The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition will be released in about 6 weeks. That’s a good amount of time to start thinking about what kind of mage builds you want to try when it hits the shelves.
…because you are going to play as a mage, right?
The way I see it, there are two main ways to play mages in Skyrim:
- Be a generalist. You invest points in every single school and enchanting, making you a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none.
- Specialize. This allows you to focus on just a few schools and roleplay more. And no — just because you’re roleplaying doesn’t mean you need to speak like you just stepped out of Medieval Times.
The very first character I build in Skyrim was going to be a generalist. But over time I realized it wasn’t how I really wanted to play, so I re-rolled. I found that by specializing, you give the game much more replayability and you’ll probably have more fun.
That’s why I put together a few different mage builds to try. My personal favorites are #2 and #3, but I’m a weirdo.
Skyrim Mage Build #1: The Pyromancer
When I was a kid, we used to call one friend of mine a pyro… but really all of us were. What boys don’t like to play with fire?
Skyrim gives you several opportunities to burn down your enemies. Rather than having to wait for a sunny day to burn bugs with a magnifying glass, you can just shoot fire out of your hands.
Fire is great in this game because not many enemies resist it. This makes sense, considering you’re in the coldest part of Tamriel.
Here are a few core components of this build:
- Destruction: Flame Cloak wraps you in flames, burning any enemies that get close. Fireball lets you shoot… well, a fireball. Fire Rune allows you to set traps that explode when enemies walk over them.
- Conjuration: Flame Atronach conjures a fireball-shooting, ninja-kicking, floating being made of fire to fight for you. It also explodes when killed- an “Up Yours” move towards your enemies.
- Fire-Enchanted Weapon: You’re a mage, so you (theoretically) aren’t the strongest person in the world. But that doesn’t prevent you from wielding a fire-enchanted dagger or bow for when you run out of magicka. You could also use a fire staff.
As far as other skill trees go, Alteration for mage armor makes the most sense, although I personally find it annoying to constantly re-cast it. Hopefully some great magic mods come out for Skyrim: Special Edition that grant a longer duration for mage armor.
Mage Build #2: Controller
I love Illusion spells.
There are basically four branches — Calm, Fear, Fury and Courage. The Controller uses all four.
- Calm is best used in situations where you’re outnumbered and need to improve the odds. It causes your enemy to just stand there and essentially ignore you.
- Fear causes the enemy to run away. A friend of mine used Fear in caves to make all of his enemies run to the back, where he’d then use…
- Fury causes things to start fighting everything it sees. If you’re closest, it will go after you. If its best friend is closest, your enemy will turn around and start smacking that friend.
- Courage is a buff to cast on allies. Controllers typically travel with companions, as they do a lot of the dirty work and mop up the last enemy after the rest have run away or killed each other.
Personally, one of the most satisfying feelings in Skyrim is watching enemies take each other out due to Fury. But the other spells are fun as well. Calm is great if there’s just one enemy (like an animal) and you don’t really feel like fighting it.
Keep in mind that your main role with this build is to use Illusion spells, but it doesn’t hurt to have some kind of damage-dealing ability like a weapon or Destruction spells.
Skyrim Mage Build #3: The Necroblade
Some people call this build a Nightblade, but I think of them as two different things.
Nightblades use Illusion spells to complement their sneakiness. Necroblades lean on Conjuration — namely Necromancy.
Here’s how a typical dungeon might go:
- Sneak up behind the first enemy you see and slit his throat.
- Raise the body as a zombie to fight for you.
- Get other enemies nearby to start looking for you. You can do this by shooting an arrow into a wall, or they may have heard you casting the Raise Dead spell and be doing this anyways.
- Your zombie will hear the enemy talking and seek them out, then start punching (or biting) them in the face.
- Rinse and repeat.
I love this build because it’s the most sinister one I could think of in Skyrim. You’re taking out enemies before they even get a chance to fight, then turn their dead bodies against their friends.
Meanwhile their friends have no idea what just happened. All they know is one minute they’re hanging out drinking mead, and the next minute their former friend comes around the corner as a zombie ready to eat brains.
And you just hang out around the corner and laugh.
…or something like that.
Mage Build #4: Priest
What better way to follow up a dark, evil build with a light, holy-ish one?
Think of the Priest build as your basic healer build in an MMORPG. Namely, the one in Everquest.
Your job isn’t to take down enemies, but instead support your allies as they do most of the dirty work.
There are several ways you can do this:
- Restoration – Healing your allies and keeping their stamina up is your key focus.
- Illusion – The main spells you’ll use here are buffs like Courage. You can use the others, but that’s getting more into the Controller build.
- Heavy Armor – You can’t keep your buddy alive if you die after one hit. Wear heavy armor to help you stay alive.
- Mace and Shield – The mace is because you can’t always rely on your companion doing all of the damage — especially during big fights with dragons or large groups. The shield is to help with survivability and bash enemies going after your buddy.
I suppose you could also call this a Paladin build, but generally Pallies are on the front lines whereas the Priest is in the back and only enters the fray when necessary.
Skyrim Build #5: Dragon Priest
There’s a bit of lore behind dragons and the dragon priests that served them. …but you don’t need to read all of that stuff if you don’t want to.
Here’s how a Dragon Priest plays:
- Mask – The most important thing is to wear your favorite Dragon Priest mask. Each mask has different stats and colors, so I can’t really tell you which one to wear. In general though, you should choose one that helps Mage stats like schools of magic, such as Vokun or Nahkriin.
- Robes – Most mage builds use robes, but they’re especially important with a DP build. All Dragon Priests you find in the game are wearing robes, so you should too!
- Staff – The staff you use is up to you, but a strong Destruction staff is best. Obviously one of those from a DP is preferred.
- Destruction – Dragon Priests hit fast and hard with Destruction magic. Pick your favorite and run with it.
- Conjuration – One of the most annoying things about fighting Dragon Priests as a Conjurer is that they tend to turn your atronachs against you. Be prepared to do the same with your Dragon Priest build — sending enemy minions back into their ranks is good fun.
The main roleplaying aspect I’d say to keep in mind is that DPs served dragons. Therefore it doesn’t make sense to go the Dragonborn/main quest route unless you are justifying it by saying you are a rebel Dragon Priest or something like that.
The best thing about Skyrim: Special Edition is the sheer number of possibilities available. These five builds are just a few. There are many more combinations you can try, like a Druid or Pacifist build.
Whatever you choose to do, good luck and have fun in Skyrim!