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Bonfires, Broomsticks and Blood Magic
Magic in Dragon Age Origins is not hugely different from any other RPG, meaning that you have to juggle between the usual mix of spell-schools, summons and tactics for both damage and survival. The game does do some things differently however, particularly in the form of specializations which offer powerful epic-like abilities; the two most important specializations for a mage are “Arcane Warrior" and “Blood Mage" equally as able to waltz through the game with ease.
This guide will offer some "Dragon Age: Origins" hints and tips on how to make a successful mage-build, including skills, talents and spell-effects. Like the previous guides, examples of character builds will be included and races omitted, since there is no real benefit in race-class matching.
Keep your cowls pulled low and continue to our ornate halls…
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Magic, Skills and Attributes
When playing the mage, skills are not very important at all and in fact even less so than the Rogue; it seems the only ones that really count are the weapon-based skills and stealth-based ones like stealing.
Despite that, you can still choose the “Herbalism" tree which can be useful if you don’t have any healing spells (Elfroot and flasks are easy to come by for salves).
The “Combat Tactics" skills aren’t too bad, particularly if you have a mage-based party (i.e. three mages, one tank) and don’t want to waste time micro-managing every action of your character’s combat.
Favoured attributes are Intelligence and Willpower. If you want to play a powerful Arcane Warrior you won’t need strength, unless you want to equip the sword “Spellweaver" (it’s worth it). For this type you will need some Dexterity particularly at early-game.
If you want to go the Blood Mage route then Constitution becomes imperative. You’ll cast magic from your HP rather than Magic-pool.
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Knowing Your ABC’s: Spells and Effects
Although some things are missing here, like invisibility or time-stop, your arsenal is still substantial and it allows your character for variety in the magic-repertoire. Choose between elemental damage, healing your party or controlling the enemy in various crippling ways; ultimately you can specialize in any of these disciplines too.
When you first make your character you obviously will not have access to specializations, which are unlocked in various ways. Hence, knowing something about the standard spell-trees can help you complete the game in your first playthroughs (unless you read spoilers on how to unlock special-classes!).
The four schools of the arcane are “Primal," “Creation," “Spirit," and “Entropy;" all intuitive names which give you an idea regarding effects. Under the spell-schools, spells are divided into four sub-categories of four spells each.
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Spells which deal with the elements, appropriately distributed in the Fire, Earth, Cold and Lightning sub-schools. These are the real McCoy: fireworks, bells, whistles and sparks. You also have two “buff" spells in “Rock Armor" (AC Bonus) and “Flaming Weapon" (Fire DMG Bonus).
“Winter’s Grasp" is excellent for freezing enemies, with a follow-up of any destructive elemental-spells like “Flame Blast" or “Fireball." At higher levels “Petrify" is much more effective.
A good spell combo involving this school is “Storm of the century" which uses “Spell Might" “Blizzard" and “Tempest." You need to have spells from the “Spirit" school for it.
Lastly, all the spells here are AOE spells (area of effect), which means that you can do as much damage to allies as enemies. They are indeed powerful but can also be annoying, especially with the game being heavily party-based.
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The school of creation mostly benefits you and your allies; healing and defense are its main purposes. The sub-schools of “Healing" “Enhancements" and “Summoning" all offer aid in battle while the “Glyphs" sub-school offers protection from enemies.
Some of these spells are incredibly useful, like “Glyph of Repulsion" or “Glyph of Neutralization;" for instance if you cast the first on a door, then stand behind it you are immune to anything. Works well with ranged-allies or all-mages party. The second spell protects from all possible magic effects and silences the caster: cast "Glyph of Neutralization" on your warrior then watch him take out Genlock Emissaries without a scratch.
Healing is useful too, since you’ll likely choose the Spirit Healer specialization, but understand that if your healer gets killed the party is crippled in many ways. It is the same as playing a healing cleric, and it is useless if you want to solo the game or without at least two tanks in your party.
You can also choose some healing talents and combine them with a different character (i.e a Primal Mage).
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There is quite a variation here, including a “Shield" spell, working like a spell-mantle, “Animate Dead" which will summon a skeleton from a dead foe, and “Crushing Prison" inflicting spirit damage to foes.
The absolute winner here, if you choose to specialize in this school, is “Mana Clash" in the “Mana Alteration" sub-school. You can just kill four or five mages with one spell, as long as they don’t get to cast. It’s a beast.
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“Entropy" is divided between “Debilitation" “Hexes" “Sleep" and “Draining." Outside of the specializations this is my preferred school of magic for this game, especially for effects like “Sleep" “Walking Nightmare" “Curse of Mortality" and “Mass Paralysis."
Specializing in this school means that your enemies won’t get to move at all, will attack other enemies or will do no damage. “Sleep" combined with “Walking Nightmare" is great, especially in places like the “Fade: Nightmare" where you’ll see enemies helping you out instead of fighting you.
Entropy is great regardless of party-type; combine it with a party of warriors or mages for equally devastating effects.
(Continue to page 2 for more "Dragon Age: Origins" hints and tips on builds)
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Specialized Builds: Shapeshifter
Most players do not see the point of this specialization but it can be fun to play. Here you will be relying on both melee and arcane talents, but never as powerfully implemented as in the Arcane Warrior special-class. This build works well with the school of Entropy, and particularly the Hexes line.
Work your Magic attribute up so that you can get the “Death Hex" which inflicts constant critical damage to foes, and also consider other entropic abilities like “Sleep + Walking Nightmare." Then focus on Strength for damage. You can then dish out damage with your preferred form, like a slow bear or a fast spider.
Unfortunately though, apart from being largely experimental, the shapeshifting class is not very useful; it doesn’t work well with other specializations, like blood mage or spirit healer, and the best shifting-forms aren’t there (i.e. the Golem or Burning Man).
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Specialized Builds: Spirit-Healer
Obviously the school of Creation is the first that comes to mind for this type of character, but it isn’t necessarily the best one. You can actually get creative and play a Primal Mage with Spirit-Healer specialization and ultimately go for Blood Mage if you’ve unlocked it. The Spirit-Healer/Blood Mage combination works well.
Another good tree is Entropy as it still grants useful abilities, which can work well with a Spirit Healer/Shapeshifter or Blood Mage combination. Particularly the “Mass Paralysis" and “Waking Nightmare" are useful.
If you choose to play with a Blood Mage remember to get your constitution up, and enough magic/Willpower to cast spells like “Inferno" or “Blizzard."
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Specialized Builds: Arcane Warrior
Extremely powerful class especially if paired with a Blood Mage; you can get through the game on your own without needing party members. Two out of four Arcane Warrior spells are sustained, which means they will remain active as you cast them; it also means they will detract the same amount of mana from your pool as they are active, and that mana will not regenerate.
You don’t need any Strength here but mainly some Dexterity, especially at beginnings when you find it harder to hit things, and as much Willpower for leaving enough mana when casting sustainable abilities. If paired with the Blood Mage you also need Constitution for casting. Leave some Mana points for a Heal or two.
As far as spell-school are concerned, you can virtually go any tree you like depending what kind of build you have chosen. You can choose “Entropy" and combos like “Sleep" “Death Hex" and “Drain Life" if you choose to be debilitating while fighting in close-quarters. You can choose the “Spirit" tree which is again very useful with this specialization: think “Mind Blast" and “Crushing Prison."
Lastly you can also pair an Arcane Warrior with the “Spirit" tree, and decide to get some Spirit-Healer abilities; with “Cleansing Aura" it will constantly regenerate nearby allies.
Enjoy the builds and remember that things are never set in stone!