Tips For Playing Skyrim The Best Way

Today marks the long-anticipated release Bethesda's excellent role-playing adventure The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It's a massive game, a true epic — hundreds of hours of exploration, adventure, magic and mayhem.

But before you can get to all of that, you've got to start the game and make a bunch of decisions about how, exactly, all those hours are going to play out. After putting a hefty chunk of hours into the Xbox 360 version of the game, I'm starting anew on PC. I'm excited to do it, as there are already a few things I plan to do differently. After polling the rest of the Kotaku staff, and we've put together a list of things you should know going into your first outing in Skyrim.

No big plot spoilers in here, though of course I will discuss some broader things about the game in its early goings.

Don't worry if you haven't played earlier Elder Scrolls games. Skyrim picks up 200 years after the events of the last game, Oblivion, and while it still takes place on the continent of Tamriel, it tells its own unconnected story. There are references to the stories of past Elder Scrolls games, but any important plot points are laid out by other characters and by text during loading screens.

Play it on PC if you can. It is easily the best-looking version of the game, and the load times are significantly shorter.

Don't install it to your Xbox 360's hard drive. For the time being anyway, you'll get better graphics on Xbox 360 if you don't install to the console's hard drive.

Try the PC version with an Xbox 360 controller. This is partly a matter of personal preference, but Skyrim (unmodded) offers nothing unique in its PC control scheme past the precision of the mouse. Like it or not, the user interface has been designed with console controllers in mind, and it works perfectly with a plugged in Xbox 360 controller.

Furthermore, the swing and crash of melee combat feels much more natural with a controller than a mouse and keyboard. And in a big bummer for PC users, the hotkey system doesn't appear to have been designed for a computer keyboard — as far as I can tell there's no simple way to assign spells and items to the number keys on the keyboard. I'm sure that patches and mods will make hotkeying easier in the future, but for the time being, one of the keyboard's biggest advantages is significantly downgraded. Give the controller a shot. It's nice.

Don't lower the difficulty — some fights are supposed to be hard. The game defaults to "Adept" difficulty, which I'd say is just about right. The enemies don't level according to your character in Skyrim, so often, especially in the early goings, you'll stumble into an area that's out of your league difficulty-wise. A few of these even happen on the road to major story quests. That's okay! The game is supposed to be hard, and it will force you to level your character and improve your skills until you can take on the challenge before you.

Don't worry which ancestral stone you choose at first — character classes aren't permanent. Right near the beginning of the game, you're given a choice between three ancestral stones: Thief, Mage and Warrior. Whichever one you choose causes skills associated with that class to improve faster than other skills. Keep in mind, however, that there are 13 ancestral stones like these lying around Skyrim, and while you can only have one active at a time, you can change whenever you want. They're not permanent. You'll have time to decide which style of play suits you over the course of the game. There's no need to agonise over the decision at the beginning, as you can always change your mind.

Save often. On PC, there's a quicksave button, but on console, you're going to have to remember to save your game often. It autosaves whenever you rest, sleep or go through a door into a new area (basically anytime the game shows a loading screen), but it doesn't ever save anytime in between. It's possible to wander Skyrim for an hour, find some good stuff, and then be killed by a mammoth and loose all your progress. Which reminds me...

Don't piss off the mammoths. Seriously.

Don't piss off the giants, either. Well, unless you want this to happen to you.

Travel with a friend. Hireable companions have been an option on several of Bethesda's games, but they feel more usable in Skyrim than ever. When you get your first companion (likely in Whiterun), take her with you on difficult quests. It'll make your life a lot easier.

Try using a shield. One of the best things about Skyrim is that you can play it however you want — magic, melee, ranged or some combination. That said, I'm finding the physical combat to be more enjoyable and a touch deeper than ranged combat. I've always played Bethesda games as a sneaky archer, creeping into a room and using my stealth damage bonus to give people the old one-hit-kill.

But in Skyrim, it finally feels too unsatisfying. Bethesda veterans know what i'm talking about, the old "backpedal and fire arrows while getting your face eaten off" strategy. Given Skyrim's improved melee combat, it's worth giving shield combat a try. Also shield-bashing is really fun.

Stick to first-person perspective in combat. Much has been made about Skyrim's improved animations and third-person camera, but when it comes down to it, third-person is really still best for exploration. In combat, you'll want to stick with first-person, partly for gameplay reasons and partly because the chaos of first-person makes the combat seem more impactful and exciting than it actually looks in third-person.

Don't spend your gold on equipment. Right off the bat, you'll find several vendors willing to sell you things. (Or really, they're willing to buy all of the suits of armour and extra swords you're carrying around.) Don't take the bait! Save your money, as you'll find loads of the basic steel and iron weapons lying around, as well as enough arrows to build a large arrow-fort.

Instead, save your money to spend on training, which allows you to get out of the low-level dregs a bit faster, while improving your combat prowess much more substantially than a puchased weapon.

In the early goings, buy health potions whenever you can. These are worth your money — health potions can be applied immediately in combat, unlike the finniky healing spell you begin with. When you're in a pinch and getting hammered by a particularly ugly troll, you'll want to have four or five minor health potions in your inventory. They're not too expensive, so buy them whenever possible.

Wander! While gut-checking the game , I described Skyrim as a game about wanderlust. And it is. As you play, take the time to wander just for the sake of wandering.

Skyrim is encapsulated by that moment when you're walking down a path towards an objective and suddenly, you notice another path off to the right. Where does it lead? To a cave, a bandit hideout? Some magical stone, some lost artifact? Something altogether more interesting and dangerous?

Only one way to find out.


    Or just ~tgm and go absolutely crazy with everything and everyone in the game.

      Mammoths and trolls... Have you seen what an Orc warrior with full Daedra improved to its maximum with elemental fury and berserker rage? I've killed trolls in one power attack with that. (As a level 28) even without the berserker rage they don't last long with elemental fury. I've taken on two trolls, three mammoths, and a dragon without using a health potion. (On the second hardest difficulty... I think it's expert.)

    Ahhh. I just woke up. Skyrim, Skyrim, Skyrim.

    I love that the giants and mammoths are over-powered. When I see them, I dont immediately run up to them and start hacking like I do with other enemies. If they respect me Ill respect them.

      Actually had a bit of a bug near whitefall where there were two giants next to a bonfire and a small pond. Was able to kill them with a ton of arrows early on staying in the shallow water where they wouldn't follow

    1-8 hotkeys can be assigned to all spells/items in the favourites (q) popup menu. Double tap to dual wield spells.

    Hotkeys for spells and items work fine, simply add the item to your favourites menu, then open that and press a number to assign the hotkey to that item.

      Nyoooh my gaaaaad, no more q mashing for me

    Press A to open door

    I Hate to think how bad the graphics would be on 360 if you did install it.

      I did install it and it still looks great. I didn't notice any difference.

        It looks terrible! i mean seriously bad. I actually traded my 360 copy for a PC which cost me extra $30, still worth it.

    "..and loose all your progress."

    Lose.. Why do people always write loose, it is extremely annoying..

    Anyway as a noob at this game I've found that I really don't know what I'm doing besides running around and killing whatever doesn't like me and doing quests. I've found the tutorials a bit lacking for someone like me who doesn't know what's going on.

    You can actually assign weapons and spells to the number keys, if they are in your favourites. Just open up the favourites menu and pressing a number key will assign to the highlighted item. It seems Bethesda don't actually tell you this anywhere, you just have to figure it out yourself. :/

      just tried that - doesnt seems to work... do they need to be active or something ?

    No mention of hardcore mode?
    Well then:
    1. Buy a journal/diary
    2. Don't use in-game journal or map
    3. Write all quest info, observations, etc manually. Draw your own map(s) based off your observations during your travels
    Fun stuff.

      You should try Etrian Odyssey. Somehow I think you'll like it.

    one of the most popular features of this game also shits me...not knowing what weapon/armour combos to use is frustrating... not knowing to sell and what not to sell is also annoying...

    apart from this stuff... i'm enjoying it

      Wouldn't be such a problem if you weren't so spastic

        Haha, 'Spastic'? Thank you fourth grader!

        Still 50/50 on whether to get Skyrim. I'm disappointed that there's zero online capability. Can't help but feel it would be mroe enjoyable with a friend.

        I need a hug.

        don't really understand what you mean. I would say Iron Gauntlets would go with Iron Helmet. Steel Sword goes with a Shield of sorts. Maybe dual wielding. Sell stuff that has less armour rating. Not really so hard, man.

          Derp, meant to be a reply to KRiSX

    I prefer 3rd person for combat and 1st person for talking and looting. Maybe its just me?

      Not just you, I prefer it that way as well

    Skyrim versus desperately cramming for my exam tomorrow. Why does my soul hurt every time I pick up the controller?

    "And in a big bummer for PC users, the hotkey system doesn’t appear to have been designed for a computer keyboard' - thats a big bummer... what a waste of keyboard keys :( I cant really say Im enjoying control of the game at all :(

      Sigh, misinformation from Kotaku, I wish one of the editors would fix it.

      As others have pointed out in other comments, you CAN assign skills/items to hotkeys, they just have to be in your favourites menu.

      Please don't take anything written in these articles as gospel, often I find more about a topic from the comments section than an article...

    I'm all about 3rd person all the time, 1st person is too constrictive, I can't see enough. Although in tight spaces like shops and taverns i do put away my weapons and the camera comes in closer to be a bit tighter over the shoulder which is handy.

    I lowered the difficulty (it shames me to say) because i came across a cave with 2 trolls and even though I had an archer guy with me (ferendol? from riverwood) they slaughtered him and then slaughtered me with literally 2 hits. They follwed me OUT of the cave and pursued me constantly only briefly resting TO REGAIN THEIR ENTIRE HEALTH in a matter of seconds making all my attacks worthless and then while im dual casting fire or smashing them with a steel mace/shield combo or steel greatsword they would just flatten me again. The only way I could beat them was yo run around whiterun so the guards walking around would start fighting the trolls as well and not give them to time to regain their health.

    After being killed a million times I lowered the difficulty so that is FUN and not rage inducing. Prob put it back up again when I have a better grasp on it all.

      There are certain things you should stay away from early on in the game, giants and mammoths obviously, but apparently Trolls too - what play style are you?

      I'm at the point now where I'm wearing full dragonbone plate with an orc warhammer with a lifesteal enchant, first thing I did was go outside Whiterun and beat giants and mammoths to death, glorious

        mammoths are very easy to pwn... just pull them to the nearest bridge and use magic or bow to fire at them.... takes a while to kill but they cant get to you coz they cant go under the bridge .... same goes to trolls

        not sure if they are all over the world but 1st location where you find them bridge is just there : )

        I'm getting used beefing up my stats and have a variety of weapons with various enchantments to tackle lots of different enemies. Trying to keep it fairly simple though , i'm not a massive tinkerer, enough to make my life easier but i'd rather be out exploring and clearing other dungeons.

        I'm rolling a khajiit so i'm not a super tank or anything, trying to find a good mix of weapons and magic. and of course heaping all my loot on my loyal servant now that i'm a thane...

    Hah, good tips, and thank you for this article. I've been killed a couple times, not realising how tough those trolls actually were...

    Currently playing this on the PS3, and really liking the graphics, though I haven't seen what the graphics are like on the PC version. One of the firsts things you're likely to do though is to set the sensitivity a little lower, lest you want to be completely off your aim and swing too wide.

    I think the wandering does take quite a bit of toll on you, since you can't really do any fast travelling unless you've been there before. But then, I guess that's the fun bit; when you have to make your own way there first, not knowing what will come out at you, especially in the mountain areas.

      Yea like a FRICKEN ICE DRAGON just flying around which casually decided to blast me to pieces. I had it on the ropes though...

    wooh! 68th on the list.

    must get higher for next week...

      oh goddamit, that was supposed to go in TAY... serves me right for having multiple tabs open...

    To assign items and spell to 1-9, go into your q menu and press a number over a spell.

    That's it.

    if you cant play the game gtfo we wont be changing it for noobs

    downloaded game n played just like i did with fallout not worth buying as i realized when i first started playing never liked obolivion every time i played made me wanna play fallout, yet another cash cow game n copy paste galore

      You do realize Fallout was a complete copy/paste of Oblivion right?

      Derp much?

      And Skyrim didn't take much from Oblivion, if anything at all.

      Herp derp.

    i absolutely positively unrelentingly uncompromisingly 1001% disagree with the statement about using first person perspective. the game is absolutely beautiful in third person and the combat is far better from that perspective. why you would limit yourself to using the first person is is completely beyond me, they put a lot of work into making the perspective playable and to not use it is to rob yourself of a hugely improved and new experience. the only time i ever switch to first person is for archery, it's 3rd person 99.99% of the time. also i'm not sure why anyone would turn the difficulty down, i found myself turning it up very early in the game, i don't think i should be able to kill a dragon while in leathers with a greatsword...

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