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Why Skyrim's Illusionist Assassin Is A Terrifying Character Build

For many Skyrim players, the word “Dragonborn” conjures up an image of a Nord running through Whiterun clad in heavy armor, sword or axe across his back. For others, The Elder Scrolls video games are about magic; dual-casting destruction spells like Lightning Storm or Blizzard. Combining these martial and magic trees can also work. A bound bow or two-handed weapon can be handy, yet some swear by the rogue skill trees, opting for light armor and an assassin build. Even ten years after its initial launch, many players still overlook how incredibly powerful a rogue-mage hybrid in Skyrim can truly be.

For the player who has beaten Skyrim: Special Edition countless times and is looking for a unique character build to refresh the game, the illusionist assassin provides a fresh approach, delivering crippling blows even on the game’s Legendary difficulty. The reason this build is so deadly is that it both maximizes sneak attack damage and ensures that the player can successfully land sneak attacks more often. With the Sneak tree, leveling the Stealth skill makes it harder for enemies to detect the player. After that, the Backstab, Deadly Aim, and Assassin Blade perks all increase sneak attack damage.

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Even with five ranks in Stealth, though, it’s still possible to be detected. It takes 80 levels to reach those five ranks, so sneak attacks (particularly with a dagger) are harder to achieve in the early game. For players who want to start with the Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood questline, some of their early missions (Loud and Clear or Scoundrel’s Folly) are very difficult to get through undetected. Being caught on these missions means a big fight, something an early-game Skyrim thief build is not prepared for. That’s where the other half of the equation comes in: Illusion magic.

Illusion spells in Skyrim are often ignored in favor of more direct magic attacks. Lightning bolt and Raise Dead have more immediate benefits, and it takes 90 levels before Illusion spells affect Undead - one of Skyrim’s most common enemy types. While there’s a place for Calm, Fear, and Fury spells, two Illusion spells make all the difference: Muffle and Invisibility. While the latter is an Expert level spell, Muffle is only Apprentice level and, with a decent Sneak skill, achieves a similar effect.

Two of Skyrim’s worst shouts, Slow Time and Throw Voice, suddenly become incredibly useful with this build as well. Throw Voice keeps enemies away from the player’s position, opening them up for a quick dagger to the back. Slow Time allows for multiple close-quarters stealth kills within the space of a couple seconds - before the other enemies can react. This keeps the sneak attack bonus active for longer.

At higher levels, however, a maxed out Calm spell is what makes this Skyrim character build so terrifying. Stacked with the Animage, Kindred Mage, and Quiet Casting perks, dual-casting a Calm spell forces the target to disengage combat altogether. They will abandon their fighting stance and turn their back, opening up for easy stealth kills that won’t even aggro charmed observers. Players can calm the target, walk behind them, crouch, and score a sneak attack that usually instantly kills them. Skyrim's Alchemy can enhance this character build by stacking poison damage to the initial hit, ensuring that a second strike is not needed.

Fury spells can also complement this build, with a well-placed Frenzy able to thin large crowds. This weakens enemies while simultaneously distracting them from the Dragonborn’s position. Between calming targets into submission, sneak attacking enemies for one-hit kills, and passing by with muffled steps and invisibility, this build is not only able to dish out serious damage - it’s also the fastest way to clear a dungeon. Skyrim is now as old as Morrowind was when Skyrim first launched, and many of its dungeons are a drag after the thousandth time through. The illusionist assassin can kill quickly, but can often get through a dungeon without even drawing his blade.

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