Why can’t magic in games feel more magical?

Although I like my warlock alt, playing him is not an immersive experience.

You sit at the back, you hit buttons to cast your spells, but you might as well be firing a gun or throwing stones — the ‘magic’ is just a veneer.

There is no sense of being a student of an ancient mysticism, or studying and researching spells in libraries, or having to work out hand gestures and counterspells on the fly. Casting spells in fantasy games is usually just down to what animations you get. My warlock summons demons, but I don’t feel drawn to the dark side or that I have to make tricky deals with evasive and malicious beings.

Now I realise that players (or their parents) are incredibly sensitive to anything that smacks of real world mysticism in their games. But that isn’t what I am asking for, I just want designers to put some effort into making me feel like an proper fantasy wizard.

By contrast, one of the reasons that I love my warrior in WoW is how hands on the combat feels. Obviously it’s nothing like swinging a real weapon but position and maneuvering does matter, it’s important that she keeps her weapons in good condition (by repairing them), and the speed at which she swings depends on the weapon type. It’s cosmetic too, but warriors are a very visceral class to play, and this is one reason for their popularity. You go Rar and hit things over the head, and that’s the experience the game delivers.

Wizards are part of the D&D setup, but they have to lose so much of their identity to go join an adventuring party with the standard rogue, cleric, and fighter. It isn’t enough just to don the robes and wave the staff.

How could magic feel more magical?

In classic fantasy, wizards are often scholars. Even in Harry Potter, the centre of the magical universe is a school and some of the most powerful wizards are teachers. So I’d like to feel that sense of scholarship, of spending downtime studying or discussing issues with other wizards in libraries. I’d like to collect books, be a repository of lore, and understand more about how the world works than other classes. I’d like to read ancient languages and decipher arcane codes.

I want to build my high tower, and bargain with strange eldritch beings. I want  magical adventures, but also be called on by regular NPCs who want a wizard’s help with something they can’t do alone.  I’d like to feel that I could use magic to help the corn to grow better as well as cast fireballs on people. I want my wizard to feel like a part of her local community, the spooky but well disposed caster in her tower on the edge of the forest.

I also want to see how a community of mages would really work. How might they work together? How might they pick and train apprentices? How might they bicker or fight?

I also want proper magical duels, like Merlin fought in Sword in the Stone.

So what I’d want to see is a more flexible system, where magic could be used in a number of ways. I like the idea of casting spells on the fly, so a puzzle-based system of combat might work quite well. Maybe you’d have to include knowledge based elements based on what you were fighting, then a skill based element for how powerful the spell should be, and possibly collaborative elements if more than one wizard was working together on a spell.

The only game I know which is so focussed on casters is Wizard 101. As a kid-friendly game, it’s not quite what I had in mind. But not a bad start. It’s free to try if anyone is curious. I didn’t really feel that the card system did it for me (it’s  a bad sign when I preferred to  spend more time playing the mana regen minigames than actually doing quests).

It’s surprising to me that I don’t know of more single player games that are designed around a caster as the main character too. Because normally you’d think of those as a better immersive platform. Do designers just assume everyone wants to either hit things or carry a big gun?