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Sometimes, when fighting an enemy, your character will do a special move, with a third person view animation, instantly killing the enemy. But these types of moves seem to be random, sometimes being used on enemies with nearly full health, other times not having a finishing move at all during a whole fight.

What are the parameters determining when a finishing move is used?

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Enemies can use finishing moves too. On you. It's super fun. –  StrixVaria Nov 11 '11 at 16:16
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In Soviet Russia, enemy finish you! –  fire.eagle Nov 11 '11 at 16:55
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Since finishing moves only happen on the killing blow, you're much more likely to see them done by giants, who have a way of one- or two-shotting even mid-level characters. Then they'll gobble you up in a big tasty stew, sooooo watch out! –  andronikus Jan 27 '12 at 14:25
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finishing move scenes do not only happen for the final blow. I've fired arrows at rabbits and it has gone slow-mo, following the arrow for a complete miss on more than one occasion. –  Hashbrown Aug 26 '13 at 4:41

14 Answers 14

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you are within about 1-4 blows of killing an opponent, a "finishing move" animation may appear, depicting one or several fatal strikes from either a first-person view or third-person "KillCam". If the Savage Strike (One-handed) or Devastating Blow (Two-handed) perks are unlocked, there's a chance that this will be a decapitation. Note that under the right circumstances, NPCs and Dragons will also be able to perform finishing moves, both against each other and against you.

Source: UESP wiki, "Skyrim: Combat" article
Finishing / Kill moves are not completely random. Finishing moves are affected by the in-game variables, 'KillMoveRandom' (default: 50%), and 'DecapitationChance' (default: 40%) and various factors, some of which are:

  • Kill Cameras will only be performed if killing the enemy will take the player out of the combat mode. Due to this, killing the last active/aggressive enemy will often trigger a finishing move / kill cam. But this does not mean that only killing the last active/aggressive enemy will trigger a kill cam, e.g. killing an enemy while sneaking and remaining undetected will allow a Kill Camera, even if there are more enemies present.
  • The opponent being killed. Some enemies in the game seem to have no finishing moves associated with them.
  • Your position relative to the enemy. For example, there is a one-handed sword stab-through-the-middle execution that will only play if you're standing behind a humanoid opponent. There are also finishing moves which require your enemy to have surrendered and fallen down to their hands and knees.
    • It should be noted that your steath state has an affect as well. Eg, you can cut throats with a dagger.
  • The terrain: finishing moves appear to depend on relative elevation. While it's possible to enter into a finishing move animation on uneven terrain, it's far more likely to happen if both you and the enemy are standing on a flat, level surface.
  • Other nearby obstacles: If the enemy NPC is too close to an object like a table, it may interrupt the animation and leaving you standing there until enough time has passed and the game gives you back control of your character.
  • Chance: Some animations seem to play more often than others.
  • Slow Time: Finishing moves will not trigger while under the effects of the dragon shout Slow Time.

Source: UESP wiki, "Skyrim: Combat" talk page (edited to take into account the comments in reply to the original post) | TES wiki, "Kill Camera" article (edited to explain further)
You can modify the finishing move-related variables using the console commands, set killmoverandom to <0-100> and set decapitationchance to <0-100>. Or, use mods like SkyTweak (configuration page screenshot), The Dance of Death - A Killmove Mod (configuration page screenshot) or Killmove Control which have UIs to help configure those settings. 'The Dance of Death' mod can even remove the 'last active enemy' restriction.

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I did no expect such a good answer after all this time, but it seem to be spot on and with references too! –  Jupotter Nov 18 '13 at 13:18

The official strategy guide confirms that they are random, and that they do no extra damage: they're pure aesthetics. It suggests that you can increase your chances by executing a power attack on the last enemy in a group.

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Are you extra vulnerable while these finishing moves are executing? After all, you can't move or dodge the other opponents, and they can approach you? –  Konerak Nov 13 '11 at 13:51
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@Konerak In my experience, finishing moves only happen on the last enemy in the combat. It's the little cherry on top at the end of a good battle. So you shouldn't need to worry about other opponents attacking you. –  dpatchery Nov 14 '11 at 14:08
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dpatchery: I have executed finishing moves with others around me, but can't confirm if they were actually attacking me, or just approaching me, fighting my companion, ... I will investigate into this. –  Konerak Nov 14 '11 at 14:24
    
As far as I can tell, the triple attack dual-wield power attack doesn't ever trigger a finishing move, so many stealth characters will rarely see one. –  agf Dec 23 '11 at 12:14
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It seems that finishing moves happen when you kill an enemy with a critical hit. –  GmNoob Dec 23 '11 at 13:50

Well, based on my experience (255 Hours of Gameplay) Skyrim those above, seem to be true for me, with every character.

Stealth Assassination Finishing Moves

  • Happens most of the time when the target is a human and is standing up. Any direction will work here, from sides, behind or even in the belly.
  • Will only happen if you have enough damage to one hit kill the target on your sneak atack. If you damage is not able to one shot the enemy, no animation will be shown, just a normal bonus sneak atack.As it is a Finishing move, the enemy won't stay alive after the hit.

Close Ranged Finishing Moves ( Both One handed and Two Handed Weapons )

  • Holding the sprint button and running towards a enemy from a close range (Not running the entire map, it has to be close) and power atacking happens to proc the animation more offen. Even without perks in those trees.

  • Again, the damage must be high enough to kill the enemy. As it is a Finishing move, the enemy won't stay alive after the hit.

More Skills or Critical Strike Chance Mean More Finishing Moves:

Since the damage must be high enough to kill the target for the finishing move to happen, if you have a higher one handed skill level for instance, your damage output will be higher, allowing you to execute enemies more frequently.

Same applies for critical, since critical helps the damage output, with a higher damage, you will be able to kill enemies that you wouldn't be able to without a critical strike.

Needs Testing Here:

I am not sure if the enchantings and potions bonuses apply after or before the sneak atack multiplier. But if the damage calculated for the multiplier involves the extra damage from enchantings and potions, it would also help you to get more animations.

If Nothing Works...You can try these:

  • Have an Ice Day: B, F, D, F, BK (Sweep)
  • Spinal Smash: D, B, D, F, BP (Sweep)
  • Spine Rip: F, D, F, BP (Close) Requires Klassic Unlock Stage Fatality: F, D, F, F, BP (Varies)

OH wait, those are Sub-zero Fatalities. My Bad !

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+1 for fatalities. –  Williham Totland Jun 11 '13 at 7:51

After a lot of testing, I can say that I always do a finisher against the last agressive enemy on the radar. As long as there's more than one red dot, there will be no finisher. By reducing the number of red dots to 1 only through calm and similar spells, you could theoretically do a finisher against every enemy. When resurrecting a dead enemy and then turning it agressive after 4 hits, I always kill them with a finisher. There's no finisher if the resurrected enemy is killed before becoming agressive.

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I think I need to add that this was done on PC. –  David Feb 8 '12 at 17:15
    
Radar? I'm up to level 12 on my first playthrough and I have yet to discover such a thing...? –  oKtosiTe Aug 26 '13 at 8:37

I've noticed that when using weapons with Absorb Health enchantments, I get very few finishing move sequences. (swapped out to a vanilla weapon and got way more finishing moves)

I suspect that perhaps if the target dies from the enchantment and not from weapon damage, it won't even have a chance to trigger.

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I've had several "finishing move" sequences while using my Skyforge Sword of Absorb Health. –  Iszi Dec 23 '11 at 14:42
    
Ditto. Tons of em. –  faB Dec 23 '11 at 17:40

I've noticed that when I sneak behind an enemy and just hit the attack button once, it doesn't seem to do the sneaky finishing move/stealth kill, but I just did it twice in a row to two enemies when I snuck behind them and tapped the attack button twice and I got the aesthetic kill. It may be a double tap as drained stamina doesn't seem to be a factor.

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I usually press and hold and it works pretty reliably. –  Jason_c_o Feb 23 '12 at 5:54

Like Pyrodante said, if you want to do a finisher on command (not randomly), all you have to do is move forward with the left analog stick while at the same time pressing the right trigger (xbox360). It works better if it is a flick rather than a power attack.

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I figured out if you flick the left stick forward, while at the same time tapping R1 (Ps3) then I almost always do a finishing move. I think there are some stipulations to it though. Like having the health down low enough, and I've noticed if I'm a lot higher level than my opponent I can do a finishing move right from the get go. I read allot online that it was random but I've tried it quite a few times now and it never fails (maybe I'm wrong?). Try and see if it works for you.

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(9 times out of 10) When the last enemy has less than an inch of health left, you need to aim your crosshair at the enemy for 2 seconds.(seriously. Two whole seconds!) Then "pull your left joystick downward/backward and quickly hold your RT attack button to execute your power move". This WILL ignitiate the cinematic death blow manually and not randomly. This works even better if you successfully counter block & stagger the dying enemy's last power attack.

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This seems incredibly improbable. –  kotekzot Nov 7 '12 at 1:59

Kill moves occur at a set rate, similar to critical hits. As previously mentioned they're pure aesthetics, so you actually have to do enough damage to finish off an enemy to trigger one. This is why power attacks tend to yield kill moves more often. I'm not sure about whether you take damage during them, but I assume it's at least weakened. Also, I have PC version and am fairly certain they can occur mid-battle, but probably at a smaller rate. Obviously, ranged weapons have no kill moves (they should, in my opinion) and I've heard that sometimes being really close to your target or killing a particularly weak mob works better, as the chance may increase the more damage past 0HP is dealt.

That's pretty much all the info I've scraped up. Most of it should be reliable.

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If you want an answer, you should ask your own questions, adding a post is reserved only to answering the question. –  Jupotter Mar 8 '12 at 23:35
    
There is no rate, there's a chance to do a kill move. Ranged weapons and magic do have kill cams now. Kill moves can never occur while there is more than 1 enemy in range. –  kotekzot Nov 3 '12 at 11:54

From the Elder Scrolls wikia:

360 To perform a finishing move on command is done by tapping RT and moving the left stick forward at the same time. PS3 Performing a finishing move can happen randomly in a fight but can be done on command by tapping R1 and flicking the left analog stick forward. A finisher factors in how strong the player is against its enemy and how the player's character is positioned. PC To perform finishing move press forward button and Mouse button corresponding to the character's weapon-hand when enemy is at low health.

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How I get my finishers is when the enemy is near death i quickly move forward and backward while tapping the attack button.

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Are you sure this always works? If it doesn't, you ought to mention that. –  Schism Nov 9 '12 at 2:16

Not sure if this applies but I was testing different spellsword combinations and found I did A LOT of finishing move kills even from >80% health if I was healing in left hand while spamming attack after they power swing.

I would slash, move back, cast heal (wait for their attack), dodge, spam attack (while still healing) and move forward or to the side towards the enemy.

Seemed that out of 8 enemies (Whiterun guards) I did 6 in this way. an impressive stat as they are normally on the tougher side.

Note: you can cast heal while attacking if you don't move or power attack.

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Don't see the link between healing spell and finishing moves... –  bertrand.riche Nov 5 '12 at 19:06

The finishing moves simply happen when you have a melee weapon, click to attack someone when no other enemy is nearby, you and your target are on flat ground and you are able to kill them with your next attack.

It is not at random. If you used a finisher move on an enemy that is at full health, thats because that enemy is weak like a regular bandit and you can kill them in one hit without doing a finisher move anyway.

The having no other enemies rule doesnt apply for them for they can deal finisher moves to one another and even you when you have a companion by your side.

Two handed weapons seem to be able to do finisher moves to many enemies such as giants, bears, dwemor centrions, falmers, drougars(undead things), dragons and trolls however weapons such as daggers can only deal finisher moves to humans and spiders.

You can also do finisher moves from behind standing up or sneaking.

Werewolves... It seems that they can do finisher attacks to enemies even when other enemies are nearby.

Correct me if im wrong.

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I don't agree with this, it would mean my melee character should do a finishing move on just about every kill, which definitely isn't the case. –  bwarner Jan 27 '12 at 12:39
    
What is your character like? What parts do you disagree with? If you use a two handed weapon and deal heaps of damage, go to some random npc, stand directly infront of them on flat ground and attack them. Tell me if that does work because it works for me. –  ZDF Jan 27 '12 at 15:52
    
Btw nothing here says you can deal finishing moves on every kill depending on what you guy is like. You can only deal finishing moves when there is only one hostile person infront of you on flat surface and click to attack them being able to kill them with that attack. Like i said, if other enemies are nearby in combat with you then you cannot deal finisher moves so no, you character wont deal finishing moves on every kill. –  ZDF Jan 27 '12 at 16:00
    
Why dont you try it out instead of just saying im wrong and saying you character should deal finishing moves to everything 100% of the time according to what i said. Go find a pack of wolves, kill all but one, take it to a road or flat ground, and do a powerattack on the thing with a sword or two hander then tell me it doesnt work. It will work and i tried it just then before typing this. You should deal a finisher move on it at full health coz wolves are shit weak and even little dogs can kill at least 5 of them. A stray dog that is. Barbus could kill a million if he wanted to. –  ZDF Jan 27 '12 at 16:22
    
I have tried it out. You're saying it happens every time. So I picked a random YouTube video. Look at 10:20 of youtube.com/watch?v=RinxeXW33rE&list=SL&feature=sh_e_se. There is only one enemy, they are on flat ground, and he kills it with a melee attack. I'm sure if you keep watching you'd find other counter-examples. –  bwarner Jan 27 '12 at 18:08

protected by bwarner Apr 14 '12 at 0:35

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