Monthly Archives: January 2012

Skyrim Strategy Journal: Choosing Perks

Investing in Speech is investing in your future.

I’m finding that leveling and choosing perks in Skyrim becomes more and more of a crapshoot as my characters progress. What I mean is some perks that you relegate to low priority suddenly can become high priority with a single level-up. Starting out, it’s relatively easy to decide on perks if you have any sort of a game plan (i.e., you know who you are and what you’re doing). But as you progress, even the perks within your specialty become increasingly specialized, to the point where perks in other skill sets start to seem more enticing. For example, after about level 15 for all my characters (Barbarian, Necromancer, Battle Mage and Rogue), I wasn’t going to reach any more of the perks in my primary skill-sets any time soon, so I started looking at other perks in other skill sets during the interim. Surprisingly, I started investing perks in skill sets that I had no prior intention of exploring such as Speech and Enchanting. Selling things is a big part of my money machine in all of my campaigns, so why not invest in perks that are going to increase my profits? So, for example, there is almost no reason for ANY character-type to not invest in a few levels of the Haggling perk in Speech, increasing the gold you receive from every sale by 10-20%. On top of that, I’ve also made good use of the Allure perk, which gives you an additional 10% on sales with merchants of the opposite sex. That extra gold adds up, and could make a big difference in buying master training lessons at the higher levels (when they’re over 2,000 gold per lesson!)

Then there’s the case of simply finding a particular specialization that you grow to like better within the same skill set. For example, my Necromancer had a pretty straight-forward connect-the-dots through her Conjuration skill tree, focusing on all of the necromancer-specific perks. However, I soon found that zombies are not near as effective as atronachs in most situations, and the damn things disintegrate to ash half the time you enter new areas (Quick note: Dremora Lords are actually the best allies you can conjure because they’re super strong and cannot be turned by Dragon Priests!) Raising zombies is also much more cumbersome than simply conjuring an atronach, especially in the midst of a battle. So my Necromancer started to become more of an Atromancer, and I had to adjust my perks accordingly, at least as far as prioritizing them (I still plan on having ALL of the perks in Conjuration by a level 100 skill).

I mentioned the Enchanting skill set earlier. I’m the type of Elder Scrolls player that doesn’t like to equip anything on my character that doesn’t have some sort of enchantment. Any weapon or item of clothing/armor that does not have a magical property is a WASTE as far as I’m concerned, and sometimes you run across that perfect combo of attire for your character but cannot find the magical equivalent of a certain piece. So to solve this pesky problem, enchant your own shit! I purposely veered away from this skill at first because of how complex and confusing it was in Oblivion. Well I’m happy to report that Enchanting in Skyrim is a breeze! I won’t get into a tutorial of how it’s done here (just activate an enchanting altar and the whole business will take you about two minutes to figure out), but Enchanting is another great skill to invest some perks into and it seems to level up quicker than most other skills, even at the adept stages.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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Skyrim Strategy Journal: The Companions

She'll put one through your heart.

With my Barbarian Nord, I completed the primary quest line for the Companions (still need to complete a couple radiant quests). Whiterun, centrally located in Skyrim, definitely provides the best base of operations for any warrior-like character, and it’s certainly no coincidence the first several missions in the Main Quest are focused around Whiterun and the Dragon Reach. I ignored the Main Quest altogether until I became the new Harbinger of the Companions. Then, with the awesome Aela at my side, I continued into the first leg of the Main Quest.

Note: Until you complete the “Dragon Rising” chapter of the Main Quest, you will NOT run into any dragons in Skyrim! It’s true. So you can run around the entire map while persistently leveling up your character, and you won’t have to worry about those ominous wings flapping overhead. That may take some of the fun out of it for a lot of adventurers, but personally, I don’t think any of my own characters would be taking on dragons until they were seasoned in their particular combat focuses. And since most of the beasts in Elder Scrolls games level up along with you, using this strategy is not exactly tipping the scales either way. It just sort of ensures you’re not dragon meat before reaching Level 5. At Level 17, my Barbarian was ready to take on dragons. She still might get flame broiled, but she would always have a fighting chance (and Aela at her side even gave her the slight advantage).

Like the others in the elite Circle of the Companions, my Nord partook in the sacred ritual to become a werewolf. Prior to her joining the Companions, she completed the Daedric Quest “Ill Met By Moonlight” to acquire the Ring of Hircine (make sure to get the ring BEFORE you contract lycanthropy). When worn, this artifact allows an additional werewolf transformation per day. However, there’s a loophole here to be easily exploited: after each transformation back into a human, you have to re-equip all of your items, including the ring. Each time you take the ring on and off of your finger, the daily power resets itself. So in essence, with the ring you can transform into a werewolf as many times as you want! Being a werewolf works great against single tough foes, but the disadvantage is that you can get teamed up on really fast when taking on groups. This can be particularly bad if you’re in a tight space (best to use your lycanthropy for outdoor battles) because it’s harder to un-group your enemies and to escape intense melee situations. Werewolf mode is always played in third-person, so it takes a little adjusting if you’re used to fighting in first-person. But if you have the space, you can launch vicious attacks and then quickly retreat using a quadrupedal sprint. This makes lumbering targets like Giants a breeze. Dragons are also in trouble when they bring the fight to the ground, although I usually found myself transforming back to human in the middle of a skirmish (annoying and potentially lethal). Also, remember that as a werewolf your health does NOT regenerate over time. This is another reason why you want to use fast and calculated strikes on your prey.

A great moment with the Companions takes place during the outset of the final mission in the quest line wherein you have to travel to Ysgramor’s Tomb in the farthest reaches of the north. The three toughest Companions–Aela, Farkas and Vilkas–all accompany you on this one, and you may choose to embark on a cross-country run with them from Whiterun all the way to the Tomb (half the map of Skyrim). They are in attack mode the whole time, so ANY enemies encountered during the journey are dispatched with extreme prejudice. My character being an equal badass, for the first time ever I felt like I was completely untouchable in an Elder Scrolls game! (There were some similar scenarios in Oblivion, but never where you had the company of three of the most powerful warriors in the game). Seriously, we could have taken on multiple Giants AND their Mammoth herd.

One of the things I wanted to be able to do before reaching Level 20 was to improve my magical weapons and items. To do this in Skyrim, you need the Arcane Blacksmith perk which is not available until a Smithing level of 60. So on top of my own leveling by smelting, smithing and improving weapons, armor and jewelry, I also tried to afford as many training sessions as possible with the Master Blacksmith of the Companions, Eorlund Gray-Mane. Like any master training, you can purchase up to five sessions per level. Each session raises that particular skill level by one. This can get expensive (especially at the higher levels), so make sure you have a money machine to keep the gold flowing (smithing, selling, exploring, etc.) To me it’s worth it because it saves a ton of time otherwise spent simply grinding out the levels on my own.

As mentioned earlier, I chose Aela the Huntress (Master Archer) to be my Skyrim sister-in-arms for my Barbarian campaign. If you’re a melee-based character, Aela is actually the perfect choice because she will provide ranged cover while you’re mincing meat. I use my own bow quite a bit, too (for a stealthy approach in many situations), so it’s nice to have master training in archery at my beck and call when I want to invest in some leveling. You can always use your companions as pack mules and/or upgrade their weapons and armor. I immediately replaced her hunting bow with a superior forged Dwarven bow and her iron dagger with a Skyforged war axe. I also gave her some better bracers and boots, although she probably didn’t need them considering her Light Armor stat was at 100. When using your companion as a pack mule, be careful. Not only can your companion go down in a fight, but there are random bugs in the game that may make the body disappear. This happened to my friend who had his companion carrying every last one of his hard-earned dragon bones and dragon scales. Because of that bug, he lost ALL of them. My advice is only to use your companion to carry important things when you are ready to fast travel back to a town or safe haven. If you have a home, all of your expensive items not being used should be kept in a chest or the like (as soon as you’re appointed Thane of Whiterun by the Jarl after completing “Dragon Rising”, you’re eligible to buy a house in that city).

When starting the line of Companions quests, there is a particular mission that proved pretty tough for my character (who at the time I believe was around Level 8). The quest “Proving Honor” sends you on an errand to retrieve an Orcish heirloom from a random location. I was not able to fast travel even close to that location, so I had to foot it most of the way. During the journey, I noticed I ran into three times as many enemies (some of them several levels above my own) as usual. After dying A LOT, I finally had to just make a run for it from a trio of high-level necromancers. Once to my destination, I proceeded into a cavern infested with Falmers (horrible creatures of the dark that drop down on you from above). These things were tough and once again after dying way too many times, I was finally able to get to the chest with the dagger at the end of the cavern. As it turned out, that was the whole point of the quest–basically determining if you could survive such a dangerous living obstacle course! I love little surprises like that when playing The Elder Scrolls 🙂

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Skyrim


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Skyrim: Quick Character Example (Starting Out)

Yesterday, a blogger friend of mine challenged me to give an example of how I started one of my own campaigns on Skyrim. Okay… I’ll try to make this quick.

Should be an early stop for most adventurers.

I usually have three to four campaigns going at any given time to keep things interesting. Currently, I have a Barbarian, a Necromancer, a Spellsword/Battle Mage, and a very stealthy Rogue. Except for the Necromancer and Spellsword, they all couldn’t be more different. I pretty much just started the campaigns for all four (as I received the game over Christmas). Guess what I did before I even inserted the disc? I purchased the hardback special edition strategy guide off Amazon for less than $20 (major bargain).

Anyway, the last campaign I started was with my Necromancer, so I’ll use her as the example. She’s all about magic (obviously), and eventually she’ll be raising lots of dead things 😉 Since she’s a Breton and not a High Elf, it’s important that I raise her total magicka as quick as possible (only High Elves have the comfort of possessing a huge amount of magicka at the outset). Her skill focus is almost entirely on Conjuration magic with secondary focus given to Restoration, Destruction and a wee bit of Alteration. As soon as I stepped out of the underground tunnel leading to the outside with that hulking Nord, I already had four missions in mind: seek out a blessing, obtain Azura’s Star, join the College of Winterhold, and finagle my way into the Dark Brotherhood (in that order). First, I hit the cluster of Standing Stones just off the road while heading to Riverwood. I chose the blessing of the Mage Stone, which allowed me to immediately begin increasing my magic-oriented attributes at 20% faster than the normal rate. Advanced players might argue that I should have taken the Warrior Stone’s blessing–the logic there being that since I would be constantly using magic, the 20% increase would better supplement my non-magical attributes to offset the fact that I’m using magic all of the time and leveling those skills quickly regardless. However, since my Necromancer is a purist, she will probably never wield a sword or even a dagger unless she absolutely has to. So my counter-logic would argue that taking anything but the Mage Stone would be throwing my blessing out the window (in this case, anyway). Later in the campaign, I’ll probably switch my blessing to the Ritual Stone. Next, I headed straight for the Shrine of Azura. Since I had the strategy guide’s map, I didn’t need any in-game help to clue me in as to the shrine’s whereabouts. Not only would completing this Daedric Quest get me Azura’s Star (no, I didn’t want the Black Star and I won’t get into why), but it would ALSO get me my first companion, the deadly Aranea. Kill two birds, I say. Since I was playing a pure magic user, having a companion was not only desirable, it was downright necessary. Aranea also was a magic user (mainly conjuration and destruction), and she would be used to both distract and to double-team opponents. Unless you’re playing a character with heavy armor, you should seriously consider a quest companion as soon as possible. Otherwise, you better save your game often. Mission three was to head north to Winterhold. I did so, easily dispatching anything in my path with my new sister-in-arms. Note that my mission here was only to gain access to the College, not necessarily to play through the whole line of quests. By simply joining, I suddenly had an entire stronghold and almost everything within at my disposal. The same would be said for my fourth mission, seeking out the Dark Brotherhood. My Necromancer happened to have an evil streak (well… she IS a Necromancer), so the Dark Brotherhood was an appropriate choice thematically. But even if your character is a goodie-two-shoes, don’t rule out this powerful faction. The best horse of the game, Shadowmere, can be procured through them (as far as I’m concerned, Shadowmere is the ONLY horse in the game). Add to that yet another sweet base of operations with tons of fringe benefits.

So there you have it. And I believe my fledgling Necromancer accomplished all of that (and more) in less than five hours of gameplay.

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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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Skyrim for Beginners

I’m changing it up this post to expound upon quite possibly the sweetest game I’ve ever played, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This blog, of course, is dedicated to the other great video game franchise of Bethesda, and the only irony in this one-time departure is the fact that Skyrim sets the pace for what we can expect down the road from a Fallout 4.

No more excuses.

My previous blog lingered on the IGN network for about three years, and it was dedicated to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Since I had more time to maintain that one, I actually had some dedicated followers. My final post (the blog since dismantled) was entitled, “Some Parting Words as I Ascend from Oblivion.” It was a rather long article that summed up my 100+ hour experience with Oblivion and included some useful advice for anybody just stepping into the realm of Tamriel.

Now, what’s great about an open-world RPG is that by default, one really doesn’t NEED any advice on how to play it. For a lot of gamers, that’s precisely the fun of it. A game such as Skyrim has the built-in luxury of allowing a player to be somewhat, if not entirely, aimless. I both understand and respect that choice. In my own structured life, I often times revel at the chance to break free from any and all structure. It’s primal. It’s exciting, but at the same time relaxing because it’s not the type of exciting that stresses me out. Quite the contrary, it loosens me up. Even after knowing this, however, I still get a bit agitated when a friend or a fellow blogger usually new to open-world RPGs tells me he or she is simply wandering around not knowing what the hell he or she is doing. So, yes, I am a total hypocrite, and once again I am going to impart advice on what I think you SHOULD do. I’ve numbered (structured) them in order of importance (more structure):

1.  When starting Skyrim, it helps to have an idea as to what sort of character you will be playing. Sometimes this can be a direct reflection of yourself, and sometimes it may be the polar opposite. Do you want to bash in heads with a giant two-handed maul (hammer, for those not as dorky as I) or do you want to persuade others to do your bidding with your elegant charm and infectious charisma? Do you want to look at the chiseled back of a man or the sculpted figure of a woman for hours on end? (I usually play in first-person but often switch to third to get cinematic views of my fucking awesome character.) Do you live for the adventure and the action or do you rejoice in the crafting, toiling and scrutinizing of everyday life? If the former, then for the sake of the Daedras you need to be some sort of warrior, man! If the latter, then invest in your abilities accordingly. Either way, just know that if you’re going to play the Main Quest starting out, you’ll need to have a character that can kick some ass. Whether you’re stealthy, using magic, or wielding a giant two-handed maul (hammer), you’re still going to have to engage loads of tough opponents in myriad intense battles. On the other hand, if you plan on NEVER following the exploits of the Main Quest (nor any other predefined quest for that matter), then by all means spend your time chopping wood, sampling ingredients, mixing potions and selling your wares within the protected confines of your favorite village.

2.  Get yourself the blessing of a Standing Stone. Now that you know who and what you are, take advantage of the first HUGE freebie in Skyrim: a blessing from one of the 13 Standing Stones. These will allow you to level much faster the attributes you need for your character-type. I have a friend who played for days without even knowing that these things existed, AND he even had the strategy guide! Which leads me to…

3.  Get the strategy guide! Have no idea what the Standing Stones are or where you can find them? The easy-to-use Prima Strategy Guide for Skyrim cites them on page 59 (of a 600+ page guide). And if you are new to the Elder Scrolls, it would behoove you to read (or certainly skim) the first 75 pages. Do that and you’ll be one up on 90% of the people who play this game (no shit). The hardback also happens to make a great coffee table book.

4.  Align yourself with some factions. Seriously, the first three are no-brainers, but this one is for beginner and intermediate players alike. Just as there were in Oblivion, there are four major factions in Skyrim (they’re just not all referred to as “guilds” as they were previous): the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Companions (of Whiterun). As their names suggest, each faction focuses its benefits on a particular character type. There are also smaller factions, but these four offer their own complete (and mostly unique) quest lines. Not only do these quest lines provide your character with some of the best items in the game, but they also offer allies (that will travel with you and fight by your side, usually one at a time), safe houses, shared work areas (e.g., blacksmiths, tanning racks, alchemy labs), and easy access to master trainers (to help you level faster in particular areas). Furthermore, any one of these quest lines will ensure that you traverse almost every region of Skyrim, making it easier to get around (i.e., fast travel) to places offered by other quest lines later in your adventure. Suffice to say, you’re doing yourself a huge disfavor if you don’t at least join one of the four major factions during your campaign.

5.  Establish a money machine early on and spend wisely. Oblivion made the money machine easy in the form of earning shitloads of gold in the Imperial City’s gladiator arena. Skyrim has no such thing as far as I know, so earning lots of money fast isn’t quite as easy. One thing you can do is always keep an eye out for extra expensive weapons and armor in your exploring. Even though you’ll only get half their worth when you sell them to merchants early in the game, the valuable ones will add up fast. You can also use your Smithing skill to ameliorate the weapons and armor you find (e.g., turn a steel warhammer into a fine steel warhammer to increase its value). For some real money, enchant your wares. Two of the best enchantments to learn as soon as you can are Banish Daedra and Sneak. Apply the former to weapons and the latter to armor or jewelry, and you’ll have some very valuable items to sell. Precious stones are found all over the place. Provided you have the silver and/or gold ingots to go with them, you can forge some pretty valuable necklaces and rings right from the start. I forged a gold diamond necklace with the Sneak enchantment before even reaching level 25 in Smithing that was worth nearly 2,000 gold pieces. Finally, marrying your companion is another great way to have an ongoing money machine. He or she will automatically open a store from which you will always receive half the profits (you just have to ask).

As for spending your hard-earned gold, remember that most of the items you can find for sale at a merchant you can also find for free in your adventuring. Yes, most merchants have one or two unique items (some of which are pretty cool), but even those usually have their swag-up-for-grabs equivalents scattered throughout Skyrim’s caves, dungeons and keeps. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying 2,000 gold pieces for an enchanted robe of conjuration that you end up finding an hour later in some necromancer lair.

6.  Don’t forget about the Daedric Quests. One of the biggest mistakes I made while playing Oblivion was relegating the Daedric Quests to some of the last ones I completed. Not only were they incredibly fun and interesting, but they offered some of the most powerful (and unique) items in the game: the Daedric Artifacts. These are back in Skyrim, albeit they are a little less game-changing as they were in Oblivion. However, a few of them still retain their invalue. If you’re playing any kind of a character with magic focus, you’d be a fool not to head straight to the Shrine of Azura (no pre-requisites for this one). Appease the bitch goddess and you’ll receive Azura’s Star (or you can choose the more sinister Black Star). With Azura’s Star, you’ll never need another soul gem again when it comes to re-charging your enchanted weapons. Without getting into a whole tutorial on soul gems, what they do, and how to use them, just trust me that Azura’s Star is PRICELESS. Go get yours today.

There’s more I’d like to spew all over you beginners out there, but I think I’m done typing for now. So when you’re done running around Skyrim aimlessly like a spriggan with its ass on fire, remember the six points of enlightenment I have bestowed upon you. Use them well.


Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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