Skyrim is a dangerous place to live in, but no one knows that better than the Nords. They’ve been fighting wars against dragons for longer than most can remember. Some brave men fight them in melee combat with their bare fists, weapons, or magic. But many more prefer to hide behind a shield and shoot them with arrows, without ever having to face their fiery breath.
Even in the earliest days of Skyrim, when men were still mortal, greatbows were used extensively. They’re much more powerful than normal bows — they deal far more damage per shot — but they’re also very slow to use.
They work very much like a crossbow, but instead of firing quarrels, they fire arrows. It makes use of the same technology — steel bowstrings used to fire metal projectiles at high speed through wooden barrels. And just as with crossbows, greatbows are most effective when fired from behind cover or above your target.
Arrows are also extremely potent weapons; they can puncture almost any kind of armor. But unlike crossbows, greatbows aren’t very useful at shorter ranges. Since the projectile is physically bigger than a quarrel, its range isn’t as limited by gravity. However, the more you aim upwards, the harder your arrow will be to control. And since greatbows are massive weapons, they’re extremely tiring to use. All of this combined makes them best suited for shorter ranges — no more than 50 feet (16 meters).
Nevertheless, there’s only one thing better than a powerful weapon: two powerful weapons. And that’s no more evident than with greatbows, which come in pairs. They’re made exactly the same way as one-handed bows; they just have two string loops instead of one, hence the name “greatbow”.
A greatbow is a bow mounted on a wooden stock. It uses steel bowstrings that run through the back end of the stock and into the receiver, which holds them and allows for their adjustment and loading and firing. The arrow shafts are also made from wood, but they’re much thicker than those used by normal bows. Their tips are made from steel and fire a heavy steel head. These heads make them very effective against armour, but don’t let them fool you — they’re not that much better against shields than those used by normal bows.
In fact, some would say greatbows are nothing more than glorified crossbows. In many ways, this is true. The basic mechanics are the same. The bowstring is drawn backward by a lever or handle, loading it with potential energy that’s released when you fire an arrow.
The only difference between greatbows and crossbows is in their appearance. That’s not much of a difference, but given the rough-and-tumble style of Skyrim, it seems greatbows are more common than crossbows. No one knows why — maybe because greatbows are stronger, or because Nord warriors like the traditional feel of these weapons better.
Where can you find greatbows?
Greatbows can be found all over Skyrim. They’re commonly carried by hunters and other outdoorsmen, but not always. Sometimes they’re also the weapon of choice for brave warriors who want to get up close and personal against their enemies. Even so, most greatbows are still found in Skyrim’s armories, where they’re used by guardsmen.
But no matter the reason or location, greatbows always serve one purpose: letting you fire arrows further than any other bow would let you.
Speaking of distance, how far can you fire a greatbow? Well, that depends on the bowstring and arrowhead combination you decide to use. But one thing’s for sure: arrows fired from greatbows travel faster than those fired from normal bows — between 300 and 400 feet (100 to 120 meters) per second, depending on the weight of the arrow.
All in all, greatbows are very effective weapons — if you can actually wield one! They’re large, heavy and slow to fire. Their arrows are slower than those fired from normal bows, but still faster than crossbow quarrels. And, of course, they’re extremely powerful because of their huge bowstrings.
Is it worth the effort? If you have strong arms and lots of stamina, then yes! Greatbows are powerful weapons that turn even the smallest Nord into a walking artillery piece — just be sure to fire arrows at a distance! In the end, greatbows are weapons that give you better range without sacrificing damage. They’re slow to fire and heavy, but they have long reach and do tremendous damage. In many ways, they remind me of the American Civil War’s breach-loading rifles.