Skyrim Getting Started Guide

“Hey, You’re Finally Awake”

If you’re reading this article, then you’re new to Skyrim; however, I reckon that the name Skyrim and Elder Scrolls has been floating around your vocabulary and friend group for a long time. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released on 11/11/11, making the game over a decade old. The game still has a huge following and is one of the most iconic high fantasy RPGs in gaming.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes place in, well, the northern region of Skyrim, which belongs to a much bigger continent called Tamriel. The game is set over a hundred years after its predecessor, meaning you don’t need experience with Oblivion or Morrowind, although this would help concerning lore.

Like in true DND or RPG fashion, you will be tasked with slaying dragons awoken from thousands of years of slumber. Equipped with the Voice, an ancient ability that allows you to shout and manipulate the world around you and honorable companions, you must stop Alduin before he devours the world of Nirn and once again enslaves the people of Skyrim.

Before You Begin

Before you dive into Skyrim, there are a few essentials that I recommend you look into.

This one won’t apply to you if you already own the game. However, it’s important nonetheless. Skyrim is an old game now, and it’s showing its age, but Bethesda has refused to let go of the past and move on. There are so many versions of Skyrim that would even confuse the most hardcore fan. There is the Special Edition, Legendary Edition, Anniversary Edition, VR Edition, and even an Amazon Echo version!

I recommend the Special Edition, as it’s the version I had the most fun with. Plus, I think it’s the true lore-friendly version, including all Legendary Edition content. Despite the Anniversary graphical update, I think it falls short as the game includes 74 Creation Club Content, and it acts more of a hindrance than an advantage.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the new content is great; fishing is relaxing, and alternative armors offer a fresh look for the game. On the other hand, the Nix-Hound looks Yuck! Although you can disable specific Creation Club content via the game’s splash screen. Remember that mods break each time Bethesda releases a new version of the game and modders will need time to update their mod to the current game version. So this is something to consider if you’re thinking of modding down the line!

If you’re playing on a PC, you can alter your graphical settings from the window that pops up after clicking the play button in your Steam Library. Skyrim, so every machine and a potato can play it. However, occasionally, the game may bug out and change your resolution and graphical settings, so double-check this.

  • You can Improve your performance significantly without lowering the texture quality by reducing the shadow quality and View Distance for Grass, Objects, and Actors.

The First Hour/Day In-Game

In the first hour of Skyrim, you will create your character miraculously evade an axe through your neck, escape being burnt to a crisp, And even learn your first Word of power.

In between, you’ll have taken on a bear in one-to-one combat, stumble across a frost spider nest, and meet the legendary horse thief Lokir of Rorikstead. May Talos rest his soul!

Now I know Skyrim like the back of my hand. I’ve seen all kinds of weird bugs, like the Horse Car flying around in the air and Lokir’s rag doll gliding along the floor. But I’ve also played it so much that I know how to maximize every little bit of XP and found lots of hidden treasure. So lets Fus Roh Dah into this!

Skyrim has the most linear introduction In any Elder Scrolls game. The game opens up with a cinematic of the player as a prisoner captured along with Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of the Stormcloaks, and Jarl of Windhelm. His crime? Ulfric killed the high king of Skyrim using the Voice, a powerful ancient language spoken in the dragon tongue.

I won’t go too in-depth into the story and characters so as not to spoil the game and not stray from the gameplay but if you want to learn more about Ulfric Stormcloak: The Bear of Markath, check out Skyrim Characters Guide For 2022

Hands bound and mouth taped, Ulfric cannot speak; personally, if I had captured the leader of a terrorist group who has the power to kill by shouting, I’d do more than cover his mouth. But anyway, Once the cart gets into Helgen, you’ll be asked to create a character.

Creating Your Character

This will be your first big decision in the game, and Skyrim is designed to let players explore different skill trees, weapons, and RPG roles without locking them into one role. Selecting your character’s race is a huge decision. 

Each race has its own perks and abilities that can give you an edge in combat. For example, Nords are granted a boost in two-handed weapons damage, While Wood elves are master archers. 

Each race has its own perks and abilities that can give you an edge in combat. For example, Nords are granted a boost in two-handed weapons damage, While Wood elves are master archers. If you’re new to Skyrim, I recommend you experiment with different weapons, magic, and equipment to find what you like best. I recommend Imperial, Dark Elf, Redguard, or Breton for beginners, as these races allow for diverse character builds.

It could be argued that Skyrim doesn’t have a character creator in the traditional RPG sense. As while you will select a race based on abilities and traits and cosmetically create your character. It won’t be until later in the game that you will grow into your character. This is what makes Skyrim such an amazing RPG!

Unbound: Losing Your Head (Almost) 

Unbound Quest Skyrim
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You’ll start the “Unbound” quest within the first hour of the game; after all, it is the first quest. After spending god knows how much time tweaking and naming your character, it’s time to say goodbye as you go straight to the chopping block!

However, before you lose your head, you’re saved by Alduin, that evil-looking dragon that gave you the eye! You will have to navigate Helgen until reaching a choice:

Either enter the keep with Ralof, a Stormcloak who accompanied you in the cart, or Hadvar, the man who reluctantly sentenced you to death. It’s no hard feelings though Hadvar displays care for you as you two attempt to escape Alduin.

It doesn’t matter what side you choose at this point, as you can choose whether to join the Empire or Stormcloaks later in the game. Let’s focus on getting your best start on your Skyrim adventure!

Once entering the keep, Ralof or Hadvar will cut your restraints loose, starting the “Unbound” quest. Explore this starting room thoroughly, as you can acquire basic equipment and a bit of gold.

The room found after the ceiling collapse is the next notable location. Once again, loot this area for healing potions, cooking, and alchemy ingredients. You’ll then be led into the dungeons, where you must fight more Imperials or Stormcloaks. 

This area has basic mage equipment locked away in a cage. However, I recommend you unlock each cage and cell to get extra XP. The area in the back right of the room contains a shield and mace.

Fight your way through the next room and pick up a Long Bow! Here’s a tip for all your mages out there you see that purply oil on the floor? Blast it with fire magic to ignite it and all those who tread upon it!

Skyrim dungeon figth
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The dungeon will eventually lead out into a cave. If you’re in a rush, you might miss the path to the left, where you can pick up a Coin Purse. If you’re squeamish with spiders, you might want to approach the next area with a bow as the next area is infested with Frost Spiders. These creepy crawlies can deliver a venomous attack that will damage you over time. However, I cleaved through these pests with a Two-Handed Greatsword with ease.  

  • Loot the spiders and surrounding eggs to acquire alchemy ingredients and Frostbite Venom.

A bear is all that stands in your way to freedom; your companion will tell you to either sneak past or shoot an arrow at it. A slice from my Two-Handed sword managed to take it out in two hits, even on “Expert Difficulty.” 

Exiting the cave will complete the Unbound quest; you can now do whatever you like! I’d recommend following the path to Riverwood with your companion. On this path, you will find three Standing Stones. It’s essential that you activate one of these stones as they give buffs to your character:

  • The Warrior – Learn all combat Warrior skills 20% faster.
  • The Thief – Learn all Stealth skills 20% faster.
  • The Mage – Learn all magic skills 20% faster.

There are 13 Standing Stones dotted around Skyrim, and only one Standing Stone can be activated at a time. 

The Guardian Stones: Warrior Stone
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Arriving in Riverwood

Riverwood is a small village under Whiterun’s control and Jarl Balgruff’s protection. Although small, there is plenty to do here. As a beginner, I recommend you speak to Alvor, the Riverwood blacksmith and ask if you can help him at his forge. This will teach you the basic mechanics of blacksmithing. 

Moreover, talk to Sven to pick up a Miscellaneous quest of delivering a letter to Camilla Valerius to frame Faendal. Give the letter to Faendal or tell Camilla the truth, and you can acquire Faendal as a follower. Alternatively, you can carry out Sven’s cheeky plan, and you can convince Sven to join you as a follower however, Faendal is a much better combatant.

Suppose you are playing in survival mode or want a boost to XP gain, head to the Sleeping Giant Inn and rent a room and sleep. This will grant you a well-rested buff for 8 hours, giving you a 5% increase to XP gain for skills. You can also use the Alchemy table in the inn to craft basic potions. You can learn how to brew potions in the Skyrim Alchemy Guide.

It’s a good idea to pick up a woodcutting axe by the Riverwood Lumber Mill and chop some wood to make a few coins, although this is pretty tedious! 

At this point, you will be tasked with traveling to Whiterun to inform Jarl Balgruff that Riverwood needs aid. However, before you go running off into the wilderness. Visit the Riverwood Trader to get new gear and pick up the “The Golden Claw” quest. 

Lucan Valerius will generously reward you for returning his Gold Claw. But more importantly, learn your first word of power and obtain the Dragonstone, a key item that is given to Farengar Secret-Fire in Whiterun.

Lucas Valerius Store in Riverwood
Image by Alex Maksymiw

As the first hour of Skyrim comes to a close, I recommend that you head to the Embershard Mine before venturing to Bleak Falls Barrow to level your character and pick up a Pickaxe and valuable loot. 

To close this segment, after completing Bleak Falls Barrow, you can return to Riverwood and complete “The Golden Claw” quest, followed by traveling to Whiterun.

Traveling right after exiting Bleak Falls Barrow alongside the big lake will lead you to a passageway into the tundra near Whiterun called the South Brittleshin Pass.

Core Mechanics

Skills and Attributes the Building Blocks of your Character

Skyrim streamlines the Elder Scrolls RPG formula by keeping it simple. Gone are the days of head-scratching over attribute allocation birthsigns and custom classes. I can’t believe I’m going to say this but! Just like in real life, your character will learn skills by doing. 

If you want to hit a shot like this?

Then you’ll have to train up your Archery by shooting hundreds of enemies!

Each skill has a maximum level of the skill level of 100. If you own the Skyrim: Legendary Edition and above, you’ll be able to make them legendary, resetting the skill back to level 15 and refunding all spent perks on the skill tree.

Perks are powerful bonuses that drastically improve your gameplay. I recommend that you first spend your Perk Points on combat abilities at the start of the game, as it will be a while before you can reap the rewards from utility skills like Alchemy, Smithing, and Enchanting. 

  • Activities such as Cooking, Mining, and Woodcutting, have no skill levels. 

Attributes have been shaved down to three important elements:

  • Health – The health attribute determines how many blows you can take before you kick the bucket. This is represented as a red bar on your HUD. 
  • Magicka – The Magicka attribute determines the potency of the spell you can cast and how long you can cast it. Magicka is represented as a blue bar on the HUD.
  • Stamina – Is represented as a green bar on the HUD and determines how long you can sprint for and is drained by carrying out powerful attacks.

Each time you gain a skill level in Skyrim, you’ll be granted XP, level up enough skills, and level up your character granting you a perk point and +10 points to an attribute of your choice.

I recommend that you allocate attributes into health at the start of the game until at least 200 health. Then if a Warrior or stealthy ninja into Stamina.

Your attributes and skill level are not just determined by your level but also by your equipment. Enchanted items and rare legendary equipment can boost specific skills and grant extra bonuses.

Dragon Shouts: Manipulate the Battlefield using the Ancient Nord Art

Dragon Shouts are an ability unique to those that are Dragonborn. There are 27 shouts in Skyrim that can be used in all manner of ways. From blasting your opponent out of your way with Unrelenting Force FUS ROH DAH! Summoning a rideable dragon with Call Dragon to dispelling moody rain with Clear Skies. This would be my most used Dragon Shout in real life!

Each Dragon Shout has multiple words that must be found to learn the shout fully. In addition, you will need to have killed a dragon and absorbed its soul to unlock the word.

Stealth: “Must’ve Been the Wind”

Stealth Arrow Skill Skyrim Gameplay

Suppose you like sneaking around in games, taking enemies out one by one from a distance with a bow or up close with a dagger. Then you’ll need to be familiar with Skyrim’s stealth mechanics.

Stealth is an extremely powerful skill in the game. With a high Stealth skill, you’ll be able to pickpocket NPCs from right underneath their noses and deliver devastating critical hits from the shadows.

The mechanic works this way when crouched; there will be an indicator of a flat line in the middle of your screen. This indicates you are hidden; if nearby enemies become aware of your presence, the line will expand into an eye. The more open the eye, the more detected you are. 

Your equipment plays a big role in your stealth skill; Light Armors are perfect for sneaking around. However, Heavy Armor is loud and clunky and can be heard by nearby characters. 

You can lure enemies around by creating noise and firing arrows into objects. Typically the NPC will investigate the area. Keep your ears open for any funny lines of dialogue, as they can indicate when they are about to give up searching for you.

Such as “Must’ve been the Wind,” thats right, Bjald the Bald Bandit of Tower Erectus. It must have been the wind that quickly scoped your friend.


You will recognize Skyrim’s lockpicking mechanic if you’re familiar with the Fallout games. However, unlike Fallout, you will have access to any lock difficulty if you have a lock pick. 

Entering the lockpicking minigame pauses the game, so you don’t have to worry about the spooky scary skeleton behind you or about drowning underwater. The game aims to rotate the pick around the lock to open the container. 

The more the lock rotates, the closer you are to the sweet spot to unlock it. If the pick gets stuck, let go and move it; if it gets stuck for too long, it will break. If you struggle with the higher level locks such as “Expert” and “Master,” then consider spending your Perk Points on the Lockpicking skill.

opening locked door with lock pick in Skyrim
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Dialogue and the Art of Persuasion

Like its predecessor before it, you can persuade characters in dialogue interactions by intimidating, bribing, and persuading. Note that the success of these disputes will depend heavily on your speech skill level. Successfully persuading an NPC can score you gold, information, and items. So it’s worth investing in your speechcraft. Moreover, merchants will offer you better prices for buying and selling goods. 

Failing a speech challenge will have consequences. For example, if your speech skill is not enough to bribe guards, they will take your gold and throw you in the dungeon.

Dialogue And The Art of Persuasion
Image by Alex Maksymiw

Survival Mode: (Skyrim: Special Edition Onward)

Survival Mode is a challenging mechanic added to Skyrim: Special Edition and onward. In Survival Mode, the player must tend to their character’s hunger, fatigue, and body temperature.

Races have additional survival abilities; for example, Khajiit has cold resistance thanks to their fur and can digest raw meat without being food poisoned, and failing to look after your character will result in ever-increasing debuffs.


Smithing is a skill and mechanic where the player can create and improve equipment with crafting materials found in the world or purchased from vendors. There are forges dotted all over Skyrim; all can be used as you see fit. You can create Dragon Bone and Daedric weapons and armor, some of the most powerful gear in the game. Check out the Skyrim Smithing Guide to learn how.


Enchanting Table Skyrim
Image from Fandom

Smithing and Enchanting go hand in hand. While smithing creates items, enchanting significantly improves them. Enchanting is one of the most powerful skills in the game, so much so that you can turn a fork into one of the most powerful weapons in the game! You can learn more about enchanting by heading to the Skyrim Enchanting Guide.


Alchemy is the third major utility mechanic in the game. You can create powerful potions and deadly poisons by combining ingredients through alchemy. There are hundreds of ingredients in Skyrim with four unique properties that determine the outcome effect of a potion.


It wouldn’t be an RPG without quests, and Skyrim is filled with them. However, unlike other RPGs, you cannot gain XP from competing quests in Skyrim, and instead, your will vary from valuable and rare loot to followers and gold. You will often obtain rare items and Dragon Shouts while exploring the locations that the quest has directed you to.

Miscellaneous Quests

Miscellaneous Quests Skyrim
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Miscellaneous Quests are quests that do not have an overarching story; they tend to be short tasks such as “clear a bandit camp,” “slay this giant,” or “grab me this Mammoth tusk.” You won’t get a huge reward for completing these tasks. However, Miscellaneous Quests are a great source of income.

Tips we Wish we Knew

Here are some tips I wish I had known when I first started playing Skyrim.

It’s super exciting when you discover a “Master” locked chest. I trail into thought about what secret treasures I may find within. However, at low levels, it can be damn near impossible to pick these locks, thats where your follower comes into play. You can order your follower to pick any lock with a 100% success rate every time! I wish I had known this when I first started playing Skyrim, as I could have allocated these Perk Points to other skill trees.

Mirmulnir Fight Skyrim
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This one sounds like a joke! But don’t kick, punch, cleave, or whatever you do, do not FUS ROH DAH! Chickens and livestock. Within an instant, every NPC and their mum will attack you.

Here are some quick-fire tips:

  • Dragons will be grounded after losing half their health bar.
  • Don’t waste your gold on equipment early in the game; save it to buy your own house.
  • Holding a Dagger in your off-hand while dual-wielding will increase your attack speed for any other one-handed weapon!
  • This is a tip for all the archers out there. Early-level archery characters will struggle with dealing damage, and your enemy will often close in on you. However, if you quickly follow up a shot with a bow bash, you can stagger your enemy and deal extra bonus damage.
  • To strike with power attacks, you need at least one stamina point, meaning you can cast infinite power attacks by increasing your stamina regeneration by eating soups that regenerate stamina.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The Skyrim leveling system allows players to play the game in any way they want. However, it’s not perfect, and if you neglect your combat skills, you can quickly find the game increases in difficulty. Enemies scale with your character; leveling your character in one aspect can make it weak in others. For example, back in the day, everyone used to craft billions of Iron Daggers to level their Smithing; however, while their Smithing slowly ground up, their combat skills stayed the same.

Planning your character’s build is a great way to maximize your damage output. I’ve played Skyrim for years and experimented with many builds. I was always an archer, but recently the Two-Handed Warrior has been speaking to me. So I picked up a Two-Handed Greatsword as soon as possible and never switched.

Don’t be deterred from switching equipment and using magic. Skyrim is built to experiment. However, if you’re playing on harder difficulties such as Master or the Legendary Difficulty, you must streamline your character and specialize in only a few areas in combat.

Make sure that you save the game often; quicksaves won’t cut it! Horror stories of the game glitching right as you step out of a door could break you if you haven’t saved a backup. Moreover, you may complete a quest and decide you made the wrong choice. For example, I tend to progress within the Companions storyline before I’m turned into a Werewolf to maximize my XP early in the game. You cannot gain the Well Rested buff from sleeping once you turn into a Werewolf. If I discovered this later, I would have to dig back for an old save and lose hours of progress.

Long-Term Goals to Consider

Skyrim Gameplay Dark Scene
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Skyrim is an open world that has a tone of quests to complete items to loot and characters to meet. You’ll inevitably travel down an old beaten track and venture to new cities and locations. As a result, it’s easy to get sidetracked in Skyrim and ignore the main storyline. However, I recommend that you stick with the main story for a while as you’ll learn about the history of the Dragonborn and the political situation of Skyrim is revealed.

Here are the main long-term goals for beating Skyrim:

  • Vanquish Alduin, the World Eater from Skyrim, and save Tamriel.
  • Choose a side in the Civil War by either joining the Imperial Army or Stormcloak rebels and ending the war.
  • Experiment with Mods.

Guilds and Factions

There comes a time in Skyrim when you will join a faction/guild; while it’s possible to join every guild in one playthrough, it’s impossible to join both the Stormcloaks and Imperial Army.

The four main guilds in Skyrim are:

  • The Companions – The Companions can be found in Whiterun and are a band of warriors. They are traditional Nords and are recommended for characters specializing in Warrior skills. Joining the guild will enable you to transform into a Werewolf.
  • Thieves Guild – The Thieves Guild is located in Riften and is perfect for players specializing in Stealth skills. The Thieves Guild questline is a fan favorite and will reward you with the Skeleton Key and fashionable Nightingale Armor.
  • Dark Brotherhood – The Dark Brotherhood is a band of assassins who take on contracts to kill various NPCs across Skyrim. This is the perfect guild for characters specialized in stealth. You will obtain Shadowmere, a hellish-looking mount, but more importantly, you can kill Nazeem and get paid for it. However, I’d do it for free! 
  • College of Winterhold – The College of Winterhold is for players looking for that Hogwarts experience. Like something out of Harry Potter, the College of Winterhold is where you’ll be mastering your magical talents and uncovering the history of magic in Skyrim.

Then there’s Bard’s College, the weakest of the bunch. Located in Solitude, the Bard’s College doesn’t offer much in return but joining the guild will turn you into the Indiana Jones of Skyrim as you’ll be tasked with acquiring ancient instruments for the guild. 

Todd Howard, Director, and Executive Producer at Bethesda Studios stated that Raiders of the Lost Ark is his favorite movie on the Lex Fridman podcast and that he had always wanted to make an Indiana Jones game. Even though Bethesda has announced such a game, the Bard’s College can’t be a coincidence. 

Skyrim is a world teeming with content and beautiful sights, and although there may come a time when you have explored every nook and cranny and completed every quest, Mods are a great way to improve the game’s longevity. Skyrim is no spring chicken, but this means you’ve got thousands of mods to install and try out. Some mods add new enemies, weapons, followers, and mounts to the game, and some overhaul Skyrim’s performance and fix hundreds of bugs.

If you’re interested in modding Skyrim, I recommend these options:

  • Nexusmods – You’re in safe hands modding Skyrim from Nexusmods, as the site has over 1 billion downloads, and the Vortex mod manager makes it all the easier to install and enable mods.
  • Steam Workshop – Browse and install mods with a simple click of the “Subscribe” button. Moreover, if you ever reinstall Skyrim, all your subscribed mods will automatically install.

Wrapping Things Up

Skyrim Gameplay Snow Scene
Image by Alex Maksymiw

Following the tips and tricks in this guide will give you a flying start in Skyrim. When I first started playing Skyrim, I wasted my gold on equipment I wouldn’t even use! Now a decade later, I’ve streamlined my gameplay at earlier levels. I limit myself to only one or two weapons to specialize in, making my character a lot stronger.

As a beginner, you won’t need to worry about taking the game on Legendary Difficulty and with Survival Mode enabled. I recommend you learn the game using this guide and, most of all, have fun! Explore the world, and read all the books you find. They reveal details that will immerse you into the game further. Skyrim is a beautiful game that, for all its flaws and robotic NPCs, has an incredible depth that many players can go through an entire playthrough without scratching the winter-frosted iceberg that is Skyrim.


Question: Will Joining a Guild in Skyrim Lock you Out of Joining Other Guilds in Skyrim?

Answer: No, you can join any guild at any time. Skyrim gives freedom to the player to do whatever they like. This is the same for joining guilds. For a Skyrim beginner, I recommend you join all four guilds to experience the content and learn which is your favorite. However, if you are roleplaying a class or character, joining the guild best suited for your character would make sense. For example, a budding wizard runaway from home searching to master their craft would be best suited to join the College of Winterhold.

Question: How Do I Cure Diseases in Skyrim?

Answer: There’s nothing worse than getting bit by a Skeever and seeing the prompt on the screen that you’ve contracted Ataxia or god knows what other diseases. However, if you find yourself short on Stamina, don’t worry. You can cure all diseases by using a Cure Disease potion. Or you can visit a shrine in any of the major cities.

Question: Where Can I Find My Companion in Skyrim?

Answer: Adventuring with a companion in Skyrim has its perks; however, every now and again, you’ll turn around to find them missing. Simply using the Fast Travel mechanic will spawn your companion to you. If your companion did die, a courier would deliver a letter to you confirming that your follower had died.

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