Retro Nutcase's Asylum

Skyrim for Beginners Pt2! Skills, levelling, and whatnot!

by on Dec.28, 2011, under Skyrim for Beginners!

Welcome back to Retro’s Skyrim for Beginners series! This time, we’re going to look at the core of Skyrim’s character development, Skills! Skills not only govern what you’re good at, but are how you level up your character, as Skyrim does not use a traditional EXP system. But more on that below.

-Skill Advancement, or Practice Makes Perfect-
In TES games, you do not advance in level by gaining EXP from slaying monsters and completing quests. Instead, you learn by doing. To improve and increase any skill’s level, you must utilize that skill.

The skill menu. You will be looking at this quite a bit, so get used to it.

As you improve your skills, you will gradually fill Skyrim’s equivalent of an EXP bar. When it fills up entirely from enough advancement in your skills, you level up, and get to add 10 points to Magicka, Health, or Stamina. Magicka is used to cast spells, Health is well…Health. It hits 0? You’re dead. Very dead. Stamina is used to perform physically draining actions like sprinting, power attacks, and soforth. In addition, levelling up your Stamina (ONLY levelling, other means of increasing it do not count!) gives you additional carrying capacity.

Skills fall into one of three major categories in Skyrim: Combat, Magic, and Stealth. Because all skills are levelled up through use, and because every skill can be raised to 100, there’s no limit on what skills you can level up and become proficient in, although there is a limit on the Perk Points you can use to gain perks in skills to further improve them. More on that will be explained below.

The Combat Skills: For those who like to keep it simple, get in the enemy's face, and start swinging.

Combat skills are, needless to say, centered around close combat and will be utilized by warriors. If you intend to use melee weapons and rely heavily on armor and/or a shield, you’ll be spending a lot of time in this category. Not only does this skillset include the use of weapons and armor, it also includes the crafting of said items, allowing you to make gear that is stronger than what you’ll find or buy in the world! So, let’s have a look at the Combat Skills.

One Handed-The use of one handed weapons. To improve in this area, you’ll need to fight using said weapons, which include swords, waraxes, and maces. By spending perk points in this skill, you can hit harder with said weapons, and do special types of damage with each weapon type: Swords can land critical hits, axes can bleed enemies, and maces can ignore a percentage of enemy armor! There’s also a set of perks that allow one to be a better dual wielder, which is one of the fastest means of physical damage in the game. Just be warned, dual wielding weapons means you have no way to block attacks!

Two Handed-Two Handed weapons are bigger versions of the One Handed, which include Greatswords, Battleaxes, and Warhammers. Perks are nearly identical to those in One Handed as far as specific weapons go, although two handed weapons can eventually be used to hit entire groups in a single swing with the right perk. In addition, while not as good as a shield, a two handed weapon can also be used to block attacks and bash opponents! Also, because of their larger weight, they can stagger enemies better than one handed weapons. The downside to all this? Much slower swings than one handed. Like One Handed, use of these weapons in combat is how you improve the skill. It is advised to pick either one or two handed, not both, if you’re a warrior, as it’s impractical to try and master both weapon styles.

Block-This skill determines how good you are at blocking attacks with a weapon or shield. A one handed weapon (without anything in the other hand), two handed weapon, or one handed weapon and a shield are required to block. Blocking attacks will improve this skill, the more damage you block, the faster it improves. Shields obviously are the best means of blocking, but for those who prefer two handed, a set of perks exists that doesn’t require a shield to benefit. For those who want absolute defense though, the shield specific perks will let you block a variety of damage types you couldn’t normally, like arrows and even magic. Regardless of which style of blocking you use, Bashing is extremely useful, it may not hurt much, but it can stagger enemies and interrupt their actions, giving you an opening to attack! Especially useful is the Quick Reflexes perk, which will slow time down if you’re blocking during an attack you cannot block, giving you the opportunity to dodge or Bash to set up a counterattack! If you aren’t specializing in other ways to protect yourself, be they armor or magic, Block is a must have skillset.

Heavy Armor-The use of heavy armor. Heavy Armor offers great protection, but slows you down and weighs quite a bit without the right training. You’ll be able to get past these shortcomings with enough perk points in this skillset, and also be able to punch harder while wearing heavy gauntlets, resist staggering, and even have a chance to reflect some physical damage back at your attacker! It’s best to pick this or Light Armor, and specialize in that armor type. Once again, trying to do both isn’t practical. Heavy Armor is better suited to close combatants in general however, hence its inclusion in the Combat skills. To improve Heavy Armor, it’s best to wear a full set, and just take hits. The harder you’re hit, the better your skill increase. Just make sure you don’t get killed in the process. One good trick is to find a single, weak enemy, max out the difficulty, take hits, and set the difficulty to easiest when you’re in danger so you can recover your health safely.

Archery-A borderline skill, as both Combat and Stealth builds will use it, though it falls under Combat. Archery is the use of bows and arrows to attack enemies from a distance. Improving in this skillset offers you a nice variety of long ranged perks, such as a sniper like vision where you can zoom in on distant foes, the ability to slow time down during said zoom, and hit harder with arrows in general. If you prefer to keep your distance, or if you want an option for attacking distant foes, Archery is a good choice. Even if you specialize in close combat, there’s times you’ll want to be able to take down a distant or flying opponent: you’ll need Archery for those times. In addition, archers can ambush a distant foe before closing in for combat, softening them up a bit. Constant use of Archery is how one upgrades it, but doing bonus damage from Sneak attacks can help in levelling the skill up faster, alongside Sneak (See Stealth skills).

Smithing-A crafting skill, Smithing is a must have for any and all warriors. If you intend to use a lot of armor and weapons, there is no question, you will NEED smithing. Along with making your own gear, Smithing lets you upgrade it, something that can’t be done otherwise. Any equipment you find or buy will always be of normal quality, Smithting will let you upgrade that quality and the damage/protection of your weapon/armor as a result. As long as you can find the materials through shopping or gathering them yourself, a Smith will have no problem making their own equipment, and making it better than anything they’d find in the local shops. The one thing to be aware of, the Smithing perk tree splits into two routes, Light and Heavy armor. Though for some reason, Scaled and Plate (A Light and Heavy, respectively) are BOTH part of Advanced Armor, which is along the left progression route, and will require you to learn a few Light Armor smithing perks. That said though, if you’re going with light armor, you’ll want to progress to Glass Smithing, if you’re heavy, progress to Daedric Smithing. The fastest way to improve Smithing is to simply make or upgrade gear. The skill advances at the same rate regardless of what you make, so quantity is better than quality when forging gear if it’s specifically to improve your Smithing skill. This is best done with Leather Bracers or Iron Daggers, which require a very small amount of raw materials to create, and thus are easily made in bulk for mass Smithing improvements.

The Stealth skills are for those who prefer to fight quietly, and solve problems with words or gold rather than a greatsword.

Stealth Skills actually encompass a somewhat larger area than just sneaking around. Along with the art of sneaking, Stealth also covers the social art of speechcraft. That said though, if you intend to avoid charging into a situation head on, and prefer to think your battles out and dispose of your enemies in a more subtle manner, the Stealth skills will be your best choice. If you intend to be a less than law abiding citizen of Skyrim (IE, a thief or assassin) then you’ll need to master a good number of these skills to get your jobs done, and more importantly, get them done without serving jail time.

Sneak-The mother of all Stealth skills. Sneak determines how good you are at not being seen, whether it’s moving through the shadows, or even hiding in plain sight. If you intend to be a Stealth character, you pretty much need everything in this skillset when it comes to perks. From moving quietly, to being able to perform quiet and quiet rolls, to stealth attacks that can give up to 15x bonus damage, this is a set of perks that you’ll want to invest heavily in. Just a small word of warning: As powerful as the Assassin Blade (15x sneak damage with daggers) perk is, remember…You can’t really sneak up on and backstab a dragon. Similarly, that 15x damage threat goes out the window the moment you’re spotted, so either don’t be spotted, or have one (or better yet several) backup plans. The best way to level sneak is to…Well, sneak around. The good news is you don’t have to use hostile targets for this. You can easily practice and train up your sneaking skill level by sneaking around a town and using the guards as practice. Just stay out of their sight and shadow them. Sneak attacks also work when you’re in hostile territory, but early on it’s best to practice sneaking in a non hostile area, as there’s no risk to being caught if all you’re doing is sneaking around.

Light Armor-For those who want some protection, but mobility as well. Light Armor doesn’t offer the high defense of heavy armor, but it offers some protection without sacrificing mobility. Light Armor is ideal not only for warriors who want to be quick, but other speedy types such as Thieves/Assassins. Perk investment in this skillset will let you use Light armor better, and even have a chance to avoid damage entirely. Like heavy armor, you’ll need to take damage to level it, and wearing a full set helps in this regard.

Speechcraft-The art of getting what you want through words. Speechcraft is used to determine how well you can talk people into things, as well as how good you are at negociating prices with a merchant. Even without perks, it’s a good skill to invest time in, and if you have some spare perk points, it can help strengthen your speech. To level it, simply use Speech abilities when they’re available (Persuade/Intimidate/Bribe) and do lots of buying and selling. It all helps you advance in Speech. Needless to say, this can be important for any build, not just stealth, although when it can help you avoid combat, it obviously benefits Stealth.

Alchemy-This is another borderline skill that one could also put into the Magic skills, but for the sake of argument, we’re putting it under Stealth. Alchemy is the art of creating Potions and Poisons using ingredients found or bought in the world of Skyrim. Potions can heal you, enhance your skills, or even buff resistances, while poisons can injure and debuff resistances. Alchemy is, needless to say, a crafting type skill, so making potions and poisons is how you advance it. You’ll need to put a fair amount of time and perk points into this skill if you want to truly benefit from it though, as anything made by anyone other than a master may end up with unwanted side effects, such as Potions that hurt the player, or Poisons that buff the intended target. In addition, you’ll need to spend perk points to more easily learn the additional effects ingredients can have, which in turn makes it easier to create what you want in a potion. Obviously, you’ll be doing a lot of gathering and exploring of Skyrim if you take this skill, as buying ingredients can get expensive, harvesting them yourself however, is incredibly cheap.

Lockpicking-A Stealth skill pretty much every character will want to master, even if they don’t spend perk points in it. Lockpicking is, needless to say, how you open locks you don’t have a key for. And you will encounter plenty of loot chests and doors that won’t have a key! Perks can make the job easier, but a patient player with plenty of lockpicks can be just as effective as long as they do things properly. That said though, the Fast Hands perk may be worth investing up to because it lets you pick locks in plain sight. Picking a lock in a town or similar location with someone watching you will result in a crime being reported.

Pickpocketing-A must have skill for any thief, Pickpocketing is the art of taking (or planting) items without being caught in the process. If you aren’t brave enough to break and enter and steal everything in sight, or if you need a specific item off a target but don’t necessarily want to resort to killing them, you’ll want to be a Pickpocket. Perks are a must here, since pickpocketing without any training or perks is VERY ineffective. Pickpocketing is very much a chance related thing, so you’ll almost always want to save before attempting it. The best way to train it up is to start with victims you can easily isolate (so you aren’t spotted by anyone else) and steal anything lightweight and not valuable. You won’t make a monetary profit, but you will gain the skill you need over time to be better at pilfering your potential victims. Perks will make it easier to steal certain things, give you additional carry space, and soforth. So if you intend to do a lot of looting, it may not hurt to get a few of these if you make most of your money off people’s pockets as opposed to other means.

Magic. Because brains > brawn. NERD POWER! ...Err, sorry. Seriously though, Magic is for those who want something more than a simple blade to get the job done, and offers incredibly wide options to a player.

Restoration-Another skill I find useful to have even if you aren’t going to be a Magic specialist. Restoration is the “White magic” of Skyrim. Spells in this school are used to heal, protect the user from magic attacks, and drive away the undead. As such, many of its perks are defensive in nature, offering better healing, faster Magicka regen, and even a once a day emergency auto-heal that kicks in near death! In addition, you can heal not only health, but expended Stamina with the Respite perk. So if you like spells that keep you ticking after you take a beating, you’ll want Restoration. Strongly recommended for any mage, and even Warriors. Obviously, it’s levelled through use: Heal yourself (You actually have to heal damage though!) or others, block spells, or ward the undead away.

Alteration-Alteration is magic that’s used to manipulate the user or the world around them, hence its name, Alteration. Very much a utility type of magic, Alteration’s most notable spells are defense buffs, being able to detect the auras of the living and the dead (In essence, see them through walls or in pure darkness), create light, and breathe underwater. Just about any adventurer can benefit from the spells in this area, though pure mages that don’t use armor will be able to get a perk to double the effect of armor spells like Stoneflesh. The fastest way to level this school is to cast a Detect Life spell in a heavily populated area. The more auras you detect at once, the faster it levels.

Conjuration-Conjuration is the art of summoning both creatures and weapons. If you prefer not to be weighed down by weapons, or prefer to just have other creatures fight your battles for you, Conjuration is a valuble school to invest time and points in. If you need to draw fire away from yourself, a summoned creature can do a wonderful job of this. Or if you find you need a sword and aren’t carrying one…Presto, bound sword in hand! Perks will improve the duration and power of your summons, so if you use this school heavily, expect to invest a lot of points in it to increase its effectiveness. The good news is that not just casting, but using the results of your summons will help in levelling this skill: In fact a bound sword is twofold! You’ll improve Conjuration AND One Handed! In addition, Conjuration is how one traps Souls, a vital skill if you’re going to be doing a lot of Enchanting.

Illusion-An under appreciated school, Illusion is not so much the art of deception, but the art of manipulating the mind. Illusion has spells that not only let you become invisible, but alter the minds of friend and foe alike. You can inflict Fury upon enemies to make them indiscriminately attack anything nearby…Like their friends! Fear to make someone turn and flee from you in absolute terror! Or Courage to rally your friends and make sure they don’t run away, with some extra health and stamina to boot! And then there’s Clairvoyance, which lets you see a magical path to your next quest goal, very useful on long walks where you aren’t sure which way is the right one (or your objective is on top of a mountain). The only downside to Illusion is that without perk investment, many of its spells have caps on the level of creature they affect. However, many of the Perks that improve various spells stack: IE, ones that improve Fury and ones that improve all spells vs animals will stack together. In addition, Illusion has a perk to make spells from any and all schools of magic silent when cast, preventing you from drawing attention to yourself. In other words, Illusion is a Stealth player’s best friend in terms of magic schools. As for how to level it? Just cast buffing spells like Courage on friendly targets: They won’t mind you doing it. Avoid using other spells on friendlies though, it might cause problems.

Destruction-The polar opposite of Restoration. This school is designed purely for the taking of life, as opposed to preserving it. Destruction allows spellcasters to summon the power of flames, frost, and shock and use them in various forms to kill their enemies. Perks improve individual elements, and thus you’ll likely want to spend quite a few points if you go this route: Just be warned…Spell damage doesn’t go up with skill level. The only way to do more damage is to learn/buy better spells, so expect to be investing a lot of gold into this skillset along with perk points if you intend to make it your primary means of combat. That said though, since some enemies resist elements, and some are weak to them, a well rounded Destruction user can adapt to many different situations. In addition, Frost can be used to damage Stamina, and Shock will damage Magicka, meaning you can weaken warriors and mages alike. It’s slow to level, and the only real way to level it is of course…Hurting people with it.

Enchanting-Enchanting is another skill that, while it falls under Magic, is vital to many types of builds. Enchanting is a crafting skill that involves using Soul Gems with captured souls in order to augment and upgrade equipment to have new effects, such as adding elemental damage to weapons, or new resistances and skill buffs to armor. Like Smithing, it lets you create gear that goes above and beyond things you find and buy in stores, though it’s also a rather pricey skill to invest in: You’ll need Soul Gems, a means to trap Souls, and gear to enchant to use this skill. The perks strengthen various aspects of enchanting, such as damage enchantments, skill enchantments, and soforth, so if you intend to focus in a specific area of enchanting, be sure to get the related perks. The best ways to level enchanting are similar to smithing: Quantity over quality. Cheap soul gems and cheap equipment like Iron daggers are the fastest way to level. In addition, be sure to disenchant any gear you won’t be using if it has an enchantment, as this is how you actually learn enchantments to use, and it helps level the skill. Enchanting is a very good skill to invest in however, despite the costs, due to the fact it can be used to compensate for the weaknesses in your character: Bad fire resistance? Enchant your shield to block it! Want to make better potions? Enchant a ring and some gloves to fortify your Alchemy skill! A small word of advice: Seek out the Shrine of Azura if you want to take full advantage of this skill.

-Levelling Up!-
Well, now that the skills are out of the way, it’s time to discuss levelling! As said before, progress in any combination of skills and you’ll eventually gain levels. From here, you can spend a perk point, or save it if you don’t have any perks available that you’re aiming to get. In addition, you also get to upgrade a stat by 10 points (This MUST be done, you can’t save stat ups like skill points). Now, while you could theoretically level up skills that easily level (Like smithing) to gain your levels, don’t be in a rush to do this. Things in Skyrim gradually become stronger as you level, and in addition you can’t get perks in skills unless you have enough mastery over that skill to purchase the perk. When in doubt, focus on the skills you want to improve, don’t just try and gain levels for the sake of gaining them. Also, whenever you do gain a level, after you choose your stat upgrade, your Magicka, Health, and Stamina are fully healed! So if you gain a level in the middle of a fight, don’t be quick to actually enter the levelup menu. Consider saving that actual levelup for a crucial moment in the fight to get a full heal out of it.

-Plan out your Perks-
You’ll be able to reach around level 80 if you actually take the time to master all skills, so this means you have a potential 79 Perk Points to spend. That said though, don’t just spend them randomly! Look at perks you’re interested in, and try to plan out some kind of progression for your character. Playing by ear may leave you in a weakened state, because if you spread your points across every skill in the game and don’t specialize in at least one specific combat skillset, you’ll find yourself unable to do enough damage to win later fights. The good news is that levelling up doesn’t force you into a perk decision, so you can always save the point if you can’t get a perk you’re aiming for yet. When in doubt, save the point, and use it on an intended perk, don’t just spend a point for the sake of having it spent.

That said, it is good to figure a few skillsets you’ll put a lot of your perk points into. Here’s a few recommendations of what you should prioritize!

-At least one ‘combat’ skill. This doesn’t necessarily have to be weapons, Destruction Magic is fine too. Just make sure you invest a good number of Perk Points in a skill that lets you inflict damage: You’ll need to hit harder as enemies become stronger.

-At least one crafting skill that benefits your class. Warriors should almost always learn all the perks related to the armor type they’ll be using (Light/Heavy) so they can smith and upgrade gear. That said though, don’t be afraid to spread it out! Enchanting isn’t a bad idea either. The two combined can be a deadly combination in terms of effectiveness.

-Restoration, IF you’re A)A warrior B)A spellcaster of any kind. Restoration’s healing will be a must in battles, and its perks also benefit dedicated spellcasters. Of all the magic schools, this is one I think virtually every character type benefits from.

-A magic school that complements your playstyle. This one’s only if you aren’t going to invest purely in Magic. It is however, to your benefit to invest in Illusion if you’re a sneaky type, or possibly Alteration for its armor bonuses if you’re a warrior. Don’t necessarily invest in the entire skillset, but spend points in areas that directly benefit you. Assuming Restoration IS the one that complements your playstyle, well…Then don’t put too much into a second school of magic if you’re not making Magic your primary focus.

-Alchemy, because you’ll need potions. Lots of them. And being able to make them will save you a ton of gold.

-Sneak, IF you’re a stealth type. If you plan to be any kind of Stealth type character, you’ll pretty much want every perk the Sneak skillset offers.

-What’s NOT worth investing in?-
While one could argue that every Skillset has good perks, some can be unnecessary, even on a character that focuses in that particular skill. Here’s some that you can afford to avoid putting points into (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, it just means you can get by without it).

-Lockpicking. Even without perks, you can crack the hardest locks as long as you’re A)Patient and B)Have a good supply of lockpicks. The most I would recommend is getting Quick Hands (and the perks below it since you have to) but that’s about it. Patience and picks will let you crack locks, perks just make it faster for the impatient type.

-Speech. I could be wrong here, but I didn’t encounter a lot of situations where a speech check was absolutely vital to my success: At most it maybe just let me bypass a tiny bit of a quest. In addition, the sheer amount of profit you can make through various means (Selling off your extra loot, crafting with raw materials you find in the world, or various forms of thievery) outweighs any benefits from perks that improve your bartering. You might have to visit multiple merchants to sell off your wares, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to invest Perk Points in other areas.

-Both Armor skills. You should invest in at least one in most cases, yes (Aside from people who won’t be wearing armor), but don’t try to learn both. Unless you’re absolutely trying to be some kind of jack of all trades, trying to master both armor types is just plain wasteful. If you’re going to be in your enemy’s face, go heavy. If you need mobility, go light. Don’t try and do both, especially since some of the perks require a full set of matching light/heavy armor anyway.

-Both One Handed and Two Handed. This is another case of “You aren’t going to be using both, so why bother?” If you’re going with a sword and shield style, you’re going to rely on that so much that two handed weapons are a waste of your time. By the same token, if you aren’t using dual wielding or a sword and shield, you’ll probably end up only wanting to use two handed weapons and their perks anyway.

-Both the shield and non shield perks of Block. See above. If you’re using two handed weapons, take the right path of perks. If you’re using a shield, take the left. Don’t take both.

-Both sides of Smithing. This can be iffy. If you want to be able to smith absolutely EVERYTHING in the game, go ahead and learn every perk in Smithing. However, if you intend to specialize in Light/Heavy armor, only go for the perks related to your armor. A small piece of advice though, Daedric, despite the lower skill requirement, is stronger than Dragon in terms of armor and weapons.

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