Now that Skyrim is available on Nintendo Switch, players new to the franchise are diving into the series for the first time, and it can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated. With little structure or direction, what’s a Dragonborn to do? As someone who’s played Skyrim for over 500 hours, I’ve put together 10 of my personal tips for creating a new character and venturing out into the massive world of Tamriel.
10. Plan Your Character Concept.
In my opinion, the character creation sequence has a minimal affect on the final capabilities of your character. Although your racial selection bestows powers and some starting skill bonuses, the way you play your character and the perks you select ultimately determines what you’ll be good at. First and foremost, think about how your character will deal damage. While it would be great to win over the world with Speechcraft, the harsh reality of Skyrim dictates that you’ll end up using force to accomplish most of your objectives. Will you use bows or melee weapons? One-handed + shield, two-handed, or dual wielding? Destruction spells? A combination of all the above? With this choice in mind, think about other skills that will support your primary method. Sneak is good for rogues or archers who want to take advantage of critical strikes from the shadows. Light or Heavy Armor improves the effectiveness of armor, essential for melee fighters. Illusion, Alteration, Conjuration, and Restoration spells include a variety of support effects, like magical armor, misdirection, or healing. Enchanting, Alchemy, and Smithing (the crafting skills) are good for essentially everyone, but should be a secondary focus for new characters, at least at first. Fledgling characters should also avoid Pickpocketing, Lockpicking, and Speechcraft. Keep your concept in mind as you play and advance your character.
9. Activate a Standing Stone.
After exiting the introductory cave, you’ll set out on a path to the village of Riverwood with your chosen companion. Along the way, you’ll come across a set of three Standing Stones: The Warrior Stone, the Mage Stone, and the Thief Stone, which gives a permanent 20% growth bonus to all the skills in the chosen category (until you activate a new stone, of course). Taking into consideration your character concept, make sure to activate the Stone that affects your primary method of dealing damage. For melee weapons, choose Warrior. For bows, choose Thief. For destruction spells, choose Mage (but keep an auxiliary weapon handy at all times). The higher your damage output, the more successful you’ll be in Skyrim.
8. Level Up Wisely.
When you level up, you can increase your Magicka, Health, or Stamina by 10 points, and gain one skill point to spend. At first, focus on increasing your health to improve your survivability, at least for the first five levels. Then, if you’re a mage, you may want to start boosting your Magicka. Stamina is helpful mostly because it increases your carrying capacity, but isn’t important at lower levels. For your first skill point, use it to improve your damage output: for melee characters, Armsman or Barbarian, depending on your weapon preference; for archers, Overdraw; for casters, Novice Destruction reduces the Magicka cost of your low level Destruction spells, effectively increasing your potential for damage. (For wizards, it’s also not a bad idea to put at least one point in either Armsman, Barbarian, or Overdraw to strengthen your backup weapon by 20%.) As a general rule, boost your health as often as you can, and prioritize skills that can enhance your damage output before choosing other supporting skill perks.
7. Start the Main Quest.
If you’re at a loss for what to do first, begin the main quest by traveling to Whiterun and speaking to Jarl Balgruuf in Dragonsreach. It’s a good place to start, and the objectives expose you to dungeon diving, fighting dragons, and learning Shouts. As part of the quest, you’ll meet the Greybeards who will eventually unlock the full potential of your Unrelenting Force shout, which is incredibly useful for new characters. With it, you can forcefully push your enemies to a safe distance if you need to heal and regroup, and instantly defeat tough foes by Shouting them off a high ledge. Once you have this powerful ability at your disposal, feel free to diverge and take on other quest lines.
6. Make Use of the Carriage at Whiterun
In the beginning, you’ll have little choice but to walk to most of your quest destinations. If you made Whiterun your first stop, however, you may have come across the carriage parked outside of Whiterun Stables, just outside the city walls. For a modest fee, the driver can instantly take you to any of the major cities in Skyrim. Use this feature to discover these important locations, which then become freely accessible using fast travel. Not only does this potentially bring you closer to quest targets, you’ll gain easy access to a large number of shops and services in multiple locations to buy and sell gear, adding to your character’s wealth and power.
5. Learn Basic Utility Spells: Clairvoyance and Candlelight.
Although you can survive in Skyrim without casting a single spell, there are two particularly useful ones that every character should learn: Clairvoyance, an Illusion spell, and Candlelight, an Alteration spell. Clairvoyance, while glitchy at times, conjures a snaking cloud of mystical smoke that traces the path on walkable terrain to your active quest objective. This spell works both outdoors and indoors and serves as an invaluable guide for the directionally challenged (like me). The second spell, Candlelight, creates a luminescent orb that follows your character around until it fizzles. Many locations in Skyrim are dark: caves, ruins, temples; pretty much every indoor dungeon area is lacking in adequate illumination. A word to the wary: this spell makes you much easier to detect when sneaking and draws attention to you, so it’s best to use after all immediate threats are defeated and you’re scanning the area for loot. To access these spells early, talk to Farengar, the Whiterun court wizard.
4. Be Selective in Your Looting
There’s A LOT of things you can collect in Skyrim: weapons, various pieces of armor, books, scrolls, reagents for Alchemy, food and drink, gemstones, crafting materials, and much, much more. For a starting character with low Stamina, it can be tough to decide what will occupy your limited inventory space. There’s a lot of things that are pieces of junk that serve no purpose and have little to no value. Ruined books, charcoal, rolls of paper, ink wells, plates, cups, and similar clutter are best left behind. Most books aren’t worth taking unless they’re Skill Books, which increase a skill by one point when read and can be sold for a decent profit. Food and drink items are almost entirely worthless so they can be ignored, too (although some spirits do have a decent value). Things you should pickup include: equipment, particularly weapons and armors that you can either use, have enchantments you can learn by Disenchanting, or have a good weight to value ratio for selling; arrows, which are necessary for archers and have no weight; reagents, which are relatively lightweight and can be crafted into useful and/or valuable alchemical creations; potions, which are useful in many situations and have relatively high values (although they’re quite heavy considering what they are, so watch how many you have and try not to horde too many of them); gemstones, which can be Smithed into jewelry or sold individually; ores and ingots, and animal pelts and leather, all required for Smithing; lock picks, required for opening locked doors and chests, and disarming traps (ALWAYS have an ample supply of these handy); and empty Soul Gems to trap souls for Enchanting. As a general rule, if you can’t use it or sell it for a decent profit, leave it behind.
3. Hire a Follower.
Skyrim is a journey you can experience entirely alone (and I would say it’s better that way for many reasons), but having an extra pair of hands, especially when you’re just starting out, is a big help. You can recruit most followers by completing quests, or becoming the Thane of a Hold (e.g. completing requests for the local Jarl and their people), who assigns you a Housecarl. Followers can be told to do simple tasks, and will automatically assist you in combat situations. Followers also can’t be killed by damage from enemies: if a follower’s health is reduced to zero, they’ll assume a kneeling position until they recover enough health to rejoin the fight. If, however, you accidentally hit your follower with a damaging attack or spell when they’re vulnerable like this, you can kill them, so be wary of fireballs, stray arrows, or careless weapons swings. Most importantly, followers serve as effective distractions, allowing you to engage enemies without receiving as much collateral damage. There are two followers that are easy to get towards the beginning of the game: Faendal, who can be recruited in Riverwood after completing a simple side quest, and Lydia, a Housecarl assigned to you by Jarl Balgruuf after completing the first portion of the Main Quest.
2. Be Smart in Combat.
Many monster types are dangerous for low level characters. Bandits and Skeevers may not pose much of a threat, but powerful wild animals like Sabertooth Tigers and Bears, tougher beasts like Trolls and Giants, and specialized humanoids like Witches and Necromancers can be deadly to new characters. As much as possible, try to engage enemies one-on-one, as multiple foes can quickly deplete your health. Use Sneak to deliver surprise critical attacks with a bow. Apply poisons to strengthen your melee weapons. Cast utility spells like Oakflesh to reduce the physical damage you receive. Drink resistance potions to lessen the impact of elemental damage (any one enemy uses only one of the three elemental types, except for certain boss monsters). Have the Unrelenting Force Shout ready to push dangerous foes away or off cliffs and high ledges, sometimes causing instant kills. Using terrain to your advantage is important. Fighting from high ground gives you a wider angle of attack on your enemies, and keeps you out of reach from melee strikes. There’s an AI quirk you can take advantage of, too: enemies can’t jump and similarly won’t pursue you off ledges, even low ones. Knowing this, you can dance around rocks, cliff faces, or raised platforms to stay just out of reach of your foes while you attack, forcing them to waste time running back and forth on stairs or ramps in their attempts to reach you.
1. Join the Thieves Guild.
You can join many factions in Skyrim, but one of the most critical ones to approach for new characters is the Thieves Guild. There are several reasons for this. For starters, joining the Guild gives you access to Fences, who are the only ones that can buy stolen goods from you. If you’re in the habit of pinching anything shiny you see lying around, this is an invaluable service to increase your wealth and manage your inventory. Secondly, being a member of the guild gives you some clout among city guards, who may accept bribes from you to look the other way if you commit a crime (e.g. thievery), or pay off your bounty for less than the full amount. Lastly, if you dedicate the time needed to clear the entire quest line, you’ll be awarded with the Amulet of Articulation, an enchanted necklace that increases your Speechcraft (improving prices for buying and selling goods) and allows you to automatically pass most Persuasion checks in dialogue, making many quests much easier and more interesting. Your pockets will most likely be filled with gold by the climax, too, and the Fences (you’ll eventually unlock five) will each have a whopping 4,000 gold to pay you for goods in the end. You’ll be rich in no time flat!
I hope that these tips will help new Dragonborns survive the perils of Skyrim. What are your favorite tips for new Skyrim characters?