10 Tips for Skyrim: A Dragonborn Mini-Guide

Welcome to the Old Kingdom of Skyrim, the snowy heartland of the Nords, tall and hearty folk who delight in brawling, drinking, and calling weaklings "milk drinkers". Now you may be a fledgling in this strange land, but you're no "milk drinker", at least after you read this series of tips. Whether you're a newbie or a veteran of the Elder Scrolls series, this mini-guide will give you direction on how to succeed within the first 20 hours of Skyrim. Besides, I'm level 32 (at the time of this writing) after about 60 hours of play, so I'm glad to help you all out. Don't worry, you'll be level 32 soon enough.  You can also check out our Skyrim cheats to help out.

1) Stick more or less to the main story until you "understand what Shouting means"

Was that vague enough for you? We're not into spoilers.

If you're not used to an Elder Scrolls title or any of Bethesda's open-world titles, stick to the main quest line until you get a handle on it. For veterans, it's still important to stay on track so that you earn all of the powerful rewards from learning what Shouting is about, especially before you pick a random direction and start exploring. Of course, you'll free to do what you want since that's what the game design is all about, but Shouting is the coolest thing in the game apart from the dragons (who aren't that hard to kill, really).

Also, just a friendly note: There's a mountain pass southeast of the initial city of Helgen that can serve as a shortcut when you need it.

2) Choose a guardian stone as early as possible.

I wish I knew this earlier… Scattered throughout Skyrim are ritual stones that you can activate for additional boosts or even additional powers. The earliest guardian stones you can find are directly northwest of the initial city of Helgen, around the mouth of the river as it proceeds into the lake. You'll know you're nearby once you see a pillar icon with a black diamond in it.

This particular spot has a trio of guardian stones, each representing the three archetypes: warrior (red), thief (green), and mage (blue). By choosing one of the guardian stones, all of the skills associated with that archetype accelerate in skill building by 20%. If you're unsure which skills refer to which archetype, go to the constellation skills menu and you'll see skills grouped by the red, green, and blue nebulas. See how ingenious it all is?

3) Pick Restoration and at least one or two additional schools of magic.

Restoration is key for any build, as healing yourself (or others) quickly on the fly is dictated by this school of magic. The Apprentice spell Fast Healing will get you out of a bind in combat more than once. Many of the perks in the Restoration skill tree are premium choices, like upgrading all restoration healing by 50%, restoring stamina whenever you heal, and most importantly, improving magicka regeneration by 25% (twice!). That said, Restoration is also extremely difficult to upgrade, as the developers expect you to get damaged a lot. Even after 60 hours of play, my Restoration skill is only at 39 out of the full 100. So heal as much as you can.

Any of the other schools of magic, be it Alteration, Conjuration, Illusion, or Destruction, provide welcome support. Destruction magic is probably the most practical choice as a way to deal long-range elemental damage and lay rune traps on the floor that take advantage of the idiocy of most enemies in narrow corridors. Warriors will no doubt be attracted to the Oakflesh and Stoneflesh armor rating boosts in the Alteration school and tactical sneak-thiefs will be attracted to the noise-cancelling and mood-altering spells in the Illusion school. Conjuration will likely be favored by the battlemage who wants the ability to call weaponry for close quarters and summon creatures to serve as battle aids and distractors.

While it's recommended to learn every school of magic through the various spellbooks, easily purchased by any court wizard, focus on several schools of magic instead of all five. It's far better to be a master of several skills than a master of none.

4) Cast spells constantly. (Particularly, Muffle.)

Since mana regenerates and skill in any school of magic improves by casting spells, cast spells whenever it counts. The developers of course have designed the game to reduce spam spellcasting as much as they can; spells like Stoneflesh only improve the Alteration skill if you're actually casting it during combat. Still, it's important to cast Restoration spells, at the very least, to improve your proficieny at healing.

The one exception I've been able to find is Muffle in the Illusion school. I've been casting it whenever my mana gets full and I currently have an Illusion stat of 79. Once I have access to Invisibility, my ninja skills shall not be challenged.

5) Use the save system to your advantage

Both lockpicking and pickpocketing are luck-based. Lockpicking works exactly like it does in Fallout 3, except that in Skyrim, you can pick any lock no matter your skill level. That means a Master lock can be picked successfully with a certain degree of luck, though it might waste a lot of precious lockpicks. Pickpocketing, perhaps the most difficult skill to improve at the beginning of the game, uses percentages as a chance to steal, but early on you'll get caught a lot. So use the save system to, well, save your ass from having city guards chase you down, throw you in jail, and take back all your stolen goods.

Buf if you're a master at the lockpicking mini-game, you won't even need to put in a single perk into the Lockpicking skill tree. I haven't done so yet, and I currently have a lockpicking skill of 70 and so many purchased lockpicks that it's 99+. That's after picking and opening every locked chest I've encountered in the last 64 hours.

Also, take off the autosaving on wait, rest, and travel in the options menu if you want to cut down on loading times. Auto-saving adds about 15 seconds to every loading screen, and with the amount of doors in Skyrim, that's… a lot… of time… wasted. It's your call, of course. I would just get in the habit of manually saving yourself and having an auto-save set once every 30 minutes or so.



6) Steal now, steal later.

More specifically, steal any items that don't need to be sold for them to be worth stealing. Merchants don't purchase stolen goods, so make sure whatever you steal is something that you can use yourself, like potions, weapons and armor that are clearly better, or alchemic ingredients. It won't be until you reach 90 in your Speech skill, which takes forever since it's only improved by buying and selling items (and only slightly for that matter), that you'll be able to sell stolen goods to any vendor whom you've invested in. You can steal expensive jewelry, if just to wait for the moment you can unload all of them near the endgame to earn obscene amounts of gold.

Stealing, apart from pickpocketing, isn't difficult at all. All you need to do is get out of the line of sight of any NPCs, crouch and wait for the indicator to say you're hidden, and then steal whatever shiny object you want. Most shopkeepers are more vigilant, though, and will follow you around their shop if they can't see you. Luckily, you can just play a cat and mouse game by luring them upstairs or downstairs (if the shop has multiple floors, of course) and then quickly sprinting to the object of your desire before they can keep up.

The one caveat is that you may want to wait to steal objects from a store. Many NPCs, shopkeepers included, have miscellanous quests. By completing them, they'll consider you a friend and you'll be allowed to take any object they own within reason (and then sell it back properly). That doesn't mean you can't just steal the rest of their belongings, though.

7) Also: Sneak now, sneak later.

Whether you're stealing or not, you should be sneaking anyway for two reasons. First, sneaking provides you with information on whether an enemy can detect you, so you'll know how long you'll be able to stick with long-range archery and magic before readying yourself for melee combat. Second, the multiplied damage for sneak attacks is so powerful that it shouldn't be left on the table.

Many dungeons take place in narrow hallways where you can get the preemptive strike on enemies, particularly with the bow and arrow. There's even a Deadly Aim perk in the Sneak branch that boosts the sneak attack multiplier from x2 to x3 for the bow. So even if you don't kill the enemy outright with the first shot, they'll be considerably weakened by the time they get close enough to you.

8) When looting, don't look at price value but proportion to weight to value.

This is a fairly general tip for all games with inventory systems that use weight as a limiter. Just because a battleaxe is worth 100 gold, doesn't mean you should shoulder the 21-weight burden to have it in your inventory. It's better to carry two bows that weigh 16 but are valued at 180 gold in total. Following that logic, it's better to carry 40 potions that collectively weigh 20 but are valued at more than 500 gold.

Of course, you should pick up most loot anyway to maximize your inventory space. Once you come across any better weight-to-value items, that's the time to start removing some junk. If you can stomach lugging around a companion as well, they can be a pack mule and effectively double your inventory space. (Also, there are a few glitches that turn certain items into quest items that you can't move, sell, or drop. So they just sit in your inventory taking up space. Hopefully, this will be patched eventually, but having a companion pack mule or storage in your house can be viable work-around.)

9) Obtain or enchant a weapon with Soul Trap.

At around level 20 or so, luckily earlier than that, you will begin to see weapon drops with the Soul Trap enchantment that captures an enemy's soul and funnels it into a shiny Soul Gem. Once you obtain this weapon from a store or as loot, either start using it or make it a priority to disenchant the sucker at an Arcane Enchanter, so you can have the Soul Trap enchantment as your disposal.

Soul Gems act as the fuel and catalyst for all magical enchantments, allowing you to imbue any piece of equipment with a special effect, like +20% magic regeneration, 30 extra stamina points, or +10 frost damage. Unlike armor and accessories, weapons will lose their magical qualities with use, but with enough extra Soul Gems, their magical charge can be kept high. Unfortunately, Soul Gems cost an extremely high amount of septims, especially ones that already have souls in them. Still it's recommended to buy a few high-quality Grand Soul Gems as soon as you can, since the quality of the Soul Gem determines the strength of the enchantment. There's no need to rush, though.

With a Soul Trap-enchanted weapon, it makes maintenance easy and it saves you a lot of gold pieces. You probably won't be using the Soul Trap-enchanted weapon as your main weapon, since you might have another weapon that deals more base damage (and perhaps more elemental damage), but that doesn't mean you can't wear down an enemy and then throw a Pokeball swap out the Soul Trap-enchanted weapon for a quick capture.

(By the way, console users have two shorcut keys that aren't obvious unless you read the manual. Hold down left or right in the shortcut favorites menu to set them.)

10) Purchase a house in Whiterun

By completing the main story, you'll eventually earn the right to purchase a home in Whiterun. The price of 5,000 gold (plus more for home furnishings) is steep at the beginning of the game, but that's more than a fair price for being able to store as much as loot as you want in the chest in your bedroom or wherever else you want. If you haven't gotten a companion (or pack mule) yet, you'll be assigned one at around the same time. For quick gold, I suggest smithing jewelry and finding ingredients for Damage Magicka Regen, like Blue Mountain Flowers, Hanging Moss, and Blue Butterfly Wings. (The official Skyrim guide or a FAQ will certainly help here.)

In your travels, you'll come across plenty of plants and fungi for alchemy ingredients that don't have a lot of weight individually but collectively can weigh more than 25 pounds if you're not careful. You'll inevitably fight dragons as well, and most of them drop multiple 10-weight Dragon Scales and 15-weight Dragon Bones. So it goes without question that having storage for these ingredients and items in a home is priceless. By speaking with the steward, your humble abode can also be upgraded with furnishings and an alchemic lab.

You can also purchase an enchanting table, but that's only for the house available in the Skyrim capital of Solitude. And that house costs 25,000 gold. So I guess you better start doing what Skyrim wants you to do: Treasure Hunting!

For an Achievements list, check our cheats page for Skyrim.