Play-thru 1: Adam the Argonian
I was a virgin to the Elder Scrolls series. I don’t really remember why I bought the game or who got it for me. I remember building my first character, I really took my time. Reading through the special skills for each race. Contemplating over the perfect pair of horns. Ultimately, I decided to create an argonian and named him after myself. It was a role playing game, after all. His face was red, not from the fear of his imminent execution, but his scales always shined a bright cherry red in the sunlight. The cool thing about playing as an Argonian is you truly look the part of the Dragonborn.
The game starts out so epic. A dragon attacks Helgen and I learn the basic gameplay controls while making a desperate escape from the fire raining from the sky. Little did I know my fellow escapee was none other than Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm and leader of the Stormcloak rebellion. I loot bodies for weapons and armor, while madly chasing the destination on the map’s radar. Eventually I find my way down to an underground tunnel, beneath a stone tower.
Now the real fun begins. You’re in a wet and dark cave. The action from outside has finally quieted down. you see a giant bear, far away in the shadowy distance. I could try to sneak up and fight the beast with a rusty iron sword, but the shield I was holding looked a bit rickety. And I’d recently seen the Revenant. If Leo couldn’t kill a bear with a musket, I didn’t think my level 1 lizard-man was up to the challenge. So I borrowed the bow and arrows that a nearby decaying skeleton was clutching onto for the last few decades or so. Pulling back on the string, I let go and watched my character level up his stealth skill. The bear roared and charged me and I quickly realized that one arrow wouldn’t suffice.
You can imagine what happened from there. I played the game. I completely and totally immersed myself in it. Making my way to Riverwood for the first time. Slaying dragons with huge fireball blasts and then ripping their bones off to sell to local merchants. Destroying undead zombies in ancient tombs with a trusty two handed battle ax. But mainly exploring the wondrous land of Tamriel. Beating dungeons. Discovering new cities. Helping out strangers not for money, but just because I wanted to. I was entranced. The first play through, I actually read a lot of the books. Until I discovered the College of Winterhold’s library.
This was where my character really stared to specialize. I didn’t really have a clear plan for my build. He was starting to become a warrior that wielded heavy armor and two handed weapons. But his healing and destruction magic were strong. I completed the epic storyline of the college. I remember the final boss fight was with the Thalmor wizard and he was tough. I used a lot of potions to heal myself, since I didn’t fight him completely with magic. With Savos Aren dead, I donned the late Arch-Mage’s robes. Suddenly my magic was unstoppable. Combined with the impact perk, my fireballs now staggered enemies. One-on-one fights in open spaces with dragons and giants became significantly easier. But the longer I played, I discovered new challenges: Death lords, Master-level wizards, and ambushes by those damned Falmer’s poison arrows.
A few memories still stand out. The first few times I fought giants. You remember: you’d already decimated a dozen or so dragons. At this point, my heavy armor was pretty strong and I wasn’t really scared about the muted and hairless Sasquatch. And dear Daedra was I wrong. The first time I fought a giant, his club smashed me into the sky, soaring past Meridia and into the heavens above.
I just played the game for fun the first time around. I went really far and got up to a high level. Eventually the game became too easy. I hadn’t yet discovered how much more fun the game was by adjusting the difficulty at key points. My final build used maxed out heavy armor, I believe it was a full matching set of ebony armor, with a wicked ebony war hammer, enchanted with extra flame damage.
I found and destroyed most of the Dragon Priests on my 1st play-thru. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the secret dungeon that requires all of the masks to gain entry. As of writing this, I’ve still yet to complete that mission. I thought I’d completed the majority of Skyrim’s storyline and missions, but I was mistaken.
Play-thru 2: Julian the Trailer Park Nord
Why I started playing again is anyone’s guess. I was in a huge Trailer Park Boy’s phase at the time, so I designed a character that looked exactly like Julian. Ironically, it was one of the pre-set faces for an ancient Nord.
This play-through was all about mastery. I leveled up blacksmithing to 100 so I could create Daedric and dragon bone armors. I used archery and conjuration magic much more this play through. I also level up my enchanting perks. My character was an unstoppable Demi-God by the end. I played on high difficulty settings.
This play-through I discovered one of my favorite side-campaigns: The Dark Brotherhood. It was completely unlike other missions. It reminded me of the multi-mission saga of the College of Winterhold. It turned me on to the fun of being a silent assassin. It’s an epic storyline that ends up with you impersonating the Gourmet, becoming the Listener, and successfully being the first member of the Dark Brotherhood to kill the emperor of Skyrim in centuries.
I also joined the Companions and went through the arduous ritual to become a werewolf. Other than navigating Skyrim on foot at super fast speeds, I didn’t really find it that useful to be a werewolf. I even joined the Bard’s college in Solitude. Just to be a completionist, I even sided with the Stormcloaks and won the civil war with my magical Warhammer.
My disk for the PS3 version of Skyrim was starting to not work correctly, so I purchased a new copy with the Dragonborn DLC. This was a pretty amazing edition, especially for players like me that nearly completed all of the main story missions. I bought land from a Jarl and build a huge house. It shows off all of my armors I’d collected and put them on display. I joined the Dawnguard, but couldn’t complete the campaign because of a bug, which I’ll describe in detail to hopefully prevent others from making the same mistake. Right before opening the portal to realm where Serena’s mother is hiding, I preemptively collected void salts in the room and made a potion. Because of this mistake, I couldn’t complete the mission and the auto-saves were already too far gone to restore my mistake. I think this is exactly when I stopped playing my 2nd play-thru.
But I did enjoy everything about Solstheim. The new ice-type weapons, all of the new and curious conjurations, the bizarre realm of Apocrypha, and riding a dragon for the first time. Not to mention finally learning some powerful conjuration magic spells, like the Ash Guardian. And the new enemy types were incredible: Lurkers, fire spriggans, seekers, the evil smurfs, frost giants, and the surprisingly strong ash spawn.
This play-thru I amassed countless spells and shouts. One of my favorite finds were spells. One was a transmutation spell that literally turned iron ore into gold. Another was Equilibrium, a rare alternation spell that converted physical health into magic energy. But combined with an apprentice level healing spell, one could quickly level up their healing and alternation levels.
Play-thru 3: Aimee the Dark Archer
I had a plan for this play-thru right from the start: complete the Dawnguard DLC and this time join the vampires. But it wasn’t as simple as I expected. I choose to travel with Serena for much of this game. We ended up betraying her father, Lord Harkon. I enjoyed being a Vampire Lord and did some missions to level up my skills, but I quickly realized how overpowered it was. I did enjoy being able to levitate over water, but the weakness to sunlight was annoying. I often traveled during the night, to avoid the harsh sunlight. To keep the game fun, I stopped using the Vampire Lord form and just completed the missions as a mortal.
This character was a dark elf, with a small frame to maximize the benefits of sneaking. What surprised me was making the character’s height a bit smaller actually lowered where the cursor sat in the middle of the screen. It was sometimes tricky to tell at a glance if I was crouching or standing.
Part of vampire missions involved finding Auriel’s Bow. It’s a complicated process to earn it, but you work with the spirits of snow elves to do a special pilgrimage. Eventually you wander the Forgotten Vale, a beautiful valley covered in snow and breathing with wildlife. It’s the first time you see a Frost Giant, with massive devil horns protruding out of his head. You also get to read an Elder Scroll!
But what I really loved was fighting a pair of dragons, Naaslaarum and Voslaarum. Playing on Adept difficulty, these dragons killed me, the Spectral Assassin, my Flame Atronach, and Serena many times. They not only escaped to the skies, but also dived into the freezing waters above the frozen lake on which our battle took place.
And the fight with Lord Harkon was nothing short of epic. It truly felt like a traditional video game last boss fight. He had a way of healing his self while in a magic sphere of blood. Auriel’s bow had the power to break through this barrier. All the while he summons undead and gargoyles to attack you from both sides. And being a vampire, he can teleport around the room and attack you to recover health. I think it took me 20 minutes to finally beat him.
One of my favorite parts was learning about the origin of the Falmer. They were always an intriguing mystery to me. Apparently they are fallen snow elves, that live in old Dwemmer ruins. After fighting the twin dragons, an ancient vampire snow elf reveals this to you. The Falmer live underground and were blinded after ingesting an herb that causes blindness. Somehow this trait is inherited over generations. In exchange for protection from the Nords, the Falmer traded their sight with the Dwemmer.
After that I just jumped back into playing. Once again I infiltrated the Dark Brotherhood. I took out that annoying Jester again, forgetting that it was actually Astrid that betrays you. This time I’m focused on archery. I recently maxed it out so that I have a chance of paralyzing the target for a few seconds. I have a bow that absorbs Stamina, so I can stay in slow motion for much longer while aiming. Because of a stealth perk, unseen bows cause triple damage. I also have a bound bow that absorbs souls. Using charm, a dragon priest mask, Cicero’s cloths, an amulet, I can sell any type of item in my inventory to any merchant, including a summoneded Daedra. I hope to further master the school of conjuration. My ultimate goal this time is to complete the mission that requires all of the dragon priest masks.
This play-through I was a Skyrim master. Puzzles in dungeons rarely slowed me down. I only died a handful of times in battle. And I didn’t really loot bodies like I used to. I finally realized to only take the valuables, since it’s too heavy to carry around multiple sets of armor. Without really trying, I became rich. To the point that guards in cities would try to arrest me, and I’d just pay off the bounty on the spot. I stopped caring about collecting alchemy ingredients (except for Daedra hearts of course). If there was one specialty for this Dark Archer, it would be stealing souls. This character carried dozens of full and empty soul gems. Enchanted weapons are always fully charged. And many poor Skyrim inhabitants lost their bodies and souls, to further increase my power. I fully understood and played the stealth ability to steal items. I also learned that my character and companion were quite apathetic to chaos and mayhem. Abandoning one’s conscious can be quite liberating. I guess it’s hard to reflect on your actions when you’re an immortal vampire.
Initially I tried to use a light-armor build, but I just like the defense of heavy armor too much. This time I mainly used ancient Nord armor, which resembles a panda bear. I knew what perks were the best and how to become a badass quickly.
One thing that surprised me was how powerful the random encounters with Dawnguard could be. Deadly bolts from their cross bows seem to spontaneously appear from the void and dwindle half of my vampire health in one powerful hit. Trying to fight them without a bow, arrow, and Atronach was pretty much suicide. Serena, curse her ancient undead heart, was no help, since Dawnguard weapon cause extra damage to vampires.
What delighted me was finding new and interesting ways to play:
- A stamina siphoning bow, for example, constantly kept me dodging attack in slow motion. Combined with the Slow Time shout, this is a blast.
- I finally unlocked the paralyze enchantment, which is super fun when duel wielding one-handed swords.
- During an assassination job in Solitude, I was in full Dark Brotherhood garbs. Next thing I know, I had 7 guards trapping my way off of the castle wall. I decided to try a shout that didn’t do any damage: Ice form. Since they were all directly in front of me, I flash froze all of them. Then simply walked by them and easily escaped.
- Using Vampiric Grip to throw enemies through the air, like a Sith Lord.
- Silently eliminating a group of pirates with nothing but an enchanted dagger that does 15 times stealth damage.
- Quickly stealth shooting a pack of wolves from far away, then watching their petty souls drift towards you from the distance.
- Using the Aura detect shout, I learned to better navigate through environments stealthily and land hits on unwitting opponents. I even killed a few Deathlords without detection.
- I played the entire game as a vampire. But Namira’s followers eat a strange diet…
Ideas for the next Elder Scrolls game:
- I think Skyrim needs more enemies! If there’s one thing Bethesda got right with Fallout 4 on PS4, it’s adding more enemies on the map at one time.
- Solstheim was awesome because of the creative enemies and setting. I didn’t like the ashy skies that never got fully light or dark.
- Better UI (without using mods). I’d love to have an easy way to switch between my Stealth equipment and my heavy armor. The quick start menu helps, but it grows to be really long after playing for a long time (that’s what she said).
Tips for new players to keep the game interesting and fun!
- When you’re exploring outside, turn off the HUD and experience the true beauty of Skyrim. Everything looks cooler without the clutter of menus. In general, many games are more immersive when you play this way.
- Learn to adjust the difficulty. You’ll learn skills faster and be more challenged.
- Discover and complete the Daedric prince missions to earn their weapons. They’re a ton of fun to play and their relics are really powerful.
- Complete the main story line. For some reason, people write it off as lame or unessential. But it’s a lot of fun, you get unique shouts, and you get to visit Sovngarde.
- Save (AKA Wait) often, especially in a long dungeon before the boss fight.
- Join the Dark Brotherhood.