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.