RPGs are known for granting players dozens of ways of solving problems, whether those come from quests or simply making your character. Many options exist for players to experiment with to create unique builds.
While Skyrim removed the major and minor skill system from previous games, it replaced it with an impactful skill tree for each skill. This made build variety better than in previous entries in the series while allowing unprecedented levels of flexibility. From using magic to burn down cities to striking enemies from the shadows with your trusty bow, here are the best builds you need to try for Skyrim. Due to Skyrim’s difficulty, or lack thereof, these entries are in no particular order. Pick what sounds most fun to you.
Recently updated on April 27th, 2021 by Charles Burgar: All 15 builds we listed originally are still fantastic in their own way, providing unique playstyles that can take you all the way to Skyrim’s toughest content. To help recreate these builds, we’ve clarified a few things in each entry and added a short stat breakdown on what each build focuses on.
Initially updated on June 30th, 2020 by Anastasia Maillot: The cool detail about Bethesda’s super popular fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls series is that the game really doesn’t punish the player for playing in a way that suits them. While the different schools of magic are generally considered the hardest skills to master, especially early on, even a mage can thrive in Skyrim.
Due to this, there’s true flexibility in the game, and each player can simply go for a build that best suits their own playstyle. Here are just five more great builds that any player should try, either to attempt something brand new in the game or to spice up their gameplay experience.
15 Elemental Fury
- Race: Redguard or Orc
- Core Skills: One-Handed, Light Armor
- Recommended Shout: Elemental Fury
Skyrim introduced the ability to dual wield items, allowing players to equip two swords simultaneously or use two different spells at once.
Dual wielding swords is one of the coolest things you can do in Skyrim, and it makes for a very powerful build as well. Scale your one-handed damage through the respective skill tree. From there, use the Elemental Fury shout to slash through opponents twice as fast. Rapidly striking enemies with two swords never gets old.
- Race: Breton
- Core Skills: Heavy Armor, One-Handed, Restoration
- Recommended Spells: Close Wounds, Vampire’s Bane, Bane of the Undead
The paladin is a classic archetype from any RPG game and is easy to replicate in Skyrim. Utilizing Restoration and blade, paladins smite the unholy with a melee-spellcasting hybrid playstyle.
It’s best adjusted for Bretons, who make great half-mages due to their innate racial bonus that provides them with +5 in a variety of skills. Focus on Heavy Armor, One-Handed, and Restoration skills, which will make for a character who can sustain a lot of damage in a fight while also keeping themselves and any allies up.
13 Dual Dagger Assassin
- Race: Orc
- Core Skills: Light Armor, One-Handed, Sneak, Illusion
- Recommended Spells: Frenzy, Muffle, Invisibility
Dual-wielding is an underappreciated build in Skyrim, mostly because it takes away some of the flexibility seen in other builds that incorporate shields or one-handed spells. However, it’s a really unique game mechanic and makes for some interesting builds, including the dual dagger assassin build.
Orcs are a great race to try this dual dagger build with due to their special ability called Berserker Rage, which allows them to deal twice as much damage for one minute while taking only half of all incoming damage. It’s a high damage, up close and personal kind of build, utilizing Light Armor and Sneak to get the drop on your foes.
- Race: Breton
- Core Skills: Light or Heavy Armor, One-Handed, Destruction, Restoration
- Recommended Spells: Close Wounds, Lightning Bolt, Bound Sword (early game), Frost Cloak, Ice Storm
The spellsword is a more standard version of the Paladin build, with a bit more flexibility on what kind of spells to build on and what kind of armor to go for. The spellsword is one of the most versatile and customizable builds because of how many schools of magic and weapon types you can weave together.
In essence, the build relies on One-Handed sword skill and a few spells of choice from multiple schools of magic. Destruction magic is one of the best ones to go for early on in the game, especially Flames. More defensive variants can be created as well, utilizing Wards and Alteration magic to mitigate incoming damage.
11 Pure Mage
- Race: High Elf
- Core Skills: Alteration, Destruction, Restoration, Conjuration, Enchanting
- Recommended Spells: Close Wounds, Lightning Bolt, Flames (early game), Ice Storm, Conjure Frost Atronach
Players looking to really challenge themselves should absolutely go for a pure mage build. This build has a serious learning curve, requiring extensive knowledge on how bonuses and enchants work. The end result is a character that can turn every enemy into dust.
Those wanting to reap all the benefits of this build should go for a High Elf as a starting race. The Pure Mage requires the player to pick a school of magic (or several schools of magic) and specialize. Destruction is great for damage, but Conjuration is also excellent when fighting multiple enemies. Weapons aren’t needed once you have good Magicka sustain.
- Race: Any
- Core Skills: Conjuration, Destruction, Alteration (if summoner-focused), Heavy Armor (if melee), Two-Handed (if melee)
- Recommended Spells: Summon Frost Atronach, Flaming Familiar, Dead Thrall, Ice Storm
Although there isn’t a proper school of necromancy in Skyrim, there are still ways to play as a Necromancer type of mage. This is basically the opposite of a Paladin conceptually, specializing in more heretical uses of Conjuration, Destruction, and Alteration schools of magic.
On top of this, to make the character even more vicious and sustainable, the player can opt for Heavy Armor and Two-Handed, fully turning them into a dark knight of death. With the Daedric armor unlocked and enchanted, any character will look intimidating and demolish their foes with an undead army by their side.
9 Bound Warrior
- Race: Redguard
- Core Skills: Conjuration, One-Handed, Light Armor, Archery
- Recommended Spells: Bound Sword, Bound Bow, Summon Dremora Lord
While most associate Conjuration with summoning creatures from Oblivion to fight alongside you, this school of magic is also capable of creating weapons for you to use.
Bound weapons are incredibly powerful early-game spells in Skyrim. Bound Bow and Bound Sword are great spells that summon Daedric-quality gear for the player to use for a minute. Upgrading the tree can make these weapons deal even more damage while also allowing you to summon Dremora Lords to do your bidding. It’s an enjoyable build that is fantastic in the early to mid-game of Skyrim.
8 Unarmed Khajiit
- Race: Khajiit
- Core Skills: Heavy Armor, Enchanting
- Recommended Enchantments: Fortify Unarmed, Fortify Stamina Regen
Every race in Skyrim has a unique passive that keeps them distinct from the rest. Khajiits have a few, one of which grants them increased unarmed damage.
Their sharp claws allow them to deal increased damage with their fists compared to other classes. There is also a perk in the Heavy Armor skill tree called Fists of Steel, granting unarmed damage equal to your gauntlet’s base armor rating. Get a pair of Daedric gloves, obtain the Fortify Unarmed enchantment, then enjoy punching everything from humans to dragons to death. Certain Shouts like Marked for Death can make this deal even more damage as well.
- Race: Any
- Core Skills: Alchemy, Enchanting, Smithing
If you aren’t sure what to play when you create a character for Skyrim, focusing on crafting professions isn’t a bad idea. Skills like Enchanting, Smithing, and Alchemy become incredibly powerful when leveled up.
Enchanting allows you to add unique modifiers to weapons and armor, including increased damage and health. Smithing will let you create virtually any non-quest item in the game, ranging from Iron armor to Daedric gear. Alchemy is one of the most underrated skills in Skyrim, letting the player create potions that grant temporary bonuses that can make you virtually invincible. Any weapon or spell will work with this style of character.
6 Tanky Conjurer
- Race: Breton
- Core Skills: Block, Conjuration, Heavy Armor
- Recommended Spells: Bound Sword, Summon Dremora Lord
Blocking attacks in Skyrim can be fun to do, but there is little reason to do so when you are wearing great armor. On higher difficulties, however, being able to absorb damage is key.
Unlike most tank builds, using Conjuration as a secondary skill can be incredibly strong. Conjuration allows you to summon two Dremora Lords to deal amazing amounts of damage and draw the attention of most of your enemies. You can then swing your one-handed weapon at enemies alongside your Dremora Lords to take down any enemy in the game. The shield you use is still a great backup for when enemies decide to focus on attacking you, giving your Dremora Lords free rein to attack and kill them.
5 Destruction Mages
- Race: Altmer
- Core Skills: Destruction, Alteration (no armor), Light or Heavy Armor
- Recommended Spells: Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Storm, Ice Storm
While spell crafting is missing in this installment, Destruction is still a great school of magic for players to invest in.
Completing the College of Winterhold questline will reward you with powerful Master Destruction spells, letting you summon Blizzards of Fire Storms at will. While this is already rather powerful, the Magicka cost for these abilities can be reduced to nothing. If you equip enchanted items that add up to 100% reduced Magicka cost of Destruction spells, you can cast these powerful spells forever. It is a very fun way to play Skyrim, disintegrating dragons with Lightning Storm or throwing multiple Fireballs in quick succession.
- Race: Any
- Required Item: Ring of Hircine
- Werewolf Totem: Totem of Brotherhood (Howl of the Pack)
- Werewolf Perks: Savage Feeding, Totem of Ice Brothers, Totem of the Moon
Those who go through the Companions questline will eventually be offered the ability to become a Werewolf. This ability is incredibly powerful when invested in properly.
The “Dawnguard” DLC adds a skill tree for Werewolves to invest in, granting powerful bonuses when they feed on corpses. Playing a dedicated Werewolf allows you to have unrivaled passive Stamina regeneration, strong melee attacks, and constant wolves that fight by your side. With the Ring of Hircine, you can keep transforming into a Werewolf as much as you like, making this a proper playstyle instead of a temporary buff.
3 Windshear Stun Master
- Race: Redguard
- Core Skills: One-Handed, Light Armor, Destruction
- Recommended Enchantments: Fortify Stamina Regen
- Recommended Spell: Chain Lightning
The Windshear is a unique scimitar found in the “Hail Sithis!” quest for the Dark Brotherhood. You can find it on the ship on the main deck.
This scimitar is so powerful that you can make a build with just this weapon. It has the unique property of staggering any enemy it hits, letting you stun-lock targets with rapid attacks. When Windshear can’t be used to strike targets, you can use a Chain Lightning staff to stun targets from afar, letting you close the gap to stun-lock them. This makes you virtually impossible to hit.
2 Stealth Archer
- Race: Any
- Core Skills: Archery, Sneak, Illusion, Conjuration (early game)
- Recommended Spells: Bound Bow (early game), Muffle, Invisibility, Calm
Fans of Skyrim know of this build, combining the high damage of Archery with the absurd Stealth damage bonuses Sneaking grants. Few builds can match the damage output of this build.
Stealth Archers invest heavily in the Sneak and Archery trees to scale their damage. Unlike most builds, this build has fantastic damage that gets multiplied by massive Stealth damage multipliers. Better yet, having a high Stealth rating allows you to stay concealed during the toughest of encounters, preventing enemies from attacking you since they can’t see you. The main flaw with this build is how long it takes to get going, making leveling this character for the first few hours somewhat annoying. Once you get better sneak multipliers and bows, this build can one-shot virtually every enemy in the game.
1 Illusion Assassin
- Race: Altmer (any works)
- Core Skills: Illusion, One-Handed, Sneak
- Recommended Spells: Bound Dagger, Bound Bow, Frenzy, Calm, Pacify, Invisibility
Taking much of what makes Stealth Archers broken, Illusion Assassins are stealth characters that are more focused on using spells and daggers than bows.
Rapid dagger strikes can gain the stealth damage multiplier, making them stronger than bows can ever hope to be. Since you also invest in Illusion, you have the ability of frenzying every enemy in a room into fighting each other, letting you clear dungeons without so much as raising a weapon. For dragon fights, you can use Marked for Death and rapidly strike the enemy from behind to kill them in seconds.
Next: Skyrim: 10 Wacky Builds Every Pro Player Should Try At Least Once
Charles Burgar is an expert on all things tech and gaming. Graduating from Pikes Peak Community College in 2018 with an Associate of Science, Charles has spent his time dissecting popular video games, movies, and technology. With an understanding of games for as long as he can remember, Charles has a large interest in understanding what makes things fun. He is currently a Freelance writer for TheGamer and Game Rant.
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