Who Should You Support In Skyrim?

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Skyrim’s not in good shape when the Dragonborn arrives on the scene. Bandits pillage the countryside, and dragons are awakening and terrorizing every hold from Windhelm to Solitude. And, naturally, political turmoil has enveloped the realm. They have Jarls competing for power, the Altmer plotting behind the scenes, and most importantly, the Stormcloaks threaten to secede Skyrim from what they view as a crumbling empire.

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After all, Skyrim belongs to the Nords! Not the dragons, not the Imperials, and most certainly not the uppity High Elves. That said, Skyrim has long been a part of the Empire, affording them protection, stalwart allies, fruitful trade, and the rule of law. That leads to one of the earliest conundrums players get to face when starting a new game: join the Stormcloaks, or join the Empire.

Updated on July 27, 2023 by Quinton O’Connor: Skyrim’s the rarest sort of RPG, the kind that can present players with a big question, and then remain popular enough for players to keep pondering how to answer that question well over a decade later. No decision better exemplifies this than the old Empire-or-Stormcloaks charade, so we’ll periodically refine our article for fresh-eyed adventurers and returning Dragonborn alike.

16 Stormcloaks: They Don’t Torture People…Yet

Skyrim Breton Modded Stormcloak Armor

Say what you will about the Stormcloaks and their unorthodox ways of rebellion and recruitment, they at least have enough morality to be decent human beings. They don’t treat their prisoners like meat to be butchered alive for mere information.

If you do listen to little bits of info in passing about the Imperials, they’re notorious for their excessive torture tactics. If you want more evidence of this, you need only be more observant during the opening sequence while running through the Imperial Legion fort in Helgen during the dragon attack. You’ll spot a Legion torturer and his assistant in their torture chamber.

15 Imperials: They Have An Impressive Army

Imperial Legion Skyrim

We’ve already established just how “complete” the Imperial Legion is in Skyrim. They even have an intelligence department complete with an information extractor. That’s part of the package, sadly, but you can’t deny the awe that the Imperial Legion inspires.

A good look at their equipment fortresses and you’ll get a general idea of how and why they became a superpower in Tamriel before the High Elves’ newfound renaissance. They’re pretty much the medieval fantasy equivalent of the Roman army, even if it’s a weaker Roman army than it used to be. It’s still nice to be a part of that.

14 Stormcloaks: Ulfric Is A Talented Leader

skyrim ulfric stormcloak and general tullius in helgen

The glue that binds the Stormcloaks together is none other than Ulfric Stormcloak. While his personality and behavior are abrasive and at times, insufferable, he’s no doubt one of the most capable Nords in Skyrim during the game’s timeline.

It’s important to note that Ulfric could have become a Greybeard, even the Dragonborn, if he hadn’t found the Greybeards too indifferent to the pressing affairs of his beloved Skyrim. On top of that, he’s a clever military leader going up against a world power. His past as a Thalmor spy also likely means he’s highly intelligent.

13 Imperials: General Tullius Is A Seasoned Commander

Skyrim General Tullius At His Table

Charismatic and gifted as Ulfric might be, General Tullius gives off an aura of a venerable commander— one who has seen countless wars and won against the toughest of battles. He’s also the appointed governor of the province of Skyrim.

That very well makes him a politician, which isn’t always an easy position to attain in the Empire. Besides, Tullius also hates the Thalmor and is opposed to the White-Gold Concordat, so it stands within reason that he might incorporate some of the Stormcloak’s goals. That’s a win-win situation for the Nords at the very least.

12 Stormcloaks: The Underdogs

Skyrim-Stormcloaks

A huge chunk of Tamriel’s history involves conquest by the Imperials, whose military might and organized soldiers have led to their dominance. That’s why they’re pretty much the most powerful faction in Skyrim during the game, though bruised and battered by a recent war with the Altmer.

That automatically makes the Stormcloaks a rebel group, the freedom fighters, and the underdogs — the David to the Empire’s Goliath. They want nothing more than to free the Nords and Skyrim from the clutches of the progressively more oppressive Empire who even goes as far as banning certain gods from being worshipped as a part of their unfortunate treaty with the Thalmor.

11 Imperials: They Bring Stability To Skyrim

Skyrim: The Docks of Solitude

Say what you will about the Empire, but their methods of modernization, economic know-how, and focus on the rule of law and order bring stability to the chaotic and frigid Skyrim. While it’s true that Skyrim does have its High King, this position is easily contested by other Jarls, often making the seat of power in Skyrim a black hole of power struggles.

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As expected, this isn’t great for the people and the economy. The Empire knows just how to quell the power-hungry Jarls and keep the Skyrim holds in check. They also bring in a healthy amount of trade and commerce.

10 Stormcloaks: They Represent The Nords Well

Skyrim-Modded-Stormcloaks

While the Empire’s modernized policies are good, it’s clear that General Tullius (or most anyone in the Imperial Legion that isn’t a Nord themselves) has, at best, a very poor grasp on Nord culture and tradition, making their presence and authority feel alien and invasive.

To most of the Imperials, Nords are brash barbarians. Ulfric Stormcloak, being Nord royalty himself, understands well how to preserve the valued customs of Skryim, thus retaining their cultural identity. The Empire, on the other hand, would gladly forgo these values if it makes assimilation and day-to-day business easier.

9 Imperials: More Inclusive And Progressive

General Tullius Inside Solitude

Here’s the key problem with the Nords’ ways — they’re usually (albeit not always!) xenophobic. Ulfric Stormcloak himself is the flagbearer of this bandwagon, giving another, much darker layer of context to the “Skyrim belongs to the Nords” line, as they do truly mean the Nords and the Nords alone.

The Empire, however, is not that prejudiced against other races so long as they keep the gold flowing and abide by the Empire’s rule. They even accept Nords into the Imperial Legion during the conflict, and perhaps more impressively, Orcs — a famously ostracized and shunned race.

8 Stormcloaks: Better Questline

stormcloak-prisoner-skyrim

Based on their characteristics, the Imperial Legion and the Empire might sound a bit standard and consequentially boring. Their quests certainly aren’t the most engaging aspect of the game. By comparison, although they share quite a bit of overlap, the Nord-themed storylines of the Stormcloak quests are a saving grace of the faction. They simply feel more meaningful and epic.

That’s because the Stormcloaks have less military might and very much have a guerrilla tactics vibe to their role in the conflict. Even their recruitment is more thematic.

7 Imperials: Better Career Advancement

The-Imperial-Legion-Skyrim

Since the Empire and the Imperials pride themselves on being an organized bunch, they’re pretty fair when it comes to rewards and career advancement. The ranking system in the Imperial Legion is all about hard work and the title progression feels appropriate compared to the relatively unorthodox Stormcloaks.

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Moreover, the armor and weapons of the Imperial Legion are of higher quality and look arguably better than the Stormcloaks’ cheap-looking gambesons. If players ever wanted to cosplay as a Roman legionnaire that can throw fireballs and yell people to death, then joining the Imperial Legion is… imperative.

6 Stormcloaks: Anti-Thalmor

The-Stormcloaks-Skyrim

Nobody likes the Thalmor in Skyrim due to their nefarious schemes and the fact that their noses are thoroughly upturned to the rest of the Tamrielic races. These High Elves are a mortal enemy of the Nords, and Ulfric Stormcloak directly resists them.

The Empire, on the other hand, works with the Thalmor for a momentary peace, even though they’re also competing against the High Elves for control. The Stormcloaks’ confidence indirectly opposing the Thalmor is admirable in its degree of bravery.

We should add, however, that Ulfric has a history as a Thalmor asset, plus the Thalmor’s favorite Skyrim is a Skyrim where the civil war continues to unravel its remaining vestiges of stability. But as far as proud outward anti-Aldmeri stances go, the Stormcloaks win this round.

5 Imperials: No Need To Oust Jarl Balgruuf

balgruuf in Skyrim Elder Scrolls imperials vs stormcloaks

Jarl Balgruuf is one of the best Jarls in Skyrim and a true fan-favorite character. Sadly, players will have to oust him if they decide to commit to the Stormcloaks. That’s because Balgruuf will always choose to side with the Imperial Legion regardless of which side the players pick.

That means he’s pretty much the final enemy the players have to face in the Whiterun Siege if they joined the Stormcloaks. Furthermore, the man who replaces him, Vignar Gray-Mane, is less charismatic, less wise, and needlessly abrasive compared to Balgruuf.

4 Stormcloaks: Continued Worship Of Talos

Skyrim-Shrine-of-Talos

One of the main reasons for the civil war was the banning of Talos, a Skyrim native and favorite son who founded the empire and ascended to godhood. The Thalmor are opposed to the idea of a mortal becoming divine and this made a lot of Nords very, very angry.

Fighting for the Stormcloaks means fighting for the right to worship Talos and help continue this religious tradition that is central to Nord identity. You can help the Nords take back their homeland and their culture.

3 Imperials: A United Empire

Skyrim Thalmor Justiciar On Road

Let’s face it, the Thalmor love the fact that Skyrim is in turmoil. They see the chaos and what to extend it indefinitely so that two enemies are weakened at once. But, if the imperials win, what may look like a Thalmor victory on paper could easily be their undoing.

A strengthened empire would have the means to bide their time and wait to strike the Thalmor once they are strong. If the Stormcloaks win, then the empire is fractured even more and Skyrim is left wide open for an invasion.

2 Stormcloaks: You Get To Battle With Ralof

Skyrim Ralof During Opening Sequence

The first friendly face you see upon waking up, Ralof is another fan-favorite NPC and potential guide to surviving the dragon attack in Helgen. If you decide to join up with the Stormcloak army like he suggests you have the chance to battle by his side once again.

Ralof appears again when you are tasked with finding the Jagged Crown. He shows up in most Stormcloak quests after that and remains a steadfast and reliable ally in battle.

1 Imperials: Ulfric Is Removed From Power

Skyrim Palace of Kings Inside Windhelm

When you side with the Imperials, the culmination of the Civil War questline ends when Ulfric is killed. This means Windhelm is in need of a new, more accepting Jarl and Brunwulf Free-Winter is the man for the job.

Unlike Ulfric he welcomes all races into the city and promises to clean up the Gray Quarter and allow the Argonians to live in the city. While his ideas may be all talk, it’s refreshing to see someone who doesn’t actively discriminate in charge of Windhelm.

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