As is par for the course, the player gets to pick from a wide variety of races. However, this is more important than ever before as there are no classes, birth signs or even stats. You’re going to want to pick your race very carefully. Each of them provides you with bonuses to particular skills as well as granting one of a few unique abilities. There is no such thing as a “bad” race choice - although you can find yourself in a bad spot by choosing a race that doesn’t align with your play style.
Above: For example Bretons love magic. Be a mage
When picking a race you will gain a number of benefits. First, your starting stats are impacted either positively or negatively. Second, you gain a number of passive special abilities, such as boosts to magical damage or poison. Lastly, you will gain a unique activated magical power with a wide variety of effects. With these three things you can plot out what sort of character you want to make.
Take note of a few details:
1. All characters start with a Health, Magicka and Stamina of 100. Very few characters have any passive abilities that grant them higher beginning stats.
2. All of your skills start at a base of 15 and your choice of race modifies it from there.
3. All characters seem to start with the Flames spell and Healing spell. Some will have extra spells to begin with, but this is usually noted in their description.
As one look at their abilities will tell you, any Argonian is naturally designed to be a thief type character. Lockpicking and Sneak will get you into enemy strongholds, Pickpocket can be used to filch things for fun and/or profit and Light Armor will help you when a fight breaks out. While you don’t start out with any boosted weapon skills Alteration helps out a bit thanks to the ability to paralyze your foes. Paralyze your foes, slice them apart and then use Restoration to heal any wounds you’ve accumulated.
To anyone who may have avoided them in the past games due to the restrictions on their equipment, fear not, that restriction is removed. Now you can wear full suits of armor to further enhance your traits, removing their one great hindrance. However, the race itself is somewhat weaker than other stealth races as the water breathing ability isn’t a huge boon. The disease and poison protection is really nice though.
Their abilities are somewhat at odds with their purpose, which weakens them. Their skills are geared towards stealth which helps for thieves and assassins. They have an armor skill to protect them in combat, Restoration magicks to protect them and heal their wounds, plus they have Histskin to regenerate even faster. But with only Alteration to aid them in combat you’re going to be at a disadvantage in a fight until you train up your fighting skills.
An Argonian will have access to:
Alteration: 20, Light Armor: 20, Lockpicking: 25, Sneak: 20, Pickpocket: 20, Restoration: 20
Resist Disease – Gives a 50% resistance to disease.
Waterbreathing – You may at all times breathe underwater.
Histskin – When activated your health will regenerate ten times faster.
Once you escape Helgen Keep use the Guardian Stones to gain the Warrior Sign. This will boost your combat abilities at a rate 30% faster than normal, which helps your chosen weapon level-up fast enough so you can pick some really nice perks. Then from here continue to develop both your combat and stealth skills until you have a very nice assassin character. It’s probably best to go with One Handed Blades; pairing up Paralyze spells with two short swords or daggers to slice enemies up is an exceedingly effective combat tactic.
Should you go with this combat route then it’s suggested that you purchase the few dual wielding skills so that you can get more attacks in and do more damage with those attacks. It could make all the difference in killing that enemy before he escapes paralysis and begins fighting back.
Bretons hail from the province of High Rock and they are mages extraordinaire. With the mixture of their Aldmer and human blood they are capable of powerful magical feats without being quite as frail as their elven ancestors. With a sword in one hand and electricity blazing from the other these guys can handle almost any situation if they’ve been trained properly.
To a degree it’s safe to think of the Breton as a “training wheels” type character. They have a high Conjuration skill which lets them summon allies to help them fight, aiding new players in dealing with some of the harder battles (like Dragons). In addition to that, they focus on support magic instead of direct combat spells which lets you fight with a sword and shield - swapping to magic as needed. These two facts grant them high survivability as compared to most other mage characters.
Honestly, the Breton is one of the better character races in the game even if you don’t know what you’re doing. They don’t start off in especially fantastic shape to be a warrior or thief, but they can certainly be trained up for that. Heck, use the Guardian Stones if you find your skills aren’t leveling up fast enough. Overall, this race may not be as immediately helpful as some other races but it definitely packs a heck of a punch when used properly.
A Breton will have access to:
Alchemy: 20, Alteration: 20, Conjuration: 25, Illusion: 20, Restoration: 20, Speech: 20
Magic Resistance: Grants a 25% resistance to magic but not elemental spells.
Dragonskin: Absorb 50% of the magicka from hostile spells for 60 seconds.
As you can probably guess, the Breton makes for an excellent mage. Due to their innate skill with magick you have a whole lot of options here. They have no specialization with offensive spells so either train them up or simply work around that. Either way, this character can really be played in just about any way. A few ideas are listed below:
Pure Mage: This is the most obvious choice. Eschew weapons and armors almost entirely for best results; keep an offensive spell in one hand and a summoning or protective spell in the other. Pump up your school of choice and then just tear through your foes. Mages will find you especially difficult to fight, especially if you bring protective spells. While they may not start with a boost to Destruction they do start with Flames and Sparks so they’re ready to blast apart enemies right out the door.
Thief: Illusion provides you with concealment options for stealthy approaches. Take the Illusion Perk and Quiet Casting, to give yourself the option to cast any spells you like while hidden away. Conjuration can be used to summon powerful weapons or battle allies – it’s entirely possible to hide away from enemies and send minions to do your bidding. If you’re not doing great in combat then use Alchemy to make poisons to rapidly damage enemies or paralyze them.
Fighter: A fighter might seem unlikely but it actually works pretty well. Restoration spells will keep you alive, Conjuration will summon up a battle buddy to provide assistance in tough fights and Alteration will help inhibit your foes ability to fight back. Plus, since you resist their magic, mages are going to die in short order as you charge right into their face and cut them open. Even their strongest spells will have little impact on you especially if you use Dragonskin.
Dark Elves (Dunmer)
Ah, the much maligned Dark Elves. Without a doubt the Dunmer are this author’s personal favorite. All of their skills mesh nicely with my preferred play style – They mix magic with stealth and, once you train your weapon skills, they can easily fit into just about any role you so desire. The Ancestor ability is very useful as well for any enemies who dare to get into melee range and the natural fire resistance will help with some of the tougher enemies in the game.
If you’re going to use a Dunmer then pick what sort of weapon you’ll want to use early on. They do best with light equipment so it’s suggested that you have a bow, a one-handed light sword and a light shield. Early on, the bow is very helpful for getting sneak attacks since you won’t be able to get close to enemies. So snipe them and then deal with them via sword and shield. It is important that you plan out your perk path though, since you don’t want to waste perks on bow abilities and then never use them later on.
Their skills back up this kind of jack-of-all-trades approach. Alchemy provides healing potions as well as poisons to weaken your foes, Alteration provides numerous useful spells (Paralyze is notable) and Illusion can help protect you. Destruction magic is kind of the odd man out since it’s not the most useful for stealth or straight up fights, but as you get stronger spells later on this can become pretty useful.
A Dunmer will have access to:
Alchemy: 20, Alteration: 20, Destruction: 25, Illusion: 20, Light Armor: 20, Sneak: 20
Resist Fire – Your Dunmer has a 50% resistance to all forms of fire.
Ancestor’s Wrath – For 60 seconds all nearby enemies take 8 points of fire damage per second.
One of the good things you can do with a Dunmer is to make a spellcaster, swaddle him in light armor and use Alteration and Illusion magic to protect yourself further. Put a shield in one hand with an offensive spell in the other and fight smart. If you are fighting a mage use lightning magic to drain his magicka or set fire to an oil patch on the floor to burn enemies to death. Honestly, you don’t even need a weapon. It’s also possible to favorite Paralyze and an offensive spell, paralyze an enemy and then dual-wield Flames and burn them to cinders.
But as mentioned above, it is quite possible to literally play a character that does a bit of everything. Your perks will be focused on your preferred weapons of choice, but it’s quite possible to have a character that can sneak, cast spells and fight pretty well.
High Elves (Altmer)
Altmer are without a doubt the undisputed masters of magic. While the Breton may be powerful spellcasters, and resist magic quite well, it is the High Elves who can bend the forces of magicka to their will. Masters of all types of magic, they can draw from deep personal magicka reserves to use their art more often than most other spellcasters could hope.
The High Elves have never been a personal favorite due to the fact that they’re totally focused on spellcasting. In most Elder Scrolls games the spellcasting system was a bit on the tedious side early on and then became grossly overpowered as you created your own spells. It is far more balanced in Skyrim, and the ability to dual wield magic grants you a lot of versatility. Walking around with a protection spell in one hand and Flames coming from the other grants you both offensive and defensive options at the same time almost like having a sword and shield.
One thing to note is that the High Elf actually starts out with an Illusion spell - something few others get. Unfortunately, this is Frenzy which costs a whole lot of mana and doesn’t seem to work very often. You need to find other spells to help this one work, and even then, it is of limited use. So that third starting spell is something of a dud. Focus on your Destruction magic for the opening and then swap over to whatever grabs your interest after you get to the open world.
An Altmer will have access to:
Alteration: 25, Conjuration: 20, Destruction: 20, Enchanting: 20 Illusion: 20, Restoration: 20
Highborn – High Elves are born with 50 extra magicka.
Highborn – Regenerate magicka faster for 60 seconds.
Unlike the Breton the High Elves are basically steamrolled into playing as pure mages. Luckily, they excel at that in a way that will make even the Breton envious. So, if you pick a High Elf that’s something you’re going to want to embrace and just go nuts with. Decide on what sort of spellcaster you want to be and just start dropping your perks into those skills.
It is heavily suggested that you place most of your emphasis on your Conjuration and Destruction magicks. Conjuration is so versatile that any pure mage will really want to have that on hand to help out while Destruction will be your offensive bread and butter. Restoration and Illusion are good for helping you to stay alive but you will want to focus on the first two - unless you have a very specific idea for your character.
Out of the various races, the Imperials are among the most versatile. Owing to their expertise as merchants and soldiers they have plenty of skill at keeping themselves alive whether it requires talking their way out of a problem or bashing enemies with a club. The only skills they lack to begin with are stealth based, which means they make much better fighters or mages than they do thieves or assassins.
Newer players who are interested in fighters may find the Imperial to be the ideal race for them. Their skills are designed for them to suit up in heavy armor with a heavy shield and one-handed weapon. If their weapon isn’t cutting it then they can use Destruction magic to assist them. If you’re playing them right then you’ll have very little need for Restoration, but it’s still nice to have it if things get bad.
However, their abilities are kind of spread all over the place, and this does hamper them a bit. For example, if you don’t plan on using much magic then both Destruction and Restoration will be going to waste. Their enchanting ability is in that very same boat, since it’s not something every character will even want to bother with. That leaves you with up to three dead skills, one of which is the highest skill the Imperial starts with. So be very sure that you’re going to do something with those skills before picking this race. It’s not like its active racial ability is anything too special, although the extra money can be nice.
An Imperial will have access to:
Block: 20, Destruction: 20, Enchanting: 20, Heavy Armor: 20, One Handed: 20, Restoration: 25
Imperial Luck – Anywhere gold coins might be found Imperials always seem to find a few more.
Voice of the Emperor – Calms nearby people for 60 seconds.
The Imperial works well as either a straight up warrior who uses a few spells to assist him (Restoration mostly) or a mage who wears heavy armor and focuses on Destruction and Restoration.
If you choose to go with a warrior, then you should find yourself having a pretty easy time of it for the earlier portions of the game. Later, you will probably want to invest in Enchanting so that you can get the most of your enchanted items, or you could simply invest in it early on. It will help you keep your enchanted weapons recharged and possibly even make some equipment, helping you as the fighting gets harder.
The mage route is a bit more unconventional due to the fact that you’re going to be a mage who doesn’t use mage robes to enhance his abilities. Put on the hood you find inside of the torture cell to increase your magicka pool and then just heap on the heavy armor with a shield. Then you will want to swap between whatever weapon you’re using to bean enemies in the face and a Destruction spell that fits your opponent.