Surviving 'Skyrim': Tips For Your First Few Hours With This Epic RPG

You can totally take Old Flying Murder there

You can totally take Old Flying Murder there

There are two kind of readers who'll be checking this guide out: those who have played previous entries in Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series but haven't touched Oblivion in five years, and those of you who have finally succumbed to all of the (from where I'm sitting, well-deserved) hype for the expansive RPG, and finally decided to pick it up. Well this brief dive into the new game is for all of you guys and girls out there heading into the frosty, atmospheric land of the Nords in Skyrim for the first time: some things to see, some things to do... some things to run away from until you've got an axe powerful enough to hack them into Oblivion.

So throw your copy of the game into your platform of choice (or you PC people, just launch Steam), and let's see what's happening in Skyrim.

Welcome to Skyrim. Now where do you want to go?

If this is your first time out in a massive open world RPG like Skyrim, there's the slight possibility that you might be a little overwhelmed with all of the choice you've been given here. I mean, some guy just told you where to go next, but there's so many things to see and do. Is that a bunny? Can you go kill it? What about that cave? Wait, what were you supposed to be doing again?

Okay, two things: first, take a deep breath, and second, realize that there's no ticking clock here: you're free to explore Skyrim at your leisure. Walk around, kill some cuddly bunnies and foxes, rob a shopkeeper blind, or even, you know, follow some actual quest lines. The important thing to know here is that you're never lost. You'll always have a main quest available to you in the menu as well as any sub quests that you pick up and you can always drop markers for them on your world map.

I know it sounds a little like I'm belaboring the obvious, but it's a crucial point to some players who see most games as speed runs. Sure, you can zip through the main story if you like, but you'd be missing out on all sorts of interesting and intriguing corners of this new world. And for those of you on the flip side who feel compelled to pick up every little thing in your path, take a break from your OCD and follow the main quest as a kind of breather.

Branch out, be as specialized or as multi-skilled as you want.

This is kind of in line with the last point, but also speaking to Bethesda's revamped skill system. Unlike previous games in the series, you don't have to choose a specialization right off the bat—you’ll simply level up within the various skills as you use them. And as you level up your character, you can dump one of the Perk points into an upgrade for a particular skill. I found the system pretty intuitive at first, although while I was at level 10, I was a little put off by the fact that I still hadn’t quite progressed enough to start opening up some of the second-tier perks for my character. That could just be down to the way I was playing at that point, but keep in mind you’ll be waiting for a while to apply points to some of the more sought-after perks.

One small piece of advice, though: if you’re someone who likes picking up every little thing in the world, when upgrading your Health, Magicka, and Stamina, dump some points in that last category, because you’ll find out quickly that your character can’t carry a ton.

Dump some points into archery.

While the combat in Skyrim permits you to play pretty freely as a melee or magic fighter, I’d still really recommend bulking up your archery attributes as a nice backup to either of those other two skill sets—at least to level 25. Hear me out: bows typically weigh nothing and arrows literally weigh nothing. Plus, on the practical, “what can I kill” side, you may need to fight some tougher enemies while on the run and survival may be the difference between being in reach of that saber tooth’s claws and being able to retreat and let loose with a couple of poisoned arrows.

Seriously, there’s nothing cowardly about murdering your enemies at a distance. With poison arrows.

All of those nice people probably have some nice things. Like gold. (You should take it)

Please note that neither I, nor MTV Geek, nor I’m sure Bethesda is advocating larceny. But in Skyrim, you should totally be robbing people when they’re not paying attention. I mean, how is it your fault that they’ve left a Raise Zombie scroll lying around and you don’t have one? That’s simply a failure on their part.

Seriously, though, if you’re willing to enter into your sneak pose (crouching), you’ll be able to tell when or if you’re being watched via the closed eye icon in the middle of the screen. If the eye is open, forget about it—put whatever you were thinking about lifting down and just walk away. The same goes for picking locks, because if you’re caught, there’ll be guards and then it’s a whole thing and you’ll have to pay a fine, fight your way clear—well, that last part is actually kind of fun sometimes. Still, there are all kinds of interesting and unique items throughout the game’s world and it’s not always easy to have a steady supply of money.

Don't go it alone.

One of the carryovers from Fallout 3 to Skyrim is the ability to enlist the aid of companions—most often people that you’ve met and helped who are happy to go along and be your questing buddy. And here’s why companions are great: they don’t die (as compared to their counterparts in Fallout 3 who died sadly in crumpled heaps of lost friendship).

Now there is a catch—Bethesda didn’t get you some kind of mini immortal to help you run around and fight your battles for you. So when in combat, after they’ve taken enough hits, you’re companion will collapse for a bit to recover. So make sure you’re paying attention to the enemy (or enemies) they were fighting for you so you don’t end up getting bushwhacked. Also, as you find armor and weapons, hand some choice pieces over to your companion, and they will equip the items with the highest ratings automatically. They can also act as a second pack, carrying excess loot that you plan on crafting or selling once you get back into town.

Oh, hey, it's a dragon. Don't panic.

Dragons are tough, but they’re not insurmountable—even if the rumble of their roar might make you a little anxious when you’re wandering around some unexplored mountaintop. However, until you reach higher levels and have unlocked some better perks, I’d recommend not fighting them alone. That’s right, make that companion of yours work for your friendship, as he or she will wade right into the fight like they don’t give a flip. At this point, you can try some melee attacking and magic to try to do the old beast in and within about four or five minutes, the great worm will be dead.

A couple of things: if you have any creatures you can summon, do that. You’re better off with more than one creature drawing the dragon’s attention away. Second, and this is really general advice, make sure you have healing potions on you. Because stopping to use healing magic while the great and horrible beast is using its roar on you is a recipe death. Other than that, keep at it. Feel free to retreat for a minute to regain your bearings and then wade back in to finish it off.

Oh, hey, it's a troll. Panic.

These guys. Among some of the many books you can find in the land of Skyrim, there’s an in-fiction tome that talks about fighting trolls. And essentially the advice it gives is: don’t unless you’re really fast and tough, and even then, reconsider. In spite of their size and appearance, these beasts are quick and they’re as strong as they look, effectively able to take you out with one blow. Add to that the fact that they like to roll in a posse, and you’ve got a recipe for instant, tragic death.

If you really must try to mess with a troll, I’d advise employing some of the strategy I laid out in fighting dragons, allowing your companion and a familiar/summoned creature to draw its attention while you attack its flank or back. However, I’d also advise maybe getting some distance and launching some magic or arrows so you can stay out of clubbing distance. And as soon as you see your companion go down, sheathe your weapon, and just run.

See also, Vampire Masters.

Save often.

Okay, here’s the thing: Skyrim has a fine Autosave feature that saves your game any time you enter or exit an environment or wake up from sleep. That’s awesome and incredibly useful. But this is where you—well, if you’re like me—going to trip up.

Say you’re simply wandering the countryside and you’re attacked by a dragon and somehow, you and your trusty companion—you know, the one I told you to bring with you—take it down. Then, feeling pretty good about yourself you decide to pick a fight with a troll, because why do they get to walk around acting like they own the woods, palling around with mammoths? I want to pal around with the mammoths. So yeah, then you die. And what’s that? All that loot you collected from the dragon is gone? Well, didn’t you read the name of this section? It’s called “Save often,” and I mean it.

And let me throw in a caveat—make sure that there are no major enemies around because it’s no fun to come immediately out of a save and have to scramble for cover so you don’t die and then have to reload.

Again, most of this is handled well by the Autosave, but it’ll prevent some minor heartache down the line, trust me.

Know that there can be too much of a good thing.

This is an incredible game that’s easy to fall into. I have a stack of titles to play for review and pleasure and even games that I’ve been anticipating for months now are taking a backseat to my desire to get back into Skyrim. That’s as far as I’m going to go with that little PSA, but it’s something to think about, particularly during this season when every video game ever gets released, demanding your attention.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 now.

Watch the trailer here:

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dragonborn Trailer

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