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I'm a first time TES player, and I simply loved Skyrim the first time I tried it. I started playing on Adept (the default difficulty level), and while the first 80 - 95 hours were both challenging and fun to play, I'm seeing now that the game is becoming progressively easier once I've leveled up and used the appropriate perk trees for my style of game-play. I want to keep it challenging now that I've leveled up and have better equipments, and wanted the community's advice regarding that. Details of my (first) build:

  • Level 48, with 100 Smithing/Alchemy/Enchanting/Sneak, 70+ Archery, 40+ One-Handed, 40+ Destruction (which I rarely use since the last 10 levels or so)

  • Armor rating of 565 (Dragonscale), using 4x28% Smithing clothing and 118% Smithing potion,

  • Daedric Bow with 320 damage (+29 pts of Fire/shock damage), made with the same smithing gear above and 31% fortify enchanting potion,

  • Jewellery double enchanted with fire/frost/magic/shock resistance (46% elemental, 23% for magic).

I've stayed completely away from using either the console, or exploits like the Falmer Helmet glitch (for boosting alchemy/smithing buffs), or the Fortify restoration glitch (for alchemy). I had heard that the AI leveled up the beasts/dragons according to the character level, but now I find I can take on Draugr Deathlords, Dragon Priests AND Elder Dragons without using a single potion/healing spell! This is becoming game breaking for me, and I've barely done half of the quest-lines (so far, finished only the College of Winterhold questline, completed the main quest up to Alduin's Bane, and the Thieves Guild quest till Blind-sighted - I've still to start the Companions, Dark Brotherhood, Civil War apart from the main quest!).

So far, I've turned on the difficulty to Master, and have started to actively hunt down tougher quests (like going after Dragon Priests), but I still don't seem to able to make it challenging enough. So, my question(s) are:

  1. Is there anything that I've done incorrectly for my build, in that I shouldn't have tried to get the best gear midway through the game?

  2. Are there any hard quests that I've completely missed, or do you think that now if I start new questlines with my increased stats, the game would level up the difficulty for me?

I understand that getting rid of my gear would be one-way to fix the issue, but would kind of break immersion for me (as I leveled up the 3 critical skills painstakingly, and am surprised that I'm getting penalized by the game for it!) - so, I'm looking for any advice as to how to bring back the challenge that was playing Skyrim.

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I see your issue, but beyond handicapping yourself by your own standards. (Ie: no potions or no spells or no daedric equip, ect) I cant think of any way to make the game harder. Simply put, the game isn't hard, not for anyone with any kind of understanding of how to play such a game. Not in my opinion anyway. –  Ender Apr 22 '12 at 14:21
    
@Ender: I agree that its not tough once u put your mind to it, though that certainly makes it a bit disappointing when u realize it! –  TCSGrad Apr 22 '12 at 14:28
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Try not using the Attack button –  Alex Apr 22 '12 at 14:29
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@shan23 not sarcastic, it was just a joke! Though not a very good one, it seems... –  Alex Apr 22 '12 at 14:35
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I sometimes find it fun to put all of my equipment into a chest, and then just run out into the wilderness naked, and then work from there, meaning the only way I can get gear is by looting dead bodies or stealing. It's fun to see how far you can get, and offers a welcome break from being an uber being who doesnt afraid of anything –  BigStuuu Jul 30 '12 at 8:25

13 Answers 13

up vote 36 down vote accepted

Is there anything that I've done incorrectly for my build, in that I shouldn't have tried to get the best gear midway through the game?

This is very subjective - what is considered an "incorrect" build by one player, may be "optimal" for another. If you want to make the game harder, focus your skill points and perks on non-combat skills: Speech, Pickpocket, Lockpicking, etc. You can also put skill points and perks on combat skills that you won't be using in combat. This will level up your character (which will make enemy level difficulty scale to your level), while at the same time, not make your character stronger for combat.

With the Dragonborn DLC installed, perks may be undone and redistributed at the cost of one dragon soul per skill tree.

At the end of the At the Summit of Apocrypha quest, you will have access to different portals (one for each skill) which allows you to clear and regain any perks in that skill tree, at the cost of one dragon soul. You remove all perks from a single skill perk tree and can use these reclaimed perks on unlocking any perks you wish, including perks taken from said perk tree. By reading the Black Book, Waking Dreams, you can return to Apocrypha and alter the skill trees whenever you wish.

Are there any hard quests that I've completely missed, or do you think that now if I start new questlines with my increased stats, the game would level up the difficulty for me?

It is subjective to state which quests are "Hard quests". Just have a look here for a list of all quests and see which ones appear to be hard for you. As for the second part of your question, the unmodded game only checks your current level and the difficulty settings in the options to compute how difficult the enemies will be for you.

Excerpts from UESP wiki's "Leveling - Effects of Leveling" article:

Various aspects of the game are leveled. This means that as your character increases in level, some enemies become more challenging but also the quality of the items you find becomes better. However, the leveling system in Skyrim has been altered from that used in Oblivion, in response to criticisms of Oblivion's leveling system.

Different locations in Skyrim have different inherent difficulties. In other words, some dungeons are designed to be too difficult for low-level characters to enter. More challenging dungeons are generally located at higher elevations, meaning that early in the game players may want to avoid mountainous regions. However, more difficult dungeons contain better rewards. In addition, some high-quality items can be randomly found even early in the game.

... Bandit NPCs are always a fixed level for their name (Bandits are level 1, Bandit Thugs are level 9, Bandit Highwaymen are level 14, etc). The player's level affects the range of possible bandit types generated within a bandit dungeon, and probably the frequency, but does not seem to affect the resulting stats except in a few rare cases. Lower variant bandits remain reasonably common even when more dangerous bandits are available.


v1.9 Patch - 'Legendary' difficulty

Patch 1.9 adds a sixth difficulty level: Legendary. It reduces damage dealt by the player to x0.25 and increases damage taken by the player to x3.


Mods

If playing on the PC, you could also make the game harder with mods:

The mod, Pluto's Improved Skyrim Experience (PISE) has a "More Intense Level Scaling" component. It makes enemies more stronger relative to your level, compared to the vanilla enemy scaling. PISE also features harder sneaking, more enemy spawns, harder enemies and an overhauled enemy AI. The mod, Path of Shadows, a major stealth overhaul mod, also makes sneaking harder.

Other mods that may make the game harder:

  • DFB - Random Encounters - adds different random encounters from vanilla: Vampires, Falmers, Werewolves, Dwarven Spiders, Spheres, Centurion, etc.
  • High Level Enemies - has a feature that allows certain or all enemies to scale with your level
  • Deadly Dragons - overhauls dragons to make them more challenging to fight
  • Balanced Magic - designed to 'balance' the game's magic spells - make the spells do damage and consume mana appropriate to your magic perks, and lessens the effect of abusive perks like the 100% stagger change of the 'Impact' perk. It also affects enemy mage NPCs, making them more challenging
  • Auto-cast Racial Powers Plugin - "Auto-cast racial powers will activate for NPCs, both enemy and friendly, making fights much more interesting and adding a new element to prioritizing targets in larger fights!"

Creature mods that increase creature spawn points, number of spawns, and also improves creature AI:
(I recommend using only one creature mod, to avoid conflicts and other issues.)

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+1 You really give very good answers even for subjective questions. And you cover Mods which almost no one does. Wish I could upvote more. –  ヴァイシャリ Apr 23 '12 at 16:05
    
@desaivv I'm always glad to be of help to fellow Skyrim adventurers. –  galacticninja May 3 '12 at 6:45
    
No direct download links please, this will break. –  daemonfire300 Jul 19 '12 at 11:05
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@camino Those are not direct download links. If you've tried them, you'll find out that they link to their respective Nexusmods.com mod description page. Nexusmods.com just changed they way they linked to the mod description page. There is no need for your edit as the old links will redirect to the new URLs anyway. The old links work fine. Please do some testing before doing a trivial edit next time. –  galacticninja Jul 19 '12 at 12:55

I had this same problem. This is what I am trying. YMMV.

You can try this play style. Go without killing anyone for as many levels as possible on Adept or Master difficulty. This was proposed by @Alex as well in the comments to your question.

It is a very challenging play style, for quests where I simply have to kill as part of the quest objective, it gets difficult, but even then with Mayhem/Frenzy/Fear etc it is possible that your quarry gets killed.

For an example of this challenging play style check out Felix The Peaceful Monk

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There are 2 console commands if you are on PC that makes things harder without ruining the experience:

  • "The first is: "player.modav healrate x" where x is any value less than the 0.7 vanilla Skyrim grants you. I have mine personally at "player.modav healrate 0.2". This allows for me to still regen when out of combat or when resting, but when in combat, the regen does nothing for me."

  • "The second is: "player.advlevel". This will allow you to "level up" your character strictly for the numerical value. You WILL NOT gain any perk points or stat points from this approach. Instead, it will simply put you x amount of levels above your "true" level, thus making enemies scale up to this imaginary level, and therefore making the game as adjustable in difficulty past master as you wish!"

The Total Realism - Basic Needs mod adds realism and can make it somewhat harder to survive.

The Deadly Dragons mod makes dragons more powerful as they should be.

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Regen rate would do nothing for me - I barely take a hit when i'm in combat, due to my high sneak/archery skills plus a killer bow! I'll look at the .advlevel mod - do you know what is the highest (i.e. most challenging) legal value that I can input? –  TCSGrad Apr 22 '12 at 14:29
    
The game apparently doesn't scale after level 50, so advlevel would probably do little in that case. –  kotekzot Apr 22 '12 at 14:50
    
@kotekzot - Are there any references for that, or is it from experience? Because if its true, i might have to abandon this character - so, before doing that, I just wanted to ensure that it was well verified :) –  TCSGrad Apr 22 '12 at 14:57
    
the command should force that max level to go higher there are not many rules that apply to console commands.Try increasing game by 10 levels...someone said that 25% of their level increse it took him 75 arrows to kill a dragon and he would get 2 hitted. –  Arremer Apr 22 '12 at 15:16
    
@shan23 I've seen it mentioned several times, but can't really remember where. If all else fails there are always mods to try. IMO the real reason the game stops being challenging at later levels is because the enemies don't get access to the same toys as the character does. Perhaps it was an attempt to balance the "economy" somewhat, but hide armor does little against daedric weapons. –  kotekzot Apr 22 '12 at 16:19

If you're playing on the PC try a mod called High Level Enemies. It adds something like 400+ higher level Bandits, Draugr, Dragon Priests, Forsworn... (it covers all enemy types) to the game. Really keeps the difficulty up at high levels.

Main Files

  • Adds 708 new enemies starting at level 10 to Skyrim, Dawnguard and Dragonborn!
  • Now includes an optional version with full level scaling so all enemies (even Vanilla enemies) will scale to your level!
  • Each of Skyrim's main enemy types are covered including Bandits, Draugr, Dragon Priests, Falmer, Forsworn, Thalmor, Dwarven Constructs, Vampires, Warlocks, Trolls, Chaurus, Spriggans, Hagravens, Spiders, Skeletons, Witches, Ice Wraiths, Mammoths, Dremora and Wild Animals!
  • Each of Dawnguard's main enemy types are covered including Vampires, Vampire Hunters, Falmer, Gargoyles, Armored Trolls, Death Hounds and Chaurus Hunters!
  • Dragonborn Cultists, Rieklings, Ash Spawn, and Dragonborn Bandits Included!
  • For each enemy type the highest level variant scales with player level so the game doesn't get too easy!
  • Countless hours were spent customizing the Stats, Skills, Perks, Spells, Damage Done and Armor Rating of each added creature to ensure that the difficulty stays consistent as the player levels!
  • The scaling is non-linear and takes into account that high level players invest in at least 1 crafting skill (Smithing, Enchanting or Alchemy).

Optional Files

  • Includes an optional file that increases difficulty at all levels.
  • Includes an optional file that increases armor cap to 90% and max magic resist to 90% encouraging high-level play.
  • Includes an optional file that scales Illusion, Raise Dead, Summons, Turn Undead Spells and Werewolf Howl so they are still viable in high-level play.
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You can start using 2 handed weapons. If your skill is still low and you haven't put points in that skill tree, killing oponents will be harder and more challenging.

Or you can try to only use magic in fights. Destruction to damage your oponents, Restoration to heal yourself (no potions), Conjuration to call for allies, Alteration for defensive spells, ...

If you are a PC gamer: galacticninja gave some nice mods to try out. Another mod that makes Skyrim more challenging in my eyes is Imp's More Complex Needs. If you don't eat, drink or sleep, you die. That's the mod in a nutshell, but it is way more complex than that. It's available on Steam so it's easy to install too.

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Start a new game, play normally but never use your perks

You will have weapons that will do 20 (tops) damage and enemies with 150+ hp (some have a lot more)

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I had the same issue! Here's how to make it difficult:

  1. No glitch use
  2. Leveling up skills using cheap ways is banned (like leveling up restoration by jumping on blacksmith fire and heal)
  3. You can only put perks in four trees only (example: one hand + destruction + light armor + archery)
  4. (this is most important). You can't pick perks that require skill level 70 or more! Because such perks are overpowered, like dual savegery and elemental protection
  5. enchanting can accept only 2 perks, because more will make you overpowered
  6. Your character is allowed to use 2 shouts only. You assign them at the begining of the game and don't use other shouts execept for quests
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Ideas i thought of is,

  • Restrict yourself from certain things like no fast traveling.
  • No skill boosting via glitches.
  • No trading or training with vendors or followers.
  • No followers unless quest involved.
  • All materials you need must be foraged from the world. (Eg. Iron can only be obtained by finding. Stealing. Or mining)
  • play completely on the hardest difficulty.
  • Craft all your own things such as potions and gear.
  • Turn the hud completely off.
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Hi Robert, welcome to Arqade. I've suggested an edit to your answer that (a) removes the "me too!" aspect at the start, which would probably get downvotes; (b) formats your suggestions into bullet points. –  Simon W Feb 26 at 10:45

Just change how you play. You seem to mostly be a warrior. Just use skills that you haven't gotten to high. I know that for myself, not using enchanted items other than the ones I have found has kept the game fun.

You're not being penalized for your hard work, in some eyes it's a reward, but it's up to you to make it fun or boring. You're right - the only way is stop using your great items. Maybe you should sell them so you are not tempted to kick too much ass, just enough.

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A good way to improve your gaming experience is to play something what I call "Iron Man" challenge - when you die, you just start a new game, there is no reloading. I can assure you you will suddenly start playing much more cautiously and the game will become much more of a challenge :)

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Just reset difficulty to legendary then legendary all your skills. You'll have the same gear and have the same enemies though.

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don't craft items. only use items you find. makes the game much harder when you don't have gear that you got through blacksmithing potions + grindstone

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My first character was just a leveling up fiend and the same thing happened to me as to you. I got too powerful and the game lost its appeal. One of the ways I've found useful to play Skyrim is to play using a set character theme in mind. Some examples from my play are; a Barbarian that won't use any magic other than heal and wields a two-handed sword almost exclusively. I have a Paladian that has leveled up his restoration but won't use destruction, conjuration or other spells, except calm and courage. Having a set character theme has helped keep my game interesting and given me a variety of interesting paths through the game and different 'feels' each time.

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protected by Wipqozn Dec 15 at 11:26

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