Knowing what race to pick, what skills to raise and where to invest your attribute points and perk picks is one thing, but once you get out into the vast area that is Skyrim, it might be a bit overwhelming deciding how to go about getting the character build you want. What quests to do? What cities to explore? Where to stash your excess loot? All of that will be explained in this section, which for lack of a better term might as well be considered a mini-walkthrough... but instead of being an in-depth sort of walkthrough that'll get you through the game, this walkthrough will have a more narrow focus, with the goal being to give you a concise order in which to do certain quests, with reasons why.
The Helgen Grind
The game begins with the wagon ride, character creation, and Helgen. There's little to say here, as it's really just the tutorial and intro, but you can take advantage of something while you're going through this linear little prologue.
During your escape you'll run into a Nord representing each faction of the civil war; Ralof represents the Stormcloaks and Hadvar represents the Empire. Both of them are your invincible allies, and the adjective there is the key point of interest. You can hit them with whatever weapons you find in Helgen and level up your One-Handed, Two-Handed and Sneak skills as much as your heart desires.
It's entirely possible to leave Helgen with skill scores of 100 in One-Handed, Sneak, and Two-Handed... and in the case of Sneak, the skill levels up fast enough to consider turning it legendary a few times. If you want to power up your character as fast as possible, leveling up One-Handed a bit and maxing Sneak is suggested, but keep in mind that the enemies in the world will level with you, so you may have to turn the difficulty down until you find better gear and otherwise get more established.
Don't be afraid to invest in Armsman, Fighting Stance and Savage Strike in the One-Handed tree and Stealth (only one rank), Muffled Movement, Light Foot, Silent Roll, Silence, Backstab and Deadly Aim in the Sneak tree. These are perks that will come in handy for the rest of the game and make the next steps much easier.
Outside of Helgen follow Hadvar/Ralof to Riverwood, talk to their associates, and start the quest "Before the Storm" . At this point in the game it's worth reiterating a few things: If you leveled up in Helgen, you could easily be near 30th level or higher, which means your enemies will have scaled to match. If you've leveled up One-Handed you're at less of a disadvantage, since you can deal a bit more damage, but until you get your crafting skills up and get some stronger gear, you're going to be very, very vulnerable. Gear you find will help a good bit, but you might want to bop the difficulty down to Novice and tread carefully... and don't underestimate the potency of sneak attacks and power attacks!
Before continuing on with the story there are some miscellaneous things you can do now. If you head out the south-west gate of Riverwood and turn south until you reach some impassible cliffs, you can follow these cliffs to the west you'll find an unmarked entrance to the Embershard mines. Herein you'll find Bandits, some of which may be leveled. It'll give you a taste of combat, and allow you to see where you stand in the world. Also, if you're if you're eager to grind, you can max out your Block skill here. There's also numerous Iron Ore Veins inside, one of the components that will fuel your Smithing skill.
Another boon to Smithing awaits in Riverwood, where you can talk to Alvor and offer to help around the forge, which serves as a useful Smithing tutorial... or you can just wait until you get to Whiterun and work for Adrianne Avenicci, instead. Last and least, you can talk to Lucan Valerius, the proprietor of Riverwood Trader, who will start the miscellaneous quest concerning the Golden Claw, which will tie in with another quest you'll be doing shortly.
The Dragonborn Emerges
After you're done in Riverwood you'll be best served by following the main questline. Head north along the river until you find the Honningbrew Meadery and then follow the road west to Whiterun. Go through Whiterun and talk to the Jarl... there's going to be a bit of chatter with the Jarl and then Farengar, the court wizard, but your task ends up the same-you're supposed to go to Bleak Falls Barrow (west of Riverwood) and find a Dragonstone to learn why the Dragons are returning. This completes "Before the Storm" and starts "Bleak Falls Barrow" .
There are two rough spots in this quest. First, there are some Bandits outside of Bleak Falls Barrow that can be leveled, and hence, a problem. Second, at the end of the Barrow you'll have to fight a Draugr Scourge Overlord. While story-events shouldn't be leveled at this point, this particular Draugr can still be a pain in the ass. Head back to Whiterun when you're done and continue to follow the main story... which won't be ruined here.
When it's all said and done you'll have access to a new power - Shouts - and the Jarl will be itching to reward you. Most interstingly you'll be able to purchase Breezehome. Owning a house is a very good thing, as it allows you to stash all your crap... but you'll need to raise 5,000 gold to buy it. The next bit is all about earning money. And of course, since you got the Golden Claw in Bleak Falls Barrow, feel free to turn it in to Lucan Valerius for the quest reward.
Note: If you want a somewhat better, more expensive house, you can save up and try to buy Honeyside in Riften. It'll require you to do a few more quests, but ultimatley, it's got everything you need for this power-gamey section, and it's conveniently located. Worth considering, in any case. The steps required will briefly be covered later.
Joining the Thieves Guild
Just outside of Whiterun you can find the Whiterun Stables. While horses are a fine way to travel, they... well, no, that's a lie. They're expensive and surprisingly fragile, despite their physics-defying mountain climbing abilities. Fortunately, there's a better form of transportation nearby; find a carriage, sit in the back and pay the paltry sum of twenty gold and you'll be fast-traveled right to Riften, which is your next destination. Far quicker and easier than going on foot, that's for sure.
Once there you'll have to call a guard out for trying force a bribe, then head into the town's market, where you'll find Brynjolf, who will ask you to pull a job for him. He'll run distraction while you'll need to steal Madesi's Ring and plant it on Brand-Shei. Just make sure you're hidden while getting Madesi's Ring (which will be much easier if you've leveled Sneak) and save/load until you successfully plant the ring (which you do not need to be hidden to do.) Afterwards, Brynjolf will tell you to meet him in the Ragged Flagon.
To get to the Ragged Flagon you'll have to go through the Ratway, which you can read by dropping down to the lower levels of Riften and follow the wooden walkway above the canal until it terminates along the western end of the city. At this point, a doorway to the north will take you to the Ratway, within which are some enemies you'll just have to outfight or avoid.
Once you reach the Ragged Flagon, talk to Brynjolf again and he'll give you another job, starting the quest "Taking Care of Business" . Just talk to Brynjolf and he'll tell you exactly what to do to coerce Keerava, Bersi, and Haelga to pay their debts, regardless of your skill levels. Or failing that, you can just beat them into submission, a feat which will be aided if you get the Gloves of the Pugilist from Gian the Fist, one of the foes that dwells in the Ratway. Complete this quest and you're in the guild. Most importantly, you can now take jobs from Delvin and Vex, and sell goods to Tonilia.
Taking jobs from Delvin and Vex (which are all random, radiant quests) will be your focus for a good bit of time, and you'll end up exploring a bit of Skyrim while doing so.
Restoring the Guild
The goal now is to complete radiant quests for Delvin and possibly Vex, which will pay you a good bit of gold (a base of 500 gold per quest, plus you often get to sell what you steal!) and make progress towards unlocking unique quests to help out various contacts around Skyrim, which in turn will help the Thieve's Guild achieve a foothold in more cities. That's all well and good for the guild and all, but for you this means a few important things; every time you complete one of Delvin's unique quests it'll bring a new merchant to the Ragged Flagon, and will increase Tonilia's available gold. This latter part will make selling all the weapons you enchant and potions you brew much easier.
First things first, though, time to do radiant quests for Delvin and Vex. There are several types each offer you, and if you're feeling super lazy you can just tackle Delvin's "The Bedlam Job" quests, which merely requires you to nab 500 gold from various cities in Skyrim. Hitting apothecaries and stealing their potions can get you the value you need, and nabbing their ingredients can help boost your stocks for the eventual Alchemy grind. Vex, for her part, also offers "The Heist Job" , which requires you to break into a store, pillage their (often locked) Strongbox for a specific trinket, then return. When luck prevails the two will overlap, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone, although Vex's more often requires you to pick locks (sometimes rather difficult ones), which may be a blessing or a curse, given how you view the lockpick minigame. Just buy Lockpicks from Tonilia every time you turn a quest in and you'll have plenty of stock build up for the rest of the game when this is over with. Also, remember; stay hidden and no killing. To get to unexplored towns it's often quicker to just use the wagon outside of Riften to take you there, although your destination may set you back twenty or fifty gold.
After doing enough quests for Delvin and/or Vex, Delvin will start making special requests to help out an external contact. These quests are more static than "The Heist Job" and "The Bedlam Job" quests, but the order in which they're assigned is random. A brief rundown of these quests follows:
This is possibly the easiest of the quests, especially if you've already completed "Black Falls Barrow" and "Dragon Rising". All you need to do in this case is sneak into Dragonsreach, steal a letter, forge some books, then report your deeds to a person who no longer remembers what you're talking about. Sly.
Find Endon in Markarth (a fine excuse to travel by wagon if ever there was one!) and he'll ask you to recover a silver mold for him. South-west of Riverwood you'll find Pinewatch, which is where the mold is being kept. In a decidedly un-thiefy mission you'll have to fight your way through a nest of Bandits to recover the mold.
Ride a wagon to Windhelm and talk to Torsten Cruel-Sea, then talk to Niranye, who will tell you about a rival group of Altmer thieves named the Summerset Shadows. South-west of Windhelm you'll find the Uttering Hills Cave, where you'll find the thieves. Murder them all to complete this quest.
The Dainty Sload
Visit Erikur in Solitude's Blue Palace and he'll tell you a scheme; he wants you to secure some Balmora Blue and plant it on the ship "The Dainty Sload", which will allow him to gain revenge against the ship's captain. Head to the docks south of Solitude and either pay Sabine Nytte 1,500 gold for some Balmora Blue, or dive under the docks to find some in Sabine's Footlocker. Once it's yours head to the Dainty Sload and either fight through or sneak past the Corsairs that litter the ship and plant the Balmora Blue. No, the obvious break-in and tampering will not cause you any trouble. Being a thief and being a murderous thug in Skyrim is basically the same thing.
Note: Not only should you buy Lockpicks from Tonilia every visit to the Ragged Flagon, consider buying Iron Ingots from various blacksmiths as you travel. Stocking up now will make Smithing go faster later.
Note: You can further supplement your income and improve your thieving skills by going on pickpocketing sprees. Remember, arrows to start, then move up the value ladder by grabbing progressively more expensive gems and jewelry.
Home Sweet Home
Do as many quests as you care to do until you've got the money to buy a house. Breezehome in Whiterun will set you back 5,000 gold, while Honeyside costs 8,000. Both will need upgraded to have an Alchemy Lab (for leveling up Alchemy) while Honeyside can also benefit from an in-house Arcane Enchanter (for leveling Enchanting - Breezehome doesn't have such an option, but you can use the one in Dragonsreach just fine), which will cost you even more money. Both have a Blacksmith's Forge nearby you can take advantage of, but Whiterun has the added benefit of a Smelter. Honeyside, for its part, has a door that opens directly to the wilderness of Skyrim, making it easier to travel home without zoning into cities and having to deal with vampire attacks (if you have Dawnguard installed) and other nuisances - just fast-travel to the Riften Stables and walk to the back door of your house.
If you want Breezehome you need merely buy it from the steward. Honeyside, however, will take a bit more work. Put succinctly, you'll need to talk to an Argonian named Wujeeta and give her a healing potion. Do so and she'll tell you about her Skooma addiction, something you can bring up to the Jarl when you talk to her. Do so and she'll ask you to eliminate the dealer, who runs his business in the warehouse outside of Riften, then you'll need to report to her for the next part of the quest. Travel to Cragslane Cavern north of Riften and exterminate the ne'er-do-wells therein, then report to the Jarl. All you need to do now is do several favors for citizens of Riften, usually small little miscellaneous quests you can pick up by talking to them. Most are "take x object to y location" or "bring me x item", so just talk around and pick whichever seems like the least bother.
Note: Relatively easy things you can do to improve your standing in Riften is give money to beggars, perform Shadr's quest by talking to Sapphire for him, help Svana Far-Shield incriminate her aunt by intimidating her lovers, help Harrald get his weapon repaired by Balimund, or talk to Hafjorg and help her by picking up an ore sample from Filnjar, who resides in Shor's Stone (which is on the way to Cragslane Cavern).
The Smithing Grind
After getting a good starting purse, some merchants to sell more quality goodies to, and a home to store your goodies, it's time to start working on the crafting skills. The first up is Smithing, which will let you make awesome arms and armor, which will make scrounging for alchemy ingredients much easier. How to level Smithing is covered in great detail in the Smithing page of the Skills section of the guide. Still, not to leave this section barren, some tips to level Smithing will be provided below:
- Talk to the From-Deepest-Fathoms, an Argonian working on the docks outside of Riften to start the quest **"Unfathomable Depths"** , then head to Avanchnzel and return the Lexicon to its proper place at the bottom of these Dwemer ruins. Doing this will get you the Active Effect "Ancient Knowledge", which increases the rate at which your Smithing skill increases by 15%.
- Make sure to have "The Warrior Stone" or "The Lover Stone" active to further increase your skill leveling rate.
- Before you do any major smithing, rest in your bed to get the "Well Rested" bonus, which will increase the rate at which your skills level by and additional 10%. If you're married and your spouse lives in the house (and is nearby) you'll get "Lover's Comfort", which increases the rate at which your skills increase by 15%.
- Start out by crafting arrows - Iron Arrows work, but higher-grade arrows will yield better returns. Iron Arrows can, in fact, get you all the way to Smithing Skill Level 100. Simply buy Iron Ore and Iron Ingots (smelting the former into Ingots), then chop wood to create Firewood. these two components are all you really need... if you have the Dawnguard DLC installed, anyways, if not, you won't be able to craft arrows.
- If you do not have Dawnguard installed, or if you want to diversity/speed up your smithing process, plunder Dwemer ruins for Dwemer relics, some of which can be smelted down into Dwarven Metal Ingots. Use those Dwarven Metal Ingots to create Dwarven Bows, the best return on your Ingots. This is worth doing even if you craft arrows and have the Dawnguard DLC installed, as it'll give you weapons to enchant later, but you can also just craft Iron Daggers for the same purpose. Be sure to store these items at your home after smithing bouts, as you'll need them later.
The Enchanting Grind
Now it's time to prepare to level up Enchanting, so hop on a wagon to Winterhold and head north through the town to reach the College of Winterhold. Save before you approach the bridge, because at the entrance you'll be accosted by Faralda, a paranoid member of the College who is trying to ensure that the riff-raff can't get in. You'll either have to succeed at a surprisingly hard Persuade check to get her to let you in, or show your competence. If she asks you to cast a spell you don't have, buy it from her. If she asks you to cast a spell you don't have the Magicka for, reload and try again. Once you get in ignore the College-related quests; you're not here to quest, you're here to shop, or at least to become aware of shopping opportunities.
In the Hall of Countenance you can usually find Drevis Neloren, the master Illusionist of Skyrim, Faralda, who specializes in Destruction magic, Collete Marence, specializing in Restoration, and Phinis Gestor, specializing in Conjuration. Each of these mages can train you in their school of choice, they're the mages you'll need to go to when your skill reaches 90 to start the quest to obtain the master-level spells in that school, and they'll all sell you spells and soul gems. For the moment, you should be more interested in the latter.
In the Hall of Attainment you can find Enthir. He gives you terrible rates, but he's guaranteed to sell Daedra Hearts. To train in Alteration and get master-level Alteration spells you'll have to find Tolfdir, who is largely unavailable until you complete some College-related quests, so you might as well ignore that for now. You can also steal/take some alchemical ingredients and Soul Gems lying around, which will respawn in time.
If you've got some money, buy Petty, Lesser, and perhaps Common Soul Gems that already have souls in them, denoted by the grade in parentheses next to the gem. For example, Common Soul Gem (Common). This can ultimately be a hugely wealth-postive endeavor if you're willing to sacrifice some gold now... as long as you use those Soul Gems to create the most lucrative of enchanted weapons.
Tonilia will sometimes sell weapons that have the "Banish" property on them. They can be very, very expensive, but if you get one and disenchant it to learn the property, you can start using Soul Gems to enchant those Iron Daggers and Dwarven Bows you made while leveling Smithing with the "Banish'" enchantment. It's faster and easier to buy full Soul Gems from college members, but more expensive. If you want to do it yourself, you'll have to get out and explore, and learn the Soul Trap spell, using it on whatever crosses your path while you have unfilled Soul Gems in your inventory (picking on smaller game is better). You can do this as part of hunting for alchemical ingredients, and this will also level up your Alteration skill, but it is a good bit more time consuming. In any event, you have all you need to max Enchanting (and earn all the money you'll likely ever need). Just enchant any weapon with the "Banish" enchantment, using any grade of Soul Gem, then sell it at a massive profit.
Note: If you want to constantly buy and/or sell from/to merchants, there's a trick you can use to speed things up. Save your game after depleting a merchant's stock or gold (or both!), then hit them four times without killing them. Reload your game when they turn hostile, and they'll have a fresh inventory and more gold to barter. Easier than resting for a few days or traveling around.
The Alchemy Grind
There's no real avoiding it anymore, it's time to explore. Search for Deathbells in the marsh south-east of Solitude, Jazbay Grapes and Creep Clusters in the hot springs area south of Windhelm, Juniper Berries and Hanging Moss near Markarth, and Salt Piles from the barrels in the canals of Riften. Try to make high quality potions (check the advice given in the Alchemy skill section of the guide), and sell them to Tonilia. Remember, the value of your concoction increases how fast your Alchemy skill levels, so be sure to make the most expensive potions and poisons you can, and keep spending perks in your Alchemy skill tree as you go. Not only will you want the benefit of stronger potions later on (it's a crucial part of god-making!) but you'll want to improve the speed at which you level Alchemy. If you want to speed the process up, don't be afraid to pay an alchemist for some training.
Continue to cautiously explore Skyrim in search of ingredients. If you are finding that your favorite spots aren't respawning ingredients fast enough, you can always head somewhere far away and rest for a long time. It can take a few weeks of solid resting to encourage ingredient respawns, however. Keep going until your Alchemy skill is 100.
When your crafting skills (Alchemy, Enchanting and Smithing) are all Skill Levle 100, it's time to make yourself gear so powerful that you'll be the undisputed phenom of Skyrim.
First, you need to get items bearing the enchantments you'll want to use. At the moment you'll want to have "Fortify Alchemy" and "Fortify Smithing". You'll also need to take a trip to get some Falmer Helmets, to take advantage of their ability to stack with circlets, hence giving you another item that can bear the "Fortify Alchemy" enchantment. North-east of Whiterun you can find Shimmermist Cave, within which you'll find a number of Falmer. They can be fairly tough, but if you crafted superior gear earlier, they're nothing some sneak attacks (and sufficiently lowered difficulty) can't handle.
Once you have several helmets, you'll want to make several "Fortify Enchanting" potions, then while under their effects enchant gear (a Falmer Helmet, a circlet, gloves, a ring, and a necklace) with the "Fortify Alchemy" property. Unlike the disposable Iron Daggers and Dwarven Bows that you enchanted to level up Enchanting earlier you'll want to use Grand Soul Gems (Grand) for these items, which can be purchased from the same mages at the College of Winterhold that you purchased Soul Gems from earlier. This part can get quite expensive, but after all those potions and "Banish" weapons you made... you should have more than enough gold for anything. Be sure to save before you enchant, as the duration of potions can be fickle. Mistakes here can force you to buy more Soul Gems and possibly have to hunt down more Falmer Helmets, to pay attention to the magnitute of the gear you're creating.
Wearing this newly-enchanted "Fortify Alchemy" gear, go make more potions of "Fortify Enchanting", and with the stronger potions, create another set of "Fortify Alchemy" gear until you can create gear with the property "Created potions are 29% more powerful". On this last set of gear, also be sure to enchant the armor, gloves, ring, and necklace with the "Fortify Smithing" property, which should read "Weapons and armor can be improved 29% better". At the end of your enchanting you'll want to end up with the following gear:
- 1 Crafting Necklace: "Created potions are 29% more powerful. Weapons and armor can be improved 29% better."
- 1 Crafting Ring: "Created potions are 29% more powerful. Weapons and armor can be improved 29% better."
- 1 Crafting Gauntlets: "Created potions are 29% more powerful. Weapons and armor can be improved 29% better."
- 1 Crafting Helmet: "Created potions are 29% more powerful."
- 1 Crafting Circlet: "Created potions are 29% more powerful."
- 1 Crafting Armor: "Weapons and armor can be improved 29% better."
While wearing your brand-new crafting gear, go make a few potions of "Fortify Smithing". With an Alchemy Skill Level of 100, the perks suggested earlier in the guide, and your new crafting gear, you should be able to make potions that improve your Smithing potency by +147%. Take your crafting gear and your uber potions and go make whatever arms and armor wish, and chug those potions before improving them to create weapons that deal stupendous damage, and armor that can easily hit the Armor Rating cap without a single perk spent. This enough should see you through most of what Skyrim can throw at you, but to max out some skills, further boost damage and patch up some defensive holes in your armor you'll need to do some Enchanting.
Return to the College of Winterhold and buy some Grand Soul Gems (Grand) if necessary, then make your way to an Arcane Enchanter with whatever arms and armor you wish to improve, some potions of "Fortify Enchanting" and said Grand Soul Gems. If you want to level up all your spell skills, enchant some armor, a helmet, a ring, and a necklace with two schools you want to eliminate Magicka costs on. There are five schools, so it'll take at least three sets of gear. At four pieces of gear per set, it'll take at least twelve Grand Soul Gems (Grand), plus extra if you want to enchant your boots, gloves, shield, and weapon(s). Enchanting gear with the "Fortify Archery" and "Fortify One-Handed" enchantments will greatly boost your damage, while throwing some elemental resistances (or Magic Resistance, if you are shy of the cap of 80%) on jewelry or boots will make you much harder to kill. Some specific builds (with examples of gear enchanted and worn) can be found in the next sections.
And... that's it. Takes a bit of doing, but the results are indisputable. You've hit the armor cap, you're dealing insane physical damage, and you may be highly resistant to magical damage, elemental damage, or both. You are pretty much untouchable by most anything the game can throw at you on Master Difficulty and below, although futher optimization will come in handy on Legendary difficulty.