Perfect Ten: What gamers need to understand about MMO mages

I'm definitely an elf!

So the first two times I tackled this type of topic for the Perfect Ten column here on Massively OP, I had the advantage of every game having a Warrior or most games having a Rogue, usually using those exact names. Mages, though? There are lots of different names for these guys. Mages, wizard, sorcerers, thaumaturges, diviners, elementalists… the list goes on. There are a lot of names for different classes or jobs or even just loose builds, and they are all still basically the exact same guy just like the Warrior and the Rogue.

Because every single MMO has these guys, too. Sure, they might get a different name and due to a variety of complicated factors that dude over there is technically a Rune-master and not a mage, but it’s still the same guy in every functional way. So now that we’re making this a three-part series, let’s look at what is true about every single one of these experts in the arcane mysteries of standing in the back of the party.

Can you see me?

1. Mages are always waifish, fragile little things

First and foremost, it’s important to note that every single mage is basically physically present only by default. Being a mage means that you have decided to never do any cardio, much less the slightest bit of weightlifting, aside from whatever allows you to run at full speed across a city multiple times to clear a quest. No, every mage will die if someone nearby shouts loud enough, and a punch from a mage hurts only slightly more than a raindrop.

Of course, you might think that a rational mage would thus prioritize defensive equipment and weaponry which can be used with a minimum of skills. Alas, this is not to be the case.

2. Every mage can barely use equipment

Armor is not difficult to figure out. You are wearing a big piece of steel over your chest, which is where you keep your vital organs. Thus, they are harder to reach with sharp pointy things. But no, every mage has no idea why you would bother that and resorts to walking around in bathrobes, dresses, and occasionally snappy suits.

You might try to explain that away by claiming that it’s a matter of not knowing how to dress up in armor and remove it quickly, but this also falters when you consider that most mages don’t even bother with having anything pretending at being a weapon. A staff? Sure, that makes sense; staves can be useful weapons but most of the time the mage just doesn’t even bother holding it. But then you play Final Fantasy XIV and some of your mages are just carrying around books. A book. That’s not a weapon.

Roast somebody.

3. Mages are masters of ancient mysteries

All right, so you might not be able to lift a five-pound weight without mechanical assistance, you get winded walking to the fridge, and you’ve decided that instead of wearing defensive gear you’re going to walk around in soft cloth with all the stopping power of… soft cloth. What do you get in exchange? Ancient secrets.

No matter what, mages have always figured out almost all of their magical acumen thanks to ancient cultures, myths, and stories. This has a lot of resonance; it’s clear that the inspiration for mages are figures like Gandalf and Merlin, people who were valued for their depth and breadth of knowledge. So what does all of the mage’s knowledge mean?

4. …which always means blowing things up

Oh. That works too.

Yes, all of those ancient mysteries and archaic texts involve how to wiggle your fingers and make things combust. Sure, you can’t use a sword, you can’t protect yourself, but you deciphered the ancient tomes describing the path to making fireballs. That’s kind of like a fair trade, I guess? I mean, sure, a Warrior can also hurt somebody by throwing a broadsword at someone, but you can do it without running and yelling.


5. Mages always focus on blowing things up

You might be thinking that while that’s a little bit of a limited focus, surely it’s just a part of being a mage. After all, if we go back to Gandalf and Merlin, both of those characters were well-known not for throwing 15d6 Fireballs at everything but in using magical abilities that had more esoteric functions. Like turning people invisible, or finding unknown paths, or even just buoying the group’s health somehow.

None of that is here. Your Elementalist in Guild Wars 2 has heard about the concept of defensive magic and it made him throw up. As far as MMO mages are concerned, the best defense is a good offense, and the best invisibility spell is blowing up everyone who could see you. The main difference between a Mage and a Warrior isn’t philosophy; it’s whether you break things with fire or with your hands.

6. Mages always have a reason for not healing people

Healing magic is different from hurting magic. Why? Because the designers said so. And so there is always a justification for how the two fields of magic are different and to offer some justification why the mage supports the group only by being a mobile artillery piece, divorced of any larger ambitions beyond “master more ancient texts to learn new and exciting ways of ruining the world with cleansing flame.”

To be fair, it does seem like the sort of person studying old books and who is very into blowing things up is not the sort of person you want as a primary care physician. But you would think all of those arcane secrets could be useful for something other than just the aforementioned fireballs.


7. There is a mage and then there is a mage with a friend

A lot of times, you don’t just have one mage. You have a mage, and then you have another class/build/whatever that is basically just a mage, but this one has a friend. It’s a little summoned pet and it can do everything you would want a magical pet to do, like… well, blow things up! And usually get hit instead of the mage himself.

To balance this out, usually the mage is slightly worse at blowing things up than a mage without a friend. This is also evened out by the fact that there’s usually some faint story implications like you didn’t really earn the power to blow things up, you’re kind of just borrowing it. But it’s all right! Hopefully your summoned friend has a furry coat you can cry into.

8. There is always fire

Elementalists cast fire spells in Guild Wars 2. Black mages cast Flare in FFXIV. Fire Mages in World of Warcraft, there are fire spells in Secret World Legends, I’m going to go ahead and assume EverQuest II has people who just love using fire spells. The ultimate secret of destructive might is all about something that human beings mastered shortly before we figured out that it might be a good idea to put logs together and build a structure instead of freezing to death outside.

On the one hand, fire is definitely an ancient symbol of power. On the other hand, if you’ve got someone who is amazed by creating fire, can’t use weapons or wear armor, and has at best a tenuous grasp of how to do things other than inflict pain… you probably wouldn’t assume they were a secret genius but were closer to a caveman with delusions of grandeur. At least Warriors know they’re stupid.


9. Players get really into being a mage

Some part of the above doubtlessly upset someone, because being a mage is somehow a defining point of pride for an awful lot of people in MMOs. I suspect some of this is projecting, hoping that maybe if you play a mage enough and act like you know what it’s like to be one, eventually you will actually be able to cast fireballs and then all of your high school bullies will helpfully assemble outside of your front door.

I don’t understand why this is, but I also don’t understand what universe would make you think that knowing how to troubleshoot network issues for an IT department and having a lot of information on old He-Man episodes would somehow make you a holder of arcane secrets. So it is possible I am not the target audience.

10. Some hybrid option can always do the magic thing without the drawbacks

Of course, it might suck to deal with all these drawbacks as a Black Mage in FFXIV. But at least you know the cute Astrologian is impressed with you, and she’s going to think you look so cool.

Well, until you notice that she’s mostly talking to the Red Mage, who looks more stylish than you do, and has a sword, and keeps talking about how much she enjoys blowing things up while also being useful in melee. And when the dungeon ends, the Astrologian and the Red Mage head off to spend some time together.

The ancient texts didn’t say anything about how to stop yourself from crying.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at or with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”

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Dean Greenhoe

The only thing folks need to know about “Mages” is that they are basically selfish and lazy.

I should know as that is what I play almost exclusively.

1 We want to damage as many as we can with he smallest of effort
2 We support minimalist industries like grass harvesting for our clothing versus the labor intensive heavy metal mining
3 We greatly dislike chasing our prey do range is king
4 We strategically chose our standing point and will defend to the end
5 We like to look good at all times no matter what we are doing
6 Healing is for those of low self esteem looking for adoration
7 Magic is everywhere, if you choose to not use it, you are just dumb

I will never understand those who chase their prey like dogs when the prey are more than happy to come to you


I’ve been enjoying my Drow Wizard alt in DDO – Pale Master and Eldritch Knight enhancement trees, wears mithral scale mail without a casting penalty, charges into the middle of enemy groups and starts laying into them with a quarterstaff while using a negative energy aura to heal by draining the life force of nearby enemies and dropping a bunch of point-blank AoE spells like Wall of Fire and Cloudkill.

Definitely not an approach which’d work in tabletop D&D, where a caster’s spells can damage them and their allies!


11. Not all of us Mages are pink. :(

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Schlag Sweetleaf


always be casting.gif
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Number One thing to know about MMO mages… you know when you see them in the Cinematics and they are throwing huge spells, and causing mass devastations to large swathes of enemies, exploding castles, and one shotting dragons? You will never be able to do that… EVER.

Number Two thing to know about MMO mages, they are almost ALWAYS elemental based and bland as sh**, with very little imagination put into their abilities or variation.

Number Three thing to know about MMO mages, you see a balrog, if you stand in its way and say “you shall not pass” it will be slowed only by the moment it takes to insta kill you and walk other your feeble remains…

Number Four thing to know about MMO mages, you know how you see mages being depicted as throwing spell after spell after spell… you will never be able to do that, you will have limits, big, joy sucking limits that prevent you from using even a fraction of the spells you know and even then to only a very limited number of times before you have to imbibe some sort of tincture to restore your power because MMO mages run on juice.

Number Five thing to know about MMO mages they all wear dresses… sorry robes, because apparently casting magic means normal attire is somehow no longer appropriate queue *head scratch* who knows why..


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Ken from Chicago

One) Maybe by max level, against endgame bosses–or in your own cinematic where your character is featured in a battle. Maybe. It’s possible. GUILD WARS liked to include your character in cut scenes.

Two) Yeah, with rare exceptions, you’re totally right, easier to come up with abilities of various ascending ranks in different categories (eg, air, earth, fire, ice, lightning, water, etc.).

Three) If you’re seeing a balrog, you’re in a pretty cool cutscene. See above One. Savor the moment.

Four) See above One. Basically when you have all that power, your foe(s) will have more and you will need all it.

Five) Robes are the appropriate attire. Just like big bulky armor is appropriate for warriors and lighter leather armor is appropriate for rogues, thieves, assassins, etc. You’re not going to robe-shame mages because they are awesome in battle (or can be) while being footloose and fancy free. 👍🤣

Adam Russell

ESO mages can wear plate and wield 2H swords.


They CAN, but it does make them a little less effective by depriving them of a bit of their stats. They didn’t fix that aspect of it…which is what bothered me. They created a unique system and then fell into the same trap of forcing you to have to go down the ‘normal’ way you do it in most other games to not be slightly under-powered.

I personally, made a mage with both the tank gear set that causes the lightning shock + the one from Clockwork City that gives concuss + heals you every so often in AoE form, and I was basically unstoppable. I could go stand in huge groups pounding on me, and just watch them get shocked to death essentially. (With a few tanky move usages/self heals.) That’s kind of broken…

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CAN and would WANT or BENEFIT from doing so.. are worlds apart lol

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It all depends on the person and their goals and playstyle. If you value being able to make an individual character with an unusual combination of skills/armor etc you can do that, and that’s a great benefit if you care less about maximizing power and more about making a fun character that you enjoy playing.

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Ken from Chicago

Come to think of it, GUILD WARS “mages” can wear any armor and wield any weapon–for first level. They can’t use any of the higher 19 levels unless its one of the ones mages use.

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AND they can bump up health stat as high as they want. Granted, there are drawbacks to that approach, but ESO does give you the flexibility to be a high-health, heavy armor, mage. Also, you could have your second weapon be a restoration staff and be able to do some healing too.

You won’t be able to run with the min/maxers doing veteran-level stuff but it’s great to have that flexibility for casual/rp play.


I mean, yeah… MMO mages love to blow things up.

But have you seen PnP Mages? Pathfinders (1.0 that is) introduced a unique secondary level system called ‘Mythic Tiers’. It let fighters turn into literal Dragoons with 100+ ft jumps and anime air slashes that can cut through adamantine with just a clipped toenail.

It also introduced Mythic Magic. You think 15d6 is a scary bad fireball? Try 20d10 in a 40ft sphere that bypasses even immunity while also burning the heck out of you. Talk about Magic Missiles that are restricted in range by ‘target you can see'(telescopes work for this). Talk about ruining literal miles of life in one casting of a spell. You could literally force someone to dance until they die!
You could, over time, create a levitating fortress and then rain down acorns from a thousand feet above that act like grenades! From Feather Fall! Feather Fall literally turns things into grenades. And then you could have permanent skeletons that pick up those perfectly fine acorns for you to use again. And then use ‘Modify Memory’ to make literally everyone on that Plane of Existence forget that you did it–including even written notes if you so desired–and blame some other schlub instead through it!

Oh, and you can literally stop time for hours. Go Straight DIO and ‘Roodo Rorra-Da!’ on some poor fool, and you’ll even have the time to find one! Or… Just blow up a lot of stuff during it.

Point is, those Mages knew how to really blow stuff up. I’m kind of happy that Pathfinder Online never got so far as to eventually contend with that kind of stuff. Mythic was straight broken–I’m talking like… Potential 30-50 AC naked kind of broken (least that was possible during the playtest material my friend got and was running at the time. Mythic Toughness definitely changed, it doubles Toughness now and gives bonuses below 0 HP, but before? It gave +200 health which… that is frightening. Especially if a Mage decided to go for it.)

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Ken from Chicago

1. “Glass meet cannon.” “Cool idea, shooting shards of glass at our foes.” “No, the cannon will be made of glass, hard to see, until it’s too late.” “Um, I have a bad feeling about this.”

Well actually, a scientific study of rhe profession often called “mages” reveals there are a category of defensive spells, most famously, Magic Shield. It was featured in the pilot of STRANGER THINGS, where Will Byers had to choose between Magic Shield or, you guessed it, Fireball. Yes, you know which one he chose. But he had a choice.

And, yes, as you note later on, mage philosophy often leans towards a best defense is a good offense. A warrior turned into a frog or pile of ash doesn’t require much of a defense from.

2. Again, a scientific survey of mages find perfectly logical explanations for them using only cloth … (giggle, chuckle) … “armor”:

Time spent on researching, memorizing and master their ancient arts leave little if any time for cardio, ergo they lack the strength to wield weapons and armors.

Armor tends to restrict their movements often required to cast certain “spells”.

Often, depending on the nature of rhe realm or dimension, metals and animal skins tend to disrupt the “flow” of arcane energies.

3. Nothing to add except, you nailed it!

4. Fire good. Fire out of thin air? Even better. People fear when rhey don’t know where exactly the fire is coming from. Sometimes just the threat of fire can accomplish what you want.

5. #NotAllMages are into fire. Some like ice and freezing stuff left and right, long before Ilsa came along. Also, some are water weavers and earth benders.

Muggles tend to focus on fire because it’s literally flashier. So you get distracted from the *other* stuff mages do.

6. That’s jusy science. Specifically, Second Law of Thermodynamics. The universe tends toward entropy. IOW, it’s literally easier to destroy than to construct. That’s why fission power is way easier than fusion. (Talk about your fire.🤣)

7. Ah, the mage with a “friend”. Yep, they can be the muscle when you don’t have any. Yes, they can take the hits so you don’t have to but usually if they die you, well, maybe not die, tend to get hurt. Basic quantum entanglement. 👍🤣

8. Ugh, again with the fire? This is what I’m talking about. Muggles are the ones obsessed with fire. You’re so distracted by fire you miss the average mage slipping a basic dagger through your heart. 👀😱🤣

9. Mage lore is that mages tend to be antisocial. Gandalf’s line about wizards being quick tempered and all. For … some … reason a lot of geeks are into rping that.

10. Hybrids tend to be limited into variety, duration, frequency, speed, power, intensity, etc., of “spells”. There’s always a cost. As for romance, people are attracted to power and for mages, wizards, elementalists, psionics, etc, that power *grows* with age. Warriors get old, fat, slow and dead. Rogues get slow and fat and get pick pockets so easily or fit into chimneys, vents, run away as easily and thus get caught and get dead. Old warriors and old rogues are jokes. Old mages are feared and envied. Gandalf and Merlin were old as dirt and everyone sought them out. 👍🤣

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Ken from Chicago

Also 5. & 7. Some are transformers aka shapeshifters who can change into different creatures so they can become even more powerful than warriors and do more damage or stealth than rogues.