I think you miss part of my point, but that's fine - the discussion is the important thing here. So, let me rephrase a little and perhaps address your comments here.
I honestly question the original premise here. I agree that magic is not particularly interesting in vanilla, but severely underpowered? I have played multiple straight mage characters in vanilla without any problem dealing with multiple or powerful foes. A couple enchantments, maybe bringing along a couple potions/staff... Even without the extras, the worst problem with magic is simply spell scaling and the fact that on higher levels you have to spam spells to whittle down enemies.
Interesting is only part of it. Though, on that track, sticking to vanilla here, let's look at this. Going to Helgen again, because this is likely the first time one will try magic of any sort in the game, my original statement stands. Using only magic, Flames in particular, you basically have to end up kiting every single foe and drain your pool several times over. From the standpoint of being interesting, certainly it isn't. It's more annoying and frustrating. This kills interest, and in many cases will almost force players to choose a more blade and bow oriented build in a simple bid to survive.
I can accept needing to use potions to restore the pool in extended combat. I can accept use of enchantments (once you get that far in the game, which currently would be a chore as a pure mage) as a valid way to make yourself more into the BA of Magery I envision. I cannot accept that in a one on one battle, or even two on two, that I cannot shoot flames from my hands and burn one of them to a crisp in fairly short order. I recently was tasked by the Companions to take down a wanted criminal. To test my magery build, I decided to use nothing but. As a reference, I was character level 11 with Destruction 27 using only flames. I had a mana pool of 190, and all available Destruction perks. I drained this completely while backpedaling from this criminal, and he was only just a hair more than halfway down on his HP. Were it not for a potion that sped up my mana recovery and the burn damage he sustained while I waited to refill and unload again, I would certainly have been killed. By contrast, as a archer (which is typical for me), I could have one-shot him from stealth, at range, and never been in any danger at all. Even 1- or 2-handed weaponeers would have never been in as much danger in such a confrontation.
I would imagine (and please, correct me if I'm wrong...) that your vanilla play-through that you mention involved a great deal of either hit-and-run magery or a great deal of resorting to blade and bow. Neither of these, in my mind, is the essence of being a mage. To see a mage take the field should be to fear for your own life without a means to counter them. They command the very elements, and bind reality to their will. They shoot flames from their hands. AI prevents this from happening, as no actual person would likely charge straight at what is, for all intents and purposes, a human flamethrower. They do. This is a problem, because in terms of pure damage output and armor, the Mage simply cannot compete with the more brawny builds.
In my opinion the problem is more to do with flexibility and diversity of tactics, and that's a problem that affects just about all skills.
Truth, and no argument, so far as it goes. Any more blade and bow oriented build has a great deal of flexibility. Mages do not, not to the same degree that the others do.
An archer has range on his side - Mages do not. Though spells like Ice Spike can, in theory, be used from great range, the simple fact that spells cannot be used from stealth like arrows kills this advantage. Stealth breaks instantly on cast, unlike an archer's arrow shot, where you may be able to get two or three shots off without revealing your location.
A blade user has armor on his side - Mages do not. Even with enchantments and Alteration spells to buff armor, they cannot trade close-range blows with enemies. They shouldn't have to from the arch-type standpoint anyhow. In sufficient numbers, no mage can stand up to infantry without significant preparations and AOE type spells (which are also lacking in the Mage's repertoire.)
So long range is out... short range is out... where exactly does the Mage shine, then?
I agree with your statement that scaling is a big part of the problem. What I find interesting is that your own statements would seem, to me, to only support my original premise - that mages in a vanilla game cannot stand on their own without resorting to other means that are not, thematically speaking, options for a mage.
Stepping away from all of that for a moment to wrap up... in any fantasy game, Mages are huge battle-space multipliers. Their power is out of scale with anything else on the field. There are ways to work against them - usually through stealth (archers and assassins?) or ambushes (the blade users?), but in any situation in which a Mage knows their foe is there and is even remotely prepared for combat, it is extremely one-sided, and not on the side of the blade and bow crowd. Now, I'm not saying I want a god-caster... that would be even less fun that what is here. What I am saying is that they should at least be able to stand against those groups and be a bit more feared than they currently are... and that's PC or NPC both.
To me, Ordinator + Apocalypse is the answer here. Played with both for quite a while and love them, specifically for that - the amount of diversity added to character builds and potential tactics offered. Toss in a good combat mod - Vigor or Wildcat, and maybe some additional weapon/armor mods and you're good to go.
Mod suggestions are always good, though I'll have to look at Ordinator before I could say anything about this combination, as though I've heard of it, I've never looked it up. So on this portion of your comments, I won't comment myself.
Glad you seem to not have problems with the vanilla setup for mages... or at least minimal ones... but a large portion of the rest of the community would seem to disagree for a multitude of reasons, only some of which I have listed here and in my original post.