The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released in 2011 and hasn’t left the minds of gamers since. One of the most endearing games released in the last decade, Skyrim is proof that gamers recognize and reward good storytelling, ample player choice, and thoughtful world building. In all of the ways, the game delivers and in spades. The story is mythic and compelling, the decisions are impactful, and the land is both vast and well-populated with adventures to chase and mysteries to unravel. It’s no wonder that Skyrim remains worth talking about today.
Years after the initial release players are familiar with this world. They know the mechanics and have their own strategies crafted from hours of gameplay as to how to do well. Others have worked equally as hard in order to prevent those strategies from developing using mods to vary gameplay. However you play, you probably have some idea about how to do the best -- whether that means collecting more riches or just having more fun.
This is our effort to capture some of those strategies, preferences, and pro tips for Skyrim. Because play styles may vary, our list focuses on those habits and actions that tend to limit and spoil gameplay. By doing them we all shortchange ourselves from the whole experience. Chances are we all do a few and if we take the advice below, we might just find another seven years of enjoyment in Skyrim.
Without any further ado, here are 25 Things Players Didn’t Know They Were Doing Wrong in Skyrim.
25 Rushing the Main Storylines
Skyrim is especially well-developed. Almost a decade later people are still uncovering side quests they never knew existed. Some stories are small allusions to famous films, while others are fully developed journeys nearly as rewarding as the main quests. Clearly, the designers at Bethesda invested significant time into fleshing out this world.
Imagine what those designers would think about players skipping past all the promises of glory, gold, and galavanting through lands unknown to instead focus solely on the main questlines. While some games don’t put much into the world off the beaten path, to really experience Skyrim that’s exactly where you need to go.
24 Defeating Miraak Before Alduin
The Dragonborn DLC introduces a fully developed storyline taking the player through Solstheim to confront Miraak. Dragonborn provides a fresh setting and an antagonist that feels both related and yet uniquely menacing. With so much to offer, many players end up completing the DLC before the Dragon Crisis storyline -- and that’s unfortunate.
See, the antagonist for Dragonborn is an ancient foe. Once a dragon priest, Miraak was actually alive when Alduin last threatened Mundus. Despite being Dragonborn, he did not fight the World-Eater. If you defeat Alduin prior to facing Miraak, he’ll sort of compliment you, saying: “Felling Alduin was a mighty deed, and I thank you for it. He would have proved troublesome for me.”
23 Ignoring NPCs
Bethesda does a fantastic job crafting stories with rich, compelling characters. There’s one problem, though. They all start to sound the same. A hundred NPCs might be voiced by a handful of voice actors. When so many people sound the same it’s easy to find yourself outright ignoring anyone who seems non-essential (as one does). Once you’ve heard one guard talk about his knee injury, you’ve literally heard them all.
It turns out that may not be the case. Unique dialogue can be triggered by factors like quest completion, skill level, disease, and more. Some of this dialogue can even open new opportunities or provide useful information.
22 One and Done
If you hadn’t noticed already, Skyrim is a big place. You’ve got plenty of choices to make, homes to buy, and bad guys to beat. The only problem is many of us try to do everything. Even if our characters spent days extending their home in hopes of giving a couple orphans a good home, they might also end up being a fiendish Vampire Lord or the Master of the Dark Brotherhood.
Maybe the character is deep or perhaps it’s time to start up a new save. Considering the fact we have ten playable races and a number of factions, Skyrim is clearly meant to be explored from multiple perspectives.
21 Not Roleplaying
The Dragonborn is a canvas with only the start of a sketch to start from. We know they were near Skyrim’s border, but not if they were trying to leave or enter or really anything about their past. That ambiguity is designed for us -- the players -- so why not fill it?
Roleplaying adds depth. You can make a build or find one online that defines what your character wears, uses in combat, and how they handle obstacles. This helps guide morality decisions as well as dictates the kinds of quests and decisions your character would likely invest in. Ultimately, roleplaying refreshes Skyrim by adding a more personal story arc for the Dragonborn.
20 Playing Without Mods
There is a lot to love about playing Skyrim vanilla, but sometimes you want a little more. Wandering the frigid wasteland would just feel more real if the cold plagued the Dragonborn along the way -- better still if you had a tent. You’d be more inclined to track deer if you could sell the game and furs for a reasonable amount.
Thoughts like these have led to the development of thousands of free mods. While some offer immersion, adding elements like environmental damage (i.e. winter weather), hunger, thirst, and even realistic disease, others focus more on expanding lore-friendly styles of armor, apparel, and weaponry. Whatever your desire, chances are there's a mod for you.
19 You Don’t Do Side Quests
You arrive at a new town and ask the innkeeper what’s new in the world. They tell you about a boy in Windhelm who lost his parents. Folks say they hear strange chants from the child’s home now. You thank the innkeeper for the tip.
That’s how you start the Dark Brotherhood questline. Skyrim is a game where you’re meant to get distracted. Some of the most developed quests are hidden behind ordinary introductions, easy to miss if you never look away from the main quests. Waking up in the Abandoned Shack with Astrid feels like uncovering a hidden gem only made possible by opening yourself up to side quests.
18 Smithing Isn’t For You
Not everyone was born to be a blacksmith. However, in a place like Skyrim, it pays to know the basics. A little training at the forge allows the player to hone their weapons, reinforce their armor, and even craft some beautiful jewelry ahead of the holiday season.
For roleplayers, this can mean sticking to the kinds of weapons and armor that make sense for your play style without feeling horribly taken aback. Casual gamers will enjoy the ability to craft armor sets and weapons that might otherwise be difficult to find. If you’re willing to work in the mine for a bit as well you can do all of this for free, too.
17 Fast Travel Everywhere
Skyrim is a place worth experiencing slowly. This is a world as beautiful as it is engaging. Opting to travel on foot opens the possibility of encountering savage bandits, headless apparitions on horseback, and even the odd dragon. This is when the thugs and knives hired by your enemies come to exact justice.
Even if you wait to fast travel until later in the game you’re missing out on those random encounters triggered by completing specific quests or reaching a certain skill level. Fast travel can be great, but it can also mean missing out on many of the wonderful details and encounters only experienced while walking the roads.
16 Rough Beginnings
The Elder Scrolls is known for leaving players to their own devices earlier than most. That doesn’t mean certain decisions aren’t harder than others, though. Upon successfully escaping Helgen and completing the introductory quest Unbound you’ll be presented with a choice.
You can travel to Riverrun where either Ralof or Hadvar, depending on who you choose, promises you a place to rest, or you can begin wandering the land. If you choose the latter and travel west on the second most prominent road nearby, a person will appear. Well-armed and relatively powerful, they’ll insult you, and considering you’ve only just begun, the ensuing fight may just lead you to rethink your decision.
15 Stumbling Upon the Labyrinthian
In Hjallmarch, southeast of Morthal is an ancient ruin kept hidden by steep inclines and rough mountains. This place, known as Labyrinthian, has a rich history that reveals much about the College of Winterhold and the role of magic in Skyrim.
Because of the difficult terrain, most won’t visit Labyrinthian until following the College of Winterhold questline. However, because this is Skyrim, that doesn’t mean there’s anything stopping curious adventurers from stumbling upon this secret place. In fact, players can even retrieve items essential to progressing through the maze long before starting the quest. Returning to complete the quest properly, you’ll need to remember these items or march back home to grab them.
14 You Don’t Block
Blocking is underutilized. It’s easy to understand why. It’s tempting to save your skill points and invest in better armor or more health instead of the ability to blunt your enemy’s attacks. Yet, either strategy can leave players overly reliant on their gear or game-breakingly invulnerable. If you invest in blocking, neither is much of a concern.
You can block with anything from a dagger to a two-handed sword giving you the ability to adapt. Not only does this enhance roleplay, but it can also present new challenges for experienced players looking to test their skills.
13 Way of the Voice
The Dragonborn begins instruction in the Way of the Voice after the Greybeards shout their summons to High Hrothgar. Your ability to use the thu’um is still unfamiliar and probably more of a nuisance to anyone unfortunate enough to be in earshot. As the Dragonborn becomes more experienced this changes into a fearsome power capable of throwing warriors back and even causing raging mammoths to stumble.
Despite all of this power, the Way of the Voice is actually a pacifist philosophy. Jurgen the Windcaller founded the Greybeards after a stunning defeat at the Battle of Red Mountain. This changed his view on the thu’um into a meditative practice of war.
When deer are too quick and a small rabbit just won’t do, the Dragonborn can always find sustenance in the waterways of Skyrim. The rivers and shores of this frigid land are teeming with fish of all kinds. Some thick with meat like salmon and others more suitable for crafting potions and poisons like the River Betty.
If you want to collect fish like a professional try using your Unrelenting Force shout on the water. The explosive nature of your thu’um will simply be too much and any nearby fish will soon float to the top. No wonder the Dragonborn doesn’t bother with fishing rods.
11 Making Money Without Speech
It’s easy to discount the power of rhetoric when the enemy is either a clad in ebony armor or is a dragon the size of a house. Still, neglecting your speech skills can mean closing the door to opportunity. First, a high speech skill can make goods less expensive. When you’re dealing with merchants your speech will essentially work like charm or haggling, convincing shopkeepers that you deserve a better deal.
Second, the right phrase can change hearts and minds. Skyrim is a violent land, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t susceptible to honeyed words. With a high speech level, you may be capable of talking your way out of fights you’d rather avoid.
10 Imperial vs. Stormcloak
The kind of tribalism experienced during the Civil War in Skyrim is all too familiar. Characters who of either Imperial or Stormcloak affiliation are entrenched in their beliefs, which often stem from experiences during the Great War or personal losses from ongoing conflicts. Hearing these stories is bound to stir the player to choose one side over another. You’d be sorely mistaken to assume whichever side you didn’t throw in with is the real threat.
During Diplomatic Immunity the player can obtain several Thalmor documents. These expose the Dominion’s work to manipulate the Civil War to their advantage. Reading about their strategies involving Ulfric Stormcloak reveals that who the real threats in this war are.
9 Reading None of the Books
After days of adventuring the Dragonborn deserves an evening to kick back. Maybe take a seat in Candlehearth Hall and read something by Adonato Leotelli. It’s a sweet thought, but most of us would probably choose to keep exploring dungeons over reading in-game.
While that may be perfectly understandable, it’d also be a mistake to skip reading any of the 337 books available in Skyrim. They’re more than just set dressing. Many of these texts offer insight into the world’s lore, potential quests, and even skill points. You could look up what books to keep an eye out for, but we think that’d ruin the surprise.
When the sun goes down Skyrim changes. Unless you took Lord Harkon up on his offer or otherwise contracted Sanguinare Vampiris, there may have been no reason to travel after dark. After all, if gaming has taught us anything, it’s that there be monsters out there.
In that regard, Skyrim does not disappoint. Vampires masquerading as travelers on the road, gargoyles lurking in the shadows, and ghosts in desperate need of assistance are but a few examples of nightlife in the region. Honestly, even normal encounters with bears, sabre cats, and frostbite spiders take on a fresh -- and often startling -- tone. If you only play during daylight, you’re missing out.
7 Avoiding Alchemy
Alchemy pays off over time. Where leveling up your skills with weapons and armor can instantly improve your odds in a fight, alchemy is an investment. You might start with crafting a variety of weak potions and poisons that, if nothing else, save you a few septims over time.
Eventually, your abilities will grow and those concoctions will become valuable enough to make decent money or so effective that you might just save them for a rainy day. Those favoring stealth will benefit from the ability to freely whip up powerful poisons. Magic users and warriors may instead make potions to prolong their abilities. Really, most playing styles can benefit from a little alchemy.
6 Carry Weight
There is simply no reason to pick up everything. Most objects are not as valuable as they might at first seem, and the more you carry day-to-day is just less you can collect during your travels. That last part is especially frustrating when it comes to dungeons.
We can all probably work on limiting what we carry. Selling off extra potions, keeping to a few primary weapons, and holding a single armor set are a few easy ways to cut down. This limits the pressure to purchase the first home that’s offered just to have a place to store your things and leaves plenty of room for what matters most.
5 You Bought Breezehome
Owning a house feels good in Skyrim. Maybe it’s having a place to rest your head after wandering and raiding around the province. Maybe it’s finally having the chance to drop some of the 300 pounds of “essentials” you carry every day. Either way, it’s tempting to buy the first property that’s offered coughBreezehomecough.
Instead of emptying your coffers for a glorified bachelor’s pad, wait. You’ve got options. You can drop 5,000 to 25,000 septims for a fully-built home or spend a similar amount to build your own. Alternatively, you could also choose to marry an NPC and move into their house free-of-charge.
4 Ignoring Race Bonuses
Some choose races for their looks. Others have a background story in mind and feel one race fits better than another. Many don’t pay much attention to the bonuses and skills of each race.
Every playable race has skills in which they are inherently talented. One of these skills starts with +10 and the other five have +5. While these aren’t meant to dictate how you play, they should inform your decision. These unique skillsets also come with a special power unique to each race. You might not think of playing an Orc, but combat-centered skills and ability to cut damage taken in half temporarily is perfect for those playing the warrior.
3 The Crossbow
The crossbow must be one of the most interesting weapons available. Although crossbows have been around for centuries, seeing a member of the Dawnguard take aim with one gives the distinct sense that Skyrim is creeping toward the future. Carrying one yourself feels like stumbling upon an old world firearm. But how many people take advantage of the opportunity to improve their crossbow?
It’s easy to miss the craftable bolts as they’re typically unlocked by completing quests. Some don’t realize this is possible during their playthrough, missing the opportunity to try firing bolts that explode ice, fire, or electricity. Once you try one of these, you might never go back to normal bolts again.
2 Paying for Arrows
Buying arrows is just silly. For the coin, you might spend filling your quiver you can just as easily purchase an ax and some ingots to craft as many arrows as you like for much cheaper. Considering many arrows can be retrieved after use or that you can simply take some from your fallen foes, there’s rarely a need to pay for arrows.
The idea that you must purchase arrows is outdated. Originally, Skyrim did not allow players to craft arrows (yet, you could make bows). That ability was added in Dawnguward and without much announcement, meaning some players still believe buying arrows is the only choice.
1 Dragon Bone Collection
Dragon bones and scales are heavy. It’s no surprise that shortly after slaying a dragon you’re assigned a housecarl (i.e. your living, breathing backpack). Until you get a house, you’re probably traveling heavy. Add bones and scales to that load, especially the first time during Dragon Rising, and that warning might never disappear. Still, even new players recognize that these rare items must be useful somewhere down the line.
You can probably stand to sell the bones and scales you collect early on. The coin is good and, as it happens, slaying a handful of dragons is all it takes to dress completely in dragon-related gear.
How did we do? Do you think any of our points are unfair, or maybe we missed some big mistakes folks are making Skyrim? Share your thoughts in the comments below!