Why would I want to press that button?

| Monday, May 28, 2012
Skyrim has some pretty awesome spells.  Skyrim has some pretty awesome kill animations, especially for melee, though seeing a pair of firebolts hit the chest of a necromancer in slow motion  and send him flying, that's pretty awesome too.

I've played a stabby sort of character who sneaks up and stabs people.  I was good at stabbing people.  Or sometimes it was more of a cutting motion.  It seemed to make the necks of my enemies happy.

I'm currently playing a tank: daedric plate armor, heavy shield, sword, and a build based on hitting things with my shield.  I can swing my shield.  I can swing my shield harder.  I can run while holding my shield and send people flying.  I really like areas with cliffs.  If I'm not in a shield sort of mood, I sometimes shop people's heads off.  I'd tried this sort of thing in Oblivion, but it didn't work very well; I just had terrible damage.  Shields weren't nearly as useful back then.

Sometime I want to try using a two-handed weapon.  Watching Lydia, the animations seem pretty nifty, and with the block I can hit people with the pommel, which as we all know, is awesome.

Skyrim has some fantastic melee.

Skyrim also has some fantastic spells.  I can scare my enemies, make them stop attacking, make them attack each other, banish daedra, summon daedra, place traps, surround myself in flames, shield myself from damage...  I can adapt to a million situations.  Or none.

Until I start enchanting, my damage doesn't scale.  Melee can pick up new weapons and bam, higher damage.  In contrast, finding fancy new robes allows me to... cast spells slightly more cheaply.  Yea, because we go OOM constantly.  That's not sarcasm.  That's how sad it is, that just not going OOM as soon is an upgrade.  Not doing more damage per second, just being able to throw flames for a few extra seconds.  Admittedly, a caster can eventually get to the point of having free spells with the right enchanting, but that's a bit lame if you ask me.  Free crap isn't better!  It reminds me of when I made my sneaky type in Oblivion, where thanks to the awful stealth mechanic, I was terrible.  I got around that by enchanting my armor to the point that I was completely camouflaged and therefore effectively invisible.  Abusing a game mechanic doesn't really seem like the funnest way to do things.  On top of that, enchanting isn't mage-only, so my melee can use it too, to great effect.  Meanwhile, a mage could pick up blacksmithing for more durability, but if he wants to get the real damage gains, he's going into the melee trees, at which point, why is he a mage?

But at least I have my perks!  Let's see: cheaper spells.  More cheaper spells (by which I mean additional spells, rather than spells which are "more cheaper").  Ooh, I can double-cast for extra damage and further along it does a stagger effect.  But double-casting means I'm no longer able to multi-task.  I can nuke hard or heal hard.  Thankfully, switching spells pauses, so I can switch between the two, but pausing constantly, particularly in the middle of a fight, is lame.  Beside any sense of power, there is the fun, and constantly interrupting the fight is not fun.  Contrast that with my melee who blocks with right-click, can switch to attacking by the simple action of no longer holding down the right mouse and using the highly-complex left mouse button to attack.  Or in my case, thanks to my perks, I don't even have to stop blocking; I can left click while blocking to hit people with my shield, dealing modest damage and interrupting casting and power attacks.  Jumping back to the perks: melee perks give added damage, more added damage, neat tricks with my shield, and cheaper power attacks for one or two-handed weapons (no luck for shields, but that's okay).

Meanwhile my summons are... well maybe eventually they're good, but currently, my wolf dies in about two hits, if it doesn't run away first.  Yea, but summoned familiar flees the battle.  Or maybe that's the AI switching to a really far away target.  Either way, it's useless.  But at least I have my companion for a tank, who can then die to my spells if I'm not careful.  I could reposition, but if she's not between me and the enemy, she's not really blocking them, since there are no taunts.

Much of the problem is one of interface.  Because spells are 'equipped' rather than based on hotkeys, switching spells uses the same interface as switching weapons.  I don't have to switch weapons very often unless I'm going from sword to bow, which will happen maybe a couple times in a long fight.  Spells, much more often.  All those neat effects I named, those need a switch, so I fury one enemy and fear another (so far it's one per hand, so I'm alright), and then if I want to attack or defend, I have to switch, and then back if I need a new fear.  On the plus side, if this doesn't all go correctly, thanks to my cloth and low health pool (I need magicka) I am probably already dead.  Wait... that's not a plus side.

It got so bad that I started starting Skyrim, glancing around for a few seconds, considering finding a cave of bad things to fight, and then quitting.  Skyrim was just plain not fun anymore.  The thought of playing it made me slightly uneasy.  It was repulsive.

Then I did the smart thing and stuck the saved games for my mage in a folder and pulled out my shield-smasher again.  And went off to smash people with my shield.  Fun again!

The mage just doesn't have particularly good buttons.  Maybe the problem is that it doesn't have buttons.

On the other hand, maybe the problem is that the situation is too similar to this old video from a long time ago in an Orgrimmar a long time ago.

World of Roguecraft, Episode Three (I'd embed, but that's blocked)  I did not make this video (I'm not that awesome), but the rogue does talk a bit like I do when frustrated.

Take note of what they say: the warlock (mage) doesn't gain much from stats while the rogue (melee) does.  The rogue can get a huge damage upgrade just from a new weapon.  The rogue claims that they "need that extra crit chance because our moves don't do as much as casters", which if we pretend that he said "hit" instead of crit, then we can compare the similar damage output, but the fact that unless the enemy is in your face, bolts can miss.  In terms of acquiring gear, the mage is going to have to enchant to get far (do the robes that drop ever stop being terrible?) whereas the melee can pick up whatever their enemy drops.  Though it's not quite as bad as the warlock, since if you do get an 'epic' staff, you can wield two staves of fireballs, which are pretty damn amazing.  Though unless you get lucky from a chest, getting one means fighting something that already has it, and those things hurt!

I know some of you people play Skyrim, so I put this question to you: do mages become fun?  How?  How long does it take?  Should I quit whining and glue myself to an enchanting table?


caerphoto said...

I never got really far with my spell-flinger, unlike my stealthy-stabby one (who could eventually 1-shot most things when attacking from stealth), but the general sense I get from reading various things is that to really be effective as a mage, you basically need to put points into the summoning perks, and let your minions do most of the damage while you chuck a few token fireballs into the fight.

Anonymous said...

"do mages become fun?"

Mine was, but I think I cheated. I went the hybrid route and made a sneaky stabby mage, using the Conjuration tree to summon magic weapons, which are equivalent to unenchanted top tier crafted weapons, as I understand it. Then I dabbled lightly in the other schools: Illusion for silent casting, Alteration for buffs, Restoration for healing and shields. The rest of my points went into one-handed weapons and sneaky stabbing.

I couldn't tell you if a full-on, robe-wearing, Daedric-fearing, spell-slinging mage was any fun, but it's certainly possible to create a fun mage, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I found sword n board to be so effective that every other approach felt painfully underpowered. Killing dragons with a bow or magic or, well, anything other than a 1h and shield took forever and the risk of being instagibbed was omnipresent.

Klepsacovic said...

@Andy: I'll have to look up where to find more powerful summons. My wolf just isn't cutting it.

@melmoth: I did something a little like that in Oblivion. using invisibility as a replacement for stealth and alteration as a replacement for lockpicking. Maybe I'll try that again. Thanks for the idea!

@Anonymous: It's the interrupt, isn't it? Without bashing or a knockback, there's not much to be done about enemy casting or power attacks.

Azuriel said...

You can assign spells to hotkeys, by the way. Open your Spell menu (P), hover over the spells you want on your Quick Menu and then press (F). Now when you press (Q), you will have a easier time quickly switching amongst your favorite abilities. However, you can do one better: with the Quick Menu open (Q), hover over a spell/item/Shout/etc and then press (1), (2), etc. Then close the menu.

With those assigned, you can instantly switch between spells by pressing the hotkey with no pauses needed. It also works instantly between 1H+shield and 2H weapon.

As for your primary point, you are correct: mages do not scale in Skyrim. If you feel up to mods, I know there are several Steamworks mods that rectify this issue, although I never bothered to do so myself. Once you taste the power of killing dragons with two arrows from stealth, why go back?

Klepsacovic said...

I've been using the quick menu. I'd probably have quit playing without at least having that. For a melee it's good enough. For a caster it gets messy.

What I meant by hotkeys was what we see in WoW (or most MMOs really): press button, spell or attack happens. This means there isn't the spell-switch delay.

Copernicus said...

My first character was a mage. It was a bit slow to start, but after a while, double cast lightning bolt was so powerful that I got bored and stopped playing him. I never used fear or charm spells, nor did I summon familiars of any sort.

Celendus said...

I had much the same problem with my destruction mage: Murder, murder, oom, flail some sort of staff and hope lydia kills the thing. If mages instead had some sort of Evocate button, they'd be more fun. You'd go offensive when your mana was full and would have to play defensively with snares and CC when it came time to regenerate. Maybe have regenerate scale opposite of armor, so that plate healers aren't completely indefatigable.

Coreus said...

I agree that spell hotkeys would be a really nice addition to Skyrim.

I found my mage more fun when I turned the difficulty up to max and was forced to use more than just a single offensive spell. I put points into buffs, healing and summoning because all those things suddenly became important to keep me alive.

The best recommendation I can give is to purchase the healing talent that causes your healing spells to refill your stamina meter as well, so you can dodge and sprint around like a mad thing practically forever while you wait for your mana to regenerate so you can go back to casting offensive spells.

I never use companions, because unlike my Flame Atronach they seem to be ridiculously susceptible to death by friendly fireballs.

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