Lightning Bolt is far inferior to Fireball due to game design.

Lightning Bolt is far inferior to Fireball because of game design.
Both spells are the same level, do the same damage, and have the same save so that’s a tie. The only difference is element and area of impact. Fireball is a 20ft sphere of damage, Lightning Bolt is a 120ft line.

Going by that, it seems they both have their uses. Occasionally, the elemental type is useful, but when that really becomes an issue in most games, it’s later on when you have more tools to deal with that mechanic anyway. However, there are a few things in this game that make Lighting Bolt decisively worse in almost all situations encountered in this game.

  1. Level Design. Lightning Bolt shines in long narrow passages where you can blast a lot of enemies with one strike. Such as one may encounter in an actual P&P session in a dungeon, labyrinth, alley, and so forth. I haven’t finished this game yet, but this is rare. Bottlenecks aren’t common as most fights take place in larger rooms or outdoors.

  2. Friendly Fire. Lightning Bolt is inherently more difficult to use in my experience because with Fireball, you just need to be careful where you put the focal point and make sure no one will be in the area of effect once it’s it’s expected to land. Lightning bolt not only requires you to avoid friendly fire, but usually also requires you to spend time repositioning your mage. This typically involves going out to one side which also makes the mage more exposed and harder to support and doesn’t allow for a melee to block incoming enemies as easily.

  3. There is an undocumented inaccuracy penalty with Lightning Bolt that I do not see in the spell description, an inaccuracy which I have never seen in any of the many other similar games I’ve played. The game shows the red line where the spell is to effect, but it’s not uncommon for it to completely leave this area and arc off the the side. I’ve even seen the spell miss by as much as about 12ft (4m) which is just absurd. I’ve seen it completely veer around all the intended enemies and instead hit 2 or 3 of my own people. I don’t know if this is a bug, but it’s terrible and makes the spell garbage.

Is this inaccuracy intended? I’ve never known it to exist anywhere else and I don’t see any references to it in spell descriptions, nor do any other line spells behave this way. It should be greatly reduced/fixed. For Fireball to suck this hard, it would have to be allowed to impact on obstructions (including party members) before reaching it’s destination.

So there you go, Lightning Bolt sucks. Go Fireball. It is generally more effective, reliable, and much safer to use.

I’m not sure if it’s just lightning bolt (I never used that spell). But while experimenting with burning hands in chapter one (played a sorceress, so she didn’t have many other spells to play with at that point) the indicated area very often would not be where the spell actually hit. I’d position the spell so that the aoe indicator went halfway through the enemies meleeing my party, as to avoid the companions who were close in melee. Then either of two things would happen:

  1. the spell would miss completely, or
  2. it would hit both the bad guys and my party.
    Even though no one changed their position during that time.

Why are you comparing apples to oranges?
Bolt versus ball…
Plus a lightning bolt will ricochet iirc. Bounce off walls etc.
Each spell is situational…If re-positioning mages is too cumbersome a game feature for you then this type of game is not really going to interest you.
Physical positioning is one, if not the most important aspects of RPG tactical combat encounters.
Bow range/ melee range/reach/spell distances/areas - 5 foot steps, mobility checks and attacks of opportunity…the list is very wide and deep

Table top developed hex or square grids to aid in these situations but old-school would use string, yarn, rulers, miniatures, etc.

The mechanics are comparable to the PC version of The Temple of Elemental Evil

For tabletop DMs have to interpret something like these shapes:

and overlay them on to a group of enemies or w/e.

It ain’t always gonna be like a sniper’s bullet magically head-shotting an engineer in Battlefield 3 from the stratosphere!! (oops sorry I digress)

Think of it like you and some guys are fighting hand to hand combat with swords or bayonets and your buddy steps up and yells “Look out guys I’m going to fry them with this flamethrower!” not “Hey guys take a 5-ft step and let me get a clear shot at those kobolds with this cone of fire!”

Or - you can just lower teh difficulty if micro-managing round by round is not fun for you ))