Scroll down to read as a web page or click here to download as a PDF!
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the express prior written permission of the author.
The author has made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information herein. However, the information contained in this book is sold without warranty, either express or implied. The author will not be held liable for any damages to be caused either directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this book.
Playing Skyrim normally involves acquiring gold by going on quests, engaging in some casually challenging combat, looting the dead and the surrounding area and then bringing the loot back to a vendor to sell. You could then spend this gold on skill training and this along with the use of your skills in combat gradually levels you up and makes your character more powerful. Rinse and repeat and you've got yourself a glorious, swashbuckling jaunt through the beautiful back country and badlands that make up the Skyrim gamescape.
Simple enough, right?
However, starting a new game on the Legendary difficulty setting, introduced in patch 1.9 (March 2013), this level-up-as-you-prance-aimlessly-about strategy goes out the window as you try to overcome the huge difficulty curve at the beginning of the game.
And how much harder is it?
Well first of all, here are the numbers-
Assuming that Adept difficulty is 'normal', when playing on Legendary difficulty, enemies will dish out THREE TIMES normal damage while you only hit back with 1/4 normal damage. Between these two, this creates what I call a huge 'damage deficit' that does not allow you to just go toe-to-toe with every enemy, trade a few body blows and easily win every battle through a simple war of attrition. Your days of wading into a pack of enemies, standing your ground and indiscriminately swinging your sword without a care in the world are over.
Hence, when starting out on Legendary difficulty, exploring the wilderness all of a sudden becomes a dangerous proposition that may result in your character suffering numerous and unceremonious deaths at the hands (or paws) of enemies that were previously no problem at all. You can no longer laugh off mudcrabs, a trio of wolves will be a force to be reckoned with and bears will literally drag all your resources into play in order to subdue them. And by 'all your resources', I mean a powerful and sustained barrage from your character, a follower and a summoned atronach. And while you're busy with all this, if a piddling Frostbite Spider wanders in and starts spitting poison at you from the wings, you will suddenly have a critical situation on your hands.
Likewise, early-game questing into dungeons and barrows will require well-planned and coordinated attacks to avoid having to take on more than one enemy at any one time which seems to be the defining characteristic of Legendary gameplay. A single enemy is a serious challenge but doable. Two or more enemies coming at you and you're pretty much dead meat.
So unless you're happy surviving by the skin of your teeth through sheer dumb luck, you'll have to use some advanced tactics to see your low-level character make it through.
Going with a follower is no cure-all either. Be prepared for a lot of fancy bobbing and weaving to make sure things go as intended. Just because you have a follower doesn't mean the game can't ignore them altogether and just send all three bandits after you. There's also the possibility of simply getting mismatched, e.g., your follower decides to take on a weak skeleton leaving you to go toe-to-toe with a powerful mage. Or the ever-popular scenario where enemies are screaming down your back while your follower is blocking your retreat into a narrow passage and using you as cannon fodder instead.
And if you don't like the crapshoot involved in letting your follower do what he or she wants, some very tight management will be required, that is, you'll need to repeatedly give your follower some very specific commands to make sure he always goes on point (and takes the heat off your character which is the whole idea of having a follower in the first place). Of course, this is assuming you know every area you're questing into like the back of your hand so that you can anticipate all enemy spawns.
Each dungeon and barrow may then become a grand puzzle in military strategy. And even then, you'll eventually 'run out of strategy' when you start taking on boss enemies and (*gulp*) dragons out in the open field with no townsfolk to help you and come to realize that you simply need a big stick to beat them down with. Nothing less will suffice.
No fancy-schmancy maneuvering is going to bail you out when your follower has been bludgeoned to his knees for the fifth time, you have no more Magicka to summon another atronach, you have no more stamina to run away and a barely touched Draugr Deathlord is staring you in the face laughing at your unimproved steel sword.
And getting clobbered back to the Stone Age every five minutes will quickly have a serious impact on your ideas of where you can safely go and what you can reasonably do. Going on a mission to acquire a favorite enchanted item or even just going on a simple hunting or mining expedition may involve some considerable trial-and-error (as well as numerous post-death load screens). And you'll also learn that many areas you used to cakewalk through are now downright inpenetrable. That means less resources at your disposal and hence slower leveling of skills that depend on those resources.
So until you level up considerably, handling a low-level character on Legendary may feel awkward and frustrating, kind of like trying to use a butter knife to take on King Kong.
Even when you do level up some, don't expect things to magically fall into place any time soon. Leveling up on Legendary trying to get to that sweet spot where you've finally managed to tame the game is going to feel much like the proverbial horse chasing a carrot on a stick. For some time, that sweet spot will always seem just out of reach as you face tougher and tougher enemies the more you level up.
While the damage deficit will affect both your offense and your defense, it will hit hardest on your defense. For example, you could work hard to improve your armor rating by leveling up your Smithing skill, crafting better armor and then getting some key perks in the Heavy Armor skill tree. Come character level 15, you may think you're doing pretty good sporting a 250 armor rating having applied all the tricks of the trade, e.g., activating the Lord Stone, using the Stoneflesh spell in combat and whatnot. So you begin bounding confidently up the path toward Bleak Falls Barrow thinking, "Enough of this dancing around, I'm going toe-to-toe with these suckers..."
But then when you see a lowly level 5 bandit come at you and totally decimate your 'fantastic' 250 armor rating leaving you dead after a single running power attack (and using a crappy iron mace to boot), you may then suddenly wonder if there was any point in building up your armor at all. And you'll be right.
There's a phase on Legendary difficulty between, say, level 5 and level 30 (if you're good, much higher if you're not so good) where you'll never be able to produce armor tough enough to be of any real use. Quite frankly, the most your armor will do during this period is buy you just enough time to beat a quick retreat. That's assuming of course that you're also leveling up your offensive attack whatever that may be. I mean, you could conceivably produce some fairly good armor early game but you'll have to do so at the expense of a good offense which then means it will take you forever and a day to kill the bad guys.
And let me just save you the trouble of some extensive trial and error right now and tell you that Legendary pretty much laughs at any armor rating below 400. Keeping this in mind, it becomes soon apparent that all character builds will actually fair much better going in the opposite direction, that is quickly building a powerful offense at the expense of a good defense. This glass cannon approach will also give you a lot more elbow room to make your way around the Skyrim gamescape gathering the resources you need to level up to your fully armored final build.
Most character builds also have some form of stagger lock effect where they can perform an attack that staggers the enemy and then do the same attack again before the enemy has a chance to recover thus keeping the enemy perpetually at bay. Two-Handed warriors can have a stagger lock at their disposal as early as reaching Riverwood for the first time, that is, a mere 20 minutes into the game. Other character builds such as Mages and Archers will have to get certain perks to be able to stagger lock enemies but it's still doable within a couple of hours real time. So on top of quick leveling to a more powerful offense, most character builds would be well advised to push hard to acquire their particular stagger lock as soon as possible.
The bottom line is, you don't need armor if the enemy can't touch you.
Of all the character builds you can create in Skyrim, you can pretty much boil it down to three basic models: Archer, Melee and Mage.
Melee characters can be subdivided into either One-Handed or Two-Handed weapon masters and One-Handed can be further subdivided into One-Handed With a Shield or Dual Wielding One-Handed.
Mage characters can be subdivided into Pure Mage (no physical armor) or Tank Mage (heavily armored). And then of course there are different nuances of mages, e.g., unleash-hell Destruction mages, small-army Conjuration mages, sneaky Illusionists and more.
Destruction mages are the most visually spectacular and geared towards all out action and here you could go with either Pure Mage or Tank Mage. But remember, Legendary difficulty scoffs at any armor rating below 400 which is actually above the maximum you can normally achieve with a Pure Mage (unless you carry a shield which is kind of counterproductive) and that's with a lot of spell casting. So Tank Mage is definitely a better choice.
Having played easily over 1000 hours of Skyrim (most of it on Legendary) and experimented with many different character builds, I'd say Destruction spell mages, surprisingingly enough, are the ones most seriously hamstrung by the Legendary difficulty damage deficit. You not only have to deal with defeating ultra-tough enemies head on but your low-level mage won't have enough Magicka to fry up more than a single enemy at a time before having to literally rest up for as much as a minute and a half waiting for his Magicka bar to refill. And 90 seconds is a looonnnng time when you've got two more heavily armored bandits bearing down on you.
Very simply, there is just not enough gas in the tank to get the job done. So unless you enjoy spending a lot of time cowering in fear with a bottomed-out magicka bar while praying your follower and atronach can hold down the front lines, you're going to need a way to really kickstart a Legendary Destruction mage to not only overcome the damage deficit but the magicka deficit as well.
A further handicap is that the Destruction skill levels very slowly, so slowly in fact that you cannot reasonably rely on skill usage in combat to level up Destruction. Instead, you'll have to purchase skill training and read skill books to get the job done.
Now there are several routes you can take to build a tank mage on Legendary difficulty (discussed further below) but the one I think is the most fun is a character build I like to call...
The Quick and Dirty Dark Elf build is a tank mage I've concocted that will be powerful enough to easily take on some of the toughest challenges in the game on Legendary difficulty by character level 28. This includes routing giant's camps, dealing with draugr deathlords, going toe-to-toe with dragon priests and, of course, bringing down dragons without getting instantly cooked to a crisp. Most particularly, this tank mage can easily survive the entire College of Winterhold quest line.
This build will take about 10 hours to complete real time and I know some of you avid gamers could probably do this in a single sitting. But even if you're just a casual gamer, it will only take you two to four sittings to complete this build.
Obviously, you'll be playing as a Dark Elf. As for the 'quick and dirty' part, allow me to explain:
The absolute best way to do things in Skyrim is not necessarily the most fun.
To start with, you can actually complete a character build (any character build) almost entirely behind the scenes, that is, while engaging in very little combat out in the field. And yes, you can do this even on Legendary difficulty. Basically, you role play as a businessman and simply 'buy' your way to the top. All you have to do is know where you can safely acquire the right resources and then leverage all those resources into a powerful build. And that's with no exploits or cheats.
From a defensive point of view, the ideal race to start out as on Legendary difficulty is a Breton on account of their 25% Magic Resistance racial ability. This can be stacked with another 25% from the Lord Stone, another 15% from completing the Book of Love quest and another 20% from getting the Magic Resistance - Rank 2 perk in the Alteration skill tree. This makes a total of 85%, the maximum allowable magic resistance in the game. However, even if it's short of 100%, 85% magic resistance will still allow you to take the full brunt of a dragon's fire or frost breath attack while barely seeing a dent in your health bar. Basically you'll be immune to dragons (and most enemy mages).
Unfortunately, Bretons only start out with their Destruction skill at 15 which means it's a long way before you'll be using some decent fire and frost attacks of your own. However, if you roleplay as a businessman, it won't matter since you won't have to engage in any serious combat until you're fully ready to do so.
And the best way to roleplay as a businessman in Skyrim is to use the Alchemy business model. Basically, you collect a ton of ingredients and then use them to craft huge batches of potions thus leveling your Alchemy skill very quickly allowing you to make much more valuable potions. Couple this with some well timed Speech, Enchanting and Smithing skill leveling and you could have an absolutely perfect and immensely powerful tank mage by the time you reach level 30.
However, there are two drawbacks to this approach:
Now personally, I don't mind playing Skyrim like this and there are some distinct advantages, the details of which are beyond the scope of this ebook. Suffice it to say that spending 12-14 hours role playing as a businessman to create the perfect build is not everybody's cup of tea. For this reason, I thought it best to break some golden rules of good Legendary character building and get people into heavy combat as soon as possible.
So damn the torpedoes. Let's use those skill books early in the game, let's forget about proper skill leveling by always using the right Guardian Stone, let's get cooked up by dragons a little more than necessary and to hell with the best business model.
Hence, quick and dirty.
We don't need no stinkin' flowers!
This Dark Elf tank mage build will have you holding your own in heavy combat on Legendary difficulty in under two hours. Now admittedly, you'll be playing as a glass cannon for quite some time but you'll still be able to comfortably hold the line if you follow the strategies outlined below.
Alright, without further ado, let's get busy...