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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim beginner's guide

Character Builds

As you may have guessed from reading the character race section, there aren’t that many basic types of characters to be played. Essentially, there are six different basic character archetypes to pick from. What will make your two-handed warrior unique compared to the neighbors two-handed warrior is the perk selection. In addition, your choice of armor and crafting ability will impact how your character develops.

You may note that there is no dual-wield character build listed here and there’s a good reason for that. When using two weapons, or a weapon and spell, you cannot block at all. This means that in melee you’re either going to have to take a whole bunch of damage or dance around the enemies while still taking a good deal of damage. Due to this dual-wielding is something that should generally be used when an enemy has been incapacitated and you want to really pile on the damage as opposed to being a constant fighting style.

One-Handed Warrior

Races: Imperial, Nord, Reguard

Skills: Block, One-Handed, Smithing, Heavy Armor and Restoration or Light Armor and Sneak

Perks

Block: Shield Wall, Deflect Arrows and Elemental Protection

One-Handed: Armsman, Fighting Stance, Savage Strike, Critical Charge and perks for whatever weapon you have chosen.

Smithing: Arcane Blacksmith and either the top or bottom path depending on the armor you use.

Heavy Armor: Juggernaut, Well Fitted, Tower of Strength, Matching Set, Reflect Blows.

Conditioning is a great ability, but Fists of Steel and Cushioned are very weak, so only pursue it if you feel like wasting those points.

Restoration:  Novice Restoration, Regeneration, Respite, Recovery, Avoid Death

Light Armor: All perks will help make up for light armor's weak defenses.

Sneak: Stealth, Muffled Movement, Light Food, Silent Roll, Silence, Backstab

Notes: This build will focus on piling on the defenses so you will probably be better off wearing heavy armor. Sticking your character in a shell of bulky, metal armor with a heavy shield in one hand and a powerful sword in the other will allow you to handle almost every enemy in straight up melee, even the tougher bosses. That said, you’ll always want to keep a decent amount of healing items on hand for emergencies or learn some Restoration magic.

The only reason you’ll want to go with light armor is if you’re planning on taking sneak and using that to help you get through dungeons. Taking it slow while underground is generally a good idea since you could easily find yourself swarmed by enemies in tight corridors. While it’s possible to tank stuff like this in heavy armor, it’s not a great idea in light armor, so sneaking around makes this much more feasible in the long run.

If you do end up taking Restoration then you will want to stick with the healing and protection spells, don’t bother with the offense. Some of the perks for Restoration are phenomenally helpful in keeping you alive longer but the offensive parts are fairly weak, so it’s not something to waste time with when you have a big weapon to bash enemies with.

Two-Handed Warrior

Races: Nord, Orc

Skills: Heavy Armor, Restoration (optional), Smithing, Two Handed

Perks

Heavy Armor: All perks, bar Fists of Steel will prove useful.

Restoration: Novice Restoration, Regeneration, Respite, Recovery, Avoid Death

Smithing: Arcane Blacksmith and either the top or bottom path depending on the armor you use.

Two Handed: All perks on the right paths and then which perk fits the weapon you’re using.

Notes: Since you’re trading off defense for offense you will want mobility, so your heavy armor perks will become more important than ever. By taking all of the heavy armor perks you will eventually be able to move much swifter while retaining an almost ludicrous amount of defense. Eventually, the fact that you don’t have a shield equipped will be more or less irrelevant. If you invest in Restoration magicks then you will have no problem keeping yourself healed as you battle it out with the toughest monsters in the game.

Two Handed is disastrously effective against your foes, although it doesn’t get that way until you’ve, once again, invested some perks. When you reach the point where your standing power attacks are doing extra damage, possibly flat out decapitating enemies and hitting all enemies right in front of you… well the enemies will have a tough time even getting close to you. Out of the three weapons the great swords and warhammers are probably the best. The hammers work best against heavily armored foes, devastating them through their defenses, while the sword is a well-rounded weapon.

Thief

Races: Argonian, Khajiit, Wood Elf

Skills: Archery, Illusion, Light Armor, Lockpicking, Pickpocket, Sneak

Perks

Archery: You will want to fully invest in this perk tree, every perk will be helpful.

Illusion: Illusion, Dual Casting, Animage, Rage and Apsect of Terror should be ignored.

Light Armor: Invest into this as much as you like although Unhindered can be skipped.

Lockpicking: Golden Touch, Treasure Hunter and Locksmith can easily be passed on.

Pickpocket: See Pickpocket note below.

Sneak: Stealth, Muffled Movement, Backstab, Deadly Aim, Assassins Blade and Silence.

Notes: This build isn’t designed for fighting per se. Your archery skills will allow you to combat opponents at range while Illusion can protect you from getting enemy attention. However, for the most part this character type excels at totally avoiding fights where possible and prefers stealth to direct combat any day of the week. In some situations, it’s possible to sneak in, steal a key or vital piece of equipment and then sneak out without fighting a single enemy.

You may want to train up One-Handed if you’re going to be using this build, but you don’t actually have to invest any perks into it. Take out your dagger when you can sneak up on an enemy for a backstab; if you have Assassin’s Blade, your simple, unenchanted dagger can do upward of 75 damage with a single shot before even figuring in poisons. Enchant your short blade with a good ability and you will be surprised at how quickly your enemies die. However, it’s still feasible to simply snipe your foes with poisoned arrows to stay safe.

Pickpocket Notes: Pickpocket is a skill of dubious use. Every character that’s going to take it will probably want the Light Fingers perk at least. This can be useful early on to nick extra supplies. Poisoned and Extra Pockets are also incredibly useful – Poisoned can tear enemies apart with careful application; slip a magicka draining poison onto an enemy mage, drain his mana and then backstab him.

Assassin

Races: Khajiit, Wood Elf

Skills: Alchemy, Alteration, Illusion, Lockpicking, One-Handed, Sneak

Perks

Alchemy: Alchemy, Physician, Poisoner and Concentrated Poison and Snakeblood.

Alteration: All except for Alteration Dual Casting

Illusion: All magicka reducing perks, Animage, Kindred Mage, Quiet Casting

Lockpicking: Difficulty reducing perks, Quick Hands, Wax Key, Locksmith, Unbreakable

One-Handed: Armsman, Bladesman, Dual Flurry, Dual Savagery – the rest is optional.

Sneak: Stealth, Muffled Movement, Backstab, Silence

Notes: This build is kind of tricky to play since it asks the player to fight with no armor, likely not even a shield, and micromanaging a number of spells, poisons, potions and equipment. A bow might be safer when fighting like this but Illusion and Alteration will have your back in this regard. Alteration has a wide variety of uses while Illusion can use calming or fear magic to chase enemies away.

For this setup you will probably want to wear magic-boosting equipment instead of armor which is kind of dangerous in melee. To balance that, use Alteration magic to increase your armor. With the Mage Armor perk you can gain a +80 to your armor rating with a simple casting of Oakflesh. So long as you keep these defensive spells set as a favorite, swapping to them when a fight starts and buffing yourself will do wonders.

A general combat strategy for this build will consist of staying in stealth and sneaking towards a target with a sword in one hand and a Paralyze spell in the other. Hit them for a sneak attack then quickly lock them in place. If this works swap out your spell for a second sword and unleash the fury on them (the dual power attack is particularly impressive). Most enemies will die before they can recover from this. Backpedaling while casting Paralyze is actually a really good method of crowd control in most situations, so your offensive spell doubles for defense.

Pure Mage

Races: Breton, High Elf

Skills: Alchemy, Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Enchantment, Illusion, Restoration

Perks

See notes

Notes: While that abbreviated perks section might seem like a bit of a cop-out this is done because, to be frank, the Pure Mage is such a wildly varied character. I may play my pure mage as a spell-slinging monster who brings down the Flames from both hands, burning his foes. But you might use Conjuration and Alteration magic to pin down your foes while summoned undead do the bulk of the fighting for you.

Now, the trick to the Pure Mage build isn’t to play it in a particular way, it’s too flexible for that nonsense. No, the trick is to pick two primary paths to devote almost all of your spellcasting perks to. From there, pick one or two secondary paths and devote a bit of time to them - although you really don’t want to invest too many perks in these until you have obtained all of the ones you wanted from the primary paths.

The two simplest builds to pick up are Destruction / Restoration and Alteration / Conjuration. With the D/R build, a character can focus all of his damage dealing into a very few select spells, minimizing his spell juggling. Then make use of Restoration to recover your health or create wards to protect you. Taking Alteration as a minor path will help for armor enhancing spells. The A/C mage is simple as well – use Alteration magic to buff yourself and debuff your enemy so that your minions can pound on them. Easy!

As a general rule it is suggested that you avoid making use of “Bound” weapons since those fare best in the hands of a Battle Mage. So, if one of your chosen paths is Conjuration then be sure to stick with the summoning / raising spells and perks to boost your defenses.  If you are interested in using the Bound Weaponry then play a Battle Mage character instead.


Battle Mage

Races: Breton, Dunmer, Imperial, Redguard

Skills: Alteration, Block, Conjuration, Enchantment, Heavy Armor, One-Handed, Restoration

Perks

Alteration: All perks except for Dual Casting and Mage Armor.

Block: Shield Wall, Deflect Arrows, Elemental Protection, Block Runner

Conjuration: All magicka reducing perks. Soul Stealer, Mystic Binding and Oblivion Binding.

Enchantment: Enchanter, Soul Squeezer, Soul Siphon, Corpus Enchanter and Extra Effect.

Heavy Armor: All perks are helpful (Fists of Steel is needed for Cushioned, sadly).

One-Handed: Armsman, Fighting Stance, Savage Strike, Critical Charge and perks for whatever weapon you have chosen.

Restoration: The only must haves are Recovery, Respite and Ward Absorb.

Notes: The Battle Mage is a staple of The Elder Scrolls, so it had to get put in here somewhere. It’s not necessarily an easy character type to play, but it can be incredibly rewarding once you figure out what you’re doing. One of the main issues with this build is that it requires the player to juggle a number of different spells and weapons, possibly even shields, for maximum effect. This can take its toll on your sanity as well as your carrying capacity, and since there are no stats to raise there’s not much to be done about that second problem.

The one thing a Battle Mage can do phenomenally well is to wield Bound weapons to fantastic effect. Bound weapons naturally inflict more damage than similar weapons, a fact that is bumped up by Mystic Binding. Soul Stealer and Oblivion Binding will let those weapons kill enemies, banish Atronachs and chase off undead. Pair those up with the Enchantment perk, Soul Siphon, to keep your actual magic weapons recharged and you should be in phenomenal condition for dealing with most enemy groups.

With that in mind it’s really just a matter of summoning up your minions of choice and then wading into the melee with magic weapon and shield alongside them. Considering it’s possible to call up two flunkies with the right perks, fighting may even be optional in some situations.

58 comments

  • FierceVoltage - July 28, 2013 8:24 p.m.

    Why is this on the front page?
  • tehtimeisnow - July 28, 2013 7:05 p.m.

    i didnt raelly like skytim. singel player ganes suck and there basecally obselete so i only play games with online mutliplayer
  • nhilton - February 20, 2012 6:29 p.m.

    My character keeps turning into a vampire which makes it impossible to go on with the storyline because everyone tries to kill him. How can I fix this?
  • blue_pants - July 28, 2013 11:16 a.m.

    nhilton, when you first contract the Vampire disease, in order to get rid of it fast and easy is to go to a shrine of one of the divines and get their blessing, it will cure any and all diseases and give you a perk for a couple of hours.
  • trish-elliott - March 14, 2014 10:56 a.m.

    I know one way to get rid of it, You can join the Companions and later on they have you become a werewolf.
  • Gamer_Dude69 - January 6, 2012 9:04 a.m.

    Quite possibly one of the best games that i have ever played. My personal favorite race is the nord. There isn't anything wrong with this game at all. Anyone who has anything bad to say about this game has no idea what they are talking about.
  • KungFoo - January 18, 2012 9:33 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more. My only problem is that I have a job which gets in the way of more Skyrim
  • TheMasterJeef - November 23, 2011 3:52 p.m.

    Thanks to everyone who provided comments on my earlier queries. Much appreciated!
  • Seishiro - November 20, 2011 2:31 a.m.

    I'm assuming it does, but has anyone tested if Armsman and Assassin's Blade stacks, a good dagger... double chanted, with alchemy bonus poison, well... just sounds painful.
  • PieFlingingNinja - November 15, 2011 11:56 a.m.

    You guys probably already know this but, for all you thief/rouge types that prefer dual wielding. Daggers don't use stanima at all, unless you use a charged attack. Plus they don't make as much noise as swords or battle axes, adding to the stealth.
  • D0CCON - November 20, 2011 1:04 p.m.

    Isn't it true that swinging any weapon doesn't use stamina unless it's a charge attack (at least one handed weapons don't, I never use two handed).
  • TheMasterJeef - November 15, 2011 9:01 a.m.

    Personally? Im bitterly disappointed by Skyrim. I would have LOVED to buy and play this game. But having enchanted weapons needing a 'battery change' drives me insane. To the extent I just can’t play this. I only lasted one weekend with Oblivion due to this. Why Bethesda couldn’t have implemented the system from Morrowind, where weapons charge over time, beggars belief. I can’t recall any fantasy literature when the hero has to worry about how many charges his mighty flaming blade has left!! Plus has Bethesda actually made straight stealth a viable play option? In Oblivion straight stealth (no magic, or two handed weapons) was nigh on impossible. Even critical stealth shots from my bow in Oblivion would just irritate bandits, who would then call all their friends over to bludgeon me to death. It seemed to me that you could only really play as warrior, mage or a hybrid of the two. If someone can confirm if this is playable as a straight ranger/thief/assassin type character (including selling stolen items to normal merchants) and that enchanted weapons aren’t a must have, i would love to pick this up. P.S. I am not trolling, or hating Skyrim. It looks a phenomenal game. However there are elements of gameplay that make this unplayable for me.
  • Mr.Bobicus - November 15, 2011 10:36 a.m.

    I think not playing this game because of the "charge" is a big mistake, I personally love it. I agree, I was a bit annoyed at first, but you can recharge them I believe. I'm also a (more or less) straight up Wood Elf stealth ranger, and it has worked well so far, although I dabble in one-handed swords and destruction magic (trolls are a nightmare without fire magic).
  • TheMasterJeef - November 15, 2011 11:22 a.m.

    Thanks for clarifying that Mr Bobicus, seems your pretty much playing the sort of character I would (including the race). Its not so much the charges, as recharging it. I remember the cost (in gold) being quite steep, that or having to level up magic to cast soul trap & cart round shed loads of soul stones. Plus casting soul trap on someone before trying to backstab/shoot them in the eye kind of removed my stealth advantage. Does anyone know if soul trapping or paying for recharges is handled better in Skyrim?
  • Hobojedi - November 15, 2011 3:21 p.m.

    Simple - give your companion a weapon enchanted with the soul tap ability along with your empty soul gems. Then, let your companion get a little damage near the end of the fight and watch the gems fill up with soul-juice.
  • TheMasterJeef - November 16, 2011 4:36 a.m.

    Hmmmm. Thats something I never thought of. Thanks. I may pick up a used copy in the new year. I have Battlefield 3, Arkham City, and AC: Revelations to occupy me until then!
  • Y2Ken - November 21, 2011 3:11 a.m.

    Don't worry too much about having to recharge - you find the gems needed for it almost constantly, it really shouldn't be an issue. And yes stealth is completely viable, a friend of mine is almost all bow and dagger stealth and he's had no real trouble. Even against Dragons his archery pulls him through, especially if you're going to be enchanting your bows.
  • blue_pants - July 28, 2013 11:34 a.m.

    TheMasterJeef, I have been pretty much every single type of character one can imagine. Including a Ranger/Thief type. But what I am trying to say is that it is very easy to refill your enchanted weapons if you do these very simple things. Level up your sneak to around 35-40, and select the bow perk which gives your sneak attack with the bow x3 damage. Then if you haven't already report to the Jarl of Whiterun and tell him about the dragon attack in Helgen. He will then point you in the direction of his court wizard. Farengar (the Court Wizard) will send you on a quest to Bleak Falls Barrow to collect the dragon stone. When you have the dragon stone after collecting the word of power and killing the Dragur, loot the Dragur and you will find the Dragon Stone. Then return to Dragonsreach and give the Stone to Farengar . After that Erileth will run into the Laboratory, telling Farengar to come with her. Follow them and listen to the guard's story about the dragon. Talk to the Jarl and he will give you an enchanted item and tell you to go kill the dragon who is located at the western watchtower. After killing the dragon fast travel back to Whiterun and go report to the Jarl on your success. He will then give you the Axe of Whiterun (and if he doesn't just load the autosave which sais that you entered Dragonsreach). Which usually has Soul Trap enchanted on it. When you get it go back to Farengar's Laboratory and disenchant it. Then if you dont have a Petty Soul Gem yet with a Petty Soul in it, buy one from Farengar. (They are relatively cheap.) Then enchant your bow with it using the Petty Soul Gem and make sure the enchantment says, "If a target dies within 1 second it fills a soul gem." After that is done you are ready to run around Skyrim sneak attacking weaker creatures with it and fillgin up all your soul gems. I would not recommend though attacking more difficult creatures until your Archery skill is pretty high up there. Around the 45-50 range. And there you have it, all you need to know on how to fill soul gems effectively.
  • D0CCON - November 16, 2011 3:47 p.m.

    The Morrowind way for recharging would have been better, but I personally noticed that recharging was smoother here. Soul gems are everywhere and are sometimes even filled and I got an Axe of Whiterun very early on that was enchanted with soul trap so it was easy for me to get souls (not to mention I got access to a Soul Trap spell sooner. A lady in Solitude sells one). It's also not a requirement. Sure, shooting arrows that electrocute your enemies or something like that is awesome, but it isn't needed to beat the game. Also, I've noticed quite a few more improvements that make stealth actually work. I wear heavy armor and my sneak skill is low, so the enemy finds me a lot, but they are never instantly aware of your location when you attack and new spells and shouts let you trick enemies or set up traps (magic runes are deadly traps and a shout lets you create noise in a specific area causing people to check that area. It's range is huge and you can put it on top of traps). It's also nice that guards aren't instantly aware of your crimes and if you have a crime with witnesses, killing them all before they report you removes your bounty goes away. Bows are also way more powerful and there is a perk that lets sneak attacks with daggers do 15X damage. Combine that with a stronger dagger and you have a weapon that can one hit kill practically any non-boss human if you are stealthy.

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