Welcome back to the blog. In this post I’m going to provide an argument for choosing light armor over heavy armor for all character builds aside from one. Now I realize this concept will go against popular sentiment but once the information is fully broken down I think you’ll agree my argument for light armor is more than valid.
I won’t actually be covering any true mage builds in this post because I haven’t spent enough time working on mage only characters. I’m not a fan of magicka-focused builds. I enjoy magicka but it’s far from a first choice and has thus far only been supplemental.
The most important aspect of armor we need to get out there straight away is the game’s armor cap. This number represents the most damage resistance a player’s character can withstand. And that number is 85% damage resistant. This figures out to 567 armor rating in total. What this means is your super powerful Dark Brotherhood armor set with 1,200 armor rating is only good for 567 armor. With the introduction of dragonplate (heavy) and dragonscale (light) armor with the Dawnguard DLC you can reach the armor cap with both light and heavy armor and light armor is within shouting distance of heavy armor in overall armor rating.
After doing a bit of digging and mathematics I came up with the base armor ratings of both Dragonplate and Dragonscale armor. The final numbers include double improvement and the 50% bonus from the combined Well Fitted and Matching Set perks available in both the heavy armor and light armor skill constellations, which are called Deft Movement and Unhindered. The Dragonplate (heavy) armor went over the armor rating maximum with an overall rating of 612. The Dragonscale (light) was below the armor cap with a 492 rating. Now, looking at these numbers you might say, “See the proof is in the pudding. Heavy armor eclipses the armor cap and guarantees I have the most damage resistance available and the light armor doesn’t.” Of course you are correct by saying this. And if you were not using any enchanting or potions in your gameplay then heavy armor would be more beneficial than light. But, I have one more card to flip over: The Dragonscale Armor misses the rating cap by 75 points. This seems like a lofty number but it actually isn’t all that lofty. With a weak blacksmith potion or a weak smithing piece of apparel (20%) the Dragonscale armor also eclipses armor cap at 590. And a potion of only 15% brings it to 565. So for the armor cap each type of armor, heavy or light, will easily reach 567.
Now that we’ve witnessed light armor being equally protective as heavy armor it’s time to explore the perk constellations for each set. There’s a significant detail that I can’t leave out. If you’re using the Guardian Stones to improve your character be aware heavy armor is under the Warrior Stone while light armor is under the Thief Stone. I always recommend using the Thief Stone as it boosts the only skill you can always improve, in or out of combat, which makes it invaluable for leveling your character and that’s the Sneak skill. As long as you’re in sneak mode and undetected your character continually levels up just by exploring Skyrim. You can also use the Illusion spell Muffle to level your character while outside of combat or the Alteration spell Transmute. But neither are as beneficial as Sneak.
I’ll start with the Heavy Armor constellation. I’m only focusing on non-armor rating improvement perks. It’s fairly obvious to use rating boosts so there’s no need to discuss those. Aside from the Juggernaut, Well Fitted, and Matching Set perks, you’ll find Unarmed, Conditioning, Reflect Blows, Tower of Strength, and Cushioned. You’ll find versions of Conditioning and Reflect Blows in the light armor constellation so I will discuss those with light armor. As for the other perks, two have benefits while one is practically useless. Unarmed and Tower of Strength are the beneficial perks that are specific to heavy armor. Unarmed will do the armor rating in damage, which is awesome, but is only needed for an unarmed build. You should never lose a brawl. Tower of Strength reduces stagger from incoming attacks by 50%. Another great perk but not necessarily all that special. You will better off by blocking the attack, or better yet, using a shield. I can promise you getting hit with Ebony arrows will cause a stagger with this perk. As for the most useless perk in heavy armor we find Cushioned. This perk reduces fall damage by 50%. If you’re jumping from any location far enough to take fall damage you need more than this perk. You can walk straight down a cliff face or use the Become Ethereal shout and leap off anything.
Let’s move on to the Light Armor perks constellation. Like heavy armor, the Reflect Blows and Conditioning perks are available but with different names, Deft Movement replaces Reflect Blows, both giving a 10% of taking no melee damage, and Unhindered replaces Conditioning, which makes armor weigh nothing and not slow you down. Conditioning is more valuable in terms of more encumbrance freed up as heavy armor has significantly more weight. A full set of Dragonbone Armor tipping the scales at 64 encumbrance whereas a full set of Dragonscale weighs in at 20 encumbrance. Now onto the other Light Armor perks and I’ll save the best perk, which also tips the scales to light armor being superior to heavy armor for last, which is the only other perk available for light armor. Light armor has 10 perks in the constellation and heavy has 12. So for the final perk left we will find Wind Walker. The Wind Walker perks grants the character the ability to regenerate stamina 50% faster. At face value this perk doesn’t look so special but hear me out.
Stamina may actually be more important than health. Stamina is used for sprinting, bashing, slowing time in archery, and power attacks. It’s also used for getting out of the way of giants and mammoths bearing down on you at level ten. Or maybe you use it to quickly avoid a fire/frost-breathing dragon. No matter what the reason stamina is critical for survival. So having the ability to regenerate stamina without enchanted armor or jewelry is invaluable. You won’t need to carry stamina potions or waste an enchantment slot of stamina regeneration or even carry supremely heavy food items like vegetable or beef stew (both regenerate stamina). If you recall the heavy armor perk Tower of Strength reduces stagger by 50%. But what if you could just close that gap against the archers and, using that stamina, perform a sprinting attack that staggers them instead. And with your stamina regenerating so quickly, you can follow up the sprint attack with another power attack. So long archers. And this is even better against mages as they typically have no armor.
In my two-handed build I used heavy armor for a long time but ended up switching over to light armor because of the stamina regeneration perk Wind Walker. I still used a stamina enchantment slot for an additional 35% stamina regeneration which basically makes me completely unstoppable in pitched battle. Using the Sweep perk in the two-handed skill, which requires stamina, gives me the ability to attack multiple foes while avoiding damage at the same time. And with my stamina regeneration at 85% these attacks are back to back to back to back.
In summary, we know light armor is equal to heavy in terms of overall protection from damage—with a little help. We know the unique perks in heavy armor are very specialized and often unnecessary or not too useful. We know that light armor requires two fewer perks to fill out and you get to ultra beneficial Wind Walker perk, which regenerates the all-important stamina at a 50% faster clip.
So the next character you build, be it a two-handed, one-handed, dual-wielding, or sword and shield, would you still opt for the ever popular heavy armor or consider the better option light armor?