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How To Best Use Axes, Swords, & Maces Strategically

Weapon types in Skyrim fall under axes, swords, and maces. There is no ‘best’ option. Rather, each one has its own distinct advantage and strategy.

Fighting takes place a great deal in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, whether it’s a group of bandits, a vicious bear, or a fire-breathing dragon. Spells, marksmanship, and stealth are all valid approaches, but when combat gets up close and personal, nothing beats a melee weapon. At its base level, melee combat in Skyrim boils down to attacks and power attacks with either a one or two-handed weapon. Close-quarters victory is determined by the strength of the player’s weapon, how many hits they can connect, and how many hits they can block or withstand. Players looking for something deeper might be surprised to find that there’s a higher level to Skyrim’s combat.

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Excluding Skyrim mods that turn chairs into deadly weapons, Skyrim’s melee weapons fall into three separate categories: swords, axes, and maces. Some players choose their weapon based on its aesthetic, but most go by damage value. A weapon’s material is an important factor – ebony or Dragonbone always hit harder than iron or steel. Likewise, bludgeon weapons like war hammers and maces always deal the highest damage, while swords and greatswords deal the least. War axes fall somewhere in the middle. This might at first disappoint players who prefer swords to maces, but there are many other factors to consider.

Related: What Skyrim’s Best Daedric Artifacts Are

Without even taking skill trees and perks into consideration, weapon type means more than just base damage. While swords (and daggers) do far less damage than warhammers, they also weigh less. Just like in D&D, powerful weapons with a low carry weight are inherently more valuable. In Skyrim, a weapon’s weight affects not only how much inventory space it takes up, but also attack speed. Lightweight weapons boast a much faster swinging speed, meaning more hits per second. It’s far deadlier to dual-wield enchanted, smithed daggers than it is to swing a freshly-looted heavy war axe, even if said axe is made from a stronger material.

Dual wielding Elven daggers in Skyrim

A weapon’s carry weight also determines how much stamina it takes to perform a power attack, making warhammers more a matter of high risk, high reward: While a heavy attack with a heavy weapon will deal tremendous damage, it will drain more stamina. A heavy weapon therefore lands fewer power attacks per fight than a lighter one. This means that missing a power attack with a sword isn’t too costly, but missing that crucial power attack with one of Skyrim’s heavy Dragonbone greatswords could mean ending up on the back foot. Spending stamina at the right time is critical for melee builds; it’s a resource that fuels attacks, affects blocked damage, and allows for sprinting. With a depleted stamina bar, none of these strenuous actions are possible. In terms of stamina management, a steel sword that weighs 10 pounds is less risky than an ebony mace which weighs 19.

Whether one-handed or two-handed, Skyrim handles perks related to weapon types in largely the same way. Leveling up swords specifically will unlock and improve both their critical hit chance and their critical damage dealt. Maces and warhammers can be leveled to ignore an enemy’s armor, and axes cause extra bleed damage. At higher levels this added layer of contrast between weapon types becomes negligible, but conceptually it’s definitely one of the things The Elder Scrolls 6 should take from Skyrim. At first glance it may not seem like these individual perks are worth it, but leaning into them can make for stronger martial builds.

Skyrim – When To Use A Sword

Starting with swords, it’s important to discern what critical damage actually means: Critical strikes will bypass armor and generally deal an additional half of a weapon’s base damage. Putting perks into Bladesman or Deep Wounds first adds the 10% chance that a sword will land a critical strike. A second perk bumps that chance up to 15% and adds a 1.25 multiplier to critical damage. Maxed out, the chance to crit goes up to 20%, and an additional 1.5 multiplier is stacked on top of the 1.25. There are some exceptions to Skyrim’s critical damage rules, and it would be nice if The Elder Scrolls 6 brought the Fighter’s Guild back so that NPCs could organically explain its inherent complexity. This 20% critical hit chance might still seem small, but considering the sword’s faster swing speeds, it can be significant, especially with a second sword in the left hand.

Related: Useful Morrowind Spells That Would Make TES6 Better Than Skyrim

Skyrim – When To Use A Mace

A player getting the hammer kill cam animation in Skyrim

Though it’s not as important when fighting animals, dragons, or Draugr, Skyrim’s bandits and other humanoid opponents almost always sport some kind of armor. While the sword’s critical strikes have a chance to bypass armor entirely, the mace and war hammer can be leveled to ignore up to 75% of it with every single hit. Against bandit chieftains and adversaries with high armor ratings (like the Ebony Warrior), bludgeon weapons are a good way to pulverize past their strongest line of defense. Considering these weapons have a slower swing speed and high-stamina power attacks, Volendrung is a good choice, even though it’s one of Skyrim’s Daedric artifacts that could use an update in TES 6.

Skyrim – When To Use An Axe

Axes have neither the swing speed of a sword nor the higher base damage of a mace. The axe bleeding damage is unique, however, and stacking other kinds of damage over time on top of it is the best way to maximize its damage output. Depending on the weapon material, axes can deal anywhere between 5-18 points of bleed damage after spending all three perks in Hack and Slash or Limbsplitter. It’s best to enchant the axe with fire, since targets on fire receive further additional damage. An active elemental cloak spell boosts this damage over time even more, and putting a lingering poison on the axe before combat will add yet a fourth layer to stackable damage. This is one of the most devastating ways Alchemy can enhance Skyrim’s strongest builds.

Rather than choosing a favorite weapon type, the best approach is to choose the best weapon for the job. The axe’s capacity for damage over time makes it the best choice for prolonged fights against sturdier opponents. It also makes it a good defensive option for whittling away at an enemy’s health while staying safe behind a shield. Heavy armor means little in the face of a bludgeon weapon, making maces and war hammers the better option against crowds of bandits. Lastly, swords are meant for aggressive play styles, relentlessly landing as many fast blows as possible to maximize the chance for critical hits. A good warrior in Skyrim knows the strengths and weaknesses of his chosen weapon, and a great warrior knows when it’s time to switch between them.

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