By David Hodgson
Overview. The Sky’s the Limit
Work began on the official guide in early May, when I commenced an overwhelming trek into every frigid corner of Skyrim. Initially, I was thinking this would be a similar experience to my work on the Fallout 3 guide. But then phrases like “even more epic” and “five times the size” were whispered to me. More than five months, close to 2,000 man-hours of work (between myself and co-author Steve Stratton), several thousand cups of tea and packets of Monster Munch later, and with a massive support structure from both Bethesda and Prima, the guide is complete.
This weighty tome clocks in at 656 pages. It is around 550,000 words. It has over 150 maps and well over 1,000 screenshots. It has an interactive online version with a malleable world map (and an iPad map app). But more importantly, it’s been designed to fundamentally aid the adventurer no matter what their skill level, knowledge of the series, or familiarity with past Bethesda titles. Here’s how the guide breaks down:
After a comprehensive contents section, and the full lyrics (in both English and Dragon) to the “Song of the Dragonborn”, the first 70 pages of the guide are given over to general training.
In this, we cover:
The races, where specific advantages and innate abilities are shown: So you know, for example, whether a Dark Elf or Nord is particularly adept at the type of activities you’ll be relying upon.
Skills and Perks: After explanations on how each Skill is raised and improved (including portraits of all of the Skill Trainers of Skyrim), the guide exhaustively lists all 240+ Perks for each of the 18 Skills, and offers sound, tactical advice on each. This includes favored Perks to choose, based off copious testing, both in my grotty basement, and throughout Bethesda’s pristine QA and Designer departments.
Archetypes: Skyrim doesn’t pin you into creating a “wizard” or “warrior”. But if you’re happening to want to formulate the precise attributes (race, statistical focus, skills, perks, weapons, armor, followers, and strategic advice) for an adventurer with your favorite style of play in mind, we’ve an archetype for you
More Training: The training continues with advice on how to effectively kill enemies, whether you’re using brawn or cunning. Shouts and Word Walls are revealed next, as well as other abilities and diseases. After advice on crime and punishment across the nine Holds of Skyrim, there’s an exhaustive section on Crafting:
Crafting: The fundamentals, as well as expert information on Alchemy (foraging for ingredients and experimenting with their effects), Enchanting (imbuing an item with magical enhancements), Smithing (forging and improving items), and the “lesser” crafting activities (cooking, mining, smelting, tanning, and chopping wood), are revealed. Need to know the top three locations (as well as all the effects) of every ingredient in Skyrim? Or some incredibly strong potions (or poisons)? What about the base materials for fashioning Ebony Armor? Or the pittance you’re paid for chopping wood? It’s all here.
Yet More Training: The final part of Training grants you broader knowledge of your environment. There’s information on habitations (such as hold capitals) and dungeons (like Draugr crypts), mapping, and every type of puzzle and trap in the land (of course, with solutions on how to solve or avoid them).
Other areas of interest: Dotted throughout the landscape, or hidden away in some dark, dank hideyhole, are Standing Stones, strange Shadowmarks, and various kinds of books. Naturally, we pinpoint locations of each. Yes, that includes an example location of every book (including “common” books with stories to read) ever put to parchment.
Other advice: There’s plans on gaining favor with important, highfalutin folks across the province, a rogues’ gallery of every follower (with a portrait, their location, any prerequisites, and what skills they excel in, so you can compliment your style of play). After some advice on horses, carriages, and a visual list of every service, trader, crafting station, and collectible type in the realm, the Training concludes.
Inventory: The next 31 pages of the guide is a table-aficionado’s biggest thrill; stats, more stats, and even more stats. This covers every spell, weapon, armor, crafting element, and general item available to you across Skyrim. Basically, if it’s in the game (from soul gems to daedric artifacts; spell tomes to simple dungeon clutter), it’s in these charts.
Bestiary: A 16-page bestiary outlines general warnings for fighting every single entity you’ll encounter across the province, along with their health, weaponry, and items to pick up. If you’re about to head into a vampire lair, for example, you can cross-reference your level with the type of vampiric foe in this bestiary, so you know what to expect. Or consult these monster charts, so you can (for example) find out what item a Spriggan drops (Taproot, as it happens).
For the more deranged player, the comprehensive charts allow you to (for example) cross-reference the damage your two-handed Daedric Battleaxe inflicts (25 points) with the health of the Level 28 Vampire Nightstalker you’re facing (413 health) to figure out how many times you need to hit one before they expire (16 and a half times, generally speaking).
Quests: A great swathe of this guide (just under 300 pages) is dedicated to helping you through every single quest that’s available. Due to the radiant quest structure and general derangement of the game’s developers, this numbers into the hundreds (there’s at least 500 variations of quest to try, and around seven times the number of quest-based activities compared to Fallout 3). Keeping track of these, finding them all, taking screenshots, adding little spoiler flags to quests with particularly spectacular revelations… well, this took around three and a half months alone.
The results are worth it; every type of quest is covered, and begins with a list of every important character you can interact with. For example, all of the thieves of the Thieves Guild are shown, along with a biography and any general help they give you. The main locations in Skyrim (such as the base of a particular faction) related to the group of quests are shown, along with every possible quest you can complete, in table format, with a pleasant little check box so you can mark off any quest you’ve completed. In fact, check boxes are attached to every table in the guide, so you can easily keep track of weapons, quests, and anything else you wish.
The hundreds of quests are broken down by type (the Main Quest, Civil War Quests,or those taking place in specific Dungeons) and Faction (the College of Winterhold, Dark Brotherhood, or more minor factions such as the Bards College in Solitude). The Quest chapters culminate in the dizzying number of iscellaneous Objectives, Favors, and World Encounters you can have. In short; if it’s in your Quest menu, it’s in this chapter.
Atlas: The guide continues with more than 200 pages dedicated to every single location of important in the province; the Atlas. Adapting the Fallout formula, my co-author spent four months wandering through every one of the 350+ primary locations, and sourcing every collectible, trader, unique weapon, and area of interest. To put the sheer size of Skyrim into perspective; Fallout 3 had 115 Primary Locations. Plus, this guide has 200+ Secondary Locations, not shown on any in-game map, for you to stumble across (or head straight towards, if you’re following our precise guide maps and location entries).
In order to get this Atlas right, we pieced together every single part of the overworld from around 20 feet in height, and our map makers spent four entire months building a world map so truly mind-boggling, it may snap the minds of some viewers. There’s a future blog post dedicated to this map (which is accurate down to every tree in the game). We made sure to show this in poster form, as well as segmented into each individual Hold. World encounters are tagged on each hold map as well.
Each location, whether it’s a sprawling hold capital like Markarth, a giant dungeon structure such as Labyrinthian, or the tiniest hut like Anise’s Cabin, receives a screenshot (or more), information on any related quests at the location, any collectibles, dangers, and even the recommended player level you should be before entering, as appropriate. Particularly confusing locations, and all hold capitals, are given additional interior maps. This means you can plan a trip anywhere, and know what to expect, or whether it’s better to start a quest first. However you utilize the Atlas during your gameplay, you’ll be at it for months.
Back of the Book: Finally, the last part of this tome is dedicated to Appendices, where all the important tables of collectibles are shown, along with every Achievement and Trophy (as well as advice on how to obtain every reward). A Dragon Language Glossary enables you to decipher Word Walls, and learn dozens of phrases and translate them into English, and there’s a nine-page, 2000+ term Index, so you can quickly search for a person or quest (for example), and find the appropriate page in seconds. I’m particularly happy we’ve got an index this time too, as it makes the game world eminently more searchable, and the guide a vital part of your adventuring.
Next Time: The next blog unveils the largest and most detailed strategy guide map ever made. And then dials back the hyperbole slightly.
Purchase the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Prima Official Guide and Collector’s Edition Guide where all strategy guides are sold. Buy the digital eGuide and interactive Jumbo Map Pack here. This guide is also available as an iBook for the iPhone and iPad. An iPad map app will be available after launch.