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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2011
Assassins are in my humble opinion, one of the more enjoyable character archetypes to play as in the huge expanses of Skyrim. They can be magic-using characters, they can be sword-n-board Warriors, they can be Sneaky, etc. The world really is your oyster when playing with the assassin archetype and since there is so much variety in the class, I'm going to focus on the Sneak based Assassin for the purpose of this guide. Never fear though. I'll include a short bit at the end for all of the other types of Assassin's lurking in the shadows all across Skyrim.
Just as in the guide to Mages, choosing a race is extraordinarily important when creating your Assassin. Also the same as when playing any other character archetype, some of the races of Tamriel are simply better suited to the job than others.
Khajiit (Cat people): The Khajiit are arguably the best character race suited to the job of being an Assassin. They come with an insanely high starting Sneak Skill score (25), and their One-Handed, Archery, Speech, and Lockpicking Skills start out above average as well. Add in the racial ability to see in the dark (useful in those very dark Dragr crypts, etc. Khajiit are easily my first choice to play the Assassin character.
Bosmer (Wood Elves): My second choice to play an Assassin, the Bosmer are very well equipped to handle the Assassin archetype as their Stealth-based starting Skill scores are second only to the Khajiit. Like the Khajiit, the Bosmer all have straight 20's across their stealth Skill sets, but where the Khajiit have their 25 score in Sneak, the Bosmer have it in Archery (sniper anyone? heh heh heh).
Dunmer (Dark Elves): Not just because of their penchant for the Destruction and One-Handed Skills, the Dunmer are another good choice for your Assassin. They have a bent for being more Magic geared as an Assassin due to their starting score of 25, but having a 20 in Sneak, One-Handed, Light Armor, and Archery makes them fit easily into any type of Assassin role.
The other remaining Character Races (Nord, Bosmer (Half Elf respectively), Argonian, Altmer (High Elves), and Imperial) are all middle of the road as far as playing Assassins. They can excel as this type of character, but it'll take almost fully twice the work to get them to where you want to be than if you had chosen one of my three preferred Races.
There are really only a handful of Skills necessary to excel as an Assassin, and definitely not every Skill needs to have Perk points spent in it to make them just as effective at your given tasks.
Sneak: This is the most obvious skill necessary to making your Assassin as lethal as he can possibly be. The Perks to make you harder to detect when Sneaking, to giving bonus damage to Sneak Attacks are paramount to your chosen trade. Some of the most important Perks to spend up to get in this Skill tree are; Assassin's Blade (15x damage for Sneak Attacks with Daggers),the Perk that gives all of your Sneak Attacks with Bows 3x damage for a successful Sneak Attack, the Muffle effect for reducing noise from your Armor by 50%, Light Foot (which means that even while running in Sneak mode you'll never set off a trigger plate trap again), and the ability to run silently whist in Sneak mode. This Skill is definitely where you want most of your Perks to go!
One-Handed: Unless you are playing a Sniper, this is easily the second most important Skill set to develop for your Assassin next to Sneak. When putting points into One-Handed, remember that it's all about the Daggers! Due to one of the Perks mentioned above, your Sneak Attacks with Daggers can do 15x their normal damage. Pair that with the Perks to increase the damage of one-handed weapons, the Perks to increase the damage of Power Attacks with one-handed weapons, and the Perk to make dual-handed attacks incrementally faster, and you can turn your Assassin into a whirling-dervish of death-bringing fury! And if you choose to run as this type of Assassin and you aren't dual-wielding Daggers, then in this humble author's opinion you need to choose another profession...
Archery: For those Assassins who rather like to keep a healthy distance from their marks, almost no Skill tree will be more important to your character than Archery. From the Perks that increase the base damage of your Bows, to the ability to zoom in on a distant target, Slow Time for a bit, and increasing the chance to score a Critical Hit with a Bow, you should be able to one-shot kill most every enemy in the game. How effective is it? I created a Sniper Assassin once that was on-shot killing Dragons... and there's really no argument that can be made about the effectiveness of that. Heh heh heh.
On a side note; If you were to put most of your Perk points into Sneak, and then evenly place Perks into both One-handed and Archery (my preferred character improvement method), then you'll shortly have an Assassin that is extremely good at both Short and Long-range Combat.
Light Armor: Light Armor should be a distant fourth on your improvement list for Skill trees, but don't neglect it! While not often (pretty rarely in all actuality...), eventually you'll run into an enemy that you couldn't one-shot kill and a stand-up combat will ensue. This is where the importance of Light Armor comes in. Perks to increase the base Defense traits of the armor, to Perks like Matching Set which give you an Armor Rating bonus for wearing armor of all the same type, to even having a chance to shrug off all damage from an enemy attack make this still a viable, important Skill tree to develop. I'll get to Factions later, but there is an enchanted set of Assassins Armor in the game that is some of the best armor programmed into this masterpiece, and this Skill tree only makes it better!
For Speech, Lockpicking, and Pickpocket: While I will readily admit that these are important skills to raise, I would advise against putting any Perk points into them. the Perk abilities really help out career Thieves more than Assassins (that's another guide to come later...), and you'll be just as effective with the base Skill score as you would be if you spent a metric-ton of Perks in developing them fully. Save your Perk points for the Skill sets that more specifically help you out as an Assassin and just run off of your base Skill score with these three Skills.
the only non-stealth oriented Skill that I would also advise you to develop heavily would be Armorer/Smithing. Your bread and butter as an Assassin (or at least the ability to make a clean kill) are your Daggers, Bows, and Light Armor. Having this Skill tree maxed at 100 gives you access to the best equipment in the game, and makes sure that your damage output vastly out-gains your enemies' health as you advance through character levels. My recommendation is that as soon as the next highest grade of weaponry becomes available, get it. Period. And then use the sharpening stones and worktables at any Smithy in Skyrim to improve the hell out of every piece of equipment that you have. The higher the Base Damage/Base Defense, then the higher level of enemy that will go down with one swing/shot. That's pretty important to an Assassin.
Leveling and Stats: When your Assassin gains a new character level, obviously you get another ever-so-precious Perk point to apply to your Skills (I covered this above), but where is the best place to improve your Physical Stats. I say be fair and even in the application of your Stat points. Toggle evenly between Health and Stamina.
For those rare stand-up melee combats, Health is obviously going to bee a boon here, and will ensure that you have enough Health to make it through the toughest part of the battle. Stamina is important in that it helps you carry away much more loot to sell from all of the people that you kill and lets you run away for longer periods when you have to flee a battle-gone-wrong.
Potions and Poisons: The benefits of Potions and Poisons can't be stressed enough, and a fair amount of both should always be on your hot-key menu! Health potions are important for those (again) rare melee combats that you may unfortunately find yourself in, or for those times that you actually miss seeing the trap attached to a particularly tempting looking chest of loot.
Poisons are your wares in the trade of bringing swift Death. Health damaging and Paralyzing Poisons are all that you need to carry in terms of types of Poisons. Why?
Magica damaging poisons are pretty pointless as the damage you will be doing with your Daggers and Bows will make short work of any Mage. Stamina damaging potions sound like they might be useful to keep those Warriors from pegging you with a Power Attack, but with all of the damage you'll be doing with your Sneak Attacks, it's much better to apply a little bit of Health Damaging Poison and one-shot that pesky Warrior than to risk an actual melee.
Factions: There's really only one Faction that Assassins ever need to consider joining; the Dark Brotherhood. Not only is it a Faction of like-minded individuals, but you get a free set of wicked armor, and an even better set after a small dungeon romp at about half-way through the Quest line. It gives you a free place to sleep and to store your loot, as well as a limited Potion shop (buy Poisons!!!) with Babette. then take in the fact that the Dark Brotherhood has possibly the best written story-line in the game, and it makes for a great experience for any Assassin. And you have the chance of getting to "meet" a Legend of the Brotherhood in his own right.
That's pretty much all that there is to making a lethally effective Assassin. There's as many flair/fleshing out possibilities for this Class as there are for any other, but it's these base Abilities and Skills that will make or break your career in the killing Arts.
I hope you enjoyed reading this Guide as much as I enjoyed writing it. It took many game hours, but it's finally as complete as I can make it right now. As with the last Guide, if there are any glaring over-sights or omissions, please bring them to my attention so that I can get them added iin as soon as possible.
Have fun, Sithis himself would be proud of you!
My next Guide; Thief.