There he is: the bandit chief I’ve been hired to—ahem—take care of. So close I can hear him mumbling to himself, thinking he’s alone. But he’s not alone. I’m there, but I’m a shadow. A ghost. I’m as invisible as you can get without a spell or a potion. Finally, he turns his back to me—it’s time to strike. I inch forward, dagger held high and ready.
But as his head jerks up, I know something’s wrong. Maybe my stomach grumbled in protest of not seeing any solid food for a month, or perhaps he heard the hundreds of spare arrows rattling around in my Gallifreyan coin purse (it’s bigger on the inside). Whatever the reason, the bandit chief unsheathes his sword and asks—as if honestly expecting an answer—if anyone’s there.
No need to panic. I’ll just slip back into the shadows and wait for my next chance to sneak up on him. He’ll never know what hit him.
But then, behind me:
“I’LL KILL YOU IF I HAVE TO! RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!”
Damn it, Lydia.
What'd I do?
If this has ever happened to you, you’ll understand my frustration with followers in Skyrim. I was stunned to recently discover that my companionless style of play was not the norm, and can’t wrap my head around the reasons people take Lydia or Farkas or Mjoll on every excursion and adventure. So, I’m here today to make the case against followers.
STEALTH? WHAT’S THAT?
I learned very early on that there is no such thing as stealth when you have a follower with you. Unfortunately, this means that companions are more of a hindrance than a help to a stealth-based player. Sure, they’ll crouch when you crouch, but as my experience with the bandit chief should illustrate, their mimicry ends at the smallest sign of trouble. I suppose something can be said for allowing your companion to keep your enemy occupied while you fire arrows at him from a distance, but you can kiss those deadly—and awesome—backstabs goodbye.
OOPS, SORRY ABOUT THAT...
Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time keeping track of who’s a friend and who’s a foe in battles. I can’t tell you how many Stormcloaks I’ve accidentally killed during sieges on Imperial forts, or how many times I swung at Karliah or Brynjolf instead of the Falmers we were supposed to be fighting. Everyone moves around so quickly! And it’s always so dark! How am I supposed to focus on killing my enemy when I can’t even tell who my enemy is?
When I do know who’s who, I still manage to hit friendlies because they absolutely love getting in the way. It never fails: the second you wind up for that power attack, your companion will jump right in front of you and take that axe to the neck. They are your sword and shield... and, apparently, your target practice.
Have you ever taken a follower into a dungeon laced with traps? You can tiptoe around those pressure plates all you want, but they’re like magnets to companions. You’re guaranteed to be hit by poison darts or singed by fire no matter how cautious you are, because your companions just don’t care—possibly because they, unlike you, are nearly immortal. After getting knocked off of her feet once by a swinging spiked gate, you’d think that Lydia would know not to step on that pressure plate a second time. Or a third time. Or a fourth time. But she does, and gets back up, unscathed, every time. Must be nice!
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
Companions really like to block doorways, staircases, and narrow corridors. This is the true purpose of Fus Ro Dah, you know. Forget dragons! We need that shout to push our followers out of the way, so we don’t starve to death, trapped in some tiny room we can’t escape because Lydia refuses to move. Those programmers, they’re always two steps ahead.
JUST SHUT UP
One of the biggest complaints I hear about companions is that they’re one-dimensional when it comes to dialogue; either they say next to nothing, or they say the same things again and again and again. You can only hear “I am your sword and your shield” so many times before wanting to hurl yourself off of the Throat of the World.
But my issue with follower dialogue is a little different: they have a knack for choosing the most inappropriate response possible for whatever situation you’re in. This can make for some comical moments, but mostly it just makes me want to rip my hair out. In one memorable incident, I killed a Draugr that was attacking Mercer Frey while we traversed Snow Veil Sanctum. How does he show his gratitude? By angrily shouting, “Hey, watch it!” because I happened to get within sword’s reach of him while saving his life. Sorry, Mercer! Next time I’ll just let the Draugr eat you! This goes hand in hand with the problem of followers throwing themselves between your weapon and your enemy; as soon as they willingly impale themselves upon your blade, they’re snapping at you to be careful. Makes sense.
MARCO? MARCO? MAAARCOOO?
It’s a shame that Belethor doesn’t sell leashes in his general goods store, because they’d come in really handy for followers. They have this uncanny talent for getting lost, especially if you happen to be traversing terrain that isn’t completely flat. Which is to say, if you happen to be anywhere in Skyrim. The very few instances I chose to take a follower along on an adventure, the majority of my time was spent making sure they were still behind me, or backtracking to wherever they’d gotten stuck to lead them by the hand around that pesky pebble that was confounding them. A couple of times I noticed Lydia stop dead in her tracks for no apparent reason, only to set off again once a respectable distance of a mile or so was between us. Maybe she’s just antisocial.
This becomes much more of a problem if you’ve gifted your follower with high-end weapons and armor, or stashed valuable loot on them once you’ve hit your carry weight limit. Then, losing your companion also means losing all your goods, thus negating the one useful purpose companions actually have: being a pack mule.
YOU’RE STEALING MY THUNDER
What happens when your follower fights half of every battle for you? You get half of the skill growth. Forget about improving your heavy armor skill if Lydia’s the one taking all the hits from those Draugrs. And you’ll never get your sneak skill to fifty when Farkas is always charging in like a bull. At first, it’ll be frustrating that it’s taking you so long to get that one-handed perk you’ve been itching for, but the real danger lies in the long-term effect of companions stealing your thunder: with your battle skills progressing slower than your other skills, your enemies—who level at the same pace as you—will eventually outclass you in the ability to fight. Good luck fighting Alduin solo when your level significantly outranks your actual battle prowess!
RIDDLE ME THIS
In my experience, companions in Skyrim are about as thick as day-old Potage le Magnifique. Why, then, do so many people use them? Have I just had phenomenally bad luck? My biased perspective may be blinding me to the positives of Skyrim’s buddy system, so I’d love to hear what you enjoy about followers!
I’d also like challenge you to try a few quests without a companion, if you typically take one everywhere. You may find that you prefer being a lone wolf... or, your appreciation for followers may deepen after you find yourself the singular target of a couple of trolls. Either way, it’s great to experience Skyrim from both sides—which is why I will be making an effort to get poor Lydia out of Breezehome every now and then in my own game.
Let’s just hope we don’t come across any more bandit chiefs.
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