NOTE: There is a short version of this guide at the very end for those allergic to walls of text.
Hello all! I picked this game up about a week ago and I've played through it a couple of times now. My last playthrough was on a mage/healer (meaning concentrating on both Elemental and Divination). This was a class that I originally had trouble with because I kept finding out that I had put too much points into this or that because there was an item that would boost a skill or because a skill was useless or capped beyond a certain point. If you’re someone like me who likes to optimize their builds, you know that this is unacceptable. So I wanted to gather all relevant information into one guide for other people like me who like to optimize. I'm posting this here so you can poke holes and suggest improvements. I'm especially unsure about the optimal equipment part since I haven't looked at any equipment lists and I'm only going by what I've found in the game. Here goes.
Part 1: Why mage/healer?
To me, it was obvious from the very start that if I were to play a mage, it would have to double as a healer. There are just too many useful divination spells out there to miss, and seeing all those scrolls on vendors and not being able to use them even though I was playing a caster would be really annoying. There are also no big problems playing mage/healer because they have the same main requirement (perception) and other requirements (intelligence and wisdom) are very low and easy to fulfill. There are also more than enough skill points available to max out both Elemental and Divination. I haven’t tried out other hybrid classes but I imagine at least a fighter or a ranger would be quite difficult to combine with a mage because of skill requirements and restrictions on wielding when spellcasting. A mage/healer comes naturally.
Part 2: Origin, Axiom and Class
Rifter is a must for the origin because of the PER and WIS bonus. You are free to pick any Axiom you want, but I will note that the bonus from the Druidic Axiom for mana regeneration above ground is really great. This is how it works in the endgame when you have maxed out your mana regeneration stats (i.e. reached 38 perception): Without Druidic, you will regenerate 1 MP every 3 steps regardless of where you are. With Druidic you will regenerate 1 MP every single step when you are outdoors and above ground, but only 1 MP every 4 steps when you are in a dungeon. If you are like me and like to power through the game, you will be spending most of your time in dungeons, and it does get a bit annoying if you’re playing Druidic. However, it’s not much better with any other Axiom, so I’ll leave that up to you. I’m not sure if Nefarious works with magic, but I would be very surprised if it did. If it does indeed work, then I would choose Nefarious over Druidic. As for class, we’ll go with Magick User (duh).
Part 3: Stat points
Starting INT, WIS and PER of 14 are a must. You absolutely have to have all of these stats at 14. Other stats don't matter too much, but high STR is nice for the extra carrying capacity. Put the initial 15 points into PER. With the Rifter origin (+2 PER +1 WIS) this puts your starting stats at 14 INT, 15 WIS and 31 PER.
When you level up, use the following strategy for maximum MP, or mana:
Level 2 (i.e. first levelup), put all 3 points into PER
Level 3, 1 point PER, 2 points WIS
This lands you at 35 PER, which gives you an extra MP per level.
Level 4, all points WIS
This lands you at 20 WIS, which again gives you one more MP per level.
Level 5 & 6, all points INT
This lands you at 20 INT, giving you one more MP per level.
20 INT and WIS allow you to use all spells in the game, and any more points into these stats are wasted. Put all the rest of your points into PER, which gives you an extra MP per level for every 5 points (INT and WIS only giving one MP per 10 points). Note that you gain the extra MP immediately, i.e. when you reach 35 PER at level 3, you already benefit from the extra MP at that levelup. Also note that only BASE stats are considered when deciding whether you get extra MP or not, so putting on items that increase WIS, INT or PER before leveling up is a waste of time.
Part 4: Skills
The only required skills for this build are Arcane, Elemental and Arcane, Divination. In the beginning you should pick only the bare minimum of skills and acquire the first skill levels from books or from trainers. If you wanted to really optimize, you would not allocate any stat points at all in the beginning and wait until you get to Blackwater so you can use the elemental trainer there. However, that would make the beginning of the game very difficult, and gathering money for the trainer would be slow. So here are my recommendations:
Arcane, Elemental: Put all possible points into this in the beginning and for the first few levels. The order in which you allocate the points thereafter is up to you, but don’t put more points into this than 26 (see next section).
Arcane, Divination: Don’t pick this in the beginning, wait until you get to Blackwater and get the first five levels from the trainer in the church. Only start putting points into this after you get the first five levels from the trainer. Stop putting points into it when it’s at level 24.
Cartography: Don’t spend points on it because a trainer for Cartography can be found very early on.
Meditation: DO NOT pick this, it is a waste of skill points because even without Meditation, you will max out your mana regeneration at level 7 (and it will be very high from the start because we put so many points into perception).
Light Armor or Heavy Armor: Don’t pick, you only need 1 point in these skills and you can learn them from books that are fairly common, especially the Light Armor books. You are a mage anyway, you should just avoid getting hit.
Alchemy: Don’t pick this. Get the first 5 levels from the trainer in Bordertown, then buy 2 Brewmaster’s rings from vendors and equip them whenever you want to make potions. An Alchemy level of 10 is enough to make the best mana potions possible, so you don’t have to waste your skill points.
Lockpicking, Skullduggery and Lore: There are spells for melting locks, disarming traps and identifying items, so you don’t need to concern yourself with these skills. In the beginning, just blast the locked chests with Flame Dart and try to avoid traps.
Melee weapon skills and shields: Don’t pick these, you cannot effectively fight with a melee weapon and use magic because of the weight restrictions on your hands. I’m not sure about a bow, but then if you wanted to use a bow you should just roll a full ranger, they are completely overpowered anyway.
You are free to choose from any of the other skills. At 19 (which is a common maximum level I believe?), you will have had 30 points to allocate in addition to maxing out Arcane, Elemental and Arcane, Divination. Mercantile is a good choice in my opinion, and maybe Move Silently and/or Hide in Shadows if you’re into that sort of thing. I haven’t tried the latter two and I don’t know if they are rendered useless by the spell Invisibility. Remember to avoid putting points into any of these until after you find the books and get the first levels for them. One interesting skill I haven’t tried is Unarmed Combat, which could work very well with a mage and save you from having to drink a mana potion in many cases. I suspect there isn’t a book out there for this skill, or then I just haven’t found it.
The order you pick the skills in is up to you, it might be useful to pick Mercantile early, for example, and not max out Elemental and Divination straight away. If you do choose to max out Elemental and Divination first, you will do so at level 9 (26 Elemental, 24 Divination).
Part 5: The Equipment
In order to learn and use the best spells in the game, you will need to have Arcane, Elemental and Arcane, Divination at level 31, but in the previous section I advised you to stop putting points in them when they are at level 26 and 24 respectively. The reason for this is that we can boost these skills with items and books. This is the set of gear I recommend you wear in the endgame:
Hat: Grand Master’s Wizard Hat, +2 Perception, +3 Elemental
Amulet: Mana Cache Amulet, +20 mana
Ring: Ring of Magi (x2), +20 mana
Cloak: Priest’s Cloak, +3 Divination, +2 Wis (also found with +3 armor rating)
Shoes: Healer’s Sandals, +2 Divination (also found with +2 armor rating)
Belt: Blessed Rope Belt of the Healer, +5 HP +5 MP
This set gives you +3 Elemental skill and +5 Divination skill, which brings these skills to 29. You can find (possibly also buy?) books for both of these skills that raise the skill by 2, getting you up to the required 31 points.
As for the chest, legs, gloves, weapon and shield, equip anything that gives + to useful skills and doesn’t hinder your spellcasting. If you want to get the experience from picking locks or disarming traps, use gloves that give Skullduggery or Lockpicking. If you are using move silently, I know that can be found in armors and so on. INT, WIS and PER are useless in items as they don’t contribute to your MP gain or regeneration in the endgame, but STR might be nice for some extra carrying capacity. Armor rating should be your last priority. If there are + Elemental or Divination items for these slots or if there are better items out there than I have listed (a belt, perhaps?), please let me know. I know that there are rings that give +3 Elemental, but I think the +20 mana rings are way better as there are more than enough skill points to go around and MP is more important anyway.
In addition to your equipped items, you should have in your inventory 2 Brewmaster’s rings (+3 Alchemy) for creating the best mana potions. A +3 (or higher if there is one) Mercantile amulet is also handy for shopping.
Part 6: Spells
So how do you play a mage? Which spells are worth buying? Well, in my own playthroughs I used level 6 Fire Dart as my main offensive spell throughout the whole game. It is simply very cost effective: Fireball does about twice the damage (avg. 5.5 dmg per spell level vs. 3 for Fire Dart) for three times the mana (36 for level 6 vs. 12 for Fire Dart), so it’s definitely not worth it against single enemies. Fireball is of course good for splash damage, so if you can bunch some monsters up then feel free to use Fireball. Deep Freeze has the same mana cost as Fireball but does an average of 6.5 damage per spell level. The downside is that it doesn’t work on all enemies and still the damage per MP used is much lower than for Fire Dart. Also, fire damage in general seems very reliable: for example the Divination spell Fleshboil (and its second tier counterpart Sunder Flesh) seems to be resisted a lot more often than Fire Dart. For certain types of enemies (mainly Poltergeist), however, using Fleshboil is great.
One spell that deserves special attention is Haste. Haste is easily one of the best spells in the game, whether you’re a fighter, mage, rogue or ranger. You should use Haste in practically every battle: it makes attacking faster and easier (don’t have to fall back as often) and you can run away to rest or just run around regenerating mana without being in danger.
In dungeons, Predator Sight is a great spell to have. It makes fighting in the dark a lot easier and safer so no one can crawl up and surprise you. You shouldn’t use Gravedigger’s Flame or hold a torch while fighting, because that makes you easier to hit. Magic always hits so the darkness is definitely on your side.
I never really bothered with Leatherskin or Stoneskin because my strategy is to just stay out of range. Sometimes, however, you need some shelter from those goblin archers that can hit you from the other side of the screen. For this purpose, Air Shield is a beast of a spell. It blocks every single arrow fired from a distance (so if the archer is next to you, they might hit you) and thus makes you almost invulnerable against their attacks.
Melt Lock, Trapkill and Lore are important support skills to have, get them as soon as you can afford them. Detox, Cure Disease and Divine Heal also sometimes come in handy. Don’t bother with Ogre Strength, Nimbleness or Bless; they are useless for a mage.
As for the expensive and rare third tier spells (sold by the mage in southeast Blackwater), go for Supernova, Portal, and Invisibility. Mass Boil is also good but again, fire damage is better in my opinion. Supernova hits all enemies on the screen (even the ones you can’t see) but uses up a lot of mana, so try to save it for occasions where you can hit at least 5 enemies at once. Portal makes traveling a LOT more comfortable, so learn to use it. Invisibility is basically invulnerability; you can just stay invisible and shoot at the enemies while they do nothing. It does use up a lot of mana though. Don't bother with Smite, it requires you to be standing right next to an enemy to use it.
Part 7: Tips and tricks & Final words
Get to Blackwater and Bordertown as soon as possible. Getting to the Divination trainer early on means you can get the skill to its maximum level sooner and benefit from divination spells for a longer time. Blackwater also has the best stores for spells and a lot of quests (mmmmmm quest exp). Bordertown has the Alchemy trainer and a couple of easy quests.
Making mana potions:
As said above, a level 10 Alchemy skill is enough to get you the best mana potions possible. Before you get to this level, you should always buy all the Acid and Mandrake roots you can find and save them for later. When you finally get the +3 Alchemy rings and use the trainer for 4 levels, you can make a lot of potions at once. Making anything other than tier 3 potions is just a waste of ingredients, you can survive until you get a level 10 Alchemy skill by just resting, using what potions you find and buying them off vendors.
Double experience bug:
Starting out with a mage can be a bit tricky at first, but then that’s what optimizing is all about. Still, if you want to speed up the beginning, there is a trick that you can use to get double experience off of any kill. It is up to you to decide if you want to use it, but I’m going to list it here anyways. Whenever you kill an enemy, the corpse is still clickable for a fraction of a second after the enemy is dead. Use this fraction to cast a Fire Dart or Fleshboil at the corpse and you’ll get the kill twice. Fire Dart is the easiest spell to use for this trick, and other spells like Fireball don’t work at all.
Tip for endgame exp farming:
If you’re like me, you will want to skip all unnecessary enemies in the beginning and only farm enemies at the end where they give more experience points. You can do this very effectively in Eschalon once you get a nice amount of MP and the spells Haste and Supernova (Fireball might work too). You will also need as many mana potions as possible. This is what you do: Go to any large patch of desert in Crakamir and rest until you get a random encounter. I believe the random encounters depend on your level, but if you’re high enough level to be able to use Supernova, the random encounter will probably include 2-3 Tauraxes (185 exp each). Now that you’ve got the enemies spawned, use Haste or Invisibility (or both) to run away from the enemies. Once you’re far enough, rest again and wait for more Tauraxes. Once you are awakened, lead the enemies to the previous pack that you ran away from. Then run away again. Do this about 10 times and finally you will have 20-30 Tauraxes on the screen at once. Now just blast then with some level 6 Supernova. You will need to refill your MP (or you could just run away and rest I guess, the Tauraxes don’t regenerate health), but the damage per MP used is just great. 25 Tauraxes give you 4625 experience, and of course you can double that with the double exp trick detailed above (use Supernova first to bring the Tauraxes to low health, then start using Fire Dart). 4625 exp isn’t bad for a few minutes’ work.
All in all, I found this class to be quite enjoyable, mostly because it can be optimized to such a high degree. Playing a mage/healer can sometimes be a bit frustrating because of all the resting you have to do, but in the end it’s well worth it. Happy optimizing and please do tell me if you spot any errors or anything that's suboptimal (gasp!).
Part 8: The short version
Rifter/Axiom up to you/Magick user
INT, WIS and PER need to be 14 from the initial roll (WIS 15 and PER 16 with Rifter), other stats don’t matter.
All 15 points into PER.
Skill points into Arcane, Elemental, save the rest
At level ups, allocate the points in following order:
PER until the base score is 35
WIS until the base is 20
INT until the base is 20
All the rest into PER.
Don’t pick Cartography, Divination and Alchemy, get them from trainers first. Do not put any points in Meditation or Alchemy. Raise Alchemy to level 5 from a trainer and then use 2 +3 rings to make potions. Meditation is useless.
Only put points into Elemental until it’s 26 and Divination until it’s 24. Then raise both of these to 31 using books and gear. Using this strategy you can put 30 points into other skills if you end up at level 19. Some recommendations include Mercantile, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows and Unarmed Combat.