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BG2 Solo SCS Spell Guide
Spell guides: there are dozens already out there and while everybody's opinions differ, we all know that Magic Missile, Mirror Image, Skull Trap, Stoneskin, Breach, Protection From Magical Weapons, Project Image, Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting and Time Stop are all you need, right?
Trouble is that nearly all the spell guides already written are for the vanilla game, where indeed a handful of powerful spells are all you need to conquer everything. See a mage? Breach him. Melee opponents getting to you? Stoneskin. Want to kill a bunch of enemies? Horrid Wilting. And so on.
When I first started playing with SCS I was amazed at the additional complexity of the AI. In particular the improved mages were remarkable. In the vanilla game I had never blinked at seeing a Yuan-ti mage. Now with SCS they were an utter nightmare, they hung around for ages, dispelled all my protections, and peppered me with Magic Missiles. The game had changed and the old tricks no longer worked.
At first I had no idea how to get through layers of magical defences. Then I read through the spell descriptions and gradually began to work it out. So I need a Secret Word to get rid of that. But first a Spell Thrust to remove this. And only then can I Breach. Do I have a Secret Word and Spell Thrust? Of course not. Who in the vanilla game even looked at those spells, let alone memorise them?
For the last few years I have exclusively played solo no reload. Party games no longer appeal to me, I know the companions, I love the roleplaying, the story is great. But I've already been there and now the challenge I'm interested in is the strategic combat aspect: to fight the full array of BG2 opponents at their utmost power, with their AI enhanced by SCS. And to do it without any kind of cheesy tactics or crutches, and most importantly, with just the one life. To survive everything they can throw at me and to find a way around it and ultimately to have the Bhaalspawn prevail.
I have lost count of the number of no-reload SCS games I have played. Most fail quickly (damn you Dire Charm!); some last longer (how the %*$! am I supposed to deal with the Shade Lord's aura?!). Some get very far and then succumb to restart-itis (Okay I'm in Suldanessellar but how cool would a Berserker-Assassin with Swashbuckler AC bonus but no armour and no traps be?).
One thing I've realised from my experience is that while all kinds of classes and combinations can do well if utilised intelligently, mage types have a far better chance of survival than any other class. Moreover, the sheer complexity of arcane magic adds a huge amount to the strategic element of the game. If you're ever going to beat a no-reload SCS, you need to understand the magic system.
I decided to write this spell guide from a specific perspective. This is not a vanilla BG2 spell guide, nor is it a guide for party play. This guide is for a solo character with SCS. My explanations and ratings for each arcane spell below are based on my experience playing the game under no-reload conditions. Naturally if you play with reloads, you might not weight so heavily towards some defensive spells that I rate highly. I should also add that I play with Item Randomiser, which I think is a wonderful mod which makes every game different. As such, I have not assumed that you will have specific equipment that would otherwise be easily or quickly obtainable and which would make certain spells obsolete.
Finally I should point out that this guide is written for BG2, ie SoA and ToB. If you're playing from BG1 then bear in mind that while the majority of the guidance and explanation is still relevant, some of the nuances are different. For example spells like Sleep are very useful in BG1 and totally useless in BG2, so the rating below would not be applicable for the BG1 portion of the game.
Two Types of Casters
In the descriptions below I make reference to two types of casters: pure spellcasters and fighter-types.
Pure spellcasters are those classes that rely almost exclusively on magic. These include single class mages, sorcerers, cleric/mages and most types of thief/mages. Pure spellcasters have to use spells to cover all functions: summoning, damage, defence, debuffing, crowd control etc. They therefore require a wide ranging spellbook and do not get too much mileage from spells that enhance combat prowess.
Fighter-types are those classes for whom magic complements their weapon skills. These include the various types of fighter/mages and swashbuckler/mages. Fighter-types have slightly different requirements from their spellbook: they do not need magic for their damage output, they can use their weapons and thereby get by with fewer damaging and summoning spells. Fighter types can instead concentrate on defensive spells as well as debuffing and crowd control. They are especially interested in spells that enhance combat capability.
While the value and utility of most spells are similar for spellcasters and fighter-types, certain spells have nuances that favour one type more than the other. I have noted these where applicable. Likewise some spells get a higher rating for one type over the other.
Explanation of Ratings
I have rated each spell out of 5, with 1 the lowest rating and 5 the highest. Below is an explanation of what each rating means.
1: These spells are either useless or of such limited utility that you will hardly ever need them. You will pretty much never need to memorise these spells.
2: These spells are of limited utility. They have some value and may be helpful in certain situations or for a specialised strategy. But on the whole they are not spells you will use regularly. You will rarely need to memorise these spells.
3: These are solid spells that will serve you well. You will likely use these spells regularly and they will be an important part of your spellbook. You will memorise these spells frequently.
4: These are strong spells and will form a key part of your regular strategy. You will be using these spells in any tough encounter and will memorise them on an everyday basis.
5: These spells are essential for your character to thrive and survive. These are the spells around which you will form entire strategies. You will need to prioritise these spells and ensure you never leave base without them.