Skyrim is an incredibly large and complex game. How big is it? We’ll leave that for you to figure out. However, the game has so much to do that you can easily get overwhelmed, especially in the first five to ten hours.

After multiple Game Informer editors spent dozens of hours apiece in the game, we’ve come away with some simple tips to help ease your path onto the snow-lined paths of Skyrim.

Your Own Personal Hero

PROBLEM: I’m worried about making a crappy character.

SOLUTION: Skyrim doesn’t utilize a traditional class system to determine your abilities. That means picking perks is the main way you’ll shape your character’s abilities, so they’re kind of a big deal. The first time you level, take 5 or 10 minutes to peruse the Level Up screen, and try to pick three of four skill trees you’re especially interested in. For instance, for a strong melee character you might try One-Handed (Weapons), Block (Shield), Heavy Armor, and Restoration magic, just so you can do some healing. You’ll undoubtedly venture out into perks on other skill trees, and that’s fine. However, focusing on leveling the abilities you utilize regularly, and then adding perks to those skills, will go a long way to shaping a powerful hero.

Within your chosen skill trees, think carefully about which perks are the most valuable, and which you will actually use – it’s rare that you’ll want to acquire every available perk in a skill tree. For example, taking dual-casting magic perks won’t do you any good if you regularly use a weapon in one of your hands.

When you level, you’ll also have the choice to assign a boost to health, magicka, or stamina. The easy way to decide is to recall your recent time in the game, and determine which of the three you ran out of the most, and then boost that stat. For instance, if you found yourself constantly running out of the ability to cast more spells, you need more magicka.

Use Your Favorites

PROBLEM: I hate going into the menu every time I want to change my sword.

SOLUTION: This one is a must, but it might be a little confusing without an explanation. Any item or power in your inventory can be set to your favorites menu, and you should put your most commonly used weapons, spells, shouts, and potions into your favorites right away. Enter your inventory, find the item/power, and press the button to “Favorite” that selection. Back in the game, you can press up on the d-pad to call up your Favorites list, and an alphabetized selection of the items you’ve set will be available. You can press either the left or right triggers to assign any item in your favorites menu to one of your hands.

Don’t set every potion or spell you get into your favorites, or the whole system will get unwieldy and slow.

Finally, note that you can set two abilities or items to the left and right taps of the d-pad, respectively. Save these for the two things you find yourself switching between most often. While in the Favorites menu, hold down left or right on the d-pad for a few seconds to set these quick switch options. We recommend at least one of those two d-pad directions for a healing effect – either a Restoration spell or a healing potion.

What’s Your Sign?

PROBLEM: I didn’t choose my birth sign, like I did in Oblivion. Am I missing something?

SOLUTION: Yes. You’re missing something. Birth signs from previous Elder Scrolls games have been replaced by a more flexible system called standing stones. At any one time, you can have the effects of one active stone. These stones are scattered around the world for you to discover, and each have unique and powerful effects, so you should assign one as soon as you get into the action.

Three of these stones are together in one place near the beginning of the game. After exiting your first dungeon, continue to follow your fellow survivor on his way to Riverwood. Don’t make the mistake of striking off alone, even if your companion suggests that you can part ways. Keep following him. On the path, (by Falkreath Hold) you’ll come across three Stones of Power: Warrior, Mage, and Thief. They grant a 20% bonus to leveling skills related to those character archetypes. Choose one. You can always change it later.

[NEXT UP: Navigating the world, and the problem of carrying too much stuff]