There are a ton of followers in Skyrim, 66 to be exact. These followers, or companions, journey with the player across Tamriel and help accomplish missions, and while some players prefer to travel alone, others feel like it's nice to have a companion. When facing a particularly difficult enemy or quest, it's also beneficial to have another person to help or serve as a distraction. Skyrim also has an inventory management system that can benefit by having followers carry additional weapons or sets of armor.
Every companion in Skyrim comes with their own set of pros and cons, and players often choose their followers very strategically. For players who prefer the stealth/archer build for their character, it's a good idea to have a follower with more of a melee build. For others, it's beneficial to have a follower that is skilled with stealth or ranged magic attacks. Skyrim requires players to prioritize the development of certain skills over others like most RPGs, so a follower is a great option to cover the playable character's weaknesses.
It's also often advised to recruit an "essential" follower, meaning that they can't die due to being essential to the plot. Essential followers include Serana, Cicero, Barbas, and initiates of the Dark Brotherhood. Altogether, it seems like there are a lot of followers that should be better than Lydia, the housecarl assigned to the player after they become a Thane of Whiterun. So why does Lydia always come to mind when Skyrim companions are brought up?
The first reason for this is pretty simple: every Skyrim player who's gotten anywhere in the main story has met Lydia and traveled with her for some time. Players can always dismiss their followers, but most players will do at least a couple of quests with her, especially as a low-level Dragonborn on a first playthrough.
It's extremely helpful to have anyone's help when encountering an overpowered enemy in the wilderness or accidentally embarking on a quest that's a little too advanced. Lydia levels up with the player until level 50, so she might not be an ideal companion for late in the game, but it takes a while to reach level 50 and players who keep her around for that long may develop an attachment.
Other followers can be more strategically chosen and may offer more benefits than Lydia, but they often have strings attached or additional requirements. Many of them aren't available until later, after the player has poured countless hours into leveling up. Some followers may not even be encountered at all. Players who aren't interested in the College of Winterhold may not meet J'zargo, the loveably arrogant Khajit mage, and players who don't want to follow the Companion storyline and become a werewolf won't have the opportunity to have Farkas as a follower.
Lydia, on the other hand, while not as personalized, is available to everyone and players can keep her around as long as they'd like. Unfortunately, Lydia is not an essential follower, so failing to protect her or accidentally leaving her in a closed-off location will end the relationship. But unless players completely ignore the main quests for the entirety of their playthrough, they will meet Lydia, which automatically gives her an advantage above the other 65 followers.
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