The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim combat detailed

Skyrim screenshot

More information has emerged on Skyrim's enhanced combat system. Whether you want to be a warrior, a mage, or a distant assassin, enhancements have been made to make combat feel more brutal and decisive. Read on for more information on dual wielding, magic inspired by Bioshock's plasmids and deadly ranged weapons.

Weapons and spells can be equipped to each hand in any combination. This means you can roll with a pair of blades, a sword and shield, or even two spells at the same time. A quick select menu lets you organise shortcut keys to different weapon loadouts. Here's a summary of the improvements to each combat style.


  • The animation system now uses Havok physics behaviour. It will be possible to throw your enemies off balance and strike for extra damage.

  • Finishing moves dispatch enemies in different ways depending on the enemy and the weapon equipped.

  • It's possible to specialise in different weapons, including swords, shields, maces, axes and two-handed weapons. Specialising in weapons unlocks perks that add damage bonuses. These vary from weapon to weapon. Swords have an increased chance of landing a critical hit, axes cause ongoing bleeding damage and maces can smash right through enemy armour bonuses.

  • Blocking now relies on a timing-based system, meaning it won't be possible to continuously hide behind a shield. Shields can be used offensively as well. The new shield bash manoeuvre can throw an enemy off balance, opening them up for a counter strike.

  • Shields have their own series of unlockable perks which can grant additional elemental protection.

  • Movement backwards is much slower than Oblivion to make escaping combat more difficult.


  • The developers took inspiration from the impact of Bioshock's plasmid abilities.

  • There are five schools of magic - destruction, restoration, illusion, alteration, and conjuration. There are 85 spells in total to choose from.

  • Mysticism is gone. Game Director Todd Howard tells Game Informer why. “It always felt like the magical school of mysticism – isn't that redundant?” The spells that were formerly part of the Mysticism have been merged with the other magic schools.

  • While you can only equip one spell to each hand, each spell can be used in a number of ways. A fireball spell can be turned into a flamethrower with an extended button press, or planted on the ground as a proximity bomb. It's possible to dual wield the same spell for massive damage.

  • It's possible to dual wield weapons in different hands. Bethesda are considering adding an ability to combine different spells to make new ones.

  • Attacking spells inflict secondary effects on their victims. Fire does the most damage, while lightning spells deplete enemy magicka. Ice spells slow enemies down.

Ranged combat and stealth

  • It now takes longer to string and fire arrows, but shots will do a lot more damage than they did in Oblivion. The developers decided to allow ranged weapons to become powerful enough to kill outright after playing an Oblivion mod that made a similar change.

  • Arrows will be a more precious commodity, thanks to their increased usefulness.

  • If enemies get too close, a bash move can be used to get distance.

  • As in Oblivion, you can zoom in on your target with a bow. The longer you stay zoomed in, the more damage the shot will do.

  • Stealth will work in a similar way to Oblivion, but enemies will go into a new alerted state when you are detected. During this time characters with a high level of stealth ability will be able to duck out of sight and avoid being attacked.

  • The knife has been hugely improved. Backstabbing from an undetected position currently does 10 times the damage of a normal attack. Howard says "“I don't know if we're going to keep that, but you feel like you should be killing the guy if you've gotten that close and you have a dagger.”

As well as the traditional modes of combat, a new Shout ability has been added. As a Dragonborn, your character will have access to a selection of war cries. Your competence with these abilities won't rely on your spellcasting ability, they're separate attacks. The two shouts mentioned so far include the ability to slow time and a skill that lets you call on a dragon to aid you in battle.

Phew, that's a lot of information. For the full story head over to Game Informer What do you think of the changes?

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.