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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim dragon hunting guide

Combat Strategies

There are four ways to approach dragon hunting: three based around each of the basic classes and one that can be considered the most ideal way of doing so. Every combat strategy shares a few major details, notably that any equipment or potions that let you resist physical, ice or fire damage are ideal things for you to bring along. Other than that your playing style will dictate how difficult these fights are and how you have to change up your tactics.

Possibly the most important thing about these fights is what sort of Shout you are going to use. The most effective Shouts in the game are:

Fire Breath: Useful against ice breathing dragons, notably the Frost Dragons.

Frost Breath: Useful against fire breathing dragons.

Marked for Death: This is immensely powerful against dragons when they land.

Dragonrend: You get this near the end of the storyline just as you’re battling dragons constantly. But since it forces dragons to land when they’re hit by it you’re going to be using this non-stop once it’s dragon-murder time.

There are other Shouts that can be useful depending on your playing style or the immediate situation but these are the most widely useful ones. For example, Become Ethereal or Slow Time can help if your hit points are getting low. If the dragon is picking a fight near a mammoth or sabre cat you can use Animal Allegiance to gain some assistance. Late in the game you gain the options to use Call Dragon or Call of Valor - these can be incredibly helpful but the recharge times make them prohibitive even in these situations.

Above: Fire Breath in action

Until you actually get Dragonrend you’ll need to draw the dragons into landing manually. Try to stay in wide open areas at all times. If you’re on a mountain path either run back to the ground or run up to a plateau to coerce the dragon into landing for melee combat. It won’t necessarily choose to land just because you’re out in the open - it may simply choose to keep strafing you with its breath, but this is the only way to get them to land of their own accord.

Above: Dragonrend will be your favorite once you get it


Ideal Setup

For the ideal setup you will want to have a strong bow with a decent enchantment, a strong melee weapon and either a shield or second weapon. Armor isn’t the most important so either light or heavy will be fine as long as you can move quickly in it. If you can carry a ring or amulet to help mitigate the damage from the breath weapon then you will be in very good shape to handle the hardest part of this encounter, since the parts when they’re flying around breathing on you can really drag down your health.

Above: You’ll carry a lot of different equipment with this build

The weapon and shield can be replaced with dual wielding magic if you’re playing a magic user - just be sure that you aren’t using the same magic as the dragon's breath attack since it takes reduced damage from that source. Should you have invested in that magic type heavily, then it’s possible to use it against them, but don’t expect it to work the miracles it does on regular enemies. However, a magic user will still need to carry a bow (or use the Bound Bow spell) since the dragon moves around so much and will tend to be outside of spellcasting range.

Good weapon enchantments to have on your bow are elemental damage (although this forces you to use two bows for different dragon types), or Silent Moon Enchant. While the Silent Moon Enchant is only useful at night, the damage bonus (not fire, even though it’s described as “burning” the target) is very effective all around. The weapon enchantment should be Absorb Health since you’re going to lose it rapidly in melee combat with the dragon.

With this setup you can simply fire your bow at the dragon until it comes close enough for spells, shouts or melee attacks. Honestly, this build is simple to play and can handle just about any situation whether it’s a dragon or not. This is the build used in most battles in this guide.

13 comments

  • Y2Ken - December 2, 2011 10:57 a.m.

    This is quite a useful guide. I'm comfortable now fighting dragons, although I do have to be a little careful - that bite finisher is a pain if you let them get too close. The first two random dragons I "fought" were both killed by giants, which definitely makes life a little easier. I've been doing a lot of hunting Words of Power (asking Arngeir for locations and then visiting them) so a number of those point you directly to dragon roosts.
  • ShowMeYourKitties - December 2, 2011 11:55 a.m.

    It's good to hear that the thief build gets easier, cuz right now it sucks for fighting dragons. I always have to lure the dragon towards a group of npc's to fight for me.
  • Manguy17 - December 2, 2011 12:34 p.m.

    As an archer ive found killing dragonsto be very easy most of the time due to the (glitch?) dragons prioritising everything else in the area as a target before me, including bunnies. And if theres cover i can normally just pop out and shoot an arrow and hide. This said (this is probally also a glitch) it seems that dragons arent scaling very accurately. the last few have just be plain old dragons and im lvl 42.
  • Manguy17 - December 2, 2011 12:50 p.m.

    also, ive had one game breaking backwards dragon, stuck flying into a wall. if i shoot it twice it would die, glicth around trying to find a place to crash, and thus would drop the framerates to unlayable, if it saw me it either flew backwards 100 metres and then froze, or flew sideways into a cliff and gets stuck dragon hunting is interesting.
  • HeavyTank - December 2, 2011 12:53 p.m.

    Very nice guide, although the game's weird lack of scaling means that now my character can actually one-hit dragons even on Hard, so sadly now nobody poses a challenge to him anymore.. Also, the Blades tell you to kill Paarth?How?Why?
  • Boomer1992 - December 2, 2011 1:09 p.m.

    On master difficulty, I usually find a thick tree or rock and play ring around the rosie with it until finally my bow has brought it to the ground.
  • Maineiac - December 2, 2011 2:51 p.m.

    Sorry to disagree but you are wrong about sneak attacks not working on dragons. While it is a hard situation to reproduce I was able to sneak up on a dragon and one hit kill it with a dagger thanks to the sneak tree dagger perk and dark brotherhood gloves.
  • D0CCON - December 2, 2011 3:03 p.m.

    I made two characters and they both deal with dragons very easily. My battlemage hits it with super fireballs of death until it lands and I use a bound/daedric sword to finish it. I'm guessing you can figure out what my archer does to it.
  • jag0023 - December 2, 2011 11:12 p.m.

    i don't know why maybe its my game but i have only encountered one dragon the first main story dragon
  • bradmillow0 - December 3, 2011 7:16 a.m.

    When I first fought Alduin I didn't die at all, I thought he was fairly easy and I didn't even have any followers with me at the time, with the exception of Paarthurnax
  • ThundaGawd - December 4, 2011 4:22 p.m.

    I play a stealth character, and I play on master, so just about any open encounter with any type of enemy is extremely difficult, but for the most part, when it comes to fighting any type of dragon, I just use literally any cover I can find (I've hidden behind a tree a few times) and hop out to shoot with my bow whenever the dragon stops to hover and breathe fire/frost. Another thing you guys should've mentioned is the use of Shadowmere, the horse form the dark brotherhood questline. I'm honestly not sure whether or not it's a glitch, but Shadowmere has an insanely high health regeneration rate, making it literally impossible for it to be killed by an enemy because it's health regenerates faster than it takes damage, making it the perfect tank during dragon fights.
  • Person5 - December 4, 2011 11:37 p.m.

    Its not a glitch, he's supposed to have a high regen and max health, but he CAN die, two bears killed him in my game which is weird cus he charges at dragons without a scratch on him, so while hes a useful horse, do be careful, and if he does die I heard he comes back to life in 3 days in the area he died at (unconfirmed for me though since I just reloaded my save)
  • Xerxes667 - December 4, 2011 7:57 p.m.

    ok... maybe it's just because of my level; 32: i did a lot of smithing which leveled me up quite quickly, but during the Kathspire Encounter, it was not a Frost Dragon that spawned but an Ancient Dragon, the first i ever faced, not only does he kill me but he slaughters my entire party (i have Lydia tagging along too) and the entire Forsworn camp at Kathspire.... i've tried to get past about 20 times and i keep dying. I'm a Nord focusing on Melee and Destruction Magic and i don't have Dragonrend yes (obviously) so he's just flying and strafing everyone.... how screwed am i? any suggestions?

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