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


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


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.


Races: Argonian, Khajiit, Wood Elf

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


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.


Races: Khajiit, Wood Elf

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


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


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


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.


  • Bansheebot - November 10, 2011 6:28 p.m.

  • misfit119 - November 11, 2011 1:19 a.m.

    If we're being really picky it should be Nirn since Cyrodil is just a continent, not the world. But who nitpicks?
  • Person5 - November 11, 2011 2:49 a.m.

    Well Cyrodil is a country or region, Tamriel is the continent, I'm just glad I wasn't the only one who noticed that
  • deedob - November 11, 2011 4:34 a.m.

    Yeah, as those comments say, Cyrodil is not the "world". Cyrodil is the name of the imperial province. Morrowind is the name of the province ruled by the dark elves. Skyrim is the name of the province ruled by the nords, which is located just north of Cyrodil and west of Morrowind. "Tamriel" is the name of the continent where the provinces are located, one for each race (Skyrim - nord, Summerset Isle - high elves, Morrowind - dark elves, Cyrodil - imperials, Black Marsh - argonian, Elsweyr - Kahjit, and the Breton and orc province whose name i forgot and where Daggerfall is.) To the best of my knowledge, the name of the "world" itself has never been mentionned in any of the Elder Scrolls game (though i have not played Redguard, BattleSpire and the mobile version of Oblivion). But the continent is Tamriel.
  • misfit119 - November 11, 2011 8:55 a.m.

    As I mentioned above the world is Nirn. That's actually what it's supposed to say but I made a flub since I was looking at notes relating to Oblivion. The worlds name is mentioned in several books in previous games. I was trying to refer to the world since Alduin is known as "The World Eater" and just ended up typing Cyrodiil instead of Nirn.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - November 11, 2011 12:37 p.m.

    All right you nerds we fixed it.
  • jax1293 - November 10, 2011 6:32 p.m.

    hes right though its tamriel cyrodill was where the imperials live in oblivion
  • theycallmegep - November 10, 2011 6:43 p.m.

    Just to let you know... "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 class very carefully. " "...there are no classes..." "...pick your class very carefully." Just pointing it out, otherwise good stuff...I love all the skyrim content you guys have posted!
  • theycallmegep - November 10, 2011 7:16 p.m.

    wait i lied...there are tons of typos...oh well
  • misfit119 - November 11, 2011 1:17 a.m.

    Argh! Dammit all! Proofreading you fail me again. out back to commit seppuku.
  • codzprc - November 10, 2011 6:52 p.m.

    Daniel was obviously rushed on this article. The Cyrodill thing is still funny, though. Decent read.
  • D0CCON - November 10, 2011 7:04 p.m.

    I always make two characters in Elder Scrolls games, a sword and/or magic character and a stealthy character. In Oblivion, the sword/magic character was a High Elf and the stealthy character was a dark elf, so I think I'll go for a Breton battlemage and a Khajiit stealth character this time (especially since he'll be able to wear armor now!)
  • D0CCON - November 10, 2011 7:29 p.m.

    Actually, I'm not sure if I want Khajiit or Wood Elf (I was actually a wood elf, not a dark elf in Oblivion). I'd like to try something new, but Wood Elf did work pretty darn good.
  • misfit119 - November 11, 2011 1:23 a.m.

    The Wood Elves make FANTASTIC stealth characters. I'm playing one to do the guides since their bow skill makes dragon hunting much, much easier. The Khajiit are pretty awesome in this one but I think the Wood Elf is by and far the best for combat stealth.
  • jasoncarter - November 13, 2011 11:34 p.m.

    Honestly do whatever you feel is best. I like magic, and khajiits, thus khajiit mage/thief. Love it to death.
  • Ultimadrago - November 10, 2011 8:21 p.m.

    Thanks a TON Daniel! This is a good guide. I should help others a ton. I'm reading through it all myself despite Oblivion experience to get a heads-up on the improved systems and perks!
  • Kyo - November 10, 2011 8:30 p.m.

    Nice guide, though I find it hard to decide who I should believe in the end.. IGN's guide had this "Tough and hardy, they make great heavy warriors. Their famed battlecry makes them the toughest races" for Nords... You have them as one of the weakest and a light armor class.. what the hell? lol This ruined my entire plan O_O
  • misfit119 - November 11, 2011 1:21 a.m.

    Here's the thing, IGN's guide is using the old stats to describe some of the races. This is no longer a factor. Nords are no longer raging beasts full of HP due to having high Stamina. In this they're almost designed to be like Viking Berserker types, wearing light armor so they move quickly with a pair of axes and chop fools to pieces. My Nord is hell on wheels wielding two enchanted Orcish war axes and wearing a set of Scaled Light armor. Battlecry is overrated - all of the abilities are actually. The Shouts are infinitely stronger.
  • Kyo - November 11, 2011 10:33 a.m.

    Ha yea I ended up getting the guide because.. well it's beautiful(big damn book) and it pretty much backs up what this guide and you've said. Long story short I wanted heavy armor, made an orc. IGN is sad.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - November 11, 2011 12:42 p.m.

    Most of the racial abilities are crap, but for instance I played as a High Elf pure mage and the magicka regen ability was huge during boss fights.

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