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Skyrim - Strategy and Achievement Guide

by Matthew F. Hibben
12/15/11

Skyrim is without a doubt a vast game, filled with many things to discover and many areas to explore.  Skyrim has many achievements associated with it as well as many different paths a player may take in order to fulfill these tasks.  This week's Game Tech article delves into the achievement system as well as giving players a listing of quests and abilities that will enrich their time within Skyrim.

Making Money

Making money in Skyrim opens up a lot of avenues for players in terms of player development.   With a good amount of riches, players can buy and furnish housing, fund crafting development, and arm themselves properly.  In addition to these reasons for acquiring assets there is also the achievement to acquire a set amount of gold, called "Golden Touch" (Have 100,00 gold).  Early in any play through, getting to the 100k mark will seem like an impossible task.

Like most things in Skyrim there are many different ways to go about hitting this high gold mark.  Selling items to vendors is by far the easiest and most direct way of making gold in the game.  The main roadblocks in place to limit this rate of gold accumulation are that vendor gold is limited and player carrying capacity is also limited.   As stated, vendors have a limited amount of gold which will replenish over time, but vendors also have limited interest in terms of what they sell and what they will buy. 

Blacksmith's will only buy and sell weapons and armor, while alchemists will buy and sell ingredients and potions, and so forth.  Getting to know what vendors will buy and sell will be a big help in terms of always clearing your inventory of those big ticket items, and selling them to the right vendor.  Some items overlap different vendors in terms of interest so it is important to sell the right types of items to the different vendors. General goods vendors tend to buy the most varied types of items, so it's important to sell your more obscure treasures to them, instead of selling weapons to them, which could have easily been sold to a blacksmith, and thus depleting the general goods vendor's gold.

Early on it will always feel like a losing battle in terms of trying to sell off the items you acquire, meaning, it will often seem like your plunder will always exceed what vendors are willing to buy.  There are actually a few vendors early on that can be used to help alleviate this.  When starting the primary quest "The Way of the Voice" the player will need to travel to High Hrothgar passing by a few key vendors. The path is depicted in the map image in violet, and the two vendors are indicated in red.

These two camps circled in red contain faction quartermasters.  There are two very important things about these vendors versus any others.  First they do not have an open and closing schedule, meaning morning or night you can "Fast Travel" to these locations and sell any weapons or armor with values up to 1100 gold.  The second thing about these vendors is that their gold replenishes as soon as you travel to a new location, so traveling between the two camps restocks their gold and gives players a nice early set of locations to sell off unwanted, valuable, and often heavy items. 

This actually works for any of the Stormcloak/Imperial camps, but these two locations are ones the player will acquire very early on in the campaign.

As stated earlier, there are many different ways to go about any problem in Skyrim, and in terms of vendors, the selling of items, and the accumulation of wealth, this is no different.  Players can undertake a large chain of missions for the Thieves Guild to restore their former influence over the realm.  This chain also is required for the achievement "One with the Shadows".  What this chain of missions does for the player is add massive amounts of gold to the Thieves Guild main  fence, add Thieves Guild operatives in all the Major cities which have the same amount of gold to spend (4000 gold fully upgraded), and provide the player with a means to one stop sell any item type, including stolen items. With a fully upgraded Thieves Guild presence in Skyrim, players will quickly have more gold than they know what to do with.

For players looking to steer clear of unsavory characters for RP (role play) reasons there are also the Speechcraft Perks.  Perks within the Speechcraft discipline will mimic most of what the Thieves Guild can do for players, although to a lesser extent. Players can spend Perks to improve both the amount of Gold vendors have as well as the variety of items a vendor will buy.  The downside to this solution of course is this will detract a finite amount of perks away from other abilities players will want to spend Perks on.

Skilling Up

Skilling up falls into a very broad category of any and all ways players may advance their various abilities.  Before I go any further I want to explain standing stones and very specifically "The Lover Stone".  Standing stones are points on the world map players can discover that, when activated, give the player a permanent bonus that stays with the player until over-written by another standing stone bonus.  The Lover Stone gives a bonus of "All skills improve 15% faster" and is something the player will want to acquire as quickly as possible.  This standing stone can actually be reached very early on in the game and with little effort.  Outside the first major city the player will reach is usually a horse drawn cart.  This cart can take the player to any city for the cost of a small amount of gold.   Approach the driver of the cart and select Markarth, and after arriving at Markarth exit the city and travel east by north east.  Using the mini map simply travel towards the icon of a standing stone and acquire your permanent +15% to skill gains.  This standing stone ability is pretty much what you will want to use for the duration of the game.

So for actually skilling up various abilites in Skyrim there are various ways to do this. First there is learning by doing, meaning skills will naturally gain levels as you use them in their specific context. Secondly there is using trainers, using a trainer allows a player to gain 5 skill levels in total spread across any type of discipline as long as the total amount of training is 5 per level. Finally there are skill tomes and quest rewards. Training offers players the luxury of picking the type of skill they want to level up but have the downside of costing progressively more and more gold per level.  A huge trick for minimizing this cost is by training with NPC's that can also be companions.  A companion is a NPC that will join players on their travels and allow players to trade with them.

A player that trains with a companion can simply request all of the gold back from NPC.   Players with high enough pick-pocketing skill can also steal this gold back from the NPC's.

Skilling up through tomes and rewards is yet another way to gain levels in various abilities.  The upside is this is generally considered free levels, but the downsides are that players will typically not know beforehand what abilities will be increased and the time it takes to discover the tomes or quests.  A pretty good way to discern books that are just flavor items versus books that most likely contain knowledge that will lead to a skill gain is by the value of the book.  Scrolling over books will list the item's value and skill tomes have a much greater value than regular books.  This strategy will save a lot of time, giving players a means to quickly scan a bookcase or table top for book values, versus reading every single book in sight.  Skills from quest rewards are usually taught by the NPC giving the quest, and there really is no way to know before hand what type of reward the quest will give.  I typically complete all quests I come across for this reason alone as well as the very sought after active ability rewards.

Active Effects

Active abilities are abilities that are always factored into your character.  Most active abilities are from equipped item enchants like fire resistance, for example, but sometimes a quest or quest chain will reward a unique active ability.  For this reason, players looking to maximize their characters growth will want to complete a wide array of missions. A good example was gaining an active ability on one play through that I did not have on a previous incarnation of the game, and thinking to myself how easily I had missed this great ability.

Perks

There are a great many of Perks in Skyrim that will be very dependant on what type of character you play.  There are, however, many abilities that players will find very useful regardless of what class they are going for.  These abilities include various Crafting Perks, which I will go into later, as well as a few choice thief oriented abilities.  For thief oriented abilities I felt that a few well placed points spent in both pick pocket and lock picking really were essential.  For 3 Perks spent in Pick Pocket players will gain a large boost to their pick pocket chances against all targets, additional bonuses to sleeping targets, and carrying capacity increased by 100.  A skill level of 50 in Pick Pocket is needed to progress through these 3 Perks, and this is very doable early on in the game while in the first city of Whiterun.  Under Lock Picking the ability Quick Hands allows players to pick locks unnoticed (and without incurring bounties).  This is a great ability for getting into many locations without getting into trouble with guards, as well as an easy way to level up the ability in places that have locked display cases.

Combat oriented Perks are really specific to the type of character you are going to develop, of which most players will simply move through the entire perk set for a given discipline. Abilities that I found pretty awesome that many players may not initially go for are Conjuration. 

Conjuration is basically summoning various types of Creatures under the control of the caster, and typically for a limited amount of time. Once a player reaches skill level 100 in Conjuration the player can learn permanent summons, this coupled with the final ability learned in Conjuration Perks allows the player to summon two permanent thralls.  These are actually very fun, but a word of warning, they are very powerful.  On my push to achieve level 80 (one of my unofficial goals in Skyrim), I had a number of Perk points to spend and decided to give conjuration a go. Well, the elemental thralls were able to kill all but the most powerful targets instantly before I could even get into range. Suffice to say it was fun, but it certainly took away from the challenge.

Crafting

Crafting in Skyrim is broken down into 3 disciplines: Alchemy, Enchanting, and Blacksmithing.  For players looking to explore the path of the crafter they will be wise to max out all three of these disciplines since they work together so well.  Blacksmithing is of the three the easiest to max out, or reach skill level 100.  Players will be able to do very easy recipes from start to finish in order to progress through Blacksmithing.  The go to recipes for Blacksmithing are Leather Bracers and Iron Daggers.  Leather and Iron are ingredients that the player will constantly be acquiring.  These 2 ingredients will get a player from level 1 to 100, sad but true and definitely the recommended mode for raising this skill.

 A good tip for speeding up the process for gaining leather is by killing poachers, they drop a lot of hides, and are not part of any faction, so killing them will incur no bounty.  In addition to Iron and Leather, players will often stumble across other types of metals, specifically Gold and Silver.  These two metals are of special interest because they can be quickly turned into rings and neck pieces for additional skill points as you find them, requiring no additional materials.

For those wanting to get the most out of Smithing, there are of course the perks to spend.  The 3 Perks circled in the diagram are perks you do not need to spend in order to gain the coveted Dragon and Daedric recipes.  The Dragon and Daedric recipes will provide the weapons and armor that will be the best in the game, generally speaking.  I have read a lot about players having problems finding Daedric Hearts for their recipes and wanted to share a nice location that gives 4.  The Shrine of Mehrunes Dagon, after completing the quest associated with this Daedric Prince, will have 4 Daedra that spawn there every 48 hours. Players after the Oblivion Walker achievement will certainly be doing this quest chain.  As an added bonus the interior of the shrine contains many ingots and valuable items including ebony and gold, and of course the 4 Daedra Hearts.

Enchanting is next in terms of difficulty to max out, but certainly well worth doing so.  Enchantments offer huge boosts to damage output and protection.  Players learn Enchant recipes by disenchanting magical items.  A very easy way for players early on to start building up their list of available recipes is by pick pocketing.  Many of the various inhabitants of the cities carry around magical rings and necklaces.  These items offer a 2x fold boon to players providing skill ups in Pick Pocket as well as skill ups in Enchanting via disenchant.  Remember all of those Leather Bracers you will be making well, you will now be using them. 

Leather Bracers make the perfect fodder for leveling up Enchanting.  Players may also use the Iron Daggers they made as well, however weapon enchants take longer to make due to additional UI prompts, for that reason I suggest sticking to armor enchants. Once a player reaches 100 in enchanting they can learn the Perk "Extra Effect" allowing them to place 2 different enchantments on a given item. 

Alchemy is the last of the Crafting disciplines that round out the trinity and is the most time consuming to level up.  Alchemy is used to create potions and poisons that will improve combat prowess, defense, crafting abilities, and ways to debilitate your targets.  Alchemy is the skill set that I recommend players spend the majority of their training on per level (if not all), for the very basic reason that Alchemy is very time consuming to level up.  It takes a great number of potions to advance this craft, and these potions take a great deal of time to acquire materials for, and the recipes themselves take yet more time to learn.  All recipes however are not created equal and each ingredient has multiple tiers of effects, 4 in total, and making potions that utilize the higher tier effects will progress Alchemy much faster than making the lower ones.  Potion making is actually a very good way to make gold in Skryim, and as your skill level rises your potion values will increase.  Eventually your potions will be worth as much as many of the high ticket weapons and armors you become accustomed to selling.

Advanced Items

Alchemy really shines when working towards making the very best weapons, armors, and enchantments possible.  Within Alchemy there are two recipes in particular, Fortify Enchanting and Fortify Smithing.  These 2 potions will allow players to produce items of staggering power.  This, coupled with Smithing and Alchemy boosting enchants allow players to make items and item enchantments that are indeed the best in the game.

A player seeking to max out the items they can make will first need Alchemy and Enchanting at 100.  Enchanting allows players to create items enchantments that fortify Alchemy and Smithing, but the player will want to create a set of fortify alchemy first.  The item slots that can hold Alchemy enchants are Helms, Hands, Rings, and Necklaces.  Once these slots are enchanted a set of Alchemy gear is made, the player can now make even more powerful potions that enhance both Enchanting and Smithing.  Focusing still on Enchanting and Alchemy the player can produce Enchanting potions, and re make the items, with more powerful versions of the Enhance Alchemy enchantments. This circular process can be repeated a few times before the items will no longer improve.

This same process can be applied to Smithing gear. The items that can accept Smithing Enchantments are Chest Pieces, Hands, Rings, and Necklaces.  I typically will place both my Alchemy and Smithing enchantments on the overlapping pieces.  Players can then take a Potion of Smithing while wearing their smithing improvement gear, and improve the gear by many factors.

Skyrim offers a wide array of activities for players to become engrossed in.  From achievements to completionist oriented goals, the amount to do in Skyrim is staggering. It is my hope this guide has helped to explain some of the things I have learned during my thorough exploration of the game.

Skyrim Strategy Guide Video

  • 1.
    Intro
  • 2.
    Making Money
  • 3.
    Merchants
  • 4.
    Skilling Up
  • 5.
    Active Effects
  • 6.
    Perks
  • 7.
    Crafting
  • 8.
    Crafting Tips
  • 9.
    Advanced Items
  • 10.
    Final Thoughts
  • 11.
    Video
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