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More than other character types, the large variety of spells available in Dragon Age really make it hard for me to choose. Does anyone have recommendations for mage character builds that offer spells which are useful, fun and work well together?

Choices which offer spell combinations are preferred but not essential.

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Just don't forget that mages can also be healers. I actually ran with Wynne and myself both as Spirit Healers which made everything faceroll easy. –  Lotus Notes Sep 7 '10 at 18:43

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Good and fun are a bit subjective, but I can tell you what is powerful.

Crowd Control

  • Crushing Prison - Both good damage and powerful cc, Crushing Prison will remove an enemy from the fight for a long time and even shatter frozen targets. It is invaluable for removing powerful casters.
  • Cone of Cold - Great as a CC and for Shattering people, but I find the real power of Cone of Cold is lining up my enemies for Shock, Flame Blast, Chain Lightning (assuming you have the mana) This is just powerful dps and you don't have to worry about enemies moving. Since FB is low damage and CL is expensive, often times my combo is just CoC into Shock.
  • Mind Blast - Every Mage I make has this ability. It is cheap, effective, aoe stun and I cannot imagine skipping it. It'll get you out of many pinches.
  • Winter's Grasp - Though at later levels it has a low freeze chance (100-enemy level*5), and it doesn't freeze enough to shatter, it is very cheap and is useful for a large portion of the game.

AOE

  • In the same mind set of CoC into Shock: Blizzard into Tempest. While Inferno is technically a better choice, I often don't have the points to go that far down the fire tree.
  • Mana Clash - While technically AOE, this spell feels more like straight dps vs Casters. It is worth mentioning that this is the easiest way to get your Heavy Hitter achievement.
  • Virulent Walking Bomb - More fun than useful in most situations, it still brings heavy Physical damage (but not reduced by armor). A great room clearer.
  • Chain Lightning - This spell actually comes with a long cast time (2 seconds) so I like to pair it with abilities like CoC and Blizzard. Unfortunately its high cost means it's hard to work into nice combos. I do recommend it though (and really the entire lightning tree).
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First of all, I played DAO on a PS3, not a PC. So there might be a few differences I don't know about.

I prefer to spec my characters for the highest DPS possible, ending fights quickly rather than expending energy into healing and support. I ended up going for a lot of area effects spells, topping them with weakening countdown spells. So um, no healing spells people. That's for the wussy mages. I get my feel-goods when my mage character is doing 50% of the party damage on her own.

What I did:

Arcane - Mastery Tree

Primal - Lightning tree

Spirit - Death Tree

Entropy - Draining tree

Entropy - Sleep Tree

Also these entire specialization trees:

Arcane Warrior

Blood Mage

A typical fight earlier in the game was me casting Tempest and Death Cloud over crowds of enemies, slapping on a couple Walking Bombs (regular and Virulent), hitting the strongest enemy with Curse of Mortality, and then casting a Chain Lightning. That combination cleaned up pretty well. I played quite a few fights without party support this way.

Since I quickly got the Arcane Warrior Specialization, I didn't worry too much about defensive spells or force fields. I could put on armor and with a complete Arcane Warrior Spell tree (going for the passive effect Fade Shroud) you're pretty damn tough. Before I got the specialization, it wasn't hard to just stay out of the fray and I rarely died even without any defensive spells.

The most intense spell combination I found was Lightning Storm + Blizzard + Spell Might (creates Storm of the Century, which quadruples the area it effects and pretty much instantly kills everything in the area). You can actually split these spells across two mages, which was pretty good for the timing of the spells. Pile on top of that a spell like Curse of Mortality (Entropy - Draining) or Virulent Walking Bomb (Spirit - Death) and watch your enemies explode each other to death in seconds. When going through dungeons, I found I could set area effect spells in rooms before I went in, from the other side of the door, which was ridiculous and awesome. Fill a room with death without even alert an enemy.

The more you stay in one school of magic, the easier it is to get equipment bonuses for your spells, which sounds nice in theory, but in practice there wasn't really that much different helpful equipment in the game for mages. I recommend doing your specs without too much regard to schools.

Remember that you can spec 2 additional different mages in the game to support you.

What I'd do differently now that I've played the whole thing:

I wouldn't have completed the Blood Mage tree. You do get a bonus to constitution and spellpower for choosing it, but I wouldn't waste points unlocking the spells. They were cool, but I didn't use them a lot because it required me to be in a high-mana costing mode. Blood Control is cool in theory but it kind of messes up your fight when all your enemies become your allies. My game didn't process it very well and we all ended up standing around until the spell ended (this would make more sense in Hard or Nightmare difficulty, because you can still damage allies). Also, if you're finding yourself desperate in a fight, using your lifeforce to power spells doesn't work out that great.

I might have gone with the Entropy - Hexes tree because Death Hex stacks awesomely with Death Cloud from Entropy - Draining tree.

I'd consider nixing the Entropy - Sleep tree. The spells were really useful, but didn't deal a lot of damage. Sometimes it really helps to walk into a room and Sleep all the enemies, however. The spells in this tree stack on each other well, as you can Sleep/Horror or Sleep/Waking Nightmare for extra effectiveness. Alternatively I might have done the Creation - Glyphs because they have some nice stacking spells (Glyph of Paralysis + Glyph of Repulsion = Explosions). Explosions are GOOD.

Spirit - Mana Alteration tree might be good to get up to Spell Might (the first 3 spells). It didn't seem like there were enough fights with mages to really justify putting points into this, but Spell Might adds a lot to your spell power and is necessary for some spell combinations.

Note 1:

If you want to focus on the arcane warrior specialization (very fun, btw) pay attention to whether a spell can be cast with your sword out. It interrupts your fighting if your character is always adjusting weapons. Here's a page listing whether each spell can be cast with your sword out.

http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Arcane_Warrior_spellcasting

Note 2: it really matters what difficulty you are playing on. Casual/Normal makes it easy to fill rooms with area effects spells with few repercussions. If you're playing on a difficulty that has friendly fire (Hard/Nightmare), choose spells that hit one or a few targets, not entire rooms.

Note 3: After your first play-through, any specializations you've unlocked stay unlocked. This changes what spells are available earlier in the game. Also, if you've got multiple characters going at once, spells unlocked for one character will be unlocked for all characters on your account.

Note 4: Most of the primal spells were annoying. The Primal spell trees are as follows.

Fire

Earth

Cold

Lighting

Fire spells, when combined with grease spills make long lasting fires. However, once you've done this combo, you and your party are now susceptible to the fire.

Earth spells were cool except the area effect spell Earthquake, which knocks down your whole party just as much as your enemies.

Cold spells can combine with Force Field or Stonefist or a critical hit to shatter enemies. This is cool. What is uncool is that Cone of Cold and Blizzard will freeze you party too, stopping your attacks as well as they stop the enemies'. This is so annoying. What I ended up doing is casting all the Cold spells myself, even though they were on a separate party mage. Letter her auto-cast caused trouble for everyone. (It's worth it if you're going to try and create a Storm of the Century).

Lightning spells rock. Also, they have much faster cooldowns than the Cold spells. And electrical spells also drain stamina. No problems there, except maybe that the Tempest spell is really loud . . .

Also, the equipment bonuses for the Primal tree are a little stupid, because you have to get a bonus for each type, Cold, Earth, Lighting, etc. rather than getting a bonus for the whole school. For instance, you can get gloves with +10% Cold damage, OR you can get gloves with +10% Spirit damage, which covers more spells.

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Just finsihing the game myself and I would agree Cone of Cold and Mind Blast, are must haves, Crushing Prison is great and Sleep is very useful (so is Heal for that matter). However no one has mentioned Fireball which is a quick cast AoE which knocks down the enemy.

One of my favorite tactics was to use Fireball as a door opener; simply cast it behind the next door you are going to open and in casting the spell you open the door and almot immediately burn/knockdown all the foes by the door. Only time this doesn't work is if there is going to be a cut scene and the enemies are immune until the cut scene is done.

Other spells I like are paralyze (works against almost everyone) even though I could live without weakness. I like Stonefist for shattering or knocking down foes. Inferno and Blizzard are both good AoEs but slow to cast Inferno tends to do more damage, but Blizzard knocks down. Vulnerability Hex is good if you will be using a lot primal spells/effect. Personally I love the Spirit Healer specialty with group heal and revive both hugely useful (especially if you get Wynne late and dont want to use her in your party). Personally I regret the shapeshifter spec but didn't want to be a Blood Mage (just didn't fit with my character's style) and If I wanted to use weapons I would not have been a mage.

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A few things I haven't seen mentioned yet.

Blood Magic

Drain life instead of mana, giving you one less thing to worry about. You'll almost always worry about your hp anyway.

  • Works when you want to put a bit of points into constitution
  • a powerful heal and a chance to control an elite monster while clearing his minions.
  • Incredible crowd control in the form of Blood Wound

Disables

A full set of disables guarantees that even the hardest bosses will be frozen in place for more than half of the time of the battle. This helps a lot at harder difficulties and makes going through normal and easy a cinch.

From other posts:

  • Winter's Grasp - quick cast slow
  • Cone of Cold - Before it was fixed this was ridiculously broken and won the whole game for me on my first playthrough literally. Post-patch this is pretty balanced and yet still manages to hold down virtually anything, even bosses albeit for a shorter period.
  • Crushing Prison - quick cast disable (works pretty well with grasp)
  • Mind Blast - when things get out of hand and you find yourself surrounded
  • Sleep - great for every kind of setup, even as preparation for mass paralysis.
  • Paralysis - A more reliable form of disable, and from my experience, seems to have a higher chance of success against elites and bosses.
  • Mass Paralysis - Massive version of paralysis (relied on this A LOT after cone of cold nerf), and yes, still useful against bosses when every other spell is on cd. If you've got another mage, this is a great setup for massive spells, even better than sleep since they won't be able to move even after damage. (Prefer this over waking nightmare most of the time)
  • Blood Wound - for every creature with blood, this is the best form of disable a mage can get as it also does considerable damage.

I managed to use this uring my awakening playthrough, and here I used two mages. - Mage 1 casts paralysis, mage 2 prepares a blizzard - Blizzard is cast: Mage 1 casts Tempest with Spell Might(Storm of the Century), Mage 2 casts Inferno

All this can also be done with just one mage (except for inferno as it's hard to get any more points there with all the other trees filled up)

That clears just about any mob leaving Nathaniel, a few crushing prisons and grasps to take care of stragglers and if any get too close, there's always a cone of cold waiting for them.

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DA is designed that, whatever you choose, you can never go wrong. With that in mind, I'd suggest to take two elemental trees (fire and ice for example) and the heal one (if you are playing with only a mage in the party).

The sleep branch is useful but very mana consuming. Sigils are fine if you bother using them.

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Maybe they tried to balance it that way, but Dragon Age is overwhelmingly difficult and if you don't build your mage right you can forget about winning some of the battles. –  StrixVaria Sep 7 '10 at 11:13
    
Dragon Age is overwhelmingly difficult if you don't use mages at all. –  Lotus Notes Sep 7 '10 at 18:42
    
Well I finished the game using 3 mages and a tanker. Indeed mages are (and should be) fragile, with few hp. But since there isn't a lot of variety among enemy's weaknesses, once you find a strategy that works, you can keep using it till the end (with few exceptions). You can even continue casting sleep and terror on undead-like enemies... –  Emiliano Sep 9 '10 at 13:52

Cone of Cold is strong enough by itself that against normal enemies, no other spells are necessary. The cooldown is short enough that you can repeatedly cast it on the same group to keep them frozen without ever giving them a chance to act. If you have more than one mage who can use it, you really only ever have to worry about boss (and revenant) fights. Of course, something like Stonefist can still be a good follow-up for the instant kills.

Sleep is another incredibly useful spell when facing large groups of enemies, especially archers. Its huge range makes it possible to disable the enemy ranged fighters long enough for you to kill the melee ones and run up to engage in a more favorable position. If you go further down the tree, Waking Nightmare can make this even easier.

These choices will put your mages more in a crowd control role, limiting the number of enemies that you have to fight at one time in order to prevent you from being overwhelmed. A team built this way will probably want another character to be the primary source of damage.

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+1 for the Sleep and Waking Nightmare combo –  Elpezmuerto Sep 6 '10 at 15:37
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Don't forget Mass Paralysis. When you're done with putting them to sleep, holding them down with Mass Paralysis guarantees that the enemy never gets to move at all. –  Jonn Sep 6 '10 at 22:54

I don't remember the spell names as it's been a while, so i might get some wrong:

My favourites:

  • Turn enemies into stone and then follow up with the stone fist spell to shatter them. Also works with frozen enemies which works best against most demons.
  • A nice working trick is: Hand some fire resistance items to your warrior and then send him in to fight against all enemies, then just throw a fireball on him or cast inferno to burn everything around him. This will hurt him but it hurts the enemies more. Just have a second healing mage or lots of healing items to keep him alive.
  • If there are a lot of enemies you can mass-paralyze them by casting the rune of repulsion and then follow up with the rune of paralysis (or whatever they are called). Just make sure that at best noone of your team is in the area or at least just your tank/warrior, so you can actually make use of that time.
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