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.
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.
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.