Please support Game Informer. Print magazine subscriptions are less than $2 per issue


Getting Started In Skyrim

by Matt Miller on Nov 10, 2011 at 09:00 AM

Want The Next Issue In Your Mailbox?

Subscribe now

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]

Setting Objectives

PROBLEM: There’s too much to do, and I don’t even know what mission I’m on!

SOLUTION: It’s easy to get confused about what you’re even out to do when wandering Skyrim. When you acquire a new quest or miscellaneous objective, you can set it as your active objective in the menu. Be aware that you can set multiple objectives as active, but we don’t recommend it. Pick a single objective, and complete it before selecting another.

You’ll find that even in the first few hours of play you’ll start getting lots and lots of miscellaneous objectives. Like full quests, these can also be set as your active target. In your mission journal, scroll down to “Miscellaneous” and push right to enter the list of miscellaneous objectives, and select just one of them as your active marker.

Don’t dismiss miscellaneous objectives out of hand. Many of them blossom into full and rewarding quest lines once you start them.


PROBLEM: Where the heck am I going?

SOLUTION: Skyrim’s minimal hub shows you a compass with various targets on it, so it’s tempting to try and walk straight to your target. However, the landscape of the game is mountainous and impassible in some places; going in a straight line won’t always get you where you need to go.

This problem will partially resolve itself with time, as you learn the map and the various paths. But in the short term, there’s an easy answer. Purchase the Clairvoyance spell. Available from many magic vendors (try the College in Winterhold or the Jarls’ court wizards), this simple, low-cost spell may be cast to trace a path to your current objective. While it’s not always perfect, the spell will usually get you where you need to go. If you do utilize Clairvoyance, make sure you only have one active objective marker set at a time. Otherwise, things get really confusing.

Stop Looting Everything

PROBLEM: I’ve barely started, and I’m already overloaded with stuff!

SOLUTION: Stop picking up every possible item you find. Seriously. We know it goes contrary to every gamer instinct you have, but there are way more fun things to do in this game than juggle your inventory weight 20 times in every dungeon.

To maximize your looting capacity, look at both the value and the weight of an item. Only take heavy items if they’re extremely valuable. Extremely low-weight items with medium value are often a better bet.

And always pick up gold. Through the magic of game design, money doesn’t weigh anything.

Choose A Craft

PROBLEM: Is it worth spending time on crafting?

SOLUTION: Probably. Crafting gives you increased options for outfitting your character, and it’s not all that hard to get better at a given skill.

Decide early on what you’d like to focus on, and stick with it to the exclusion of the others. You probably won’t ever have enough perks to become an expert in all three major crafting systems of smithing, alchemy, and enchanting (unless you play for a really long time), and collecting ingredients can get tedious.

Of the three, enchantment is the easiest, most flexible, and especially early in the game, the most rewarding. Why? There are no ingredients, so you’re not stuck gathering stuff around the world. Disenchant an item, and you can place that effect on any other suitable item you acquire for the rest of the game. Plus, it’s hard to beat the experience of acquiring a new weapon and immediately enchanting it to catch things on fire when you hit them.

If you do decide to go the Enchanting route, we also recommend doing the quest tied to Azura’s Shrine early on, which can be found near Winterhold. Your reward removes a lot of hassle from the enchanting process.

There’s A Cure!

PROBLEM: Why does everybody I pass keep saying I look sick?

SOULTION: Because you are sick. Some monster has probably given you a disease or poisoned you. There are spells and potions to deal with the problem, but the simple solution is to go find a temple or shrine in any major town. Interact with the shrine, and your disease will disappear. No more disgusted townspeople. Plus, you’ll get a blessing with a passive bonus.

[NEXT UP: Handling followers, buying a house, and surviving combat]

Get Your First Few Shouts

PROBLEM: I want to go exploring, but do I need to do the main story for a while first?

SOLUTION: You can do what you want, but we recommend completing the first arc of the main story as early as you can. From a narrative angle, it will get you invested in the game, the land of Skyrim, and your character. From a gameplay perspective, you’ll also learn about the dragon shout system, and get your first few powers before heading out into the rest of the gigantic system of quests, factions, etc.

In short, we recommend that you follow the main quest thread until you reach a place called High Hrothgar. After that, you should feel free to continue the main story, or branch off into one of the hundreds of other things to do in the game world.

No Place Like Home

PROBLEM: I want to store some of my stuff, and I have nowhere to sleep.

SOLUTION: Consider investing in a house early in the game. You’ll have the option to buy a house in Whiterun relatively soon in the main storyline. It’s expensive (5000 gold), but it assures that you’ll have a home base to stop in from time to time, and a bed where you can rest if desired. More importantly, your house will have a chest inside, in which you can store items. Put your items in a receptacle you don’t own, and you risk losing them.

If you don’t want to spring for a house, you may want to consider one of the main faction quest-lines early in the game. Most of those will give you a place to sleep and store items.

What Friends Are For

PROBLEM: Who is this crazy girl tagging along with me?

SOLUTION: That’s your follower. There are numerous potential followers in the game, but you can generally only bring one with you as you adventure. The others are still available, but they’ll head back to their home base until you come and pick them up again. You can give your companions some basic instructions by talking to them, and you can even have them carry some extra equipment if you get overburdened. Different followers have different ability sets, so try to find one that complements your style of play. For instance, your mage hero could be well served by a warrior companion who will run ahead to take some damage.

Be careful about directly damaging your follower with your own attacks. While followers will generally recover from wounds that knock them unconscious from enemy attackers, your own attacks and spells have a chance to permanently kill them.

Remember that you don’t have to bring a follower with you on your adventures. Though battles may be a little harder as a result, there are good reasons to travel alone. Followers can get in your way in tight spaces, or attack an enemy before you want them to. Plus, when they attack and kill something, that’s one less opportunity for you to level your skills.

Keys To Combat

PROBLEM: I’m constantly dying!

SOLUTION: Combat is the most complex system in the game, so there’s no easy answer about how to improve. There are dozens of different approaches to fights, and you’re best off finding your own patterns and style.

Start with being deliberate about how you fight. Sprinting in and wildly swinging at all your foes is a sure recipe for a reload. Slow down, and utilize the skills you’ve perked. Before battle, take the time to buff your character with spells and potions, or add poison to your weapon. During the fight, keep an eye on your three main resources of health, magicka, and stamina, and don’t be afraid to pause combat to use potions. Finally, remember to use your dragon shouts and racial powers. It’s easy to forget about these powerful abilities. Shouts, in particular, will recharge pretty quickly. You can sometimes use them more than once in a single fight.

If you feel like you’re doing everything right, and you’re still having trouble, you can adjust difficulty at any time in the menu, even in the middle of a fight.

Play How You Like

PROBLEM: I can’t keep all of these tips straight.

SOLUTION: Don’t worry about it. One of Skyrim’s great strengths as a game is the way it supports many different game styles. Play the way you like to play, and things should progress without too many problems. You’ll figure out most of this advice on your own as you play. You may find one or more of these pieces of advice doesn’t apply to the way you like to play; if so, ignore it.

If you’re especially worried about screwing up something early on, just remember the RPG player’s golden rule: save often. If you assign a perk you don’t like, drop an item you wish you had kept, or choose a story path you didn’t like, it’s easy to reload.

And enjoy the game!