Look, magic is awesome, okay?
Swords, bows, crossbows and flintlocks are great too, but they rarely tie into the lore of a given setting as well, as magic usually does. Besides, through study and willpower magic users can make reality itself obey them. That’s just badass. No bulging bicep is veiny enough to stop a fireball to the face, is what I say! Through magic games can enable players to do stuff that would be hard to justify otherwise, not even far-future nanobots can accomplish stuff some spells make look easy!
There are many games with magic, but how many games are there with COOL magic? With good systems for creating spells and/or spectacular displays of power? Quite a few, it turns out, and seemingly new ones pop up every so often, because really, why wouldn’t you make magic happen in a medium where so much can be done?
With that in mind let’s take a look at a whole bunch of games which, in one way or another, made using magic a true eldritch blast!
|Pillars of Eternity||2015-03-26||RPG||Obsidian Entertainment||Read more|
|FINAL FANTASY VII Remake Intergrade||2021-04-10||RPG||Square Enix||25%||Read more|
|Star Wars The Force Unleashed||2009-11-03||Action & Shooter||Aspyr Studios||86%||Read more|
|Dragon Age: Origins||2010-09-29||RPG||BioWare||70%||Read more|
|Dragon Age: Inquisition||2014-11-18||Adventure||BioWare||67%||Read more|
|Magicka||2011-01-25||Action & Shooter||Arrowhead Game Studios||91%||Read more|
|Mages of Mystralia||2017-05-18||Action & Shooter||Borealys Games||89%||Read more|
|Tyranny||2016-11-10||Adventure||Obsidian Entertainment||95%||Read more|
|Fictorum||2017-08-09||Indie||Scraping Bottom Games||87%||Read more|
|FINAL FANTASY VII||2013-07-04||RPG||SQUARE ENIX||48%||Read more|
|Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II||2010-10-26||Adventure||Aspyr Studios||78%||Read more|
|Two Worlds 2||2011-02-03||Adventure||Reality Pump Studios||94%||Read more|
|Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Obsidian Edition||2018-05-08||RPG||Obsidian Entertainment||86%||Read more|
|Magicka 2||2015-05-26||Adventure||Pieces Interactive||91%||Read more|
|Avencast: Rise of the Mage||2010-03-17||RPG||ClockStone Studios||Read more|
|Noita||2020-10-15||Action||Nolla Games||30%||Read more|
|Dark Messiah of Might & Magic||2006-10-25||Fighting||Arkane Studios||Read more|
|Outward||2019-03-26||RPG||Nine Dots Studio||57%||Read more|
|Wizard of Legend||2018-05-15||Indie||Contingent99||80%||Read more|
|Citadel: Forged with Fire||2017-07-26||Adventure||Blue Isle Studios, Virtual Basement||Read more|
|Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen||2016-01-15||Adventure||CAPCOM||90%||Read more|
|Arx Fatalis||2002-11-12||RPG||Arkane Studios||67%||Read more|
|The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind||2002-04-29||RPG||Bethesda Game Studios||70%||Read more|
|Lichdom: Battlemage||2014-08-26||Indie||Xaviant||72%||Read more|
|Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition||2015-10-27||Adventure||Larian Studios||38%||Read more|
|Divinity II: Developer's Cut||2012-10-29||Action & Shooter||Larian Studios||77%||Read more|
|In Verbis Virtus||2015-04-03||Adventure||Indomitus Games||Read more|
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
Some might argue that the Force isn’t magic, but that’s nonsense: it provides telekinesis, mind control, lightning generation, healing, precognition and more. It’s totally magic, and it’s perhaps greatest expression on video games is The Force Unleashed. It gives you not only staggeringly intense Force powers, but also a physics engine which makes using them a ton of fun.
Galen Marek’s Force Pushes don’t just push items and people around: they deform walls and crush glass windows. When he grabs an enemy, he can flail them around, and the victim will do their best to grab onto something before being flung far, far away. It’s not a complex magic system, by any means, but it features some progression and makes you feel like a real force of nature.
Dragon Age: Origins & Inquisition
Mages in Dragon Age: Origins were devastating. Their top-tier spells could cover the entire room in elemental destruction, provide useful healing, generate buffs, and, importantly: interact in interesting ways. You could, for instance, cast Stone Fist at a petrified enemy and have good chance of shattering them. You could also conjure a storm by mixing Blizzard, Tempest, and Spell Might.
Discovering new combos was exciting, but sometimes a bit chaotic in execution. The opposite end of the combo spectrum came with DA Inquisition. It features a system based on disablers inflicting statuses on the enemy, and detonators, which exploit them for extra damage or several different potential effects, such as terrifying the enemy, or extra elemental effects.
Black & White
|Genre:||God Game & RTS|
Black & White puts you in the role of a brand new god, represented in the world as a disembodied hand. It’s not a cursor: you are literally a hand, capable of picking stuff up, petting your divine Creature, and, indeed, tracing glyphs which summon miracles. There are many spells, both benevolent and destructive, and you’ll need to be quite precise when you draw some of them.
Your creature can cast your spells too, if you spend some time teaching. When that’s done, you’ll often see your faithful beast trace the same shapes you do, and casting smaller versions of your huge miracles. The trick is to teach the Creature how to use the miracles properly. Black & White was unique, charming, and using magic always got the feedback from your worshippers.
Final Fantasy VII & Remake
|Release:||1997-01-31 / 2021-04-10|
Final Fantasy VII, what a game. Seeing how rich this game is it should be no surprise to see it also pop up on a list of games with cool magic systems. In this case, it’s all based on small balls of crystallized magic, called Materia. To use Materia in battle you have to put it in slots in your gear, and if you have linked slots, there are some interesting things you can do with the spheres.
If you socketed a Support Materia in a linked slot, it would modify the effects of connected magic. For example, Sneak Attack would give a chance of using the linked Materia at the start of a battle, while Final Attack deploys the linked effect when the character die. There are many cool combos and exploits to discover, and you’ll need them if you hope to defeat the Weapons.
|Developer:||Scraping Bottom Games|
Few games allow you to not only customize your spells on the fly the way Fictorum does, and fewer still bundle that flexibility with deeply destructible environments. While many games start magic at 1 and let you go up to 11, in Fictorum you are already at 6, and quickly go up from there and you figure out how things work. Turns out, for all the flexibility: it’s not hard to grasp at all!
The secret ingredient are the runes you can use to customize spells you discover. They come with a whole variety of effects, and each spell can handle up to three, with possible type limitations. As you cast, you enter a sort of Tactical/Magical Pause where you can decide how much influence each rune has over the spell’s behavior. It’s flid, spectacular, and needs less math than Lichdom.
A Noita one bites the pixie dust
In Noita you play as a witch let loose on an environment composed of pixels fully simulated in the game’s physics engine. Wood and vines burn, stone crumbles and falls, water flows and pools the way you would expect. Which is important, because the main gameplay of Noita is based on interacting with said environment using a vast array of premade and custom spells.
Truly, few games have interactions and physics going as deep as they do in Noita. With a properly-configured wand or a custom spell designed by modding (explained well on the game’s wiki) anyone could unleash a wave of destruction cascading through the screen. Don’t be misled by Noita’s pixel aesthetic: the animations are smooth, the simulation is complex, and colours are vibrant.
Pillars of Eternity
Columns of Transcendence
While the core ideas of spellcasting in Pillars of Eternity are very similar to the way Dungeons & Dragons currently does it, there are some classes which do interesting things with it. Take, for example, the chanter class, a local version of a bard. They can combine ancient magical phrases into a chant providing a custom mix of effects, and after a few sung phrases they can unleash unique spells.
Priests have a power which increases in strength if the characters behave in a way their god favours. Be a contrarian and you won’t be doing quite as well with these powers as a devout follower would. Same goes to Paladins. There are also Ciphers who can’t target themselves or areas with their abilities because their abilities affect and are powered by souls. Even wizards must juggle their spellbooks.
Path of Exile
|Developer:||Grinding Gear Games|
Path of Exile is a fantastic free-to-play action role-playing game with a dark, gloomy atmosphere and gameplay which will certainly appeal to any fan of Diablo. And it has one of the best progression systems in the genre. It’s has two sides. One side is the intricate web of passive abilities you explore by spending skill points. The other side is the slot system, letting you put various skill gems in your equipment.
Some items have linked sockets for the gems. When you put in an Active Skill Gem and add a compatible support gem, you’ll modify the way the given skill works, for example adding an AoE effect, or increasing the number of times an attack bounces between enemies. These magical gems are just as useful to warrior-type characters as to primary spellcasters, and some combos can be devastating.
Path of Exile is free to play game, you can buy additional chaos orbs
Avencast: Rise of the Mage
Avencast: Rise of the Mage is a little-known game from 2007 which had some cool ideas about representing spellcasting in an action RPG. Instead of a hotkey bar filled with spell icons, you unleash abilities by putting in specific combinations as if you were playing a fighting game. There are two leading types of abilities: soul magic for traditional spells, and blood magic for melee powers.
It’s always fun when casting spells requires more conscious effort than just tapping a hotkey (although it IS an option in Avencast), so playing as a battle mage using button combinations from fighting games to cast devastating abilities felt right and was quite enjoyable, too. There was even a story to everything that was going on, involving forgotten legacies and unfulfilled prophesies.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
Slapstick with magic
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic doesn’t necessarily come to mind when one thinks about cool magic, there are spikes to kick people onto, after all. But, in fact, it does have a magic system that’s fun to use because of how it interacts with the world. It shouldn’t be surprising – the game came from the makers of Arx Fatalis and future makes of Dishonored: Arkane Studios. No wonder spells are fun.
As a caster you could blast an orc with a firebolt, sure, but it’s more fun to set up some oil and set it ablaze. You could freeze someone, but it’s more fun to coat the ground with ice and have them slide into some spikes or off a ledge. The arsenal of spells isn’t huge, but quite a few of them can be used in interesting ways and the maps are built in a way that encourages experiments.
Wizard of Legend
Casting the spells in Wizard of Legend isn’t particularly complicated: you press a button and it just happens. The art lies in being clever about when you use them and where you aim them. See, many of them have cooldowns, and when you need to dodge, dash, and zap being unable to cast a spell at the moment might be the difference between life and death.
WoL is a pixel-art rogue-like, and every skill at your disposal is a spell. The fights can get quite intense, especially if you built around quickly refreshing spells. The screen then becomes covered in nice pixel-based special effects, and your enemies fall in battle, like they should. It’s fast, it’s satisfying, and takes good reflexes. Definitely a recommended title.
|Developer:||Nine Dots Studio|
The world is open, but your stats are too weak
Outward is a fantasy survival RPG, which isn’t something one gets to type often. It has all the survival game features, like hunger, exhaustion, or warmth, but it also has distinctly RPG-like quests and several storylines going on at the same time. You even begin with a time-sensitive task, assuming you want to keep your house. More importantly, Outward also has a magic system which makes you work for it.
Outward’s magic it more ritualistic in nature than in most games. For example, to cast a basic fire spell as anything more than just an equivalent of a match, you have to set up a magic circle using enchanted materials. Or you could play with rune magic, which will require you to learn several combinations to cast spells.
Mages of Mystralia
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
This game was suggested by a user, and upon inspection, it definitely should be on this list. With a story devised by one of the creators of the Forgotten Realms setting, Ed Greenwood, Mages of Mystralia was bound to be something special. And it truly is. It looks very friendly, in a cute cartoon kind of way, but don’t let it fool you. Its magic system is mighty and allows for a lot of customisation.
Spells are built on a special board on which spell factors are arranged. If you want your fireball to curve to the left for whatever reason, you can do it. Curve to the left and bounce off the wall? Easy. If you want your magical shield to reflect arrows at your foes and create a burst of three fireballs from the point of impact, that’s doable too. You’re pretty much only limited by your ability to connect spell aspects and your mana supply.
If you got tired of co-operation in Magicka, and just want to blast some fools, then you should take a look at Spellbreak. At least if you aren’t adverse to the Battle Royal genre. That’s right, Spellbreak is a wizard battle royale, fought over a conveniently secluded island where you can let your magical might loose upon others, thanks to gauntlets proving you with elemental powers.
By itself it may not sound awesome, but it starts to when you find out the spell effects can be mixed. Throw a poison spell into a tornado you cast seconds before to turn it into a toxic vortex, or turn a meteor into a huge snowball. It’s fast, spectacular, invites player skill, and leaves plenty of room for entertaining emergent chaos. There’s even some story for those of us who like reading lore.
Closed Alpha version is actually free. If you’re ready for it. Get it here.
Citadel: Forged with Fire
|Developer:||Blue Isle Studios, Virtual Basement|
Massively Multiplayer Mages
Citadel: Forged with Fire is an MMO which isn’t exceptionally popular, but has some interesting ideas. Its spellcrafting system is closely related to the weapons you want to imbue with magic, with different effects possible for different weapon types. For example a gauntlet will have “blast” and “beam” shapes, in addition to “Self” and “Utility” common to all weapon types.
You can also add ingredients to enhance certain spell factors like range, or life leeching. There are several Essences you can build your spells around, like Arcana (raw magic), Nature, or Storm, and each of them has unique effects for each spell shape, like self-targeting effects, beams, or utilities. Available shapes are defined by the weapon you use for casting.
|Genre:||Indie & Action|
Pull the strings of reality
Despite being very much in Early Access, CodeSpells is a game which kind of goes meta in terms of its magic system. Usually, capturing the mystic side of a fireball – the elements going into casting, the way reality reshapes to accommodate it – is something we…don’t really do. All of it happens in the mind and soul of characters we play. CodeSpells changes it.
While our character draws on the mystic layer of the universe or something, we are coding the game itself to make fireballs happen. It’s quite ingenious, really. Teaching people how to code simple functions is also a nice bonus, reminiscent of an old game called Colobot. It’s probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a video game magic system capturing what it would feel to be a wizard.
Calamity at your fingertips
Ok, so while most other games on this list have spell systems which invite some measure of creativity, Dragon’s Dogma has a rigid ability system overall. What nets it the place on this list, however, is the joy and feeling of power you get out of casting the big spells. You know, the ones you need to channel for half a minute while your NPC followers (Pawns) protect your unsculpted wizardly posterior.
But, oh dear, when the spell drops, it’s cataclysmic and awe-inspiring. Meteors fall from the sky. Icicles twist through the air. Tornadoes descend upon your foes I don’t know about you, but I can forgive miniscule flexibility when as a recompense I’m getting a good show of why making wizards angry is just as bad an idea as meddling in the affairs of dragons. When the staves come out, just run away.
Casting the runes
One of the reasons the game shouldn’t be forgotten is its approach to magic. Throughout the world (or through a rather silly cheat early on) you discover runestones from which you assemble spells. The trick is that you need to draw the individual sigils by hand every time you want to cast a spell. You technically have an instant casting menu, but it can hold only three spells at a time, and they are spent upon casting.
As a bonus the rune phrases actually do make sense. A classic Fireball, for instance, uses a sigil-phrase “Aarn Yok Tar”, which means “Create Fire Missile”. Switch Yok for Fridd, and you get an ice projectile. After a while of playing a caster in AF you realise why wizards need time to cast their spells. And also why you shouldn’t give them that time if you got on one’s nerves. Aarn Mega Yok!
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
Before Skyrim, spellcasting was something…more. It was a study, a devotion, and it gave you more freedom than the Nords will ever understand. Morrowind, for instance, actually allowed you to create your own spells out of all the formulas you learned. The only thing you had to pay attention to is the price and what you’re realistically able to cast, as your mana isn’t a bottomless wellspring.
The system allowed for some crazy combinations, and provided ample room to tweak the specific numbers as well. It was a spellcrafting paradise. Sure, much like Arx Fatalis, Morrowind looks pretty dated today, but it’s not something mods can’t solve, and in turn you get a truly magnificent game, free of modern fillers and nuisances and filled with engagingly bizarre world and layered story.
Two Worlds II
|Developer:||Reality Pump Studios|
Pick a card
You probably never heard of it, and that’s fine, but despite its obscurity and certain “jankiness” Two Worlds II takes magic in an interesting direction. It’s based around cards you mix to create spells. You have effect cards, split between five schools (Air, Fire, etc.) with three branches each. Then you have carrier cards which define how the spell manifests: as an enchantment, a missile, maybe a summon.
Finally, the modifier cards increase certain numbers, or change how projectiles work (ricochet, spray, or maybe a homing missile?). The number of possible effects is huge, and it includes things like an anvil tornado (how often do you get to type such a phrase?) or projectiles which summon creatures on a hit. Testing new combinations is a ton of fun and encourages looking for new cards.
Gym wizards do number crunches
Lichdom: Battlemage mixes a first-person shooter, an Excel spreadsheet, and powerful magic. At any given moment you have access to three (out of eight total) sigils granting you control over elements, and each of them lets you setup three spells. Depending on how you craft them you have your usual projectiles, powerful beams, AoEs, traps, shields… the game has it all, and all of it looks great.
Underneath it all there is a complex spellcrafting system which requires number crunching and memorising the interactions. Do you set up a Mastery-Destruction combo to maximise the damage, or grab a Mastery-Control combo to give yourself some breathing room? The math and synergies are complex, and the fights are frantic, but when it works, the ludicrous gibs fall like it’s a rainy season.
Divinity: Original Sin 1&2
Outsourcing your magic
Magic in the first game was incredibly entertaining, with spectacular spell combinations. There’s nothing quite like watching a fiery bolt causing a poison cloud to explode. The sequel blows it out of the water completely, however, with some certifiably devastating combos discovered by creative players. With enough creativity even an infinite damage loop isn’t out of the picture.
It doesn’t hurt that the game is designed specifically to let you play around with its systems, providing alternative routes to success should you go overboard and destroy a seemingly vital part of a quest. And then there’s skill crafting, which provides yet ANOTHER layer of complexity and flexibility to the mix. This way you can, for instance, make BLOOD RAIN FROM THE SKY.
Lore is power
Obsidian’s unfortunately low-key production flew completely under the radar of many people. Which is a shame for many reasons, one of them is its spellcrafting. In Tyranny you create spells using Core sigils defining the school of magic, Expression sigils controlling how it manifests, Accents improving its individual parameters, and Enhancements applying a single additional modifier.
Each of these sigils requires a different level of the Lore skill, so a bookworm mage with Lore 200 can build stronger spells than a petty dabbler with Lore 40. The effects range from short-range bursts and long-range projectiles to auras, devastating multi-hit AoE strikes, and large-scale debuffs. Tyranny’s magic system is also rooted in the lore: Sigil are derived from studying the mighty Archons.
Magicka 1 & 2
From your powers combined
Magicka (and its sequel too, of course) has a pretty nifty magic system. There are eight basic effects, and a few more you can get by combining the basic ones, and you mix and match the to create powerful effects. The fanbase has created some devastating combinations over the years, in a way turning spellcasting into a community-sourced QTE, but you can go far with a big ol’ blazing boulder too.
There’s also logic to the game world, so you can use your frost element to freeze a narrow and somewhat slippery path across a river or launch yourself into the air with a mine. And please, make sure you dry yourself with fire before you cast any lightning-based spells. Unless you want to get zapped, of course. There’s also a co-op segment, where the resurrection spell will be used a lot.
In Verbis Virtus
Your voice matters!
Oddly enough, this list has two games capturing in real-life some fragment of what it must feel to be a reality-shaping sorcerer. CodeSpells was about rewriting the world, while In Verbis Virtus lets us actually speak the words of power in real life to cast spells in the game. How cool is that? When was the last time you spoke to your PC to make something happen, not because something happened?
There is a fair bit of lore to explore in the game, especially the arcane language you use to call forth your spells: Maha’ki, the language of the gods. It’s easy to recall the right words when you’re calm, but can you recite the formulas when a monster is bearing down on you? Can you do it precisely, so the game can understand you? Hopefully yes, if you want to compete your journey.
The magic’s gone
Sorry, we only had twenty five spell slots today and need to finish a long rest before we can do anything more here. Either way, as you can see there are many, many games where you can be a wizard you should check out if you’re interested in this kind of thing. Let’s bring magic back into the world!