I have spent too many hundreds of hours playing Skyrim’s predecessor: Oblivion (on the Xbox 360), plus even more countless hours playing the previous installment, Morrowind, in the original Xbox console. Somehow I got the misguided idea that I was going to take Skyrim and run through it in a hundred hours and call it a day.
Four hundred hours and two characters later, I am nowhere close to seeing everything it has to offer. It is the videogame equivalent of crack cocaine. It is not a game for everyone, but so far the universal impression seems to be that if you like fantasy role playing games and you play Skyrim you will be hooked in the most horrible way.
Just ask anyone that frequents http://reddit.com/r/skyrim
I decided to put this small guide together so I could offer a different point of view than the two current warring wiki factions (the long-time champion is The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages at http://uesp.net, the challenger is Wikia’s site, http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Skyrim ). Except for these two, and of course, Reddit, there is simply too much fragmented information that seems to be obsessed with cheating through the game without concern about actually enjoying it.
This guide assumes the following:
1. That you have already played the game, regardless of platform.
2. That you can search the Internet given enough information. In other words, you won’t see screenshots here with step-by-step walkthroughs.
3. That you favor stealth/thief gameplay. If you like to be a pure magic user or a slash and burn type, you may not find as many answers to your questions.
4. That you are trying to have fun while playing this game.
You are playing a game that only has a single-player mode, and none of its achievements/trophies are based on skill. Anyone that plays the game long enough will eventually collect all its achievements so in reality the brag factor is extremely low. Nobody really cares how you play it, you won’t have dumbasses screaming into your headset because they don’t like the way you decide to play the game. Unless somebody is actually looking over your shoulder as you play, you are pretty much on your own.
Do you want to be a serial killer? Who cares! Do you want to be a goody-two-shoes Samaritan? Go for it, but be prepared: whatever you do will affect the way the NPCs react to you.
I like to play as a Khajiit, simply because the race has night vision as a permanent power, plus boosts that benefit stealth types. There’s less racial tension than in Oblivion, at most you will hear taunts from NPCs but that is about it. The night vision power is extremely nice, but don’t abuse it because sometimes you may miss on details.
If this is your first character, just go out and start experimenting how bartering, smithing, alchemy and enchanting work. Travel around, meet some of the major players, and maybe even try any of the bigger quests. It would be very difficult to do most of what the game offers with your first character since you are bound to make a choice that will keep you from making it through certain story arcs, so do yourself a favor and consider your first character as your throwaway.
Once you are familiar with the game, then you can start playing it seriously. It is a good idea to keep a save game from right before the execution scene at the start of the game, which is when you have to decide on race, traits, etc. This way you will spare yourself from having to watch the whole thing every time you start a new character.
You are going to see a lot of advice online about ignoring the main quest and just exploring. This is plain wrong, because you are going to cheat yourself out of some very useful things. If you just go with the flow the game will immediately point you towards what will eventually complete 25% of so of the main quest. One you hit that stage then you will be in a much better shape than if you had just decided to skip it completely. The best part is that at that point you haven’t committed yourself into anything as far as the major quest lines go.
Another thing that is going to happen very quickly is that your quests menu is going to fill really fast, which can be overwhelming. No worries, you are not forced to do a damn thing. Just do whatever you want and address your quests in whatever order you want. There is a very small subset of the quests that have timing issues, but those happen much farther into the game.
The main quest is all about you: The Dragonborn. If you follow the subtle instructions that the game gives you at the start, you will eventually face and kill your first dragon, and two things will happen:
1. You will absorb the soul of the dragon.
2. You will hear a thunderous voice calling you Dovahkiin!
Dragons shout: these shouts are actually magic powers. For example, a shout can help you sprint a few dozen yards in a blink of an eye. Or you can detect life through walls (awesome because there is no detect life spell for Skyrim). This is the main reason you want to start this storyline, because you want to be able to learn these shouts (by completing certain missions) and you want to be able to use the shouts, which is only possible if you kill a dragon and absorb its soul. Each shout has up to three words of power, and each word of power is unlocked by one dragon soul.
It took me about 50 hours to realize that I was killing dragons left and right but not cashing out the souls to unlock words of power I had already learned. After around 20 absorbed souls you stop absorbing until you start spending them on unlocked words of power.
Once you have made it through the point that you have been trained on how to use these shouts, it is OK to let the main storyline rest and go roaming the province.
There are plenty of factions in Skyrim, each of these has its own agenda that will keep you busy for more than a few hours:
1. The Imperials: One of the two factions trying to control Skyrim.
2. The Stormcloaks: Engaged in a civil war against the Imperials.
3. Thieves Guild: They have fallen in hard times (again!).
4. The Dark Brotherhood: Also fallen into hard times, and are almost extinct.
5. The Companions: The closest thing to the classic Fighters Guild, with an interesting secret subplot.
6. The College of Winterhold: The closest thing to the classic Mages Guild.
7. The Daedras: These are the Gods, each of these has some crazy thing for you to handle.
There is a lot more, but those are most of the major players. There are also nine regional districts, each run by a Jarl (sort of a duke) that has distinct problems for you to sort out.
Except for the obvious clash due to the Civil War, it is safe to hit any of these major quest storylines in whatever order you wish. Once you make it far enough to pick a faction in the Civil War, you will not be able to complete the opposite side. The achievements are setup so you will be rewarded no matter which side you take. Almost everything you do will see you handsomely rewarded, be it just in gold or with magic items.
Skyrim uses a new quest engine called Radiant. This means that in theory you will never run out of things to do, because at any time you can go to certain NPCs, ask them if there is work and you will be handed a quest created at random. There are also open-ended major quest lines, for example the Dark Brotherhood will always have new assassination contracts.
On top of the Radiant quests, pretty much EVERYONE in the game has something for you to do. This is why you can be overwhelmed when 2-3 hours into the game your quests screen is completely full, because almost every new contact resulted in a mission request.
As you perform certain quests that benefit the citizens of a given hold/district (there are nine), you will be offered rank within that hold. In some cases you will be offered the opportunity of purchasing a home within the hold, which means that you will have persistent storage (it won’t reset so you won’t lose your stuff), your own bed, alchemy and enchanting benches, etc. Some houses have mannequins that you can use to display your special armor. The only thing that I find annoying is that there is no way of buying more mannequins, and none of the houses has a forge.