Skyrim Tips and Tricks » Discussions

Destruction Magic (a “shocking” realization)

Tags: #Tips and Tricks Guides  #Tips and Tricks Magic 
  • June 10, 2016

    In every fantasy RPG that I’ve played I always play a magic-user (at least on my first go through).  I am fascinated by the idea of being a wizard, and chucking fireballs or calling down lighting is the best escapism I can imagine.  TES V has been no different in that regard and I have played many a wizard and warlock during my time with the game which has led to many discoveries on how the magic skills work, level, and interact with each other.  Today I want to focus on Destruction and reveal somethings that I haven’t seen others discuss before.  I expect that much of this may be common knowledge to many of you, but I thought it might be useful to have a written record.  If for no other reason than as a thought exercise on the workings of magic in the game we all love. 

    This whole discussion came about from me playtesting a character build that I’ve been working on for almost a year now.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever post the character but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on Destruction magic either way.  The original purpose of this write up was to showcase the shock element and how it is potentially the best element to specialize in.

    As you already know Destruction is broken down into three elements Fire, Frost, and Shock.  Each element has its pros and cons and most mages will decide to focus on one over the others.  It is widely known that of the three elements fire is the one that does the most damage because of the “on fire” taper mechanic that is attached to these spells.  The other two elements trade this extra damage for the ability to damage stamina (frost) or magicka (shock).  In addition to its greater damage potential fire spells also cost less magicka to cast than frost spells, which in turn cost less magicka than shock spells. 

    This usually leads to the strategy of using frost against warrior type enemies to reduce the number of power attacks they can perform and shock against mage type enemies to reduce the number of spells they can cast.  This seems like a valid tactic on the surface, but there is more to consider.



    As previously stated the fire element focuses primarily on health damage and is unique among the elements for having a lingering “on fire” effect (usually 10% of the spells total damage dealt over one second) in addition to the damage the spell already does.  This damage potential combined with the low magicka cost makes fire arguably the most useful of destruction magic.  Fire focuses on one thing, health damage, and it does that better than any other offensive magic available in the game.  It is also the better element for those who are conserving perk points since fire only needs two perks to get the most out of it.  All of the elements have two Augment perks available to them which simply increase the damage of the spells.  All of the elements also have a third perk available to them that adds some kind of utility to the element, for fire this perk is Intense Flames and it adds a fear causing effect to fire spells. 


    However this perk is problematic, the effect only triggers when an enemy is low on health (below 20%) at which point you were probably about to kill them anyway.  Fear is best used at the beginning of a battle allowing the caster to thin the crowd some and focus only on a few enemies at a time.  Intense Flames is the inverse of this triggering only toward the end of battle, which is counterproductive.   Most of the time this perk is simply annoying, it causes weakened enemies to flee combat forcing you to either chase them down or wait for them to return (possibly healed) and have to deal with them again.  Worst case scenario the fear effect causes them to flee into other groups of enemies triggering them to enter the combat, again being counterproductive by lengthening the current fight and making it a harder fight to boot, with more enemies to face and with depleted magicka.  For these reasons I feel you’re better off not taking this perk.

    Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Aspect of Terror bug.  For those of you who aren’t already aware of this bug allow me to briefly explain.  If you take the Illusion perk Aspect of Terror after you take both Augmented Fire perks, then the Aspect of Terror perk will add 15 points of damage to all of your fire spells.  This is because all fire spells have a hidden fear effect and the Aspect of Terror perk boosts the magnitude of fear spells.  However, this is a three perk investment for only 15 extra damage.  Not really worth it in most cases, especially if you aren’t already perking the Illusion tree.  I should also note that this bug is fixed by the Unofficial Patch.

    ***The one place that this bug may be worth it is with the Ignite spell.  The bug makes this spell ridiculously over powered and game breaking, but very fun. ***



    Next up is frost which deals damage to two stats instead of just one.  Frost damages both health and stamina in equal measure but drops the lingering effect that fire has.  The common strategy when using this element is to deplete enemies of their stamina reserves.  For the sake of discussion let us assume one is fighting a group of bandits, a common physical enemy that every character will have to deal with.  Most bandits have more health than stamina.  In fact all but the lowest level have more health.  In these cases the frost attacks will deplete their stamina long before it kills them, making frost magic a useful strategy in mitigating the damage potential of your enemy.  However, the argument could be made that simply killing them out right is the better, and more economical, choice.  Since a dead bandit does no damage at all.  When you also consider that the majority of bandits in Skyrim are Nords who already boast a 50% resistance to frost, you start to see the elements short comings.


    The drawback of focusing on frost magic is further exacerbated if you consider the other large chunk of enemies you will face in Skyrim, the draugr.  Not only are they 50% resistant to frost but low level draugr actually have more stamina then health, this makes the stamina damage of frost magic redundant, since you will end up killing the target before they run out of stamina anyway.  Other undead enemies like vampires also boast a 50% resistance to frost and Nord vampires are completely immune.  Speaking of immunity we also need to mention that all Dwemer Animunculi are immune to frost.  While a rare enemy they can make exploring Dwemer Ruins almost impossible for a mage that specializes in frost magic.

    Despite the shortcomings I’ve just listed there are some advantages to using frost.  I already mentioned the stamina damage, however there is another effect unique to frost spells, all frost spells have the chance to slow enemies.  This slow effect is not listed in the spells description and it is only through use of frost magic that one would discover it.  Almost every frost spell has a chance to slow the target to half normal speed for a few seconds; specific duration depends on the spell used and the resistance of the target.  This is by far the true strength of frost magic allowing you more time to cast spells before the enemy gets within melee range, hopefully depleting them of all their stamina, or simply killing them outright.

    Finally we come to the Deep Freeze perk.  This perk adds a paralysis effect to your frost spells giving them a unique utility beyond the slow effect they already have.  It is a natural progression to go from slowing a target to stopping them in their tracks and that was probably the intent.  Note that the paralysis only takes effect when a target is low on life (below 20%) and lasts for about three seconds.  This will essentially mean the death of your enemy in the case of a duel, and can almost be seen as a straight 20% boost to damage in these instances.  However most battles are not one on one, but even in these cases the paralysis effect is immensely useful by giving you some breathing room, especially during long drawn out fights when you can use a little relief to recover and reevaluate your situation.

    ***My favorite tactic with the Deep Freeze paralysis is to spray the paralyzed enemy with Wall of Frost, just a quick blast, then move on to other enemies.  This removes the target from the fight since the wall will continue to deal frost damage and continue to inflict paralysis, trapping the target in an endless loop until they finally expire. ***



    Shock is similar to frost in that it deals damage to another stat in addition to health.  In this case that stat is magicka.  Unlike the frost spells which deal an equal amount of damage to both health and stamina, shock only does half as much damage to magicka as it does to health.  This combined with the fact that shock spells cost the most magicka of the three elements, leads many to pass on shock and instead specialize in fire or frost.  The problem stems from why a mage would want to use shock magic in the first place.  The chief advantage would be to theoretically deplete enemy mages of magicka, giving the shock mage an edge in magical combat.  In practice the magicka damage of shock spells is inconsequential since most mages have more magicka then health.  This means that shock spells will deplete enemy mages of their health long before they run out of magicka, since that’s the case it makes more sense to simply focus on health damage in a magic duel.  Just like dead bandits deal less damage than bandits with no stamina, dead mages do less damage than mages with no magicka.


    However, unlike frost magic, there are very few enemies in the province that are resistant to shock damage.  This actually makes it more useful in general than frost magic, but the same could be said about fire.  Really the only advantage that shock spells have over fire and frost is instant travel speed.  The shock mage doesn’t have to lead their targets in the same way a fire or frost mage would need to since shock spells strike their targets instantly.  The catch is that shock spells have a much shorter range than other destruction spells.

    ***Shock spells are arguably the best element to use against dragons.  Dragons all sport elemental resistance to either fire or frost depending on the type of dragon, but none are resistant to shock.  Shock spell’s instant travel time make it far easier to hit flying dragons.  Furthermore, dragon breath attacks require magicka to use and dragons have a rather low magicka stat to begin with, this makes depleting their magicka rather easy which will force them to land.  Grounded dragons are significantly easier to battle since they are rather slow and clumsy on the ground. ***

    The last thing I want to talk about in relation to shock magic is also the reason I started writing this in the first place.  The Disintegrate perk is unique among the augmenting perks available in destruction.  While Intense Flames and Deep Freeze add an additional effect to their spell types Disintegrate instead acts like a third damage buff.  Essentially it reduces the health of all enemies in the game by 15%. 

    The way this perk works is unique because it actually gets better the stronger an enemy is.  For instance an enemy with 100 base health essentially becomes an enemy with 85 health once you take this perk.  Another way to look at this is 15 damage to their health stat before combat even starts; not that big a deal right.  Well say we are fighting a stronger enemy that has 1000 health, the Disintegrate perk makes it 850, which could be seen as 150 damage.  So after a little number crunching I came to the realization that shock spells when augmented by Disintegrate do equivalent damage to fire spells against low level enemies and actually do more damage than fire spells against high level enemies.  In fact the more health an enemy has the better shock spells get. 

    Here are some tables to help illustrate what I’m saying.  I chose the single projectile spells for this since they were the easiest to test, below are my findings.

    As you can see we assume that you wait a full second between casts to take advantage of the taper damage that fire has.   This shows that each apprentice spell requires three casts to kill an enemy with 100 health, while the expert spells require two fire vs. one shock.  Let us increase the health and see what happens. 


    Now we see that Firebolt requires 25 casts to kill an enemy with 1000 health and Incinerate requires 11 casts.  However Lighting Bolt requires 23 casts (two less than fire) and Thunder Bolt requires 10 (one less than fire).

    What I conclude is that the Disintegrate perk makes shock spells damage roughly equivalent to fire spells.  Meanwhile shock enjoys magicka damage and instant travel speed with the drawbacks of shorter range and greater casting cost.  Of course the Aspect of Terror bug will push fire back into the lead assuming you can use the bug and are willing to make the significant perk investment to get it.

    Wow that ended up being much longer than I had originally anticipated; apparently I had some thoughts on the subject.  I hope this has at least been informative and maybe it has given you a new appreciation for the different elements or a new perspective you hadn’t considered before.

    As always thanks for reading and enjoy your disintegrations.


  • Member
    June 10, 2016

    This is good stuff Vargr! It's not new information, but it's certainly a different way of looking at Disintegrate that I hadn't given much thought to before.  One thing though:

    Well say we are fighting a stronger enemy that has 1000 health, the Disintegrate perk makes it 850, which could be seen as 250 damage

    That's actually 150 damage, not 250 damage. Thus, 15% of 1000. ;D Still, this is good stuff man.

  • Member
    June 10, 2016

    I think the greatest strength of shock is the synergy between shock cloak and disintegrate, as the cloak's ticks can proc the perk effect, meaning that you can actually spare another shot or two, making shock even more cost effective. If you combine it with fire spells you can actually get a lot of bang for your buck, at the cost of heavy perk investment. Also, it's quite sad that you may not release the Electromancer from what you stated in the beginning of the article (specially after your Pyro and Cryomancer builds being so solid), but it is what it is, I guess. Great job nevertheless.

  • June 10, 2016

    Argh Typos!!!!  Thanks for pointing that out Achloryn I will fix it. 

  • June 10, 2016

    Thanks for the tip Luck.

    I may still release an electromancer build, in fact I intend to, it's just been hard to get into the character. Pyro and Cryo pretty much wrote themselves, Electro's been harder to nail down. 

  • June 10, 2016
    Interesting. I learned a thing or two from this thread. I didn't know frost magic had a chance to proc slow effects. I think this is a useful space to discuss the merits of destruction magic. A good direction to take this thread in would b to discuss in more depth, how these destruction elements interact with other schools of magic. A good example is with shock and conjuration. A shock mage makes a very good necromancer counter. Any corpse reduced to ash can't be resurrected. Storm atronach a could also be used to increase the range of chain lightning, by giving the spell additional nodes to jump from to reach enemies.
  • Member
    June 11, 2016

    Great stuff Vargr! Guess I should take Shock magic and combine it with Necromage for some LETHAL undead hunting XD

    Anyway, the Disintegrate section you wrote really convinced me for several idea's I have. Excellent work my friend and keep up the awesome testing!

  • June 11, 2016

    Thanks Curse.  I like that atronach node idea, I didn't realize that it extended the range.  Chain Lightning is one of my favorite spells I love it's ability to bounce off of surfaces, you can bounce it off of walls to hit enemies around corners, or bounce it off the ground to flush out enemies who are hiding behind trees, great fun!

  • June 11, 2016

    Thanks BloodBane I'm glad you found this useful. 

  • Member
    June 11, 2016
    Awesome discussion. I've always steered away from Frost magic due to my preference of fire and shock but this pretty much sealed the deal. I kind of like to make weak strategies work though so it may be something to look into. One thing to note, Aspect of Terror does not require the Intense Flames perk to boost fire spells. I understand the reasoning but I think the fear effect in fire spells is "dormant" so to speak so they will always be boosted by AoT.