It’s been two hundred years since the Oblivion Crisis passed, and Tamriel is a much different world than it was back in those days. The Septim dynasty no longer rules the empire, its last surviving member – Martin Septim – sacrificed himself to stop the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon and save the empire. While the empire itself still persists, it is a shadow of its former glory. Black Marsh has seceded and Morrowind is uninhabitable following the eruption of Red Mountain.
The greatest threat the empire faced after the Oblivion Crisis, however, was the Thalmor, a group of nationalist, racial supremacist elves from the Summerset Isles who took advantage of the Empire’s weakened state to conquer Valenwood and Elsweyr and assimilate them into the Aldmeri Dominion. The darkest days were yet to come for the floundering Empire, however, as its weakness ultimately incited the Thalmor to invade Cyrodiil itself – the heart of the Empire. Although the Empire was ultimately victorious in the Great War, the capacity of the Aldmeri Dominion to make war was diminished, not destroyed, and the resulting peace treaty – the White-Gold Concordant – caused as many problems as it solved.
The province of Hammerfell refused to acknowledge the treaty, seceding from the Empire and continuing its own war with the Aldmeri Dominion. Another provision of the White-Gold Concordant now stirs up unrest in Skyrim, the land of the Nords, as the worship of the Nordic hero-god Talos, founder of the Empire, was outlawed as a concession to the elves. The Nords who fought and bled in the Great War viewed this as a betrayal by the Empire, and led by Ulfric Stormcloak, rose up in rebellion and killed the High King of Skyrim.
As a wagon creaks its way towards Helgen, its passengers seem to promise an early end to the rebellion, but one of the passengers might be much more than meets the eye… Will the Nords shake off the yoke of Imperial rule and restore Talos to his proper place among the divines, or will the Empire persist and keep Skyrim loyal by force of arms? When an ancient evil arises, will a hero arise with the power to conquer it?
Basics of Skills
Skills and Classes
There are no limits to what skills a character can learn, no gameplay reason (as opposed to roleplaying reasons) to try to build around a specific “class” and focus on certain skills while neglecting others. They all play a role in Skyrim, and while some are better than others, they all level you up. Characters in The Elder Scrolls games can – and always have been able to – do everything. You can become the leader of every guild in the game, and there’s no gameplay reason why you shouldn’t. Even if you don’t care to cast any spells, you should still level up spell skills for the overall improvement that it will yeild. Long story short, don’t specialize around some “class”, character preference, or other archetype. This guide’s goal is power, and whatever skills best facilitate that are the one’s that’ll be pursued.
Skills in Skyrim serve several purposes; first, increasing your Skill Levels gets you experience towards leveling up your Character Level, which in turn gets you perks and allows you to increase your attributes. All this stuff is covered earlier, but for the sake of redundancy, the more you use a skill, the more its Skill Level increases (the best way to level each skill will be elaborated while discussing each skill). Secondly, a skills’ Skill Level determins what perks you can buy in that skill, and how effective using that skill is. For example, a character with a higher One Handed skill will do more damage with One Handed weapons even without any perks spent.
In the following pages all the skills will be covered; what they do, how to level them, and most importantly of all, which perks in each skill tree are worthwhile (if any) and why. If a specific perk isn’t mentioned under a skill’s “Perk Picks” headers, it’s not an oversight, it’s because that perk isn’t considered to be worth mentioning. And also keep in mind that just because a skill isn’t worth investing perks into doesn’t mean the skill itself isn’t useful… Restoration is a prime example of a skill that can be relied upon without necessarily having to spend any perks in it.
A term that’ll be used frequently when talking about the individual skills is “crafting skills”… because it’s what turns your character into juggernaut of untouchable badassery. Given that it’s a concept that’ll be mentioned a bit, it’s best to just get it out of the way here, rathern than explain it repeatedly later on. The three “Crafting Skills” are Alchemy, Enchanting, and Smithing, and they all work together to make ridiculously powerful gear.
On their own, they’re useful enough – Smithing will let you make whatever arms and armor best suit you, Enchanting will allow you to enchant that gear, and Alchemy gives you the ability to brew potions and poisons to help you out, as needed. When they’re all combined, however, that’s when things get interesting. You can use Alchemy to create potions of Fortify Smithing and Fortify Enchanting, which allows you to create better arms and armor, and strong enchantments.
The latter part – stronger enchantments – will also enable you to make a set of apparel that improves your Alchemy and Smithing skills. See the feedback loop? Granted, it’s not unlimited, but you can make potions that allow you to make gear that allow you to make stronger potions that allow you to make stronger gear… and on and on until you create an extremely powerful set of “Crafting Clothes” with which you can create ultra powerful concoctions Fortify Smithing and Fortify Enchanting Potions. With these potions and clothes in hand, you can make the aforementioned arms and armor that will basically break the game and let you challenge whatever foes you wish, on whatever difficulty.
This character creation build is in large part dedicated to this end, and the crafting skill themselves affect many of the skills (especially spell skills). Speaking of which…
All spell skills (Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Illusion and Restoration) share certain things in common, and to avoid repeating them endlessly later on, those similarities will be discussed here.
First, the only thing your Skill Level in a spell skill affects (aside from the usual perk requirements) is how much Magicka it’ll cost to cast spells of that spell school. Damage, area of effect, duration, etc., is locked by the particular spell you’re casting. Which is the biggest reason why magic is uninteresting and underpowered in Skyrim… but more on that later.
Almost all spells except for Master-level spells can be purchased from various Mages in Skyrim. Note, however, that they will not start selling you higher level Mage spells until you approach the level of proficiency required to get the Magicka-cost reducing perk for that level of spell. For example, vendors will not start stocking Fireball spells until you’re nearing level 50 in Destruction, and they won’t sell Incinerate until you near level 75. Also note that you can’t begin Master-spell related quests until you have a score of 90 or higher in a spell skill.
How hard it is to level spells skills is directly related to your Magicka pool. If you’re following this guide’s advice, you’ll have no Magicka investment, so leveling each spell skill is going to be an absolute chore, right? Not necessarily. If you postpone leveling spell skills until you’re done with your crafting skills, you can just create armor that reduces the cost of spells to nothing… or rather, several suits of armor, specifically for this purpose. Each item (helmet, armor, ring, necklace) can have up to two enchantments on it, which means two spell skills you can eliminate the Magicka cost for. Make this armor, then level up your spell skills by whatever means works best for that spell skill. Keep this in mind when reading on how to level each spell skill and let this advice preface the methods provided later – leveling up spell skills will be much, much easier if you delay until after you have your crafting skill taken care of.
Let’s be honest, some skills are just an absolute chore to level. Either they’re objectively slow (Speech, Destruction, Restoration) or utilizing that skill to level it up might just not interest you. Assuming you want those skills to be leveled, how, then do you go about achieving this without doing the tedious work of grinding it? Trainers. Throughout Skyrim there are characters who have achieved various degrees of expertise at some skills, and they will happily impart their knowledge to you… for a price.
While it’s not necessary to use trainers, it can sure speed up the leveling of some skills. Just keep in mind some pointers about trainers:
- Different trainers have different levels of skill. You can only learn as much from a trainer as that character knows. Once your skill level surpasses that of your trainer, you’ll need to find a more skill trainer.
- Training cost money; the higher the level of the skill you’re trying to increase, the more it’ll cost.
Note: You can steal money paid to trainers back from them… but given the kinds of money involved, if you plan to do this you should attempt to steal the money back after every level you train. Even so, good luck getting back the thousands of gold higher level training costs.
- You can only train up five Skill Levels per Character Level. Once you’ve trained up any five Skill Levels among any number of skills you’ll need to increase your Character Level to train again.
- Some Master-level trainers require you to complete a quest for them before they’ll consent to train you.
- No trainer can increase any skill’s Skill Level above 90.
The trainers for each skill will be mentioned in each’s skills description, below.
Scattered throughout Skyrim you’ll find books of uncommon quality, which, once read, will impart the enlightment contained within to you. So, yeah, skill books. Read them and you’ll increase one specific skill (based on the book) by one point. You can tell these books apart primarily based on their value; they tend to be worth fifty gold or more. Unfortunately they’re rather limited in number (only several books per skill) and while you can basically expect to find one per dungeon you explore, that still ends up being a lot of work for a very minor gain. That said, know that they’re out there and rejoice when you find them, but they won’t play a huge role in the leveling process.
Quick Look: Alchemy
Alchemy allows you to create beneficial potions and harmful poisons. Its main use is to create Fortify Enchanting and Fortify Smithing Potions. It’s also a good source of income. Level it by creating poison and potions – the more valuable the product, the faster your Alchemy skill will level.
Ah, Alchemy, that old bit of fantasy logic where if you find some crap lying on a ground, or an interesting party of some beast, you should mix it up and consume it for some effect or another. In reality, you’d think that almost all such experiments would have a.. decidedly negative effect, and would at least taste like ass. But in Skyrim mixing most anything you find will have results, being it a poison you can use to inflict suffering upon your foes, or a potion to heal yourself, cure diseases or poisons, or otherwise give you some sort of beneficial buff.
This has obvious benefits, of course, but for most buffs (especially healing) you’re probably better off just investing in Restoration. One thing Alchemy has going for it that it’s readily apparent, however, is that it can be used to generate huge amounts of cash. Various recipes (a few of which will be included below) can turn relatively common and cheap components into incredibly valuable potions.
As far as power-gaming is concerned, though, the most important thing Alchemy does – and it’s important enough to warrant everybody investing in it – is that it allows you to create potions that increase your Smithing and Enchanting skills, which allows you to create absurdly powerful weapons and armor. This, more than any skill investment or perk selection (aside from those required to create such equipment, of course) will make a character that is frankly broken.
The primary function of Alchemy is to boost your Smithing and Enchanting abilities… which really requires you to become an expert at enhancing the beneficial aspects of potions. All in all, it’s a fairly large investment of perks to get the best results and make the most powerful Fortify Smithing and Fortify Enchanting potions possible (+147% and +37%, respectively). Whereas poisons are something that can be largely neglected.
To that end, improving the base potency of your potions is a good thing, so all five ranks of Alchemist are a worthwhile investment. Improving your skills is a beneficial effect, so the Benefactor perk should also be purchased, while Physician is just a necessary step along the way. None of the other perks are strictly necessary, but getting Snake Blood will get you a heft 50% resistance to poison. Poison itself is rather rare, but if you’re wanting to play on higher difficulties and make a nearly impervious character, it’s a hole in your defense you can plug.
As for perks that aren’t necessary for the Smithing/Enchanting grind, but are still nice to have for various reasons, Purity will help you make more money off your potions. If you plan to turn Alchemy legendary or just make potions and poisons for cash, Green Thumb is a worthy investment, although it requires you to expend two perks along the way. Then again, if you want poisons to be a viable addition to your repertoire, you’re going to want Poisoner and Concentrated Poison, anyways. As an added benefit, many useful poisons can be made which consist of easy to obtain ingredients, which will expedite your leveling process.
The best way to level up Alchemy is through creating potions – the more expensive the potion created, the more experience gained from the brewing. On that note, purchasing relevent perks while leveling up Alchemy will increase the speed at which you level, and also serve to line your purse. The only problem with Alchemy is that to level it, you’ll need hundreds of ingredients, the harvesting of which is a comparably slow process, making Alchemy a rather poor grinding skill.
To get get these ingredients you have two options; you can go around the world buying ingredients from merchants (this will negatively affect your purse, and isn’t all that fast) or you can roam about, picking flowers and killing beasties… you know, the stuff that you’d presumably prefer to be going, rather than sitting around grinding all day? To that end, just be vigilant for things to pick on your travels, and explore the map. You’ll find locations (which will make questing easier, when you get around to it) and will undoubtably stumble across a good bit of ingredients. Of course, that’s a rather simplistic explanation, it’s a good rule of thumb to practice as you play – the more you pick, the easier the eventual Alchemy grind will be.
Of course, all products of Alchemy aren’t created equal; certain components are rarer than others, and some potions/poisons are better than others. Given how Alchemy levels, then, a more focused strategy than simply running drunkenly around the map in search of alchemical components would be to venture to places with high concentrations of valuable ingredients, right? First up, let’s go over some of the more lucrative alchemical concoctions, which will reveal the ingredients you want to go after… then it’ll be time to talk geography.
First, anything with “regen” in it does well. Whether it’s damaging the regeneration rate of something, or boosting it. Ingredients that cause status effects are also very good, like Fear, Invisibility, Frenzy and Paralysis. Also, the more effects you put into something, the better its market value. Note that these combos typically only include the best combinations that can be made with common ingredients. It’s not really helpful to your leveling if you have trouble finding a dozen of a certain ingredient. The giant exception? Giant’s Toes. They drastically improve the value of potions they’re in to such an extent that if you can find/buy/harvest even a few dozen, you’ve done yourself a great service.
Poison of Damage Magicka Regen
Ingredients: Bear Claw, Blue Butterfly Wing, Blue Mountain Flower, Hanging Moss, Nightshade
An insanely easy to make poison with good value, Blue Mountain Flowers, Hanging Moss and Nightshade are all easy to obtain in abundance. Bear Claws and Blue Butterfly Wings aren’t uncommon, but the former shouldn’t be combined with Blue Mountain Flowers (as they share the Fortify Health property, which will neuter the concotion’s effectiveness without the Purity perk) and the latter is arguably better saved for a more valuable concoction.
Potion of Fortify Health
Ingredients: Bear Claws, Blue Mountain Flower, Giant’s Toe, Glowing Mushroom, Hanging Moss, Wheat
This one consists of some common components, but the Giant’s Toe is what makes this valuable. Just combining the lesser components (sans Giant’s Toe) will get you a potion with an effect of at best 60 seconds, as compared to the Giant’s Toe’s 500 second duration… which also makes it worth only 10% of what the Giant’s Toe variant is worth. Note that Creep Clusters and Giant’s Toes share the “Fortify Carry Weight” property, so throwing a Creep Cluster into any Fortify Health mix will get you an even more valuable concoction – a good deal, considering Creep Clusters are fairly common (see Fortify Carry Weight, below).
Fortify Carry Weight
Ingredients: Creep Cluster, Giant’s Toe, Hawk Beak, River Betty, Scaly Pholiato, Wisp Wrappings
You can safely ignore most of the ingredients in this concotion save the Creep Cluster, which is by far the most common ingredient. While valuable enough on its own, this scarcity makes the mixture relatively insignificant for grinding up Alchemy. On the other hand, the Giant’s Toe is a bridge between this potion and the more valuable Fortify Health potion, above. Any time you’re mixing a Fortify Health potion with a Giant’s Toe in it, you might as well throw in a Creep Cluster.
Poison of Slow
Ingredients: Deathbell, Large Antlers, River Betty, Salt Pile
Another valuable poison made with common ingredients, the main focus here should be on Deathbells and Salt Piles. The latter can be found in the various barrels throughout Riften in passable numbers, while Deathbells grow in abundance in the swamp north of Morthal.
Potion of Regenerate Magicka
Ingredients: Dwarven Oil, Fire Salts, Garlic, Jazbay Grapes, Moon Sugar, Salt Pile, Taproot
Jazbay Grapes can be found in great numbers in the hotsprings south of Windhelm, while Salt Piles are stored throughout barrels in Riften. Not a hugely valuable potion, it’s still a passable mix, and if you throw in a Red Mountain Flower (which can be found throughout Skyrim) you’ll add the Fortify Magick property, increasing the potion’s value by around 50%. Not bad.
Potion of Fortify Two-Handed
Ingredients: Dragon’s Tongue, Fly Amanita
More of a niche potion, really, but you’re likely to find hundreds of Dragon’s Tongue plants if you plunder the hot springs south of Windhelm, so disposing of some of those might just be appealing. Fly Amanita isn’t nearly as common as Dragon’s Tongue, so your ability to brew this concoction will likely be limited. Still, the two plants share two properties, both Fortify Two-Handed and Resist Fire, and together make for a passable potion.
Note: The values listed above are more accurately the value potential of each concoction, as they’re what you’d get with an Alchemy skill of 100 and all relevant perks. As you level up Alchemy your values will be lower, but the values given should provide a fair demonstration of their relative values.
Those potions and poisons should go a long way towards maxing your Alchemy skill, but where do you get all these lovely components? Well, there are three places where you’ll get most of them, but first, let’s discuss the ones that fall outside these three locations.
Blue Mountain Flowers:
Mountain flowers can be found throughout Skyrim and take no special effort to get – as you wander across Skyrim, just pick the flowers that commonly grow alongside the roads and you’ll end up with a grand stockpile.
Blue Butterfly Wings
Blue Butterfly Wings can be obtained by plucking the wings off Blue Butteflies. They exist in static locations throughout Skyrim, often in groups of three, mixed in with Monarch Butterflies. Just be sure to grab them whenever you see them.
Creep Cluster/Dragon’s Tongue/Jazbay Grapes:
South of Windhelm is an expansive stretch of hot springs where you’ll find these three plants. It’s not for the faint of heart, however, as there are two Giant camps and a Dragon’s nest in the area. Still, the treasure-trove of valuable components makes it a must-scour area.
North of (and surrounding) Morthal is a swamp where you’ll find Deathbells. While this is the most valuable component in the area, you can also harvest Giant Lichen and Swamp Fungal Pods.
Giant’s Toes are sold by alchemists at the various towns, but mostly you’ll get them from Giants. They’re not easy prey, but with decent gear (and perhaps the difficulty turned down to Novice) you can defeat them… especially with sneak attack criticals with a bow.
Hanging Moss/Juniper Berriers:
Hanging Moss and Juniper Berries can be found around Markarth, the former of which is the more valuable of the two. Hanging Moss can be found hanging off trees and on rocky ledges, while Juniper Berries can be found on Juniper trees.
Riften is a thriving fishing city, and when you need to preserve meat, you need salt. Search the barrels lying around Riften to find plenty of Salt Piles.
Note: Harvested plants, looted containers and slain enemies will respawn, given enough time and provided you don’t visit the area for the duration of said time. In the former case, however, the time it takes for harvested plants to respawn is… pretty lengthy, and even when they do respawn, don’t expect full replenishment.
|Lami||Adept (Lv. 15 – 50)||Morthal, Thaumaturgist’s Hut|
|Arcadia||Expert (Lv. 51 – 75)||Whiterun, Arcadia’s Cauldron|
|Babette||Master (Lv. 76 – 90)||Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary|
|Objective:||Escape Imperial custody and a dragon raid.|
|Location(s):||Helgen, Helgen Keep|
|Next Quest:||Before the Storm|
|Reward:||Minor items from the home of Alvor or home of Gerdur|
- Observe what you can about Skyrim and your situation.
- Create your character.
- Escape the executioner’s block.
- Make your way to Helgen Keep to escape a dragon attack.
- Choose Ralof, a Stormcloak rebel, or Hadvar, an Imperial soldier to escort you.
- Equip weapons/armour you find by opening containers or looting bodies.
- Escape from Helgen and enter Skyrim a free person.
Startup a New Game and you’ll soon find yourself in a wagon. The prisoner next to you will start to explain your situation and why you’re there. Listen to the talk to gain a slight knowledge of what’s going on. Soon you’ll enter a village where you’ll get off. Watch the horse thief die, then step forwards.
Important: If you want to see what the different races will grant you, look at the Race section of the guide (which is above the walkthrough, in the “Basics” section).
Watch the following scenes as it looks like you don’t have long for this world. However, you will be saved by an unlikely ally. As soon as you regain control, you will start the first main story-line quest Unbound.
Note: It doesn’t make that much of a difference who you follow. Both of the paths are detailed below, so pick which one you want and go!
Option 1: Ralofs Path
Just to be clear, Ralof is the Nord, so you want to go right. Head inside of the keep, where Ralof will say goodbye to a fallen comrade.
He will then cut you free of your bindings and tell you to take Gunjar’s items. With Gunjar’s items in hand, you’ll have your first weapon: an Iron War Axe. Be sure to equip it along with Gunjar’s Stormcloak Cuirass. You can also equip magic at this time since every new character starts out with the “Flames” and “Healing” spells. Equip your weapon to either L1 or R1 and continue.
Ralof will commence checking the iron gates now, noting that they are locked. Before long, two imperials will come down the right hallway. Get out of sight like Ralof does as they open the gate, and then attack! Remember that to attack you use the L1 and R1 buttons. The game will also remind you that you can block using L1. After you kill the two imperials, Ralof will unlock the other iron door and tell you to go with him. Now, you CAN go explore the area the imperials just came from to find several chests with more Imperial Armor and weapons, as well as some gold, a key (the ‘Helgen Keep Key’) and a book. The wines here are light and worth a bit, by the way.
Follow Ralof when you’re ready as you’re led deeper and deeper. Soon you’ll have to enter a door after the roof falls in. There’s two imperials in here rummaging for potions you can take out. You’ll see an optional quest marker pop up telling you to rummage for potions. Search the entire room for various potions and wines, as well as another book (the entertaining “Chance’s Folly”) and various eats. Follow Ralof when you’re ready. You’ll be in the torture room now. Help kill the guards with Ralof and two new companions, then as usual search the room. The most important thing in here is the dead mage in the cell. You’ll get your first taste of lockpicking here, so use those skills to open up every cell in the area (as you gain experience by doing it). You can find several more lockpicks lying around this room as well. If you need help with lockpicking, you can read about it in the “Basics” section of the guide up above.
Follow the party when you’re done exploring and unlock the cells along the way (note that you can search skeletons for gold). You’ll soon be in a wide open room with several imperials in it, so join your companions and take them down. Note that one section of the floor has oil on it, making it a great place to use some fire magic. After you’ve killed them all follow Ralof and soon another cave-in will separate you from your two previous companions. Keep following Ralof (noting that there’s a path off to the left that leads to a skeleton, gold, and a healing potion).
Keep going and soon you’ll be in a room full of spiders. Help Ralof kill these things and afterwards be sure to loot each of them for their venom (at it is quite valuable). Keep following the path and soon Ralof will stop you, pointing out a bear up ahead. Here you can learn either the basics of sneaking (press L3 and move quietly in the shadows) or you can practice a bit of archery. I’d recommend trying out archery as the bear pelt is worth a nice chunk of change, plus you have Ralof to help you.
Keep progressing through the cave and soon you’ll be outside. Witness the Dragon leave the town alone and you’ll have completed your first quest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim!
Note: At THIS time, whatever you do in Skyrim is completely up to you.
Option 2: Hadvars Path
Once inside approach Hadvar and he’ll set your hands free.
Be sure to grab the following items: Imperial Light Helmet, Imperial Light Armor, Iron Sword, Imperial Light Boots and the Helgen Keep Key.
Equip this gear as well as a spell on the left/right hand. Now that you’re fully equipped, follow Hadvar and soon enough, you’ll have to fight some Stormcloaks. Steal their treasure and keep on following Hadvar. When you get to another larger room, kill both Stormcloaks and loot the area for some Potions. Nice. After this room is another one with a torture chamber. You’ll find an ally here and will start talking to Hadvar. Before leaving, check the center of the room to find a little table with ‘The Book of Dragonborn’ .
Take this book, take the Dagger next to it and check the sack to get some Lockpicks. Now try picking the locks of the cages using the lockpicks you just got. I recommend trying to pick all 3 cells to start levelling up that Lockpicking skill. Inside the middle cell, there’s some Gold, a Potion and the Spell Tome: “Sparks”.
Note: If you plan on becoming a magician, be sure to rob the poor dead body in here its Novice Hood and Robes, which will help your magic!
Now go down the hallway to the west and lockpick all the cells in here (to get the lockpicking experience). Continue until you find Hadvar. Follow him and you’ll get to a room with many Stormcloaks. There will also be some archers, which are new enemies. They’re stepping on oil, so approach them and set it on fire to take care of them. Make sure to loot them and get your first bow.
Keep on going and you’ll go in yet another room with a little river. Instead of following him, follow the path left to find some goodies. Return and now go behind Hadvar.
Continue the straightforward path until you reach a room full of spiders. They are quite easy since they’re weak against Fire, so use your Flames spell to quickly take them out. In the next room, Hadvar tells you about Sneaking, by pressing L3 . Either do that or kill the enemy by using your Bow and arrows.
Keep progressing through the cave and soon you’ll be outside. Witness the Dragon leave the town alone and you’ll have completed your FIRST quest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Note: At THIS time, whatever you do in Skyrim is completely up to you.