Tips For Playing Skyrim

Tips For Playing Skyrim

Today, Bethesda is releasing their excellent role-playing adventure Skyrim for Nintendo Switch and VR. It’s a massive game, with hundreds of hours of exploration, magic and mayhem.

Editor’s note 17/11/2017: We’re bumping these tips again because the game is out for Nintendo Switch, as well as a VR version.

Editor’s note, 28/10/2016: This post was originally published almost five years ago on 11/11/2011. In fact, it was one of the very first “before you start” tips posts we ever ran! It’s been a hell of a half-decade since then, and today Bethesda is re-releasing an updated version of Skyrim on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. We’ve updated this list in honour of that, removing some of the less helpful tips from the original post (“Play on PC with an Xbox 360 controller??”) and adding some additional pointers based on our subsequent years with the game. – Kirk

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. No big plot spoilers in here, because while most of you know the story events of Skyrim, there really are people out there who haven’t yet played. Here we go.

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.

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 ok! 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.

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 agonize over the decision at the beginning, since 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. The gameautosaves 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 lose all your progress. Which reminds me…

Don’t piss off the mammoths.


Don’t piss off the giants, either.

Well, unless you want this to happen to you.

Travel with a friend.

Hirable companions have been an option in 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 will make your life a lot easier. You also may notice that in the five years since this game came out, she’s become something of a meme. Enjoy it.

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.

When it comes down to it, Skyrim‘s 3rd Person is really still best for exploration, if it’s good for anything at all. 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 3rd-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, since 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 purchased 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 finicky 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.

Level up abilities by using those abilities.

Skyrim‘s levelling system works differently from, say, the more recent Fallout 4. You level up by doing things. Get into a fight with your sword, and you’ll level up your one-handed fighting. Pick a lock and you’ll level up lockpicking. That means it always pays to do things, even if you don’t “need” to. See a lock? Pick it! You can also exploit this system by, say, sneaking past people over and over and over to level up sneaking.

Don’t ignore crafting and enchanting.

At first, you’ll probably wind up focusing on getting more gold, better gear, and a tougher character. Don’t neglect crafting and enchanting, however. Crafting is a great way to make money, since you can easily turn cheap components into much more valuable weapons and then usually sell them to the blacksmith who’s right there. Enchanting, particularly higher level enchanting, is an easy route to making some of the most powerful weapons in the game.

Do sidequests.

There are so, so, SO many sidequests in Skyrim, and in the grand tradition of Bethesda open-world games, a lot of them are better than the main story quest. If someone gives you a quest, go do it.

Make your own stories.

In fact, some of the best Skyrim stories aren’t written by the game’s developers — they’re written by the player. Skyrim is a big sandbox simulation, and if you want to pick a weird way to play the game, you definitely should. Want to rob from every NPC in Windhelm? Want to be a trader who never gets into fights? Want to do something much stranger and more creative than that? Go for it. Really role-play. Push it as far as you can, and see what the game lets you do.

Join all the factions.

There are several guilds and factions scattered around Skyrim. The companions, the College of Winterhold, the Dark Brotherhood, and so on. You can actually join all of them at first, though eventually you’ll have to choose between the Stormcloaks and the Imperials. For the most part, though, just go ahead and join whatever groups you want to join. They all give you missions and help you develop different skills. In particular…

Do the Dark Brotherhood storyline.

This is an Elder Scrolls game, so you know that the Dark Brotherhood storyline is going to be the best faction sidequest. That is indeed the case, so when you’re feeling up to it, seek out the Dark Brotherhood (they’re in the woods near Falkreath) and do some killing.

Don’t fast travel.

As you open up the map, it can be tempting to fast-travel your way around Skyrim in order to quickly complete quests. Resist the urge if you can. Fast travelling can leave the game feel chopped-up and disjointed, while walking or riding from place to place reinforces the grandeur of the open world. Which, when it comes down to it, is basically the point of the whole game.

Install some mods.

Skyrim is a modder’s paradise. The vanilla PC version of has so many mods it’s hard to keep them straight. The new remastered edition has fewer mods, though it will only be a matter of time before the Skyrim Nexus has a bunch of new versions of the old classics. If you’re playing on Xbox One, we’ve assembled a list of the best mods for you to install.

Don’t forget that you’d rather be playing Morrowind.

It’s nice to have a remastered version of Skyrim, but let’s not pretend we wouldn’t all have preferred Morrowind Remastered instead.


Skyrim is a game about wanderlust. It’s easy to get pulled in by the story and wind up skipping around the map in pursuit of the next mission checkpoint. If you’ve never played, try to avoid letting that happen. Instead, turn off your mission notifications and simply wander off in one direction. See what you find. 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.


  • If you can still do it, turn off the Dawnguard DLC (at least) until you’re well established into the storyline(s) and character power.

    On my first playthrough of Skyrim I had to start over after a couple of hours because one of the very first “quest hub” towns was wiped out by master vampires the first night I left it to go on the first couple of quests.. no quest NPCs left, shopkeepers and guards all dead etc.

    Totally broke the game.

    • Hmmm… That sounds like it could be a bug; the vast majority of quest givers (outside of radiant quests and bounties etc) are flagged as essential; additionally, nothing actually occurs in a settlement that has a zone of its own until you zone in to the uh .. zone – until you step through those doors into a closed-off settlement, NPCs and objects aren’t loaded – most of the game has manual generation.

      What you’ve experienced is an extremely aberrant behaviour, as they won’t load unless you’re in the same cell; are you absolutely, 100% certain they were killed while you were in a different cell? (I.e. someone in Whiterun being killed while you’re in Eastmarch) If so, that’s 100% a bug.

      • not in whiterun, due the ai being suicidal it very easy for Adrianne outside of blacksmith shop being killed by the vampires and even their hounds and low level thralls due to her having not being essential…… its never that prick Nazheem that gets killed.. its always the most npc in the game

  • I think the best tip you can give is to familiarise yourself with the console’s setstage command so you can force quests to progress when, inevitably, they glitch out and won’t continue.

  • Hey, don’t forget that while you’re playing this beautiful game, you’d rather be playing something else!

    Best tip ever!

  • i think an important tip thats been missed is the ability to get companions with training skills, you can pay them for increased levels and then take you gold back from them through the item trade screen, an example is near the start at riverwood, with the “a lovely letter” side quest, get Faendal to join you, and you can pay him for archery lessons, then take your gold back from him, giving you a strong early archery skill as well as some quick level ups due to the xp gained from skill training. he is also a pretty good first companion.

    • if you have all dlcs, your account should be flagged so you can download it. if so then yes you should get it because the remastered version is 64bit and uses Dx11 (like fallout 4) so you no longer have to worry about the game crashing from going of the 3.2gb ram limit and 4gbVram limit.

      Having said that though, you will have to wait for mods to converted over to the remaster with the new Creation Kit which is due out next week for the general public. Some modders are already using the new Creation Kit so there are few mods out already like SMIM and Artmoor’s Unoffical Skyrim Special Edition Patch ( would of though that all those fixes would of been made baseline but this is bethesda and they released half arsed games all the time)

  • Please add: don’t play on a high Hz monitor, it plays havoc with the games engine. If you own a 144/165hz downclock it for playing Skyrim

  • mammoths can be taken down from low level as long as you have enough arrows, a bow and are able to run around rocky outcrops while firing keeping it between you and the mammoth. good way to level up some skills early on, but you are definitely fucked if that bitch hits you.

  • I agree about the mammoths, but seriously. Piss of the giants! It’s mega funny if the launching into space bug still exists, and also helps you level up your blocking in no time if you have a shield. The technique is annoy a giant and block his first smash with a shield. You will go down to almost 0 health. At that point you run and hide behind some rocks, regain full health, run back down and block their attack again. This will level up your blocking abilities within15 mins and you you can spend your perk points for leveling up early in the game.

  • I feel like one of the very few people who simply can’t enjoy this game. I’ve tried skyrim, multiple times, but the controls and actual gameplay just felt wrong to me. I’m glad others can enjoy it though!

  • I’ve got controller lag on the Switch version. On all control modes (handheld, joycon, pro controller) I’ve got the issue. In first person view there is about 0.1s of lag on the left stick, but when switching to 3rd person mode there is about 0.5s or more of lag on the left stick (the right stick remains the same as it does in first person mode). So weird.

  • I just got Skyrim on the PSVR and overall I think it is a cool experience. Some minor things make the move controller hard to play with, for example attempting to move backwards while having flame on your left hand (which controlls movement) causes your spell to shoot up directly. I’m not sure how they might fix this but I guess for now I’ll stick with sword and shield for a change

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