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I like two-handed swords because of their higher attack speed, but I am thinking about switching to a war hammer to max out my overall damage output even further. If the war hammer's higher damage output is handicapped by its slower attack speed, though, it may be just as benficial to stick with my two-hander. At that point, it comes down to the subject of "play style" which is really more about what you think makes your character look cooler and a lot less about raw, objective numbers over aesthetic appeal.

I guess what I really want is a DPS chart for weapon types, but I can't seem to locate such a thing. Does a warhammer have a higher DPS than a greatsword or does its slow swing handicap its DPS to the greatsword level? It'd make sense if it did actually have a higher DPS. Since warhammers have a slower attack speed, the implications of missing your target would be much greater since it takes longer to swing, whereas a greatsword with a lower DPS would yield less damage, but better recovery of lost damage inflicted if you missed your target. Therefore, giving a warhammer a higher DPS would essentially make it the weapon of choice for players who have become better at coordinating their attacks while the greatsword would be the preferred choice for the novice since they can recover lost inflicted damage by being able to bust out another quick swing if they miss on the first try.

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It's also probably worth noting that even though(as answers below show) one handed weapons can offer a better DPS, two-handed weapons offer a much better reach, and can stagger an opponent much easier, therefore reducing the damage you take if you can use them properly. Both have their ups and downsides, I think it's really just down to personal preference and your play style. – BigStuuu Aug 7 '12 at 6:54
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Here's a small exmaple of how DPS works in Skyrim. The DPS if smithed row shows how DPS will change if all weapons get the same smithing bonus damage of 46 (smithing gives a flat increase to damage instead of scaling to base damage)

Weapon              Damage  Speed   DPS     DPS if smithed
Deadric sword       14      1       14      60
Deadric greatsword  24      0.7     16.8    49
Deadric warhammer   27      0.6     16.2    43.8
Deadric battleaxe   25      0.7     17.5    49.7
Deadric dagger      11      1.3     14.3    74.1

As you can see, the weapons are more or less balanced without smithing, but with smithing speed wins over base damage every time. I'd recommend one-handed weapons unless you're not interested in smithing or not obsessed with having the biggest numbers.

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This page ( lists a maximum non-exploit smithing increase of +46 to weapons. Would that even up the difference in dps compared to +100? – David B Aug 7 '12 at 0:35
@DavidB I've updated my answer with calculations for +46 damage. The result is less impressive, but still favors speed. – kotekzot Aug 7 '12 at 1:47
So it appears that I am doing well with sticking with my Daedric greatsword. On my next playthrough (I never thought I'd do a second and am now on my fourth), I'll see about developing my one-handed with the plan to use daggers once my smithing is up there. Where are you guys getting these charts? I'd like to look at the source data myself. – oscilatingcretin Aug 7 '12 at 16:31
If the weapon is enchanted, it favors speed even more. Much much more. – Anderson Aug 7 '12 at 17:44
How do DPS ratios hold up if you do power attacks instead of regular attacks? – Anderson Aug 7 '12 at 17:52

Here's some numbers with +12 weapon damage (requires ~130 smithing skill and the smithing perk).

Weapon              Damage Speed   DPS   DPS@+12damage OnePowerAttack@+12
Deadric sword       14     1       14    26            52
Deadric greatsword  24     0.7     16.8  25.2          72
Deadric warhammer   27     0.6     16.2  23.4          78
Deadric battle axe  25     0.7     17.5  25.9          74
Deadric dagger      11     1.3     14.3  29.9          46

If you just want to stand there slashing (and if reach isn't an issue), dagger wins. Dagger is also good for rapidly applying weapon enchantments. And it is the sneak attack weapon of choice.

If you want to do a double critical charge attack, then you should use a two hander.

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