24 May 2010

Mixing Mage Mechanics

One of the frequent accusations a Mage suffers from in Warcraft is about our buttons. Apparently we have two of them and we spam them repeatedly. We ignore everything else on the screen – for all we care we could just have a couple of small icons at the bottom, with large yellow numbers appearing when we press them.

As mages we all know there’s more to our class than the robe and the pointy hat. If there wasn’t we’d be little different to Warlocks, except maybe with a better education and less irrational fear of sunlight. But how often have we peeled back the robe and looked at how our class works? When it gets down to fundamentals, do we really have the best game in the world?

The Gatling Gun Mage

If you think of a Warcraft Mage, you’re thinking of this guy. He spends his time casting spells as frequently and as potently as possible. The player can frequently be found mashing buttons, frothing at the mouth and cackling wildly. It’s one of those very pure and raw mechanics that instantly provides you with feedback on how you’re doing. Push Button, Receive Bacon.

It also means that being a mage is directly linked to your performance. If you’re the top of the damage meters you’re good. If you’re somewhere in the middle you need to push your buttons harder. If you’re at the bottom you’re a Warlock. It doesn’t matter what spec you play or what gear you have. If you’re pro it will show.

The Spellweaver

For some mages, a thirst emerged for something more cerebral and involved than just mashing buttons. A further concept emerged, where a mage would start by casting one spell, but would then elaborate on it further by drawing on additional components to make something truly special. Age of Conan was a game that demonstrated this, although it began to become more of a caster version of Dance Dance Revolution than anything else.

There is still this unmet dream of a mage pulling off some incredible spell, the skies going dark and the boss being hit with a column of fire as a devastating finishing move is unleashed. It feels counter-intuitive that the most devastating mage a spell has in his arsenal is the same one he’s been using for the last seventy four levels but just hits harder.

The Master of Buffs

For the real back-seat mage, the concept of dishing out short duration buffs and debuffs is a possibility. Working in a similar way to a healbot, your sole purpose would be to apply damage buffs to your party members and vulnerability debuffs to their target. Your job is then managing and juggling all those buffs to make sure the rest of the group still does shedloads of damage.

The problem with this model is that you become a passive and boring symbiote that cannot exist without a group to support you. You give them buffs, they give you loot.

Besides, there are no big yellow numbers. Well, none that you’ll see anyway. And life’s all about big yellow numbers.

The Ritualist

You remember those Warlocks? They have a collection of spells that require others to help them – the common ones being Summoning party members and Soulwells. To be fair though they also have a couple of other tricks up their sleeve – have you ever played Doomguard Roulette for example?

The basic mechanic is that a cluster of mages group together to cast spells in the midst of battle, pooling their power to launch a powerful attack at the enemy. Trouble is it means you’d need to take more than one mage with you into battle. It would also mean that as your mages died (from standing in the bad stuff of course), the amount of power in the pot would drop.

So if you were to build your own mage from scratch which bits would you pick? What would you choose from the jumbled box of parts in order to make the ultimate wielder of spells? What would you avoid completely – what would be the last chocolate left in the box? As always, leave your ideas in the comments.

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