The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition beginner's guide

As is par for the course, the player gets to pick from a wide variety of races. However, this is more important than ever before as there are no classes, birth signs or even stats. You’re going to want to pick your race very carefully. Each of them provides you with bonuses to particular skills as well as granting one of a few unique abilities. There is no such thing as a “bad” race choice - although you can find yourself in a bad spot by choosing a race that doesn’t align with your play style.

When picking a race you will gain a number of benefits. First, your starting stats are impacted either positively or negatively. Second, you gain a number of passive special abilities, such as boosts to magical damage or poison. Lastly, you will gain a unique activated magical power with a wide variety of effects. With these three things you can plot out what sort of character you want to make.

Take note of a few details:

1. All characters start with a Health, Magicka and Stamina of 100. Very few characters have any passive abilities that grant them higher beginning stats.

2. All of your skills start at a base of 15 and your choice of race modifies it from there.

3. All characters seem to start with the Flames spell and Healing spell. Some will have extra spells to begin with, but this is usually noted in their description.

Argonian

As one look at their abilities will tell you, any Argonian is naturally designed to be a thief type character. Lockpicking and Sneak will get you into enemy strongholds, Pickpocket can be used to filch things for fun and/or profit and Light Armour will help you when a fight breaks out. While you don’t start out with any boosted weapon skills Alteration helps out a bit thanks to the ability to paralyse your foes. Paralyse your foes, slice them apart and then use Restoration to heal any wounds you’ve accumulated.

To anyone who may have avoided them in the past games due to the restrictions on their equipment, fear not, that restriction is removed. Now you can wear full suits of armour to further enhance your traits, removing their one great hindrance. However, the race itself is somewhat weaker than other stealth races as the water breathing ability isn’t a huge boon. The disease and poison protection is really nice though.

Their abilities are somewhat at odds with their purpose, which weakens them. Their skills are geared towards stealth which helps for thieves and assassins. They have an armour skill to protect them in combat, Restoration magicks to protect them and heal their wounds, plus they have Histskin to regenerate even faster. But with only Alteration to aid them in combat you’re going to be at a disadvantage in a fight until you train up your fighting skills.

An Argonian will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alteration: 20, Light Armour: 20, Lockpicking: 25, Sneak: 20, Pickpocket: 20, Restoration: 20

Passive Abilities

Resist Disease – Gives a 50% resistance to disease.
Waterbreathing – You may at all times breathe underwater.

Activated Ability

Histskin – When activated your health will regenerate ten times faster.

Character Suggestions

Once you escape Helgen Keep use the Guardian Stones to gain the Warrior Sign. This will boost your combat abilities at a rate 30% faster than normal, which helps your chosen weapon level-up fast enough so you can pick some really nice perks. Then from here continue to develop both your combat and stealth skills until you have a very nice assassin character. It’s probably best to go with One Handed Blades; pairing up Paralyse spells with two short swords or daggers to slice enemies up is an exceedingly effective combat tactic.

Should you go with this combat route then it’s suggested that you purchase the few dual wielding skills so that you can get more attacks in and do more damage with those attacks. It could make all the difference in killing that enemy before he escapes paralysis and begins fighting back.

Breton

Bretons hail from the province of High Rock and they are mages extraordinaire. With the mixture of their Aldmer and human blood they are capable of powerful magical feats without being quite as frail as their elven ancestors. With a sword in one hand and electricity blazing from the other these guys can handle almost any situation if they’ve been trained properly.

To a degree it’s safe to think of the Breton as a “training wheels” type character. They have a high Conjuration skill which lets them summon allies to help them fight, aiding new players in dealing with some of the harder battles (like Dragons). In addition to that, they focus on support magic instead of direct combat spells which lets you fight with a sword and shield - swapping to magic as needed. These two facts grant them high survivability as compared to most other mage characters.

Honestly, the Breton is one of the better character races in the game even if you don’t know what you’re doing. They don’t start off in especially fantastic shape to be a warrior or thief, but they can certainly be trained up for that. Heck, use the Guardian Stones if you find your skills aren’t leveling up fast enough. Overall, this race may not be as immediately helpful as some other races but it definitely packs a heck of a punch when used properly.

A Breton will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alchemy: 20, Alteration: 20, Conjuration: 25, Illusion: 20, Restoration: 20, Speech: 20

Passive Ability

Magic Resistance: Grants a 25% resistance to magic but not elemental spells.

Activated Ability

Dragonskin: Absorb 50% of the magicka from hostile spells for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

As you can probably guess, the Breton makes for an excellent mage. Due to their innate skill with magick you have a whole lot of options here. They have no specialisation with offensive spells so either train them up or simply work around that. Either way, this character can really be played in just about any way. A few ideas are listed below:

Pure Mage: This is the most obvious choice. Eschew weapons and armours almost entirely for best results; keep an offensive spell in one hand and a summoning or protective spell in the other. Pump up your school of choice and then just tear through your foes. Mages will find you especially difficult to fight, especially if you bring protective spells. While they may not start with a boost to Destruction they do start with Flames and Sparks so they’re ready to blast apart enemies right out the door.

Thief: Illusion provides you with concealment options for stealthy approaches. Take the Illusion Perk and Quiet Casting, to give yourself the option to cast any spells you like while hidden away. Conjuration can be used to summon powerful weapons or battle allies – it’s entirely possible to hide away from enemies and send minions to do your bidding. If you’re not doing great in combat then use Alchemy to make poisons to rapidly damage enemies or paralyse them.

Fighter: A fighter might seem unlikely but it actually works pretty well. Restoration spells will keep you alive, Conjuration will summon up a battle buddy to provide assistance in tough fights and Alteration will help inhibit your foes ability to fight back. Plus, since you resist their magic, mages are going to die in short order as you charge right into their face and cut them open. Even their strongest spells will have little impact on you especially if you use Dragonskin.

Dark Elves (Dunmer)

Ah, the much maligned Dark Elves. Without a doubt the Dunmer are this author’s personal favorite. All of their skills mesh nicely with my preferred play style – They mix magic with stealth and, once you train your weapon skills, they can easily fit into just about any role you so desire. The Ancestor ability is very useful as well for any enemies who dare to get into melee range and the natural fire resistance will help with some of the tougher enemies in the game.

If you’re going to use a Dunmer then pick what sort of weapon you’ll want to use early on. They do best with light equipment so it’s suggested that you have a bow, a one-handed light sword and a light shield. Early on, the bow is very helpful for getting sneak attacks since you won’t be able to get close to enemies. So snipe them and then deal with them via sword and shield. It is important that you plan out your perk path though, since you don’t want to waste perks on bow abilities and then never use them later on.

Their skills back up this kind of jack-of-all-trades approach. Alchemy provides healing potions as well as poisons to weaken your foes, Alteration provides numerous useful spells (Paralyse is notable) and Illusion can help protect you. Destruction magic is kind of the odd man out since it’s not the most useful for stealth or straight up fights, but as you get stronger spells later on this can become pretty useful.

A Dunmer will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alchemy: 20, Alteration: 20, Destruction: 25, Illusion: 20, Light Armour: 20, Sneak: 20

Passive Ability

Resist Fire – Your Dunmer has a 50% resistance to all forms of fire.

Activated Ability

Ancestor’s Wrath – For 60 seconds all nearby enemies take 8 points of fire damage per second.

Character Suggestions

One of the good things you can do with a Dunmer is to make a spellcaster, swaddle him in light armour and use Alteration and Illusion magic to protect yourself further. Put a shield in one hand with an offensive spell in the other and fight smart. If you are fighting a mage use lightning magic to drain his magicka or set fire to an oil patch on the floor to burn enemies to death. Honestly, you don’t even need a weapon. It’s also possible to favorite Paralyse and an offensive spell, paralyse an enemy and then dual-wield Flames and burn them to cinders.

But as mentioned above, it is quite possible to literally play a character that does a bit of everything. Your perks will be focused on your preferred weapons of choice, but it’s quite possible to have a character that can sneak, cast spells and fight pretty well.

High Elves (Altmer)

Altmer are without a doubt the undisputed masters of magic. While the Breton may be powerful spellcasters, and resist magic quite well, it is the High Elves who can bend the forces of magicka to their will. Masters of all types of magic, they can draw from deep personal magicka reserves to use their art more often than most other spellcasters could hope.

The High Elves have never been a personal favorite due to the fact that they’re totally focused on spellcasting. In most Elder Scrolls games the spellcasting system was a bit on the tedious side early on and then became grossly overpowered as you created your own spells. It is far more balanced in Skyrim, and the ability to dual wield magic grants you a lot of versatility. Walking around with a protection spell in one hand and Flames coming from the other grants you both offensive and defensive options at the same time almost like having a sword and shield.

One thing to note is that the High Elf actually starts out with an Illusion spell - something few others get. Unfortunately, this is Frenzy which costs a whole lot of mana and doesn’t seem to work very often. You need to find other spells to help this one work, and even then, it is of limited use. So that third starting spell is something of a dud. Focus on your Destruction magic for the opening and then swap over to whatever grabs your interest after you get to the open world.

An Altmer will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alteration: 25, Conjuration: 20, Destruction: 20, Enchanting: 20 Illusion: 20, Restoration: 20

Passive Ability

Highborn – High Elves are born with 50 extra magicka.

Activated Ability

Highborn – Regenerate magicka faster for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

Unlike the Breton the High Elves are basically steamrolled into playing as pure mages. Luckily, they excel at that in a way that will make even the Breton envious. So, if you pick a High Elf that’s something you’re going to want to embrace and just go nuts with. Decide on what sort of spellcaster you want to be and just start dropping your perks into those skills.

It is heavily suggested that you place most of your emphasis on your Conjuration and Destruction magicks. Conjuration is so versatile that any pure mage will really want to have that on hand to help out while Destruction will be your offensive bread and butter. Restoration and Illusion are good for helping you to stay alive but you will want to focus on the first two - unless you have a very specific idea for your character.

Imperial

Out of the various races, the Imperials are among the most versatile. Owing to their expertise as merchants and soldiers they have plenty of skill at keeping themselves alive whether it requires talking their way out of a problem or bashing enemies with a club. The only skills they lack to begin with are stealth based, which means they make much better fighters or mages than they do thieves or assassins.

Newer players who are interested in fighters may find the Imperial to be the ideal race for them. Their skills are designed for them to suit up in heavy armour with a heavy shield and one-handed weapon. If their weapon isn’t cutting it then they can use Destruction magic to assist them. If you’re playing them right then you’ll have very little need for Restoration, but it’s still nice to have it if things get bad.

However, their abilities are kind of spread all over the place, and this does hamper them a bit. For example, if you don’t plan on using much magic then both Destruction and Restoration will be going to waste. Their enchanting ability is in that very same boat, since it’s not something every character will even want to bother with. That leaves you with up to three dead skills, one of which is the highest skill the Imperial starts with. So be very sure that you’re going to do something with those skills before picking this race. It’s not like its active racial ability is anything too special, although the extra money can be nice.

An Imperial will have access to:

Starting Skills

Block: 20, Destruction: 20, Enchanting: 20, Heavy Armour: 20, One Handed: 20, Restoration: 25

Passive Ability

Imperial Luck – Anywhere gold coins might be found Imperials always seem to find a few more.

Activated Ability

Voice of the Emperor – Calms nearby people for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

The Imperial works well as either a straight up warrior who uses a few spells to assist him (Restoration mostly) or a mage who wears heavy armour and focuses on Destruction and Restoration.

If you choose to go with a warrior, then you should find yourself having a pretty easy time of it for the earlier portions of the game. Later, you will probably want to invest in Enchanting so that you can get the most of your enchanted items, or you could simply invest in it early on. It will help you keep your enchanted weapons recharged and possibly even make some equipment, helping you as the fighting gets harder.

The mage route is a bit more unconventional due to the fact that you’re going to be a mage who doesn’t use mage robes to enhance his abilities. Put on the hood you find inside of the torture cell to increase your magicka pool and then just heap on the heavy armour with a shield. Then you will want to swap between whatever weapon you’re using to bean enemies in the face and a Destruction spell that fits your opponent.

Khajiit

What do we have here? A race of cats that specialises in stealth skills? I’m fully convinced that somebody made a joke about a cat burglar and the game designers ran with it far too literally. Whatever the reason for them existing they are the single best thieves in the game with a boost to basically every stealth skill that a thief could want.

Basically every single aspect of the Khajiit is geared towards making them the best stealthy murderers. There is no advantage to be had trying to turn them into something else, so just don’t bother. A stealthy approach via bow and poisoned arrows will get you through a lot of enemies, while your sword backup lets you handle close range.

Much like the Argonians, the Khajiit have had the restriction on what armour they can wear removed. This allows you to have a badass full suit of armour to compliment your natural kitty thief abilities. The claw ability is pretty useless in the long run - although it can be powerful in Helgen Keep and the first few dungeons. Use your bow at range and then cat scratch the heck out of them when they get in your face.

A Khajiit will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alchemy: 20, Archery: 20, Lockpicking: 20, One Handed: 20, Pickpocket: 20 Sneak: 25

Passive Ability

Claws – Khajiit can do 15 points of damage with unarmed attacks.

Activated Ability

Night Eye – Improved night vision for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

Since a Khajiit is designed to be a pure rogue, simply embrace this and pick them when you went the best of the best. Take a quick, light melee weapon like a dagger or light sword and get them enchanted when you want a stronger weapon. If you like, early on, you can stick with just your claws as they’re stronger than most knives and early game swords, but their effectiveness peters off quickly. Otherwise, stick with the bow and whatever poisons that you like to use.

A nice thing about the Khajiit is that their Night Eye ability is a power not a spell. This means you can have your two hands assigned and access your night vision at all times (unless you replace it with a shout).

Nord

It seems that in the world of The Elder Scrolls, Vikings are renowned for both their ability to bash your face in with a wide variety of weapons and chat with you. No longer are the Imperials the renowned masters of chit-chat, the Nords are giving them a run for their money. All joking aside, this likely reflects on the fact that you are in the Nordic homeland and people are going to be more positively inclined to their brethren.

As you can see, the Nord are designed to be straight up warriors although they have a preference for light armour. This doesn’t mean that they like to sneak or anything like that, they simply tend to prefer the maneuverability from bearing lighter loads. Slap them in a suit of Imperial Leather, give them a few perks and they can handle even the tough enemies like a trooper. If you do decide to use the lighter armour and not train up heavy armour, then it is best if you use a shield to help bolster your defenses.

It does bear noting that the Nord has very weak abilities. While Resist Frost is decent enough, Battle Cry is incredibly weak. For the most part you’ll really not want to bother with it as you should be killing enemies not chasing them off. The worst part is that sometimes the enemies will return to blindside you with a random ambush.

A Nord will have access to:

Starting Skills

Block: 20, Light Armour: 20, One Handed: 20, Smithing: 20, Speech: 20, Two Handed: 25

Passive Ability

Resist Frost – Grants a 50% resistance to all Frost attacks.

Activated Ability

Battle Cry – Targets will flee for 30 seconds although this can be resisted.

Character Suggestions

Nords are Vikings. They hit stuff. Be a fighter. Yes, it really is that simple. All of their options are neatly laid out before you here. You will always be making use of Speech since it figures into buying and selling goods and you have your pick of using one-handed or two-handed weapons, so there is no reason to look any further than that. None of their skills or abilities give them much in the ways of flexibility in this regard either. So pick a Nord if their skills appeal to you as a fighter in a way that the Reguard or Orc don’t.

Orc

Contrary to what you might think from the name, these Orcs are less “human killing primitives” and more or less green skinned dwarves. They walk around with axes and hammers and are the most well renowned craftsmen in the world. In a way though, they’re a mix between the two; they are smiths who are also known for their berserker rage and for slaughtering their foes.

The Orc is almost like a specialised version of the Redguard. They trade in all of the Redguards magical capabilities for a greater focus on bashing faces in. Orcs are meant to be in a suit of heavy armour and charge right into the thick of combat with whatever weapon they so choose. Their special ability, Berserker Rage, allows them to deal double damage while taking half damage for a full minute. For an Orc with a two handed weapon in heavy armour, that is a death sentence for almost all opponents.

Like the Redguard, the Orc has a nice advantage due to his advanced smithing ability. This allows him to make good equipment to either sale or for personal use. But in addition to that, the Orc has a high Enchantment skill which allows him to make magical weapons and armour. Pairing those two skills up lets you craft surprisingly good weapons and armour pretty early into the adventure - if you choose the right perks.

An Orc will have access to:

Starting Skills

Block: 20, Enchanting: 20, Heavy Armour: 25, One Handed: 20, Smithing: 20, Two Handed: 20

Passive Ability

None

Activated Ability

Berserker Barrage Rage – You take half damage and do double damage for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

The Orc is meant to be a fighter class and that’s the purpose you should put them towards. Choose your weapon early on and stick with it, there is little advantage to bouncing between one and two handed weapons. My personal preference has always been an Orc wielding a two-handed Hammer or Axe with a full set of heavy armour, but you may find that a sword and shield combo meets your preference.

If you’re interested in pursuing smithing and enchanting then you will want to dedicate yourself to it pretty intensely. Enchantment really requires you to devote yourself fully for it to really pay off. The only optional path is the elemental enchanter abilities on the left side. All of the others are incredibly helpful. Regular Smithing can be done a bit more sparingly, just be sure to get Arcane Smithing and at least Advanced Armours. Those are arguably some of the best perks.

Redguard

Out of all of the character races in the game, the Redguard is the one most suitable for beginning players who want to play a head-up fighter. They can fight enemies with a bow, sword and shield or even use magical spells to attack foes. This means that they are specifically designed so that they can fight enemies however they please, which allows newbies to experiment with all of the various fighting styles in the game.

In addition, the boost to smithing means that you will be able to craft decent equipment early on for both wearing and selling purposes. When you find Ingots, leathers or other craftable materials simply bring them to the nearest town to craft or improve your current equipment. It is worthwhile to put some perks into smithing to gain the ability to craft better equipment since this will pay off in the long run.

The poison resistance is nice but it only comes into play every now and then. What is very useful is the Adrenaline Rush ability; this will come in very handy for both navigating the world map quickly and in tough fights. The power attack is a very useful tool for breaking enemy defenses and slaughtering weaker enemies in short order. Normally, you can only do one or two of them before taking a break, but with Adrenaline Rush you’ll be able to use them regularly.

A Redguard will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alteration: 20, Archery; 20, Block: 20 Destruction: 20, One Handed: 25, Smithing: 20

Passive Ability

Resist Poison – Gives a 50% resistance to poison.

Activated Ability

Adrenaline Rush – Stamina regenerates 10x faster for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

As a personal point, I find that the Redguard is probably the single most newbie friendly character in the game. Pick your preferred choice of armour, pick a single handed weapon, grab a bow and you’re all set to play whatever type of character you like. Your magical abilities will enhance your ability to deal damage to your foes when your sword or bow just isn’t cutting it - which will make many of the boss fights a lot easier.

Due to this there aren’t many situations that your average Redguard can’t handle. If you’re brand new to the game series then this is the race you’ll want to pick.

Wood Elves (Bosmer)

When you think of hippie elves living as one with the forest, it’s the Bosmer you’re thinking of. Frankly, though the Bosmer are one of the best races in the game due to them having a good set of skills and a strong passive ability that helps out at almost every point in the game. Even with the dubious Command Animal racial ability these guys have a very impressive set of stats.

Clearly the Bosmer are one of several races that are set up with a thief build in mind. However, they can also act as a fairly good warrior if you put them in light armour, train up either one or two-handed weapons and have them use poisons to help. But the purpose they are intended is an almost assassin like thief who uses poisoned arrows to weaken foes and bring them down from a distance.

Don’t bother picking a Bosmer if you aren’t going to work with that Archery stat of 25 and sneak around at least a little bit. Even if you train up another weapon for melee combat the bow should be your primary weapon with plenty of perks invested into it. The damage it can inflict is considerable and a poisoned, sneak attack arrow can leave an enemy in no condition to fight back even when they close in to melee range.

A Bosmer will have access to:

Starting Skills

Alchemy: 20, Archery: 25, Light Armour: 20, Lockpicking: 20, Pickpocket: 20, Sneak: 20

Passive Ability

Resist Disease and Poison – Grants a 50% resistance to poison and disease.

Activated Ability

Command Animal – Charm an animal into being an ally for 60 seconds.

Character Suggestions

As mentioned above the Bosmer really excels in any form of combat that involves using a bow. Any character that you make should be taking advantage of the high archery skill as well as the starting talent with light armour. Use your early game perks to increase your skill in these two areas, notably Agile Defender, as this will make your light armour more effective than most of the heavy armour you’ll find.

This works out really well though because even if you aren’t specialising in stealth combat, the light armour and bow work really well for a careful player. Just use stealth to get a clear shot with your bow, take a sneak attack and then fight them however you please. Since Stealth starts at a 20, you will be in good shape to sneak around even the harder enemies so long as you stay far away or stand perfectly still in the shadows when they’re looking for you. If you take the Eagle Eye perk (requires Archery 30) then you will be able to sneak attack enemies from even further away, possibly in such a way that they have a hard time locating you.

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