Monday, January 23, 2012

Skyrim - The Pure Mage

Playing a pure mage in Skyrim can be a fun, rewarding experience.  It can also be absolutely nerve wracking and frustrating - especially if you turn up the difficulty in the game at all.

I've found that playing Pure Mages on the master difficulty can be one of the most challenging experiences video games currently have to offer.  But if you try to take the build I am about to propose and play it on the master difficulty, you need to do so with a warning:  one mistake, and you die.  Playing a glass cannon on the master setting is a commitment to understanding - not just understanding that you'll be saving and loading often, but an understanding of your environment, all your spells, how to use them, and when not to use them.

Not everyone will choose to go the path less traveled and undertake Skyrim on its hardest difficulty - this build will work for everyone, novice and master alike - and should provide you with a base understanding of magical perks as well as the spells they allow you to use more efficiently.

One important note is that unlike Oblivion, Skyrim doesn't let you customize spells.  You can click here to view a list of all the perks in the game, and then from there click on any school of magic to get a full spell list with descriptions.

I used the term build loosely, as I'm not a fan of spoon-feeding people a direct way to play their characters.  Instead I'll explain a few notes, and let you take the perks you feel best augment your playstyle.

-First and foremost, destruction will always be your fallback.  You quite simply can not count on the AI in the game (either via a fury spell, or a conjured minion) to act as you intend it to.  Therefor it's important to not only invest time into your destruction tree, but to consider completely ignoring conjuration as a primary source of damage until it nears level 100 and you receive some of the higher level summons in the game.

*THIS DOES NOT MEAN DO NOT BUILD CONJURATION SKILL AS YOU PROGRESS IN CHARACTER LEVELS.  It means don't count on it as a way for things to die.  Don't blow perks in it until you've rounded out your character, and understand that conjuring weapons mid-fight is the best way to raise the skill, not by summoning minions and hoping they get a few hits off before they die.

I highly suggest building down the fire tree first, and ignoring ice and lightning until your character reaches level 40+, and even then, use them understanding that you could just kill things faster with fire then draining their stamina, or magicka with ice or lightning (respectively).   Completely ignore the intense flames, disintegrate, and deep freeze perks simply because by the time an enemy is already low on health, you can just finish them off with another spell, which you'd have to use anyway to get the effects mentioned in those perks. 

-Utilize the Illusion skill tree extensively as both a time saving device and a primary source of damage (in most situations)  The fury line of spells that makes enemies attack each other can let you clear a room of enemies almost effortlessly.  This, coupled with silent casting and muffle lets you do it while hidden and without risking detection. 

I highly suggest avoiding use of the calm line of spells EXCEPT for situations when you need to rush through an area, and/or pacify an enemy in order to recover.  Pacifying enemies to skip over parts always comes back and bites you in the ass one way or another - especially if you're not the sneaky type.

-Alteration has some incredible perks available to you, from magic resistance to magic absorption.  While just about everything in the alteration tree can be valuable, its important to note that buffing yourself with armor before a fight isn't always possible.  Invest in things like the Mage Armor, Magic Resistance, and the Atronach perks.

NOTE:  If your mage will wear heavy armor instead of clothes, you can somewhat ignore the spells that increase your armor, and you can completely ignore the mage armor perk.

*HOWEVER note that your skill raises significantly based on its use.  If you take the novice alteration perk, and cast oakflesh on yourself once combat begins, you'll get quick skill gains throughout the game.

-Conjuration is great, and really shines late game, but it's little more then a minimal source of additional damage until the skill is at level 75 or so.  Conjuring a weapon mid-combat is the best way to level up the skill quickly.  After that, go for the twin souls perk, and summon your favorite companions of choice when conjuration finally finishes the long trek to level 100.

-Enchantment is something that should be completely ignored, perk wise, until your character is level 35+.  You'll weaken your character significantly by spending perks in enchanting and receiving almost no benefit for doing so.  Once level 35 rolls around, you'll pretty much have your adventuring perks selected and can spend your next few character levels getting enchanting perks and double-enchanting your equipment that you've collected up until that point.

-The restoration tree really is sort of a waste.  While you can throw a few perks during your characters middle levels (10-30) in the magicka casting reduction perks - you'll pretty much always be able to heal yourself to full with the restoration spell every character starts the game with, even without Novice Restoration.  I can't keep droning on about how useless wards are - but aside from being staggered if they break (and they will break often) you can simply sidestep almost every ranged attack in the game.  Don't waste the magicka instead of just strafing to the left.

Combat with a pure mage really comes down to one, obvious, question:

1 - Can I kill everything in this room before it kills me?  (If there are a lot of mages, or a lot of ranged damage, the answer is probably no. If this is the case, fury a few enemies or use your conjured minions as a distraction and then finish off the stragglers).

Rinse, repeat.  It takes some practice, but as I've mentioned - playing through the game as a pure mage is a rewarding experience.  It requires not only cunning and patience but a little creativity in order to be successful.

As always, feel free to leave your feedback below!


  1. There's lots of ways to play a pure mage, and this is just one of them. The author said Know your spells, then dismissed Wards as useless, because he doesn't understand them. I like them, because with the Ward Absorb perk, you can have Spell Absorbtion at will. This gives you a chance to soak up Magica from spells, as well as Dragon Breath, which is very important in this game.

    Dragons are the main enemies of this title, and Wards are the most effective defense against their breath. They also have effective physical attacks, but are slow on the ground, and only breathe on you in the air. All offensive spells have some range, so you can stand back, absorb magic from their breath, and send them right back as lightning bolts, or fireballs.

    Other than that, he has a lot right in what he said.

  2. Knowing your spells is beneficial and each player has their own premise as to what is useful and what isn't. I neglect conjuration entirely and use a follower. They last longer and you can invest into restoration for spells like Healing Hands or Heal Other to keep them alive. Despite the cost of the healing, summoning still costs more overall. In reply to the comment, "Dragons are the main enemies of this title, and Wards are the most effective defense against their breath. They also have effective physical attacks, but are slow on the ground, and only breathe on you in the air," Dragons do use breathe on the ground, which is actually more powerful than when they are airborn, so Ward Absorb is useful only temporarily. Illusion magic is strong against the right kind of enemies, but as you require stronger spells for tougher mind to crack, so does magika cost rise too. IMO the trees to invest in are as chronologically follows: Destruction, Alteration, Restoration, Sneak, Illusion, Enchanting. Agree with me or not, the gameplay is entirely yours.


Got something to say?