Tips and Tricks for Skyrim

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright March 2012


Here are some observations about Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, and then techniques that I have found work well in playing. I will be doing a bit of comparing of Skyrim to my experiences playing Fallout: New Vegas which I have also written about.

First, some kudos

Clearly the developers have spend a lot of effort on visual effects. The scenery is hyperrealistic with real water-looking streams and lush vegetation to walk through. The inhabitants are elaboratly dressed, The armor and weapons are high Rococo -- everything is ornate and intricate.

In the midst of all this visual lushness I quickly noticed one exception: all the character walking is monotonous -- everyone walks with the same heroic stride -- there isn't a mix of graceful, heroic, awkward, young, and old of the sort that you see in a real world street scene.

Likewise, the character development has lots of categories -- combat skills, crafts, magic and more. And the developers have allowed a lot of variation in how these skills are developed. The weakness here is that there is no revelation within the game itself as to what the benefits of participating in these various activities are.

Audible cues are also well used. Once you get the hang of listening for them, they let you anticipate upcoming hazards nicely.

So the game has some nice innovative pluses. But mixed in with those are some game structure conventions that sharply detract from all the wonder that could be created by these innovations.


My Basic Play Style

First let me explain how I like to play:

o I find that sneaking around, observing things, and standing off while I shoot stuff, is a satisfying play style for me.

o When sneaking and standoff attacks are the heart of your style then Sneak, Bow and Lockpicking are your important skills.

o Light Armor and Speech are secondary skills.

I have not found crafting to be important to game success. Likewise, I have not found either spell casting or potion consuming to be important.

o Finally, I like acquiring wealth. But in this game merchants are hard to get to and quite specialized in what they will buy, so I end up storing a lot of stuff in the chest in my home.

This would be frustrating, but it turns out that money doesn't buy necessities in this game, so this lack of easy selling is not a problem. I'm not spending, so I end up with plenty of cash anyway, as well as a very full chest at home. You may, in fact, want to get quite choosy about what you pick up. I get to know what my merchant circle will buy (and ingredients for what I would want to craft, if I crafted) and I pick up little else.


Combat Tip #1: Let your companion do the heavy lifting

If sneak is part of your style then you can let your companion do the heavy lifting in combat. No enemies will finish off your companion, they will stop doing damage to your companion when he or she kneels and gives up. But that surrender is temporary, and both you and your companion regenerate health quickly. So, start the battle, let your companion join in, then stand off and shoot from comparative safety. Run away when necessary, then sneak back. It may take a while, but if you stay alive your companion will keep coming back into the fight to distract and damage, and you will overcome your enemies. The higher your sneak skill the more effective this tactic becomes.

What you don't want to do is inadvertently kill your companion. This happens often if you're shooting into a melee with lots of dodging going on. If it does, simply reload your previous save and work through the fight again.

If your companion disappears, he or she is likely running the long way around to catch up with you -- companions don't climb or jump as well as you do. If that process is taking too long, walk through a door into a different scene or fast walk to a new location. The companion should then catch up with you.


Combat Tip #2: Save often

In this game death merely means reverting to your last save. It's simple, I like that, but it means there is little downside risk to getting in over your head... if you save often.

I also save before my lockpicking attempts. If I'm churning through too many picks, I restore and try again.


The Beginning Game

Find a jarl, get a housecarl

As you complete the tutorial you will find yourself near Whiterun. Go there, or to some other city, to the jarl (city ruler), and engratiate yourself to the jarl by completing a couple of simple quests. The jarl will grant you a housecarl (companion) as one of his favors. You also gain the priviledge of buying a house. Once you have the companion you are ready for routine exploring and questing.

Combat Tip #3: Dealing with Dragons

At various points in your journey, one often being as you exit a quest dungeon, a dragon will show up. They are inimidating at first, but end up being not hard to deal with. Here are some tips:

o Get others to help. If you're near a city or other collection of inhabitants, head for them, dragons are everyone's enemy.

o Get in cover. Get close to a wall or cliff, in a grove of trees, or on a steep face. The dragon will then have limited places to land to continue the battle. They like to be grounded when they are finishing you off.

o If you're outclassed run back into a dungeon or other building. The dragon will wander off, and you can fight it another day.

o When a dragon goes down, but sure to get close and search it. You will suck off its essence and pick up a substantial collection of dragon bones.

Traveling Cross Country

The game is somewhat disappointing in how vertical it is -- everything is up or down a cliffside. This means that you can't always get from Point A to Point B by going cross country. If you're getting the feeling that, "God didn't mean for you to go this way." that feeling is probably right -- circle right or left for a while to find some kind of pathway that is going your direction. There will almost always be one. That said, the game does allow for a lot more cliff climbing than Fallout: New Vegas does, so exploring for odd ways to get up and down cliffs can pay off. When going down a steep cliff face, turning around and moving backwards can be less damaging than moving forwards and sliding down.

Do indulge in cross country exploring, there are interesting locations to be found, exotic plants to be picked, and odd monsters to encounter, such as giants. Use your "radar" at the top of the screen to spot nearby interesting places.


Dealing with Dungeon Monotony

Sadly, dungeon monotony is one of the game's facts of life. The layouts are all very similar. Each style has similar monsters, they all have WOW-like winding corridors with just a single way through to the last room where the quest item is, then a shortcut back to near the entrance. Adding to the monotony and silliness, some cut you off from simply backing out. They make you work through to the last room and defeat the monster there. (If this happens and you want to back out, simply reset to the save you made just before you went through the point of no return. ... you have been saving frequently, right?)

When you get to doors that require solving a combination lock, such as spinning pillars, there will be clues nearby as to what the combination is. A few are tricky to spot, but they are always nearby. Hint: if you're using a claw to open a door, examine the claw. The clue will be on it.

How to handle dungeon loot: As mentioned above I now collect stuff that my merchants will buy. I have given up on the "a value-to-weight ratio of 10-to-1 or better" that worked well in Fallout. When you encounter hot weapons and armor that you can't use, give them to your companion. They will use them if they are better than their current equipment. When you come out, plan on a fast walk tour through your merchant list and a stop at your home chest to lighten your load. After you have lightened up, and endulged in some "sack time" in your bed, then take on the next leg in your quest or exploring.

Note that if you are diligent about selling -- spend a couple days working through merchants for each day adventuring -- your speech skill rises and you can gain two valuable perks for dealing with mearchants: First, one that lets you sell all your sellables to any merchant. Second, the ability to invest in merchants so they have more money to offer you. When you get this ability, be sure to visit the merchant in Riverwood, Lucan Velerius, he becomes the "merchant with the mostest"--cash. With 10K in cash he can become a one-stop shop.


When to shoot, when not to

When you approach strangers there is no way to tell if they will be hostile, and most will be. So save the game, then shoot first. If the target has a name and says they are on your side then reset and try talking instead of shooting. Also, some people can't be killed. Unkillability is a sign a person is part of a quest arc. Likewise, if you kill someone and are told that taking stuff in his/her room is stealing, reset and talk instead.


Chickens are your friends

Once you acquire a soul trapping weapon chickens become your friends. Wild life runs away fast, but they stand still and are easy to kill to fill petty soul gems. Just be careful about killing them in front of witnesses. You will be putting a bounty on your head. Shooting them in front of town guards will often provoke an instant fight. Another good standing still petty soul source is river crabs.

End Game

The game does not end in a traditional way. The end of the mainstream quest line comes when you kill chief dragon Alduin while in this game's version of Valhalla. But you get no big congratulations when that happens, nor an epilog and credit roll. Instead you get returned to Skyrim and you can keep playing. If you want to "start over and try again", kill Alduin and consider yourself an end-of-game winner.


-- The End --