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!
With that in mind let’s take a look at ten games, which, in one way or another, made using magic a true eldritch blast!
15. Wizard of Legend
Casting the spells in Wizard of Legends 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 not being able 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 reflex-reliant. Definitely a recommended title.
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 a distinctly RPG quests and several storylines going on at the same time. It 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 build a magic circle using enchanted materials. Or you could play with rune magic, which will require you to learn several combinations to cast spells.
13. Mages of Mystralia
This game was suggested by a user, and upon inspection, it definitely should be on the 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.
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.
Closed Alpha version is actually free. If you’re ready for it. Get it here.
11. Citadel: Forged with Fire
Citadel: Forged with Fire is an MMO, which isn’t exceptionally popular, but has some interesting ideas.
It’s 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.
Pull the strings of reality
Low on this list, because it’s still very much in Early Access, comes CodeSpells, a game which kind of goes meta in terms of its magic system.
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, and I’m eager to see where this goes. Teaching people how to code simple functions is also a nice bonus, somewhat 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.
9. Dragon’s Dogma
Calamity at your fingertips
Ok, so while all the other games on this list have spell systems which invite a some measure of creativity, Dragon’s Dogma has a somewhat rigid ability system overall. What nets it the place on this list however, is the sheer 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 to cast while your NPC followers (Pawns) try to keep enemies from maiming your unsculpted wizardly posterior. But, oh dear, when the spell drops, it’s cataclysmic and awe-inspiring. Take a look at compilation made by Youtube user FluffyQuack (great username, by the way!)
I don’t 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. Now pass ketchup, please.
8. Arx Fatalis
Casting the runes
We have written about Arx Fatalis in passing before, but 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 corresponding to specific phrases in an arcane language, 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, and your instant casting menu can hold only three spells at a time, spent upon casting.
As a bonus the spells, when translated (in your journal,) actually do make some sense. A classic Fireball, for instance, uses a sigil-phrase Aarn Yok Tar, which translates to Create Fire Missile. Switch Yok for Fridd, and you get an ice projectile. And do remember: that was over a decade before everyone lost their minds over three-word phrases in Dovahzul. After a short while of playing a caster in AF you realise why wizards need time to cast their spells. And also why you probably shouldn’t give them that time if you got on one’s nerves. Aarn Mega Yok!
7. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Before Skyrim, spellcasting was more than just another projectile. It was a study, and devotion, and it gave you more freedom than the Nords will ever understand. Mostly because 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 how much gold you had left 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.
6. Two Worlds II
Pick a card
You probably never heard of it, or have seen that for some bizarre reason this game got a DLC a few months back. Nobody’s blaming you for it, but despite its obscurity and certain “jankiness” takes spellcrafting in an interesting direction.
It’s based around cards, which you mix to create magical effects. You have effect cards, split between five schools with several branches (e.g. Air splits further into Air, Life, and Lightning). Then you have carrier cards which define how the spell works: an enchantment, a missile, maybe a summon. Finally the modifier cards improve effects (increase damage, duration, protection), or change how projectiles work (ricochet? Spray? Or maybe they home in on your enemies?). The number of possible effects is huge, and it includes things like an anvil tornado (honestly, how often do you get to type such a phrase?), projectiles which summon creatures, or automatic revives activating when you die. Messing around and testing new combinations is a ton of fun, and provides a great incentive to look for new cards in the world.
5. Lichdom: Battlemage
Gym wizards do number crunches
What do you get when you mix a first-person shooter, an Excel spreadsheet, and powerful magic? Lichdom: Battlemage, that’s what. And it’s a curious beast. On the surface level, the one you see in trailers and gameplay videos, it looks like a magic-focused FPS with truly awesome-looking effects, courtesy of CryEngine 3. Depending on how to craft your spells you have your usual projectiles, homing or otherwise, powerful beams, targeted area of effects explosions, traps, damaging pools… the game has it all, and all of it looks great. At any given moment you have access to three (out of eight total) sigils granting you control over elements like fire, ice, necromancy or kinesis, and each of them lets you setup three spells (aforementioned projectiles, AoE Nova, and Shield).
Underneath it all, however, there is a complex spellcrafting system, which requires a ton of number crunching and good memory to handle properly. Do you set up a combo with a Mastery spell to maximise the damage of a Destruction one, or grab a Mastery-Control combo to give yourself some breathing room for a second? The math is complex, synergies are complex, and the fights are frequently frantic enough to cause confusion in an inattentive player, especially when juggling spells becomes absolutely necessary. But when it works, the ludicrous gibs fall like it’s a rainy season.
4. Divinity: Original Sin 1&2
Outsourcing your magic
Divinity: Original Sin is no stranger to our lists, but in few places it feels as right, as it does here. While magic in the first game was incredibly entertaining, with spectacular spell combinations. There’s nothing quite like watching a fiery bolt spark explosions in a poison cloud. The sequel blows it out of the water completely, however, with some certifiably devastating combos creative players have discovered. Some time ago there’s been a report of a player creating an infinite damage combo using just a couple spells and exploiting their cumulative effects.
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.
Lore is power
Obsidian’s unfortunately low-key production launched last November 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 has a cost levied against your Lore skill, so a powerful bookworm mage with Lore 200 can add more and stronger accents to their spells than a petty dabbler with Lore 40. The effects defined by Expressions range from short-range bursts and long-range profectiles to auras, devastating multi-hit AoE strikes, and large-scale debuffs.
And one of the best things about Tyranny’s magic system is that it really is rooted in the lore. Each of the 11 Core sigils available in the game (Fire, Frost, Lighting, Stone, Emotion, Illusion, Life, Terratus, Vigor, Entropy, Force) is was created by studying Archons, who created a given effect. For instance Sigil of Emotion was developed by studying Sirin, the Archon of Song. For once magic’s existence isn’t handwaved. This is a welcome change.
2. Magicka 1 & 2
From your powers combined
Yes, we did write about it too. It doesn’t change the fact that 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 certifiably devastating combinations over the years, in a way turning spellcasting into a 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 for yourself a narrow and somewhat slippery path across a river, or launch yourself into the air with a mine.
And please, make sure you are dry before casting lightning spells.
1. In Verbis Virtus
Use a microphone to cast spells!
Oddly enough, the book-ends of this list are two games capturing in real-life some fragment of what it must feel to be a reality-reshaping sorcerer.
CodeSpells was all 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?
The magic’s gone
Sorry, I only had ten spell slots today. I need to finish a long rest before I can do anything more here. If you know other games with cool, interesting, or just downright spectacular magic systems in video games, please, do let us know in the comments. Let’s bring magic back into the world for a moment.