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There are a lot of decisions to make upon beginning a new game in Skyrim.
You’ll need to choose which race is best for your adventures through this expansive world, find gear and ammunition that suits your play style, and select which factions you want to ally yourself with. You’ll also want to select a companion to accompany you on your journey. Skyrim followers come with their own advantages and disadvantages, so choose wisely.
The best Skyrim followers
There are more than 70 potential followers across Tamriel. Some sneaky and quick, others heavy-handed and powerful, it can be hard to decide which follower might be best for your play style. For that matter, some followers seem like excellent options until they die the first time you face a Draugr Wight. Players trying their hand at a stealthy play-through will find themselves immediately frustrated by the brutish likes of Lydia or Vilkas, but these characters might be excellent options for players looking to smash their way through enemy ranks.
Because of this, no two Skyrim players are likely to agree on the best follower. Paying attention to their overall stats, as well as popularity among the fanbase and capability in the versatile world of Tamriel, here are the best Skyrim followers.
I know, I know. It almost seems lazy to start a list about the best followers with one of the first characters available. Also, she’s arguably the most-mocked Skyrim character of all time. However, in part because of how quickly Lydia is available as a follower, she is perhaps the best-known. Her repetitive phrases are the templates for numerous memes, and there’s no player out there who hasn’t screamed at her to get “OUT OF THE DOORWAY, LYDIA” at least once.
Despite her many, many flaws, Lydia is undeniably an excellent follower. At her highest level, Lydia has an impressive 671 points of health, along with expertise in heavy armor, one-handed, and block. While slow and painfully, gratingly bad at sneaking, Lydia is the perfect choice for players who prefer a bloody charge. You can find her in Dragonsreach, in Whiterun. She will be available as a follower and housecarl after you complete the “Dragon Rising” quest. As with many other followers, if you place a single high-stat arrow in Lydia’s inventory, she will fire an unlimited number of them. Also, she is sworn to carry your burdens, so grab all the loot you desire to shrug off on her.
2) Aela the Huntress
As a high-ranking Companion, Aela was a competent warrior long before the Dragonborn came blundering through Jorrvaskr. She is a favorite among players not only thanks to her high sneak and archery abilities, but also her low moral standards. For players looking for a more brutal Skyrim experience, Aela won’t turn hostile after a casual murder spree. She also tolerates stealing, pickpocketing, and trespassing, though she makes it clear she doesn’t approve.
More than anything, her skill with a bow helps Aela rise above her fellow Skyrim followers. At her highest level, she has 509 health and expertise in archery, light armor, and sneak. Even as a follower or wife, Aela will offer expert-level archery training on the go, which is a handy way to spend all that extra coin. You can find her in the Companions Hall, Jorrvaskr, in Whiterun. She becomes available as a follower after you’ve completed the Companions main quest-line. As with Lydia, Aela will shoot unlimited higher-level arrows if you place a single one in her inventory.
This shape-shifter can be intensely frustrating as a follower, but the payoff is well worth it. Many people love the idea of a canine companion à la Dogmeat in Fallout 4, but it turns out Barbas isn’t actually a dog. To be fair, we probably should have guessed that when he started, you know, talking. Since Barbas is a quest character, he has the unique perk of being invincible until you complete his quest.
You can find this pupper wandering the road outside Falkreath. To gain him as a follower, just agree to aid him in his quest to find his master. If you choose to ignore his quest, however, he can be stacked with another follower and will continue to assist players indefinitely. His lack of stealth abilities can be irritating for sneaky players, but other perks balance him out. His attack is strong, and his invincibility makes him an excellent decoy. The constant barking and jostling gets old quick, however, so only players with patience are likely to hold onto Barbas for long.
4) Mjoll the Lioness
Mjoll, one of the more powerful tank-characters in Skyrim, is an excellent follower for a variety of play styles. She will make great backup for heavy-handed players, joining you in all your hack-and-slash battles. For stealth and particularly distance players, her high health and powerful stats make her a great companion. Let Mjoll charge in head-first while you hang back and take out your distracted enemies one by one.
This Nordic vigilante can be found in the Bee and Barb inn in Riften, wandering the streets of her home city or in Aerin’s House. She very much dislikes thievery and wanton murder, so amoral players might want to go a different route. Her health maxes out at 580, and she has high stats in heavy armor and two-handed. Mjoll is also available as a spouse, if you assist her in locating her lost sword, Grimsever. Most importantly, Mjoll is an essential character and cannot be killed. However, she will leave you in a heartbeat if you gain a bounty in Riften, so keep those sticky fingers to yourself.
An overconfident mage wandering the halls of the College of Winterhold, J’zargo is one of the most powerful Skyrim followers. Players aiming to go the magical route should meet him early on, when they visit the college and begin tutelage under Tolfdir. Later, he is most easily found in either the Hall of Attainment or the Hall of the Elements. In order to gain him as a follower, players will need to assist J’zargo in testing his scrolls.
Interestingly, despite knowing a full 13 spells, J’zargo will only use nine of them as a follower. Still, with a number of destruction and restoration spells included, J’zargo is a huge help in any fight. One of only two Khajiit characters available as followers, J’zargo is unique in several ways. High stats in heavy armor and one-handed are a rare thing for a mage, but by level 50, J’zargo will max out these skills. Plus, unlike most followers with level caps, he indefinitely levels up with the player. Unfortunately, despite his skill as a mage, J’zargo will only cast low-level destruction spells. This can be somewhat remedied by giving him a high-level staff to use in combat.
6) Annekke Crag-Jumper
Sorry lonely hearts of Tamriel, this one’s taken. A Darkwater Crossing native, Annekke Crag-Jumper requires completion of only one quest before she’ll agree to follow you. Located in a mining settlement in southern Eastmarch, Annekke can be found wandering the streets or within her home near the mine entrance. In order to gain her as a follower, you’ll need to kill a nearby bandit leader.
Her level maxes out pretty low—at level 30—which makes Annekke at her best with low-level players. Skill in light armor and archery give a great boost in skirmishes, and support skills in one-handed and block can be a huge help to warrior-type play styles. Her low sneak can be irritating for anyone looking to steal or avoid combat, but her talent as a fighter will come in handy in a bind.
7) Serana – Dawnguard DLC
You’ll need to have the Dawnguard DLC to obtain Serana, so anyone working with a base game only can go ahead and skip this one. For everyone else, Serana is an excellent option as a Skyrim follower. One of very few pure-blood vampires still roaming the world, she is central to the Dawnguard storyline. To gain her as a follower, head to Dimhollow Crypt, located north of the Lord Stone and northeast of the Shrine of Mehrunes Dagon. Once you’ve fought your way through plenty of Draugr, vampires, and frostbite spiders, you’ll find Serana trapped in a crypt. Once you free her, she’ll request your help in getting home.
Serana has a level of situational awareness that many Skyrim followers do not. As an essential character, she cannot die, which makes her an excellent choice as a companion. Her aggressive behavior can make sneaking difficult, but since she can’t die, Serana makes a great decoy. High stats in sneak, one-handed, and light armor mean she is effective even when out of Magicka. Her necromancy will come in handy in any fight, as she can rise the fallen to fight on your side.
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8) Teldryn Sero – Dragonborn DLC
Another follower that requires DLC, you can’t ask this Dunmer mercenary to join you unless you have the Dragonborn DLC installed. Teldryn Sero is available to hire for 500 gold, and players can find him at the Retching Netch in Raven Rock. To reach this strange city, take the ship outside Windhelm to Solstheim. An excellent mage with high stats in destruction and conjuring, Teldryn is an excellent option for both close-combat fighters and long-range.
Capping out at level 60, Teldryn has a higher level potential than most Skyrim followers. One of the better-rounded characters, he has expertise in one-handed, light armor, destruction and conjuration. Teldryn’s ability to seamlessly switch between wielding a sword and spell-casting gives a boost to most any kind of combat. To top it off, he can summon a flame atronach to assist in battle. This gives players an additional hand in defeating foes, as does Teldryn’s adaptability.
9) Frea – Dragonborn DLC
Another character lacking a level cap, Frea can continue leveling up with players indefinitely. If you have the Dragonborn DLC installed, this Skaal shaman will make an excellent companion. You’ll find her at the Temple of Miraak in Solstheim. The temple is in the center of the country, to the northeast of Raven Rock. Upon first meeting her, Frea is working to free her people from Miraak’s curse. After accompanying you through the temple, she will return you to the Skaal village to speak with her father. She can be obtained as a follower once you’ve completed the “The Fate of the Skaal” quest.
Frea’s ability to dual-wield weapons helps her stand out from others on this list. She is also clever enough to wait for players to disable traps, unlike characters like Lydia who will charge in head-first. Her expertise in alteration, light armor, restoration, and one-handed make her a versatile addition to any combat. Plus, as an essential character, she can’t be killed in battle.
I need you to know how little I wanted to add Cicero to this list. His grating voice, awful personality, and aggressively creepy tendencies turned me off the moment I met him in-game. Unfortunately, he is (for some reason) a favorite among Skyrim players. Perhaps due to his versatility as a companion and his capability as an assassin, Cicero tops many players’ lists of favored Skyrim followers.
Players can find this madman on the road north of Whiterun, and later in either the Dawnstar or Falkreath Sanctuary. His expertise in archery and sneak make him an excellent option for stealth players, and a similar skill in one-handed lends to a more hands-on combat style. At his highest level, Cicero has 558 health and enough Magicka and stamina to keep up with most players. You’ll have to put up with his obnoxious personality as he refers to himself in the third person, but at least you can finally beat that Vampire Nightstalker.
Vilkas and his brother Farkas have very similar stats and fighting styles, but Farkas’ high skill in several noncombat-related areas stunts him a bit. For this reason, when it comes to fighting, Vilkas is the superior brother. This Nordic werewolf can be found in Jorrvaskr, in Whiterun. Once you’ve completed the main Companion quest-line, Vilkas will become available as a follower.
Vilkas is the perfect follower for players enjoying a long-range or mage character. His in-your-face fighting style makes him an excellent option to send into the thick of it while you hang back and down enemies with a bow or well-aimed spell. One of the toughest Skyrim followers, Vilkas has a full 621 points of health, and expertise in two-handed, heavy armor, blocking, and archery makes him a thoroughly effective tank.
Golldir might have the lowest health of anyone on this list, with a modest 438 HP, but his expertise in heavy armor, block, and one-handed make him a great choice as a companion, particularly for lower-level players. Players can find him at the entrance to Hillgrund’s Tomb, where he will ask for help killing a necromancer. Once you’ve completed the “Ancestral Worship” quest, Golldir will be available as a follower.
Capping out at level 30, Golldir is not a great choice for higher-level characters. His high stats in heavy armor, one-handed, and block make him an excellent ally for beginners, however. His high moral standards won’t mesh well with an assassin or thief character, but he is a helpful addition to any fight.
This rugged Nord mercenary is an excellent option for players looking for a powerhouse to back them up in battle. Players can find him on the second floor of Candlehearth Hall in Windhelm, where they can hire him for 500 gold. He best pairs with a sneak or long-range fighter, given his heavy-handed and aggressive nature.
Stenvar’s primary skills lie in heavy armor, block, two-handed, and archery. Give him an ebony or elven arrow and he will shoot an indefinite number of them. He is at his best when wielding a two-handed weapon, though he is also effective with a one-handed weapon and shield. Thanks to his talkative nature, Stenvar is a particularly entertaining follower. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to keep his hefty sword in-hand even after a fight, which slows his movement immensely.
A Dunmer mercenary with a taste for bloodshed, players can find Jenassa at the Drunken Huntsman in Whiterun. It’ll run you 500 gold to recruit her, but she is well worth the money. Her skills in archery, one-handed, block, light armor, and sneak make her a versatile option for a variety of play styles. Plus, her general lack of morals is a huge boost for anyone tired of getting flak for their constant murdering and thievery.
She might not seem like much, but Jenassa is an excellent option as a follower, particularly for beginners. Many of the followers on this list match the level of the Dragonborn up to their level cap. This is the case with Jenassa, who caps out at level 40. Due to this lower level cap, Jenassa has more stats and skill points per level than followers with higher caps. This makes her a great choice for lower-level characters, who can enjoy her stats until they reach level 41, then trade her out for a follower with a higher cap.
15) Dark Brotherhood Initiates
If you choose to kill Cicero at the end of “The Cure for Madness,” two Dark Brotherhood Initiates will become available as followers. Players can find them in Dawnstar Sanctuary, and you can add them as followers once you have finished off murdering Titus Mede II and speak with Delvin Mallory about repairs. You can choose between a male and female companion, both of whom have no level caps. Plus, they are essential characters and therefore cannot die in combat.
These Skyrim followers are excellent options, particularly for high-level players. Their indefinite level-up—combined with expertise in one-handed, sneak, light armor, and archery—make them perfect companions for sneak-based play styles. A low moral threshold can be particularly helpful to players going the thief or assassin route. Perhaps the best thing about these characters is their ability to be stacked with another follower. That means you can travel Tamriel with both a Dark Brotherhood Initiate and an additional character. If you choose an essential character, like Mjoll or Serana, you’ll end up with two immortal characters at your back. Bring on the dragons.
Nahila Bonfiglio reports on geek culture and gaming. Her work has also appeared on KUT's Texas Standard (Austin), KPAC-FM (San Antonio), and the Daily Texan.