spell in the game. Generally, fire spells are the best kind because so many enemies in Skyrim are vulnerable to fire.
Wall Of Fire
Not a great spell on its own as you’re unlikely to be able to inflict sustained damage with it. But if you can get a companion or summon, preferably both, to pin an enemy in place then you can whack a Wall Of Fire right on top of them and toast them hard.
Shock spells are easy to use because they don’t have trajectory – they hit where you’re aiming instantly. Chain Lightning in particular is the easiest area of effect spell to use as it just does the job for you. The only drawback is that it can hit companions and companions have no sense of self-preservation, so they’re unlikely to stand back out of the way.
Conjure Dremora Lord
Not the most powerful or expensive summon spell, but probably the best for all-round use. Dremora Lords are just double-hard bastards – simple as that. Like many of the best spells, it can only be purchased from Phinis Gestor at the College Of Winterhold.
When combined with the Twin Souls Perk this is probably the most powerful Perk in the game, although it depends on exactly what kind of person you reanimate. Mages are generally best. You can only buy it from Phinis Gestor once you’ve completed his Conjuration Ritual Spell quest, and you need at least 90 Conjuration before he’ll offer that to you.
It’s just easier than carrying around loads of healing potions.
Calm, Pacify, Harmony
These are good in combination with Destruction spells, particularly the slow moving fire and ice ones. It stops enemies hitting you and, what’s more, make them much easier targets for you to hit.
Fury, Frenzy, Mayhem
These spells are particularly useful when combined with Invisibility because that allows you to sneak into the midst of groups of enemies and just set them off against each other.
See above. It’s not really a pure mage kind of a tactic, but it is both funny and effective.
It’s generally easier to enchant a weapon with Paralysis than to put the effort into levelling up Alteration, but you can’t paralyze several enemies at once with a weapon. You can with this very powerful spell, though. You can only buy it from Tolfdir at the College Of Winterhold after you’ve completed his Alteration Ritual Spell quest, and you need 90 Alteration for him to offer it to you. You’ll need to spam a lot of not particularly useful spells to get that far.
College Of Winterhold
This is the must-join faction for mages. To start on its main quest line simply got there and pass the test set by Faralda, who is standing on the bridge leading to the college entrance. Her test will simply be to cast a specified spell (randomly selected from Fear, Firebolt, Magelight, Healing Hands and Conjure Flame Atronach). If you don’t know her requested spell, she will offer to sell it to you for 30 gold, which is a reasonable price.
A Night To Remember
This quest rewards you with the awesome Sanguine Rose staff and to start it you have to reach level 14 then keep an eye out for an NPC called Sam Guevenne, who can show up in any tavern in the game. Speak to him to start the quest.
If you wan the Skull Of Corruption, speak to Erandur in the Nightcaller Temple in Dawnstar. You need to then kill him at the end of the quest to get the Skull Of Corruption.
If you missed our guide to building the best assassin in Skyrim, check it out now.