Combat involves harming an object or creature. There are two types of attacks: melee attacks, involving use of a weapon or your fists, and magical attacks, especially those of the Destruction spell line. All attacks will always hit (assuming you actually hit the target physically); there is no "dice roll" that determines if you hit your opponent, as in other RPGs and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. However, the amount of damage you do depends on your skill level in your weapon or spell and the armor or resistance of your opponent.
Different weapons have different attack speeds, and thus affect how much damage you do over a certain amount of time. The base attack speed is 1.0, which is the attack speed of standard longswords. Weapons with an attack speed of less than 1.0 are slower, and those with an attack speed of greater than 1.0 are faster. Generally, the smaller a weapon is, the faster attack speed it'll have (with the exception of the War Axe). Hand-to-Hand is extremely fast, but this can be deceptive as breaking the rhythm of the attack (such as being blocked) can result in noticeable pauses between flurries, sort of a minor stagger. Sneak attacks made with a one handed weapon deal 6x critical damage. The type of melee weapon used is not taken into account when calculating critical damage (in other words, it doesn't matter whether it is blade or blunt). However, two-handed weapons do not have a critical damage multiplier.
These are the attack speeds from slowest to fastest:
There is only one sort of bow, there are not, as in other games, short and longbows, or crossbows. Bows are, though, made of different materials, so their attack isn't always the same. Bows all have the same base attack speed, which is very slow, about 0.5. Bows, however, do deal ranged damage, so the lack of attack speed is made up for by the amount of time you have while your melee-attacking enemy is closing in on you. Damage dealt by bows works slightly different than with melee weapons. (Outside of the bow being used as a melee weapon) Instead of just using the attack damage of the bow, the damage inflicted is the sum of bow and arrow damage. Bows deal x2 critical damage when you attack while sneaking, or x3 with the appropriate perk.
Magical attacks are mainly of three different categories:
- Self-targeted attacks which deal damage or healing to the player or the player's stats and items. These spells are often used to train the player's other skills. For example, a self-targeted Disintegrate Armor spell can help train the Armorer skill. Healing spells are also of this type.
- Ranged attacks which allow the player to attack the enemy from a range with spells.
- Touch attacks that require the player to be very close to the enemy, but often have a greater magnitude than ranged spells.
Of these three categories, there are four subcategories:
- Debuffs, which do not deal direct damage, but rather focus on dealing damage to the target's skills, stats, weapons, or armor.
- Damaging spells, which deal direct damage to the target.
- Healing spells, which restore the attributes or health of the target.
- Charm or Fury spells, which can stop a target from attacking or make an otherwise peaceful target attack you, therefore allowing you to kill them without receiving a bounty.
All combat-oriented spells are usually of the Destruction school of magic; healing spells are obviously from the Restoration school. Charm spells are Illusion-oriented. There is no critical damage multiplier for casting spells while sneaking.