Types of Dragons, Combat Tips and Strategies
Dragons are a Universal problem for all Skyrim players, and some builds handle the challenge of fighting them better than others. This guide to Dragons in Skyrim will teach you what successful players are doing to bring them down, even on higher difficulties. You'll find strategies for fighting dragons, finding them in the first place, and helpful tips that will aid you when encountering one of these reptiles even on Skyrim's Master and Legendary difficulty.
Dragons appear at numerous points throughout Skyrim's Main Quest, and you're more likely to encounter them as you progress through the game - particularly as your character's level increases. If you're on the hunt, you can generally fast travel to outdoor areas, hopping to various locales until one appears. There are also numerous Dragon Lairs (UESP) where dragons guard word walls. If you see a dragon in the distance, it can be fought by simply approaching and entering its combat range. It's very hard to sneak past one of them given their massive sight range, so you're practically guaranteed it will spot you and engage.
Some dragons are essentially scenery, creatures hunting in the distance, until you get close enough or directly engage them. This can be frustrating for melee players, so having a source of ranged damage is recommended, at least until you get a particular shout by going through the main quest.
Getting Them to Land
Dragons will land in flat, open areas, but will only do so at random unless you bring their health down. A source of ranged damage such as a bow, flame atronach (summon), or destruction magic spell can help to lower their health and trigger the AI to land, or else force the dragon to land due to its injuries. This is particularly frustrating for pure melee characters that do not have a source of ranged damage. All in all there's little reason to be pure, you can level a bow but not put perk points into it. Just use your melee weapon at every opportunity to keep its level up.
Dragon Types & Magic Weaknesses
Dragons in vanilla Skyrim come in five types: Regular Dragon (level 10), Blood Dragon (20), Frost (30), Elder (40), and Ancient Dragons (50). Skyrim's first DLC, Dawnguard, adds two new varieties for higher level players: Revered are level 60+, and Legendary 75+. The higher level Dragon types have stronger breath and melee attacks, armor, and much more life.
You can tell a Dragon's weakness by the type of breath it blows, whether Fire or Frost. Revered (fire) and Frost Dragons are the only types to have a fixed breath, while any other can have one of these two elements. A Dragon's weakness is the opposite element as you might expect, and exploiting it will deal 25% additional damage. Dragons resist 50% of damage from attacks of the same element so it's more important you avoid wasting the magicka on resisted spells as opposed to exploiting the Dragon's weakness. Shock damage affects all dragons equally. Archers and Melee fighters take note: enchanted weapons do their base damage plus the additional elemental damage, so using a flaming axe against a fire dragon will still do respectable, if charge-inefficient damage.
Skeletal Dragons appear only as part of quests and aren't encountered randomly.
Dragon Fighting Tips
Melee-only fighters are naturally at a disadvantage when fighting a flying lizard that can spew flames or frost hundreds of feet. The only way to guarantee a Dragon will land is to use the Dragonrend shout found by doing the Main Quest. Since you won't have that for a while, you'll want magic or a bow to aid you in getting the dragon's life down when it's flying - the latter being better as it doesn't rely on your Magicka and frees up that resource for healing or alteration buffs. They will occasionally land to engage in melee, and are certain to when critically wounded - that is when you draw swords and deal big damage up close.
It's not a great idea to dual wield against a dragon unless you have great resistances and high life. Sword and shield is the way to go, so that you can block those breath attacks that are impossible to avoid at close range. Naturally, with a two-handed weapon and enough specialization you can use power attacks and quickly kill them once they're vulnerable, but it's worth noting their melee attacks are very strong, along with the breath, and up close you're vulnerable to that.
Casters benefit from some archery skills as well, given they are unlikely to have the magicka needed to kill a dragon without drinking several potions. Use the opposite element of the dragon's breath and make every shot count. Summoned creatures usually aren't very helpful against a dragon due to their low life, while Followers like Lydia the Housecarl can outright tank a Dragon while you engage at range.
Given all that information, Archers have the easiest time against the Dragons of Skyrim. They tend to have less trouble using terrain to their advantage, arrows weigh nothing, and the ranged damage bonuses from perks are already in place. The only tip I can give is to use your best arrows for Dragons when you're sure to hit (like when they're landed) and keep something nearby for cover (terrain, rock, big tree, column). You won't be blocking any Dragon breath with your bow so having something to strafe behind is key. When the dragon is vulnerable and at medium range, don't bother fully drawing your bow. Opt to rapidly fire arrows into the creature as draw strength affects only weapon range, not damage.
Get NPC Help
If you are having trouble killing a Dragon, you can lead it to civilization where guards can help distract and deal damage to it for you. Avoid going to areas with more hostiles who are as likely to want to kill you as the dragon. If you simply cannot win, you can always lower the game's difficulty setting to reduce the damage you take while simultaneously multiplying your damage output. Switch it back when you're done and no one has to know...
The Dragonslayer's Arsenal
Aside from the obvious health and magicka potions you'll want to replenish your resources in a tough dragon fight, a few other tools come to mind:
- Resist Fire Potion Ingredients - Make resist fire potions from Bone Meal, Elves Ear, Dragon Tongue, Fire Salts, Fly Amanita, Mudcrab Chitin or Snowberries (see ingredients at UESP).
- Resist Frost Potion Ingredients - Frost Mirriam, Frost Salts, Hawk Beak, Moon Sugar, Purple Mountain Flower, Silverside Perch, Slaughterfish Scales, Small Pearl, Snowberries, and Thistle Branches. (see ingredients at UESP)
- Encanted Jewelry - Rings and necklaces are light. It's easy to have a variety of elemental resistance buffs available to you, and these are swappable in combat. Switch as soon as you identify the dragon's breath attack.
- Alteration Armor Spells - Any of the 'flesh' line of spells can help a lot, as their durations are typically long enough to be of use for a dragon fight and reduce the damage you take throughout.
- Arrows - Save the good stuff for Dragons, Centurions, Frost Trolls, anything that worries you. Much damage gets wasted firing Ebony Arrows at wolves and deer.
- Dragonrend - This shout forces a dragon to land and is gained automatically during the main quest.
- Wabbajack - Against dragons, Wabbajack does only elemental damage - see on UESP.
- Marked for Death - this shout reduces enemy armor and drains life. see on UESP.
Victory: Dragon Souls and Loot
All normal dragons will drop between 1 and 3 dragon scales and dragon bones each. If you intend to be an armorsmith, do not sell them, rather store them in a safe area for later. Dragons can also drop gear and weapons, although a bit more rarely. My favorite place to unlock for storage of dragon bones and ores is Meeko's Shack, although there are plenty of safe areas you can use - in general dressers, end tables and cupboards will not respawn.
Victories over dragons result in your Dovahkiin absorbing a Dragon Soul. These are only used to unlock words of power once you've found them from a word wall. Eventually, you'll have too many dragon souls. However, there are many words to discover which will expand your arsenal of shouts.
If you finish the Dragonborn DLC's questline, you can use Dragon Souls to reset perk trees (cost one each). This can be used to respec your character without cheating.
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