from the point of view of someone used to playing Baldur’s Gate-style fantasy roleplaying games. Yes, I’m still playing Skyrim. At this point I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing the game and I thought I’d offer some tips based on the things I’ve learned.
The first thing you should know when starting to play Skyrim is that Skyrim has no character classes. Skyrim has 18 skills and the maximum skill level you can accomplish in any one skill is 100. The skills include fighting skills like fighting with one-handed weapons, fighting with two-handed weapons (like a greatsword), archery, wearing light armor, and wearing heavy armor. It also includes thieving skills like sneaking or lockpicking, magic-using skills (in each of the five schools of magic), and crafting skills like smithing and making your own potions with alchemy.
As you advance in each skill you are awarded perks in a skill tree arrangement, i.e. individual perks may lead to some perks but not to others. The maximum total number of perks you can earn is 81. That corresponds to levels in other games of this type. Each time you level up you choose whether to increase your magicka (how much magic you can employ at any one time), stamina (how heavy a load you can carry, how easy it is for you to wield a weapon, etc.), and health.
One thing that’s very different about Skyrim is that, although Skyrim does have a main quest, it’s practically optional. You can enjoy playing Skyrim while ignoring the main quest completely.
You can choose to specialize. The last time I played through, for example, I played a sort of barbarian character—heavy weapon, light armor. A specialist like that maxes out at about level 50. No worries. A fighter specialist at level 50 is really at the top of the food chain in Skyrim. You can dispatch pretty much anything that comes at you with ease, even at the highest difficulty level.
Experience gets you nothing. Only cultivating skills can raise your character level.
Even if you decide to specialize I strongly recommend that you pick up some crafting skills. In Skyrim the strongest armor and weapons will probably be the ones you make yourself. The best potions are the ones you make yourself. With only a few exceptions the best enchanted gear is the stuff you’ll enchant yourself. It’s also handy for picking up some extra dough. Which brings me to my next tip.
In various towns around Skyrim you will encounter non-player characters who will offer to train you in various different skills. They charge for this training and training at higher levels costs more. You may purchase as many as five skill levels in training for each character level you achieve. Try to purchase all five each and every time you level up, particularly when you’re just starting out. Since skill levels increasing boosts character level, you will level up much faster that way. Note: not every trainer can train you at every skill level and to the best of my ability to determine no trainer can train you past skill level 75.
Next tip: even if you’re specializing as a fighter or magic-user, pick up some thieving skills. Your enjoyment of the game will be significantly greater if you have a bit of skill at sneaking and picking locks.
Right now I’m playing what will probably be my last run through the game. This time I’ve set myself an objective: I’m going to try to get all the way up to character level 81. I am playing as, essentially, a magic user and I am working very hard to practice all five schools of magic. That’s very counter-intuitive for me. I’m at character level 20 and I’m already at skill level 50 in picking pockets. That may seem like an odd choice for a magic user but at skill level 50 in picking pockets there’s a very useful perk: Big Pockets. That gives you the ability to carry more loot. The only other way to do that is to have high stamina or lots of Carry Weight potions. So far so good.