The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been around for almost ten years. Players from my generation are likely screaming internally about the passage of time. Some see the game as the firestarter of a new generation of gamers, and god, do I envy you for it. Here, I’m going to share with you 9 of the best Skyrim builds.
Either way, a decade of testing and experimentation has yielded a massive collection of the best ways to play through Skyrim. I spent many hours of my life sifting through potential character builds — now I’ve curated a list of the best ones so you don’t have to!
9 Powerful and Fun Skyrim Builds
There are two pretty distinct versions of Skyrim builds. The first is more powerful, considered to be the best Skyrim builds for legendary difficulty playthroughs. The second is more interesting, centering around unorthodox builds that offer the most novel experience.
We’ve picked out a few of each, but we’ll start with the most powerful builds. As a quick disclaimer, we’ve left out Stealth Archer (we figure most players understand how strong it is). With that in mind, let’s get to our picks of the best Skyrim character builds!
1. The Bound Warrior
I honestly can’t think of an early-game build more powerful than this one. It’s essentially a more specialized type of spellsword centered around the use of bound weapons.
The core skill, and your natural choice for early investment in this build, is the conjuration school of magic. Playing as a Breton gives you a kickstart for this, as Bretons start the game with a Conjure Familiar spell that allows you to start leveling conjuration right out of Helgen. From there, if you make a beeline for Whiterun, you can almost immediately buy a Bound Sword spell tome from Farengar, Whiterun’s court wizard.
Bound Sword is a Novice-level conjuration spell. The sword itself has the base stats of an Orcish sword, which easily outclasses all the steel and iron stuff that the game gives you at the start. Furthermore, obtaining the Level 20 conjuration perk Mystic Binding raises its stats to those of a Daedric sword, essentially letting you use one of the best swords in the game as early as Level 3.
The perks of using a bound sword over a real one are countless: it weighs nothing, simply conjuring your sword in the presence of an enemy levels conjuration on top of the one-handed leveling from the fight, it benefits from all “fortify one-handed” enchantments and potions, and further perks in the conjuration tree can give it all the benefits of a well-enchanted sword. All that isn’t even to mention the further benefits of conjuration investment or that more bound weaponry becomes available as you level. There’s really no better way to hit the ground running.
2. The Magical Tank
Keeping with the theme of “conjuration fricken rules,” let’s take that to its logical extreme. I debated placing this build among the ranks of the purely fun builds simply because of how memable it is, but its efficacy speaks for itself.
The basic idea is this: max out conjuration, heavily invest in blocking and heavy armor, and get yourself a decent destruction spell.
The Twin Souls conjuration perk coupled with one of the master-level Thrall spells lets you summon two permanent atronachs, which are almost stupidly powerful tanks that will charge your enemies. Get yourself a suit of decent heavy armor and a shield, and equip a destruction spell in your main hand. Then a fight goes something like this: your elemental tanks charge your enemies as you hang back in your turtle shell, sending bolts of destruction towards them from a distance.
Even in extremely late-game fights, the high protection offered by your armor will massively offset what little damage you actually take, and a decent destruction spell will supplement your atronachs damage to make quick work of anything that faces you.
Plus, there’s just something especially satisfying about sitting back and watching your magical goons beat up your enemies.
3. The Paladin
Truly one of the fantasy archetypes, the Paladin is the tanky do-gooder, seeking to crush evil from the world and all that stuff. In roleplay terms, this is a really fun way to approach all of the daedric artifact quests.
In practical terms, if you want to play as a loner, this playstyle is one of the only viable methods for the later game (the main alternative being sneak-focused). For this build, your primary skills are going to be One-Handed, Heavy Armor, and Block. Although two-handed might feel more appropriate for a tanky build, the damage absorption of a shield is vital when all enemies are targeting you (and some of the later block perks are really fun). You’re basically building yourself into the quintessential chivalric knight.
Of course, the Paladin always supplements their warrior skills with divine blessings (i.e., magic). So the secondary skills would be Alteration and Restoration, to both augment your heavy armor with some well-placed Ebonyflesh as well as supplementing your health loss with an array of healing spells. As an added bonus, the Dawnguard DLC gives some pretty fun anti-undead restoration spells to further crush your unholy enemies.
So, you’ve got your equipment and your magical bonuses. What’s left? In a word: refinement. Investment in smithing and enchantment gives you that bit of extra oomph to take your build to the next level. This might be stating the obvious, but the power you can get out of honing and enchanting equipment really can’t be understated. On that note…
4. The Craftsman
Maybe a bit less purely fun and action-packed than the other builds listed in this article, but nevertheless, the crafting capabilities in Skyrim are far too easy to pass over.
You’re focusing on smithing, enchanting, and alchemy. Make and refine the best gear you can manage, enchant it to make it that much better, and brew potions to supplement whatever skills you might need. Alternatively, just make insane money.
You can supplement this build with whatever weapons or armor you choose, but fundamentally this build is centered around making the best possible gear for whatever playstyle you choose. You’ll be producing whatever gear you want on demand, enchanting it to the best possible level, and compounding it with the potions to make you a living god. You can even supplement whatever god-tier equipment you produce with potions that fortify your skills that much more.
As a bonus, the interaction between these three core skills lets you easily produce potions and equipment that can sell for thousands of septims, supplementing whatever material costs you might encounter in trying to build the equipment of your dreams.
5. The Staggerer
This is one I’ve been excited about. It’s unique in this list in that it’s based entirely around two specific weapons.
First of all, you need to progress far enough through the Dark Brotherhood questline to get onto a certain ship (I’m assuming all readers have played enough Skyrim to know what I’m talking about, but let’s avoid spoilers for those who haven’t).
Once there, you grab a certain unique scimitar: Windshear. To supplement that, find a Staff of Chain Lightning. These aren’t unique, so you can find them in all manner of places. Once these two are found, you’re basically unstoppable.
Both of these weapons have a significant chance of staggering any enemy they hit. Windshear in particular has a literal 100% chance of staggering any opponent it hits, only countered by two very specific perks from the heavy armor skill tree: Tower of Strength and Reflect Blows. Even then, these only provide a chance of deflecting this effect, so literally nothing is immune to it.
Stack on top of that the fact that Windshear’s unique block attack enchantment grants a better than ⅓ chance to paralyze an enemy long enough to ragdoll them to the ground, and you’ve got yourself an almost uncounterable build. Frankly, the Staff of Chain Lightning is mainly there to supplement Windshear’s staggering, but that one unique Scimitar alone is enough to construct an entire build around.
I’ve never noticed the power of this sword, and I am looking forward to trying it on my next playthrough.
Most Fun Builds in Skyrim
Now that we’ve discussed the powerful builds, let’s talk a bit about some of the more enjoyable ones. We can’t promise they’re among the best builds, but they each bring something unique to the table.
6. The Idiot Wizard
Just imagine — you were sent to the College of Winterhold, only to find that you’re just not that great at magic. Your experiments with Firebolt just wound up setting your clothes on fire, your wards failed to deflect the spitballs your peers sent in your direction, and you couldn’t manage to heal a papercut.
But. BUT. You can read scrolls just fine, and using staves comes quite naturally to you. And so, there are your tools to face the world.
If you haven’t got the vibe yet, the idea behind this build is to do a full mage build that exclusively uses scrolls and staves; pre-packaged magic.
You’re not gonna have an easy time with this build, but reconstructing Skyrim with this idea makes for a completely different game, guaranteeing your next playthrough will be an entirely new experience.
7. The Pure Scholar
In my headcanon, this guy would be a classmate of the idiot wizard. While they struggled through the simplest of spells, the Pure Scholar quickly breezed through all of the College classes and set their sights on the coveted Arch-Mage position.
In concrete terms, this build is centered on maximizing all branches of magic. To make this build in any way viable, we highly recommend picking a specific school at the beginning to ensure that you have some combat proficiency. My recommendation is destruction to ensure some level of damage early on.
This build does come to be quite powerful as the game reaches its later stages, as the master spells for every school of magic are extremely powerful. Summoning literal storms of fire, lightning, or ice, gaining near-absolute control over most enemies, and freely summoning the toughest friendly tanks gives you immense power over your enemies, provided you can survive long enough to use it!
8. The Pacifist
In any RPG, this a quintessential playthrough to try out. The primary way you change the rules here is to never, ever kill anybody that the game doesn’t literally force you to.
Though this build is definitely among the most complicated to play, there are a fair number of spells and powers that can substantially ease your way through the game, specifically those unlocked through the Illusion school. Here, you find a fascinating variety of possible paths — sit back and watch as your enemies kill each other, terrify your opponents so they flee from combat, or calm all combatants long enough to flee from a combat zone.
Add the choice between purely sneaking through your foes unnoticed or tanking your way through the attacks of your opponents (perhaps taking some inspiration from the Paladin build), and you have yourself several additional playthroughs of what is basically an entirely new game.
9. Khajiit Bruiser
Ok, so I might have saved my favorite for last, but I just love every aspect of this build. The core concept? No weapons, ever.
Weirdly enough, this is actually a pretty powerful build for the majority of the game. The Khajiit claws exceed the base damage of literally any one-handed weapon in the game. Per the Elder Scrolls Wiki, they have the same base stats as an Ebony greatsword.
Yeah. Ebony greatsword at Level 1. You can further augment this with the Fists of Steel heavy armor perk, adding the base armor rating to the unarmed damage. Pop the additional enchantment from the “Gloves of the Pugilist” (easily obtained in the second Thieves Guild quest) gives you a shockingly competitive level of bare-knuckle damage.
Don’t take my word for it here — try it for yourself. With Skyrim’s fantastic unarmed finishing animations and the incredible power of a slightly boosted Khajiit’s claws, this is without a doubt my favorite way to play through Skyrim. Challenge and goofy fun times at their perfect blend.
Best Skyrim Builds: High Ground View
It’s amazing just how many playstyles can come out of one single game. Even after ten years, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim continues to be close to all of our hearts and offer new ways to play.
Hopefully our list has given you some inspiration to make the most out of your next playthrough! If you have some suggestions or alternative builds you feel like our community should know, please feel free to let us know in the comments! And as always, don’t forget to subscribe to our email list for more unique ways to look at those well-aged games!