Essential? I think they're awful. I got a couple but they ended up dying because they're dumb and I stopped replacing them.
I partly agree with you here. I limit myself to either magic users or missile weapon companions. Every melee companion I've had, end up dying by my hand because they walk directly in front of me in battle.
Ok I am new to the genre, I have to give you that, as Skyrim is the first game that I have tried out in a while that is not a shooter, RTS, or sandbox builder. That, however is no excuse as to why I am constantly being assigned to quests that is pretty much unbeatable just because that last guy has a crapload of HP and I have not.
Sounds a lot like me when I first played that game. I was level 4 and tried to take on two trolls at once because... I don't know, I got a testosterone rush? Not every enemy in the game warrants a face-to-face kill, I always try to sneak attack everything.
If you can't sneak so well or don't have that good of spells or weapons, just stick to some other quests until you got the gear and skills.
Sometime I can kill them but only after expending all my potions and that totally goes against my syle of play. Mind you these are sidequests, I am not even rushing through the main storyline. I am level 20 and I already have about 5 or so quests on my journal that I cannot complete due to this utter nonsense. What the hell am I doing wrong?
You can just sneak bow-and-arrow everything until they die.
You're a Mass Effect player eh? Which path do you choose? Paragon or Renegade?
Use followers, use enchantments, use potions, get gold, do some miscellaneous tasks and clear out an odd dungeon or something, Use ranged attacks until the enemy comes to you if they are melee, or run up and get close and personal to weaker ranged enemies. Become a werewolf or a vampire lord.
The followers will take and give out damage, making your life much easier, but don't get stealth followers, since they are crap, and use followers of the opposite type of you. An archer or mage for a melee character, a melee follower for a ranged character.. Enchantments greatly increase the capability of weaponry, I generally do significantly better somewhere . Using potions is critical to survival, and stuff like one-handed aid potions are super useful, gold can get you lots of stuff to aid you, like virtually everything in this list. Miscellaneous tasks or randoms dungeons are usually pretty easy, so they allow you to level up your core skills for combat and get you neat stuff. Always try to soften an enemy before they get near you, or if they are using a lot of ranged attacks, run up to them and attack, since they usually have lower health. Become a vampire lord or werewolf, since those let you become a big, strong thing, which helps in dire situations, but like your claws as a Khajiit, don't use it very often or your regular combat will suck. And also, dragon priests and giant, ancient dragons are always difficult to beat, so don't worry if you can't beat those guys at level 20.