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The Best Magic Games of All Time

Updated on December 13, 2018
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Anti-Valentine reviews PC games and writes about the video game industry.

This article features games that have magic, or magic in disguise, for example character that have powers that aren't referred to as magic directly, but are clearly beyond normal mortal abilities. So magic that might occur naturally in a character, magic that is learned, powers that are obtained due to exposure to elements or conditions, or tech-assisted magic of some kind -- they are all featured here.

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Clive Barker’s Undying

Patrick Galloway was once a soldier during the Great War, but after the war ended, and he barely survived an explosion caused by a supernatural source, he woke up in a hospital bed with a strange green stone around his neck.

His closest friend, Jeremiah Covenant, the one who saved him from certain death on the battlefield, claimed it was the Gel’zibar stone, and it posses magical properties of sorts, like being able to, in Patrick’s case, ward off enemies by pushing them away physically. Of course, wielding the stone for too long does have consequences, like summoning otherworldly demons who will attempt to attack you. Patrick finds this out first hand later on in the game.

Patrick was exiled from his homeland of Ireland after he was framed for the murder of a young woman by a fellow practicer of magic and acquaintance of the Covenant family, Otto Keisinger, who had his own motives for wanting to encroach onto the Covenant estate, namely a portal of sorts that took anyone to a mystical dimension known as Oneiros.

Galloway went as far as the orient, and became more versed in magic before his friend, Jeremiah summoned him back the estate in Ireland, with a mission – he was to track down Jeremiah’s siblings, most of which were presumed dead or missing for some time – indeed a great number of tragedies had befallen the family as they were seemingly cursed after performing a ritual on sacred ground on the nearby isle of standing stones in their youth.

Patrick is able to use not only the Gel’zibar stone, but is also able to scrye – an ability that allows him to see things, often that which cannot be seen with normal eyes in reality, or things that have occurred in the past. He also has access to powers he collects throughout the game in the form of scrolls, which give him the ability to summon lightning bolts, cast exploding skulls, form a protective shield around himself, and dispel other magic he might encounter, like forcefields and the like. He will also find pink amplifier stones which he can use to upgrade powers, making them more effective, and in addition to all of this, he can find arkane scrolls which allows Patrick’s mana to recharge quicker. The Gel’zibar stone can also be used to amplify spells, even beyond the highest tier.

Patrick can duel wield magic and weapons, and some can even be combined, like the spear gun and the lightning spell can be used to create lightning rod, making the speargun even more deadly.

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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

You take the role of Sareth, the apprentice of a powerful wizard named Phenrig. After years under his tutelage, running errands mostly for your master, you've become quite the force to reckoned with. However, it was never just down to training. You are the Dark Messiah, the child of Kha-Beleth, the demon sovereign. Phenrig binds Xana, a demon herself to Sareth’s soul, so they both inhabit the same body before setting them off to Menelag who resides in Stonehelm. Even though Xana can’t be seen or heard by anyone, Sareth can still hear and talk to her.

Sareth, after his training, has basic abilities, and the player can choose which tree to embark on – combat, stealth, or magic. By this stage, assuming you’ve chosen magic, Sareth will be able to use some basic abilities like vision augmentation and perhaps the ability to cast fireball spells. With time and progression, you’ll find that you can unlock more and more impressive spells, such as being able to use telekinesis to grab items out of reach, or to launch them far up into the air.

Or you can control the minds of enemies and turn them against each other, or set pyro traps for guards, orcs, or the undead to walk into.

You can become a powerful mage of note as the game goes on before finally going up against your main rival, Arantir in a battle of sorcery not soon to be forgotten.

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Arx Fatalis

This is the older brother of Dark Messiah, and while the two are quite similar in atmosphere, and perhaps level design, Arx emphasises the use of magic more than Dark Messiah does, and it is a lot harder to achieve due to having to use gestures on the screen with the use of your mouse in order to achieve the desired effect. You have to find runes in the game that will give you more options as to what spells you can cast, and you generally have to combine these runes in the way of gestures in order to get some result.

Having said that, there is an immense feeling of satisfaction when you successfully use a spell to say do the most basic of things like light a torch. You can also store spells, by using gestures and saving them only to use a hotkey to activate them when you really need them.

It's not an easy game by any means, the combat being rather hard at times. You can of course supplement your magic by using swords, bows and arrows, and other weapons you find in the game. Melee combat is probably just as difficult to master however.

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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Taking the role of a fledgling vampire in modern day California, you are able to, at the beginning of the game, select which clan you want to be a part of. Depending on your choice, you will gain powers exclusive to that clan (although some are shared with other clans). One of the more powerful clans is the Tremere, or blood sorcerers as they are known to some other clans.

You can summon abilities like a blood shield which protects you from attacks, and you can drain blood from targets from a distance without having to physically be near them. You can also use your powers to kill enemies within a certain radius without alerting anyone to your presence, causing them to have sudden heart attacks. You can make enemies vomit blood to slow down their attacks

Other clans likes the Malkavians can become invisible to avoid detection, or use mind control on humans and perhaps even other vampires to gain compliance from them.

Requiem: Avenging Angel

You play the role of Malachi, the original sword of the Lord, an Angel who emerges from the realms of Chaos, a limbo between heaven and earth and makes it to earth, where he travels to New Damascus, to take on a false prophet, Lilith, one of The Fallen, a group of rebellious angels who took it upon themselves to control humanity and build Leviathan, a ship capable of reaching heaven. God apparently doesn't want this and wants to unleash Armageddon upon the earth, and Malachi has to avert the crisis.

To addition to being able to use weapons you find in the game, you can also employ the use of magic powers to aid you. These range from being able to resurrect fallen enemies to fight alongside you, to slowing down time in order to dodge bullets. You can also possess enemies and use them to pass by others without suspicion and use certain weapons that are otherwise unavailable to you.

Requiem isn't remembered much by the gaming community at large, but it introduces concepts to games that would only really become mainstream later on, like bullet time, which this game did before Max Payne or F.E.A.R. for instance.

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Diablo II

Magic can be used in Diablo II depending on the class you use. I find the Druid to be one of the best, because he can summon creature spirits to fight alongside him, and can also use fiery boulders of hot magma and elemental spells to clear a path of enemies in front of him. Above all else, he can turn into a creature himself and attack foes.

Necromancers can raise the dead to fight alongside them and weaken enemies with curse spells. The sorceress is capable of elemental attacks as well as telekinesis and teleportation.

Even if your class isn't heavy on magic, you can still use scrolls you find in the game to help you cast things like healing spells and the like.

Thief

Garrett doesn't have much if any offensive magic at his disposal, unless you count the various types of elemental arrows, some of which are supposedly crafted by Pagan shamans, like the vine arrow, which aids Garrett in climbing up metal surfaces like grates or ducts. And you have fire, water, and gas arrows as well, for lighting things up, dousing torches, and knocking out guards respectively.

But what he does have is a variety of magic potions, some of which were only available in this particular installment of the series. One is the healing potion, which as the name implies, allows him to slowly regenerate lost hit points represented by small shields on the HUD. Another is the breathing potion, which Garrett can take in order to give him extra breath for swimming underwater. This was a Thief 2exclusive.

Garrett has speed potions, which will make him run about three times faster than normal, slowfall potions, which can make him float to safety from two stories up to the ground below without taking much if any damage at all - a fall which would normally critically injure or even kill him. And there's the invisibility potion, which doesn't do anything to mute the sounds he emits, but it will mean that guards won't be able to see him at all for a limited amount of time.

Then there is holy water. It can be obtained either from blessed fonts, often found in Hammerites cathedrals, or you can even buy them on the black market. For a limited amount of time, usually around thirty seconds or so, they will grant your water arrows the ability to permanently dispatch the undead, accompanied by a glorious explosion as their decaying bodies are ripped asunder by the power of the Master Builder or some such.

These potions tend to be the most expensive items you can buy on the black market, and they come in very limited supply, so it's advised that you only ever use them when you really have to. Sneaking about is still the main aim of the game after all, and besides, a good thief is never seen or heard at all.

To aid in this endeavour, Thief Deadly Shadows has glyphs that are created by the Keepers, that often open up secret areas or doorways within the city that allow Garrett to bypass main gates or get by well lit patrol routes

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I think out of the series so far, Oblivion might have the best magic system. You can specialise in a number of different schools of magic, including conjuration, which often relies on the summoning of creatures, undead or otherworldly, often bordering on necromancy, which is outlawed in Cyrodiil at least, illusion, such as being able to turn invisible in order to avoid being seen by enemies, enchantment, being able to infuse every day items with magical abilities as well as invocation spells, like fire. You can also use telekinesis, which can prove very useful to reach objects that are otherwise out of your grasp.

Certain races are naturally better at magic than others. Bretons are one of them, and elven races, particularly Altmer are another, except Altmer, despite being incredibly gifted at magic, also have a very weak defence against it.

System Shock 2

At the beginning of the game, the player can embark upon one of the three different careers in the military. Of of these is the OSA, or Office of Secret Actions. Called Spooks by others, they’re known for more than they’re somewhat cladestine approach to operations. They use a psi-amp, which is kind of like a futurisitc wand that plugs into the user’s arm, and the other end, a ball rest in the palm. This allows the user to project powers into the world.

But you also need to use psi hypos to recharge your psi points – this is similar to magicka or mana in games with other more conventional magic systems. The player can upgrade their psi powers at an upgrade terminal, and some others are also avialable at OS terminals. The powers vary from offensive attacks like cryo and pyrokinetic attacks, but you can also use your psi amp to time out alarms, to reach faraway items with telekinesis, and even reduce degradation of firearms, among several others. You can heal yourself and regernation lost hit points without the use of first aid kits.

Playing as OSA is probably one of the more challenging career paths at first due to the limited availability of psi hypos and the sheer cost of the tier buy-ins, but once you reach the higher tiers of psi abilities which are relatively inexpensive by themselves, you are a virtual god rivalled only by the girl who wanted to be one, SHODAN.

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BioShock

Considered by some to be the spiritual successor or predecessor if looking at it from a more chronological perspective, BioShock uses a similar system to System Shock 2, but it differs in some ways.

First off, sea slugs on the bottom of the ocean floor contain a substance known as Adam. Adam grants the person who uses it the ability to use amazing powers, which can often be purchased from vending machines with your total amount of Adam in your possession.

Adam is often harvested from the dead residents of rapture by Little SIsters, who consume the Adam after extracting it. Little Sisters are often guarded by Big Daddys, large hulking transhuman characters in old school diving suits. Splicers, former residents who’ve become addicated to Adam, do what they can to prey on LIttle Sisters to get a hold of the Adam they have.

Eve acts similarly to psi hypos and recharges you supply so that you are able to use your powers. Powers available to you range from various traps to offensive attacks, to more defensive ones like shields.

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

Kyle Katarn, in this game, is a former jedi, who has since abandoned the old ways, but in order to aid him in the game, is does end up going back to the Jedi Temple, relearning force powers and of course getting his light saber back.

Powers range from lightning to force grip, force push and force pull among others, and Kyle has access to light and dark side force powers later in the game.

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Mass Effect

In the Mass Effect universe, you have a class system of sorts, and the one that is most prone to using a magic of sorts via the manipulation of element zero modules embedded in their bodies, is the Sentinal, also described as a biotic. Biotics are often dangerous, unpredictable and unbalanced people who either retreat from society, are solitary individuals, or they become enraged sociopathic types who aren't strangers to spending time in prison. They can show immense power, and commit acts of intense violence and destruction if provoked.

They can throw things, lift objects or people into the air, create protective barriers, generate gravitational forces, and even heal people if they feel inclined to do so.

Kaidan Alenko is such a person encountered in Mass Effect who Commander Shephard can even pursue a romantic relationship with. Jack, or Subject Zero, who is encountered in Mass Effect 2, also has biotic abilities.

All Asari, a species of alien, are naturally biotic from birth.

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Ziggurat

Ziggurat has been described as bringing the fast paced gameplay of something like Heretic to more modern titles like Devil Daggers. I felt the graphical style was somewhat reminiscent of something like Torchlight as well.

You play an apprentice looking to join the Daedalon Brotherhood, but in order to do so you need to survive the trails of Ziggurat, which is an otherworldly dimension of sorts that is a very treacherous place indeed, filled with danger as minions attack you in virtually every room you enter. You have to defend yourself with whatever weapons you can find, most of which rely on mana in order to use. Mana can be replaced by pickups that drop after killing minions or from wounding guardians or boss creatures.

You can also unlock upgrades, abilities as you play, clearing levels, and upgrade your character to have abilities such as raise their maximum health or mana. The game is a roguelike, so keep in mind that if you die, it's back to the beginning.

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Trine

As part of a group of adventurers, Amadeus is a wizard who can conjure boxes to use as platforms or bridges to get across gaps and chasms. He can also use a telekinetic ability to lift items in the air and drop them on the heads of enemies. He can use fireballs to destroy enemies.

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Magicka

Magicka is quite interesting, as you can command a wizard who has control of elemental powers. Not only can they be scaled in intensity, but they can use these elemental powers together to create combined effects.

For example, the power of water and fire to create steam in order to burn people.

Some powers will naturally negate eachother or can be hazardous, like water and lightning shouldn't be mixed.

The Catacomb Abyss

Before Doom, before Wolfenstein 3D even, there was Catacomb 3-D, made by John Carmack and John Romero of id Software in 1991. It was one of the first examples of the modern FPS and a far cry from the games that would follow it.

But Catacomb would come into its own with the release of the Catacomb Adventureseries, developed by Softdisk. This series was the first recorded game to feature what would become known as bullet time, also seen in Requiem: Avenging Angeland popularised by Max Payne and F.E.A.R.

The series also had hubs which would later feature prominently in games like Hexenand Strife.

Other than that the series' core gameplay wasn't particularly complex. The Catacomb Abyss was probably the most well known and most well well received critically, and featured varied game environments like crypts, mines and other dark and dingy areas accompanied by rather unoriginal location names that featured at the bottom of the screen while playing. It was a typical corridor shooter as it would become known and had you battling lower level enemies like zombies, skeletons and later on devilish looking demons and warlocks, mostly by using a power known as the magick missile, Petton Everhail's primary attack, which can be modified with rapid fire zappers, as well as X-terminators, which create a wide area spray similar to a shotgun blast.

Something quite different from following FPSes is that you can use your attack to destroy walls revealing new areas. Following games would depart from this tactic preferring the player to use buttons or pushwalls to accomplish the same thing.

Heretic/Hexen

Perhaps inspired by some of their earlier exploits in the FPS genre that they pioneered, id Software published a game called Heretic -- one of the first games developed by Raven Software, using the idTech 1 or Doom engine.

One of the first FPSes to feature inventory manipulation and gibs that became much more popular through the rest of the 90's, the game was also known for it's randomised sound effects in order to contribute to the atmosphere, accompanied by some a rather epic soundtrack by Kevin Schilder.

Weapons are functionally re-skinned ones from Doom, like the wand crystal which replaces the pistol, a standard weapon for an Elven mage like Corvus, and the gauntlets of the necromancer, which essentially replace melee weapons like the chainsaw. Another melee weapon is the quarterstaff, which replaces the fist from Doom.

The ethereal crossbow is essentially Heretic's version of the shotgun and the dragon's claw looks to be the chaingun. Most of these ranged weapons require ammo of some kind which can be found virtually everywhere within a level.

Corvus finds himself going up up against enemies like Golems and Gargoyles, which would likely look familiar to some enemies seen in later games like Shadow Warrior or Blood in the way that they resemble some spiritual and demonic like entities respectively.

The items one can pick up range from crystal vials which restore health to shields which acts as armor to the tomes of power which activates a sort of secondary fire mode for weapons. The Wings of Wrath also acts like a jetpack and can be used to save the player from large falls or to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

While playing the game, it's pretty evident that it really functions like a mod or total conversion for Doom, which it basically is, but there's no doubt that it introduced some clever ideas that would be reused in later games, especially ones by id Software or Apogee.

Hexen continued this tradition, being one of the first to introduce hubs, class systems, and moving architecture within levels. Hexen could even play music from the game's audio CD, unlike most that relied on MIDI music for its soundtrack. This is something that I personally only witness in games later on using the BUILD engine like Blood.

Witchaven

Witchaven is a rather underrated game from the mid 1990's. It used the Build engine by Ken Silverman, and was released in late 1995, around the same time as William Shatner's TekWar, also using the Build engine, and it too was published by Capstone. For its time it was quite unique in the sense that it was primarily an FPS, but had RPG elements such as character progression tied into EXP. Weapons can also degrade and become useless over time.

It focused on melee combat, using weapons like a dagger, various types of swords, axes, a bow and arrows, and a halberd. But in the tradition of sword and sorcery, as a spellsword, you can also cast various spells such as fireballs and freeze, which can be obtained from scrolls. Some magic potions are also in the game that allow you to heal damage, cure poison, or granting you superhuman strength, invisibility or invincibility. Magic rings can be worn that allow you to walk on water or even lava.

© 2017 Anti-Valentine

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