Welcome to Skyrim, Bethesda’s expansive action role-playing game that promises hours of trolls, dragon slaying and Fus-Ro-Dahing your dear companion from various mountains. Starting such an expansive game, especially if you’re not used to action role-playing games, can be quite a challenging or daunting task. But don’t worry! Before you head off to slay the nearest big, bad dragon, take a look at these helpful tips and pointers for surviving in the harsh land of Skyrim and making your way to being the ultimate Dovahkiin.
1. In the beginning, pick up as much as you can!
I remember starting Skyrim for the first time with no decent weapons, no armour and the ability to be squished by the smallest troll. It’s quite a strange thing looking back on it compared to my character now (who looks more like a villain in the Daedric Armour than any bandit you will encounter) but I remember the one thing that really helped to kick start my adventure: pick up as much as you can. Whether it be armour, weapons, crafting items or simply a humble sweet roll that just happens to be lying around, it will ALL come in use eventually.
As you’re exploring Skyrim, you’re going to come across a lot of items. Ingredients (instrumental for Alchemy), Soul Gems (needed for Enchanting), food and even new weaponry are pretty much lying around, so why not make a use of these ‘free’ goodies? If you pick up something you will never use, such as a weapon weaker than your current one, simply sell it at the nearest vendor! Money is an important thing to have, and (to quote Tesco’s) ‘Every little helps’. A general rule I followed was that if the item is worth over 10 coins, make sure you pick it up. Everything you sell increases your Speech skill as well, and there are items and perks that you can get that increase your bargaining, meaning more money! Also it’s pretty easy to level up in the beginning, so you can increase your strength which allows you to carry even more. Just make sure to keep an eye on your encumbrance – if you carry too much then you won’t be able to fast travel, and walking across the land can become very tiring. This leads on to the second tip:
2. Make sure to grab yourself a trusty and convenient packhorse… I mean, companion.
Your companion becomes your best friend in the harsh terrain, especially when you’re quite weak and end up running away from a lot of battles. They can help you in combat, provide endless entertainment and (most importantly here) they can help you carry your stuff. Yes your companion can become a trusty packhorse, carrying things that would tip your weight over. Beware though, even companions have a limited amount of weight so make sure you use it wisely!
If you follow through part of the main story, you will be introduced to the lovely lady called Lydia. Lydia is your first Companion, who helps you through those pesky Dragons and Trolls and even provides you with entertainment when she gets stuck behind a rock. I kid you not. Despite this, she carries all of your burdens, helps you fight off many enemies and generally will always comes back in the end. But beware the problem with companions: it’s very hard to kill them when fighting enemies, but it is possible to kill them if you hit them. When you’re fighting a group of enemies Lydia will drop to one knee when she is low on health. This is the most dangerous time, since accidentally hitting them can kill them and you either have no companion or have to reload the game.
Losing Lydia was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my game. I remember it well – we were fighting a group of Frostbite spiders in a dungeon when a Giant Frostbite Spider (the boss) dropped on her head, pushing my poor companion through the floor and effectively killing her. I exited the cave, hoping that she would spawn next to me. I fast travelled back to Whiterun, my home, hoping to hear the clatter of things being knocked over and her cheerful comments. But alas, nothing. I even went back to the cave, where her body was never to be found. Actually, I’m not 100% sure she’s even dead. For all I know she could be secretly following me around the world, under the floor, carrying whatever I gave her at the time… Creepy….
3. Make sure to get yourself a house.
Having a house can be an extremely useful thing. For starters it’s somewhere to store all of your items, such as smithing materials and ingredients for Alchemy. Each house comes with a variety of items, and in Hearthfire you can create your very own custom houses. Each house has a few basic rooms, and then you have the option to customise it depending on what you do, for example an alchemist can have an alchemy lab and a garden to grow ingredients, whereas a smither could have a weapons room. However having a house isn’t a free thing. They can be quite expensive (depending where you want to live or if you want to build your house from scratch) but there is a glitch that you can exploit to get one for free. Alternatively (if you don’t like using exploits or cheating, like I don’t) you can earn the money the good old fashioned way – by selling everything you find and bankrupting the poor residents of the land.
Skyrim is a large land, filled with a multitude of dungeons, temples, caves and much more, so exploring plays a key part in the game. Exploring is also how you find a lot of the side quests, as well as some pretty awesome items. Levelling up your skills gets pretty easy too as you use them on a regular basis, allowing you to level up much faster. Besides, who doesn’t want to see what is lurking at the very edges of the lands? Armour, weapons, ingredients and much more can be found in the strangest of places, so it makes sense to grab them all (and doesn’t really take too much effort either!)
5. Make the Greybeards your new best friends.
By following the story you will get introduced to the Greybeards. This ancient order are known as Masters of the Thu’um, or The Voice, and teach the Dovahkiin (that means you) all of the shouts you can learn. By talking to them they can point you in the direction of parts of your shouts, which makes it a lot easier to find that perfect shout you were looking for. Granted you can just wander the land and hope to stumble across them (I did a lot of that when playing and only found out about the Greybeards once I had most of the shouts) but this makes it a little easier for you.
6. Don’t underestimate the value of Enchanting, Alchemy and Smithing.
If you’re looking to level up (and pretty fast) then don’t underestimate the value of these skills. These three can also be vital in your day to day excursions across Skyrim.
For starters Enchanting can help to make your weapons, armour and jewellery much more powerful by adding boosts. To first learn an enchantment you need to Disenchant an existing item (for example a duplicate weapon), and then to enchant a new item all you require is a Soul Gem. It’s really that simple. The higher your skill, the better enchantments you can do. Also if you’re looking to earn a lot of money, enchanting an item also adds a lot to the value. From setting an enemy on fire to increasing your carry weight, there’s an enchantment for everyone.
Alchemy can also be a vital skill to work on during your game. Alchemy is the art of creating potions, which requires ingredients (those items I mentioned you should collect earlier). These potions range from damaging the enemy through poison and healing yourself, to turning you invisible and allowing you to walk on water. Pretty cool! To create potions first you need to get the ingredients. Each ingredient has 4 properties, which means you can make 4 main potions. To get the recipes you can either experiment (by randomly combining ingredients and hoping something works) or you can find recipes around the world and even buy them. Alchemy is an important skill that, through the use of healing potions, can actually save your life. It also allows you to cure diseases which, even if you’re an Argonian with 50% disease resistance, is an important thing (unless you want to be a vampire anyway).
Finally smithing is the art of creating weapons, armour and jewellery. While you might find a lot of stuff walking around the lands, it can be extremely useful to learn to create the exact items you want. This also works really well with Enchanting, simply because you can enchant the items you make. Smithing can take a while to level up because you need a certain level of skill to unlock more crafting knowledge, but it’s great for keeping you alive and also leaving you with a little bit of gold in your pocket. You can generally find the items required while roaming, and you can mine the ores from town mines as well. Smithing materials are also extremely common in all of the shops.
7. Think about what skills you’re working on.
There’s a lot of skills that you can work on in the game, and whichever ones you decide to work on generally depend on your player style. There are a few basic ones that (after thinking about it for a while) actually work well when grouped together, so here’s a basic rundown of all the skills and which ones work together:
ALCHEMY: As already mentioned above, alchemy is the art of making potions. These can be pretty useful when wandering around the lands, and especially with fighting dragons and trolls. This relies on ingredients, and is great for helping you survive as well as bulking your wallet. There’s a great perk you can get which has a chance of gathering two ingredients from a plant instead of one (really good if you have a limited supply, for example).
ALTERATION: This focuses on altering the laws of reality and provides a range of defensive and utility spells, such as Magelight. This has some great defensive modifications, such as making ‘Oakflesh’ last longer if you’re not wearing armour.
ARCHERY: If you fancy yourself as the next Hawkeye then Archery is the perfect skill to work on. Bows are a great distance weapon and are great when combined with the SNEAK skill. It has quite a few good skills such as Eagle Eye (which allows you to zoom with a bow) and Bullseye (gives you a chance to paralyse the target).
BLOCK: A fundamental skill whether you’re using a one or two handed weapon. Blocking (as the name says) blocks the enemy attacks, and can even block some magical attacks once you’ve levelled it up. Bashing with a shield stumbles the enemy (this tactic works great against Dragons, and it’s entertaining to smack a Dragon in the face!) Blocking works great with ONE HANDED weapons, and these two combined also work well with LIGHT ARMOUR.
CONJURATION: This school of magic allows you to summon mystical creatures, such as Flame Atronachs. Atronachs are great helpers when you are fighting a dragon or in a dungeon, and there’s a handy skill that allows you to summon two at a time. You can also reanimate the dead to fight for you and steal people’s souls in Soul Gems for Enchanting.
DESTRUCTION: The destruction skill uses fire, frost and shock to cause massive damage to enemies. They can also be used to cast Runes, which are explosive and damaging traps. Destruction magic can be dual wielded and the skills focus on increasing their power. It works pretty well when combined with RESTORATIVE magic (which heals).
ENCHANTING: I already talked about enchanting above, but this works great with SMITHING. It makes your items more powerful and can really aid you when going against tough enemies.
HEAVY ARMOUR: One of two armour types in the game, Heavy Armour includes Dwarven, Steel, Ebony and Daedric armour. This has a higher armour rating and is one of the easiest types to level up: you simply take damage! Because this protects you from more damage, it is best to be paired with TWO HANDED. Two handed weapons are slower, so you need more protection. It also has a great perk that means if you have a complete set of Heavy Armour equipped, it will weigh nothing.
ILLUSION: This magic tree focuses on changing the perception of the world from the viewpoint of the target. This involves spells such as Fear, Muffle (you walk more quietly) and Invisibility. These spells are quite formidable on most enemies (apart from Dragons).
LIGHT ARMOUR: The second armour set which includes Elven armour. Again you level this up by taking damage, but because it is a lot weaker than Heavy Armour I would recommend levelling it up with ONE HANDED and BLOCKING, so that you can protect yourself a lot quicker.
LOCKPICKING: This allows you to pick locks on doors and chests, and you’ll level this up as you go around (so make sure to pick up and buy lots of Lockpicks!) There’s some pretty good perks later on, such as an unbreakable lockpick.
ONE HANDED: This weapon set includes swords, axes and maces and works well with BLOCKING. You level this up by using the weapons, and don’t forget that these items can all be enchanted!
PICKPOCKET: This sneaky little skill lets you pick the pockets of innocent Skyrim bystanders. It isn’t all that bad though, sometimes you just want to be a villain and something is a little too irresistible. This works brilliantly with SNEAK and lets you get around undetected, as well as get some nice loot.
RESTORATION: One of the most important magic trees, Restoration lets you heal yourself. This is a skill you will constantly use, no matter what weapons or armour, and you can generally find the books to learn the spells around Skyrim. You can also buy them, but they can be a little costly at first.
SMITHING: This was already covered above, but smithing is the creation of weapons/armour and also the improvement of those items. As you improve them, they become stronger (no need to always make new items!).
SNEAK: Your sneak determines how likely you are to be spotted while crawling around Skyrim’s caves and towns. This works well with your LOCKPICKING and PICKPOCKETING. This also leads to critical shots, which deal extra damage to unsuspecting enemies. Plus, who doesn’t want to move like a ninja?
SPEECH: Speech determines how you react with people, as well as how much money you can barter from stores. Its perks allow you to get more money from shopkeepers, buy and sell stolen items to any merchant and also to make intimidation or persuasion attempts easier. This will level up as you go around the game and as you sell items, so don’t worry too much about it. It is definitely worth investing in the perks though!
TWO HANDED: If you prefer greatswords then two handed is the skill for you. This works best when levelled up with HEAVY ARMOUR, as two handed weapons are quite slow to swing and blocking isn’t as effective. The perks for this involve increasing damage, ignoring a set amount of armour and generally making two handed weapons the bone-breakers they should be.
Also with all of your perks you have the option to make them LEGENDARY. Once a skill reaches level 100 you are given the option to make it Legendary, which removes all skill points you have spent and sets the skill back to level 15. However the skill points are given back to you (so you can reassign them), and it’s a great way to help you level up faster. I wouldn’t recommend making your weapon or armour skills though, as these are needed to continue your survival.
8. Don’t rush through the story too fast.
While you might be eager to get to the end of the story, kill Alduin and then proclaim yourself the ultimate Dovahkiin in existence, Skyrim has a rich and wonderful story surrounding its lands. Whether you’re completing the Companion quests to become a werewolf, assassinating targets with the Dark Brotherhood or simply wandering around exploring, Skyrim has lots to offer. It’s an experience you savour, rather than rushing through (as much fun as it was killing Alduin). But make sure you do play through the story AT LEAST until you have a proper grasp of using the shouts. These can really save your butt, and if you come across a wandering dragon with no shouts it can be much harder to kill it.
9. Save often and make use of the mechanic.
Skyrim can be a little buggy and if you don’t save often then it can become a real ache. My favourite bug (sadly when I hadn’t saved for a while) was when I walked into a Dwarven ruin and literally fell through the floor. Part of the floor hadn’t loaded and I managed to fall through the land. Luckily it spawned me back on the floor… only for me to fall through it again! This kept happening and when I tried loading my game it sadly crashed, meaning the past few hours of hard slaving away were for nothing. Sadly this isn’t the only time my game crashed.
Also pickpocketing and interactions with people are generally based on luck, so if you really need to grab something but you failed it the first time, simply reload it.
10. Finally, don’t be afraid to make a well-judged tactical retreat!
Nobody begins life as the Chuck Norris of Dovahkiin. Things will, inevitably, kill you at first. Probably quite a bit, especially when you start running into harder Dragons and Frost Trolls. Making a tactical retreat can save your life. Remember, live and learn! Dying lots is incredibly frustrating, so save yourself a bit of stress, retreat and come back with better gear and weapons. And if any of the Guards make a comment on your retreat, simply apply a Fus Ro Dah straight to their faces. It works every time!
And there you have it, some simple tips to help you become a success and the ultimate Dovahkiin in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. They’re not strategy guides, and I’ve tried to not include any spoilers (although at some point Lydia will die at least once) and, for my experience, this has made my game a pretty enjoyable experience. If you’ve got your own tips that you think might help others, or even if it’s just a silly Skyrim story you want to share then don’t forget to leave a comment.