Skyrim: The 15 Best Skills, Ranked

One of the reasons that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was such a huge success was the fact that players had nearly limitless options when it came to how to play the game. Whether warrior, mage, or sneak thief, there was something for everyone. It didn’t matter if you were facing foes head on, casting magic spells, or even just bartering with merchants – all of it contributed to your skills, and helped you progress.

The skills available to players were a huge factor behind this freedom, as they allowed people to focus on the traits they thought were most valuable, strengthening with use. But regardless of your playstyle, there are still some skills that are useful no matter what. Here are the 10 best skills from Skyrim.

Updated January 15th, 2021 by Anastasia Maillot: There’s no shortage of skills in Skyrim, making it one of the most versatile and flexible open-world RPGs out there. With three different general build types to choose from and skills that can be picked from just about any of them to mix and match, many of Skyrim’s skills go unappreciated.

With continuous interest in the game and its various challenging builds, there are even more skills that have turned out to be highly valuable in the long run. No matter what build you go for, these skill trees are ones that are worth investing plenty of perks in due to how much they can affect your gaming experience.

15 Alteration

Mage class in particular will need this skill tree as their defensive skill. Since mages can’t afford to simply go on the offensive due to usually having no armor or very little armor, it’s imperative to invest in Alteration to ensure you walk into every fight prepared.

Alteration can be difficult to use early on due to high Magicka cost, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to level up since casting a beginner spell like Oakflesh will usually bump up Alteration by one level. Oakflesh and its high level counterpart Ebonyflash are actually the main reason why this skill tree is so immensely valuable despite being underappreciated.

14 Conjuration

Another fantastic skill that will serve mages the most is Conjuration. However, don’t be fooled. This skills is extremely versatile, and is a fantastic choice for any hybrid builds. Conjuration is basically the art of summoning creatures from Oblivion, most of which can act as meat shields for you in fights.

Spellswords, archers, and even stealthy assassins might want to get Conjuration as their secondary skill, simply for those times when they get caught off-guard by a large group of enemies that swarm them. With every perk, your summons also become increasingly stronger.

13 Alchemy

Alchemy is a highly underrated skill, most likely because it only applies properly to a few builds. However, technically it can be beneficial for almost any character build, provided the player is committed to not paying a steep price at shops for health potions. With Alchemy, you definitely cut your costs down, if you know which ingredients to look for.

Alchemy is a go-to for many assassin and stealth characters, especially archers who can utilize potent poisons on their arrows. However, alchemy can also provide resistance to magic and certain elements, which is overall beneficial to a number of different builds.

12 Light Armor

The armor skill trees are a must-have for any build that doesn’t depend on being without any proper armor. Builds that rely on being mobile and light on your feet will require decent Light Armor level, and as a skill tree is provides some pretty substantial bonuses.

At best, wearing a full set of Light Armor will almost be on par with Heavy Armor, so ensuring you unlock everything in this skill tree as a stealth archer or thief is very much recommended. It’s the bread and butter so many mobile builds that ignoring it wouldn’t be wise.

11 Heavy Armor

Heavy Armor is the go-to armor skill tree for players who prefer a tanky character build. It’s one of the strongest skill trees in the game, even though two-handed, which pairs well with it, is considered a generally difficult and bad pick for player-made characters. Still, you want to be a one-man army, this is the tree to go for.

Just like with Light Armor, the skill tree gives you bonuses for wearing a full set of heavy armor. In the long run you’ll also be more mobile when wearing Heavy Armor, which is a much-needed relief for tanky builds.

10 Speech

At some point in time during your playthrough of Skyrim, you will want to visit a shop. It doesn’t matter if you’re there to buy some supplies or to sell off valuable treasures looted from your last dungeon, the merchants of Skyrim are practically a necessary waypoint along any adventure.

This is where the Speech skill comes into play. It isn’t the flashiest skill, nor does it really affect combat all that much, but buying and selling merchandise is governed by this ability. There are also some dialogue choices affected by your Speech level, and having a higher rank in the skill will always be handy during the slower moments of the game.

9 Destruction

One of the key features of Skyrim is that it doesn’t lock players into a specific class at the beginning of the game. As part of this system, every character will have a reserve of Magicka – the resource used to cast spells – even if they aren’t a mage.

Even if you’re determined to play as a warrior who smashes enemies with a mace or an invisible shadow who attacks unseen, the Destruction skill can still be useful. This is especially true early in the game, when stamina and health are limited and being able to send a gout of flames to finish off a bandit can save your life.

8 Pickpocket

Even the most law-abiding of characters will sometimes have to bend the rules in Skyrim, as there are certain quests that simply cannot be completed without some form of underhandedness. This is where the Pickpocket skill comes into play. It allows you to steal items from NPCs without them being aware of it.

This trick can be useful if you’re low on coin, or if you need to grab a key to access another area. It may not be central to every character’s style, but it’s still worth investing a few points into, just in case.

7 Enchanting

Much of the gear you’ll come across in Skyrim will have some sort of additional effect, from increasing your carrying capacity to dealing additional damage. These enchanted items are extremely useful – so much so that the game lets you make your own enchanted equipment.

While it can be a bit tedious chasing down various different enchanted objects to learn their effects and then acquiring the necessary materials, it’s absolutely worth it. No matter your style, there’s an enchantment for you. Sneaky rogues can create boots that muffle their footsteps, warriors can craft flaming swords, and wizards can craft an outfit that allows them to cast spells for free.

6 Restoration

Another magic ability that will be useful even to those who aren’t mages, the Restoration skill is all about health and healing. While the game provides plenty of potions to regenerate your health and even slowly refills the HP bar over time, healing spells are still a good go-to when it comes to healing in a pinch.

Anyone can use a healing spell, regardless of how they’ve specialized their character, so it’s always going to be useful to invest at least a few points in it. If you put a lot of focus into the skill tree, you can even unlock abilities that let you cheat death, effectively giving you an extra life.

5 Archery

Not every enemy in the game is going to do you the courtesy of an up-close and personal battle. In particular, the dragons you encounter throughout the world will often fly about and hover in the air as they breathe fire and frost attacks at you, safely out of melee range. While they will eventually come down to the ground, the only way to hit them in the sky is with a bow, which is where Archery comes into play.

Just the basic Archery perks let you deal more damage with your bows, and investing further lets you zoom in, slow time, and even paralyze your targets from afar. The skill may be in the warrior branch of the game, but it can come in handy for rogues as well, as they can deal additional sneak attack damage with their bows.

4 Lockpicking

Whether you’re exploring Skyrim’s cities, ancient crypts, or even icy ruins, there are likely going to be locked doors that you want to get through. With a few exceptions for plot-relevant doors, most locks can be picked open using the Lockpicking skill, revealing the treasures behind.

Regardless of your character, Lockpicking is a vital skill to develop as you’ll be missing out on a lot of extra goodies if you don’t spend the time to open every single lock in sight. Whether it’s a hidden cache of potions and gold in a dungeon or someone’s house, there will certainly always be a need for the Lockpicking skill.

3 Sneak

The Sneak is, unsurprisingly, crucial to a rogue playstyle as it allows players to move undetected by enemies – sometimes even those standing right in front of them. However, it is still a useful ability to have regardless of how you approach the game.

Even if your strategy doesn’t revolve around hiding and moving silently, there’s still something to be said for approaching outposts, caves, and forts stealthily. While things may quickly devolve into a brawl as you fling about your blades and magic, quietly taking down even just a couple of extra foes before the action starts can make things a lot easier.

2 Smithing

Smithing is another skill that falls under the warrior playstyle, although it doesn’t necessarily relate only to that archetype. Whether you’re looking to level up quickly, complete the perfect suit of armor, or turn a profit on selling your wares, Smithing is an absolutely essential skill to have in your arsenal.

While you can find most of the best armor throughout the world, and especially good sets as your level gets higher, there’s still something to be said for crafting exactly what you need as opposed to stumbling upon it randomly in a dungeon somewhere. That, plus the ability to further improve your armor, makes this skill one of the best in the game.

1 One Handed

Finally, our pick for the best skill in Skyrim is the One Handed skill, which affects how proficient characters are with weapons like swords, hand axes, and maces. This skill is the best in large part because of how versatile it is, as it can be used by nearly every playstyle in the game except for warriors that use two-handed weapons.

A mage can hold a weapon in one hand and a spell in the other, while a warrior can replace that spell with a shield or even another weapon. Rogues can use the One Handed skill to increase the damage they deal with their sneak attacks, and this effect is multiplied by the extra damage. No matter the character, One Handed is an absolutely critical skill to invest in.

NEXT: Skyrim: 10 NPCs With Hidden Secrets You Didn’t Know About

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Daniel Alexander is a writer, reader, and gamer from Michigan. He has been writing for a very long time and has a stack of unpublished (and mostly unedited) novels dating back to middle school. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2018 with degrees in Creative Writing and Computer Science, and has since written even more unpublished novels, as well as a short story that was a finalist in the fiction category of the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards 2019. He currently writes for TheGamer and works part-time at a local escape room venue.

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