Skyrim is a huge game, not just in geographic scope, but also in terms of storyline, depth and choices.
It is thus best enjoyed with a sense of wonder and discovery, so we will be steering well clear of any spoilers and just giving you the lowdown on how to make the most of your time in this fantastic fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls series.
Firstly we should clarify how to approach Skyrim for maximum enjoyment, as surely this is a game that deserves such an approach if ever there were one. Like a fine Ale / Mead / Wine Skyrim really does blossom with time. If you want to rush straight through it you can, of course, but be warned; you will be missing much of what makes Skyrim such a deep and rich delight…
Anyway, enough bardish exposition, let’s get stuck in! We’ve kept this guide absolutely as short as possible and packed it as full of useful info as we dared. It may be slightly hard going, but finish reading this page and you will be in command of all you need to know to achieve great things, avoid unfortunate disasters and more importantly have a great time doing so!
General Gameplay Guide
Progression: Skyrim character progression is driven solely by the increases in your skills as an overall group, that is to say that if you improve Restoration by 1 point, Two-Handed by 1 point and Speech by 1 point your character has advanced by 3 points towards their next level. Knowing this allows you to fairly rapidly level should you choose to do so. The best way to do this is thusly to try and simply use every skill as often as possible. Sneaking everywhere (as long as you don’t mind moving slowly) is an easy skill to level. Combine this “perma-sneaking” with stealthy dagger or bow attacks to double your character progression as stealthy strikes improve both your sneak & attack skills simultaneously. It’s also easier to improve skills at lower levels, if you want to level quickly, be a jack of all trades. But beware, you must also always ensure you are master of at least one offensive skill, for this unlocks powerful skill “perks” which you can use to significantly improve your effectiveness in the specific skill. A final point to remember is that skill progression can be aided by reading certain books, training, the “blessings” from “standing stones” and by sleeping. The progression granted by books is particularly useful later in the game where skill increases are harder to achieve, conversely take your training early on, as it gets expensive quickly at higher skill levels.
Money: Money, money, money, it must be funny… you know… living in a rich man’s world… so why not make yourself a rich man or woman and enjoy a good laugh? Whilst there are a few specific ways of improving your financial situation in Skyrim there is also a simple concept to remember; your Speech skill grants you access to increasingly effective perks which improve your sale prices. Speech is improved by selling things. Herein lies a dichotomy, namely; to get a better price when selling things you must first sell lots of things… sigh. So how do we make the most of this? Well, only sell things 1 by 1, do not sell “stacks” of things. Why? Well, because your Speech skill is improved not only by the value of what you sell but also only on a “per transaction” basis, selling 4 Dragon Scales one at a time is far more effective than selling all 4 at once. This has a very significant effect in the long term. As your Speech improves ensure you do actually buy the “perks” from the Speech tree which improve your sale prices. Initial hardship = long term gain. Suck it up Dragonborn! You’ll thank us later! Perhaps the best medium term money maker is to “smith” daggers from iron ingots and leather straps, enchant them, and sell them in short order, the better the enchantment the better the price. Enchanting standard loot before selling it also works wonders here, but does not bring the multi-skill increases that smithing adds when you go that route. Oh, and remember, by default, merchant’s gold reserves refill fully after 48 hours!
Storage: This is another classic conundrum for the seasoned RPGer. But, thankfully, a pretty simple one in Skyrim and it works like this; buy a house. There that was easy! The only truly safe place to put all your hard won loot is in your house. If you leave it in an unlocked chest for too long, then you risk loosing it. Yes houses are very expensive, but nothing beats your own personal alchemy table! Storage in general (including chests, barrels, drawers, etc, including all those in your house), have no obvious limit, thank goodness! But prepare to spend a fair amount of time jumping back and forth across the map to pickup / drop off loot, as you have a fairly strict limit as a pack horse. Another option is to make use of a friendly follower, but remember; they have storage limits too, and they will equip any equipables that are better than what they are currently using, if you “lose” them you lose everything they were carrying. Without wanting to worry you there have been a very small number of confirmed cases of theft by NPCs from player houses, the causes of this, and how to resolve it when it happens, are not yet fully clear. We do know that killing the thief will get you your stuff back without it being a crime. Time for some old school justice!
Followers: Your “follower” plays a huge part in combat. But remember to keep them well equipped. As previously mentioned they will automatically equip any item you “trade” with them if it is better than their current equipment. They will also use potions as needed if you give them any! A well equipped follower is, in fact, able to solo a dragon while you sit and watch, so don’t forget to give them the proper kit to do their job. Followers are also refreshingly robust, they will not be killed in the normal course of combat, only “disabled”, rising again after a quick breather or as soon as you dispatch all your foes. It is however possible for them to be killed by an action of yours, or by area damage. If your follower is “down” ensure you draw the attackers away from them and that you don’t accidentally arrow or fireball them! When travelling with followers don’t worry if they get lost, “mapping” anywhere, near or far, will almost always bring them instantly to your side. A further point of note is that a dog is not counted as a “follower”, so you can have two buddies to adventure with!
Combat: Combat can be tricky, the temptation here is to stay at range and deploy arrows or spells from a safe distance, this does mean your follower is likely to get in the way, however this is equally likely during melee if you follower is also so inclined. We’ve found that stealth based bow attacks, combining Archery and Sneak “perks” together are devastating, specially with suitably enchanted bows and high quality arrows. Of course a melee alternative is necessary and being naturally cautious we favour the sword & shield. Backstabbing dagger attacks can be both time consuming and risky as, if anything goes wrong, you are at such close quarters, whilst two handed weapons and dual wielding can leave you dangerously exposed to both magic and ranged attack at higher difficulties. For the keen magic users amongst you head for the dual-casting perk in you favoured magic school(s) as quickly as you can, twinned with such spells as Impact and Equilibrium some truly spectacular applications are possible! Of course at the end of the day you need to go with what you feel comfortable with. The main points to consider are; the huge benefit of a well equipped follower, the need to quick save before every fight, ever-ready potions to keep you fighting, readiness to switch fighting styles if the situation demands it, familiarity with ranged, melee and magic combat and most of all, use your shouts! Shouts have no cost, are devastating, and you should be using them as quickly as they recycle. They can, and will, swing a tough fight in your favour time after time after time.
Travel: Yes Skyrim is vast, but it’s also well organised! Once at Whiterun take the opportunity to invest what little money you have in wagon rides to each of the major holds, that way you can fast travel to the nearest one whenever you need to later, making any future trips far shorter. Horses are not as necessary as you might initially think, but they are a fun and helpful addition. They are also able to tackle slopes which you alone cannot, they are real all terrain animals in Skyrim! Overall there is great value in exploring as much as you can, who knows what you will happen upon! One way of going about your exploration is to take a journey between one Hold and another, zig zagging between locations which you see come up on your compass “HUD” until they register as “discovered” and appear on your map, thus adding them to your available fast travel locations. You can then pop back later, with an empty inventory, to quash those pesky bandits / draug / necromancers / skeletons and liberate that dungeon / outpost / mine / cave etc of it’s loot!
Specific Hints, Tips and Quirks (From the obvious to the amazing!)
- Quick save often, but also ensure you have regular, manual, saves. You must have both to avoid too much back-tracking!
- Navigating to “Magic” -> “Active Effects” shows you a list of all magic and other effects you are currently under with a description of each.
- Got a “quest locked” weapon or shield you can’t shift from your inventory? Equip it and then “display” it on one of the “weapon plaques” in your house, where it will happily stay until you want to complete the relevant quest!
- Frustrated at reading every single book you find in search of that elusive skill point? Skill point giving books are almost exclusively high value, you’re looking for 50+ “value” books. Ignore the cheap pulp fiction paper backs!
- When looking at an “ore” vein the colour of the highlights (if present) tells you which gem(s) it contains, if any.
- Some doors require a “claw” object as a key, this claw item has the “code” for the door on the item itself, spin it around in your inventory.
- Inn landlords are a very knowledgeable bunch, specially as concerns rumors about possible local quests of all scales…
- Enchantments are very powerful, and increase is usefulness as you progress in the game. Get used to enchanting your equipment, particularly ensure you “learn” as many enchantments as you can, which whilst destroying what may seem like valuable equipment at the time, improves your Enchanting skill and grants you a new enchantment to use both on your own equipment and for raising the value of items you want to sell.
- You can fast travel to anywhere you have already discovered by clicking on it when in map mode.
- Just outside every “Hold” is a stable and near that a wagon, which can take you instantly to any other “Hold” for a few gold.
- You can sprint, but so can your horse!
- There are many small unmarked areas in the world which never appear on your map in any form, but can yield great rewards & stories.
- The main building of each city has a map board with flags on it inside somewhere, interacting with these adds them to your map.
- To jump to the map location of any quest, highlight the quest and hit the “map” key.
- The “Calirvoyance” spell may seem a bit pointless, but with all the possible routes and rough terrain it can certainly save you from pulling your hair out. It’s also more accurate than the overhead map.
- The “Whirlwind Sprint” shout allows you to effectively teleport short distances. Some places are only accessible this way.
- Arrow “strikes” make noise which NPCs will want to investigate. Use this to move them around.
- When you see purpleish / iridescent liquid on the floor this is oil you can light by knocking a nearby burning object or using a flame spell.
- If you completely drain your stamina or magicka bars they take longer to start regenerating. Always try and leave a little in each bar.
- You can remove torches from walls to darken areas and aid sneaking.
- Ensure you have a either the “Soul Trap” spell or a weapon with that enchantment, and use it. Keep a number of each type of empty soul gem on hand to make sure you are filling appropriate ones as you kill. We recommend having one weapon for damage and a second with Soul Trapping to switch to for the final killing blow(s).
- “Sheathing” your bow will return the arrow you had drawn back to your inventory.
- To acquire more “shout” “words” continually speak to Arngeir in High Hrothgar and complete the quests he gives you.
- Getting a passing dragons attention can be infuriating, remember they need to see you, try to get somewhere nearby that is clear and flat.
- “Splash” damage is not negated by wards. This cuts both ways. Use it to your advantage, but be careful of it when using wards yourself.
- Killing a “summoner” also kills their “summoned” creature. Always focus on the mage first.
- Magic attacks (mainly from the “Destruction” school) have different “side”effects so whilst “Fire” is all about raw damage, “Shock” also drains magicka, whilst ice / frost drains stamina in addition to slowing your target down.
- When considering what to loot, ensure it’s “weight to value ratio” is strong. Jewelery is always a definite yes, but heavy armour almost always a no.
- Following your admission to the “Thieves Guild”, Grelka becomes available in Riften, where she has over 3k gold and will buy anything.
- Some enchantments are particularly valued (including, amongst others, “Banish Dedra” & “Archery” related ones). “Learn” them from the first item you find them on and earn a LOT of gold from enchanting other weapons with it.
- On PC “Y” and “N” keys work for “Yes” or “No” for all pop-ups where they appear as options.
- On PC the “Saves” folder contains the second most recent quick save & auto save stored as a “.bak”. Deleting the “.bak” extension restores it.
So, we hope these few insights will make your Skyrim experience just that bit more enjoyable, please do let us know if you have a tip for us, and the rest of the community! We’d love to hear your pearls of wisdom!
- Richard “Rax” Burley