If you're new to big, sprawling games, or you're more used to Japanese-style RPGs, the open-ness of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can be intimidating. This guide helps you get through the first couple of hours of the game, plus it offers some general tips on how to use your map, compass, and track quests. Don't forget to look at the myriad Skyrim remastered tips, tricks, and walkthroughs we have on tap.
If you've already reached Riverwood and just want to know more about navigation, here's how to read and understand Skyrim's maps, quests, and navigation bar.
Skyrim's Story Explained
Skyrim is story-heavy, and its events are linked to the previous games in The Elder Scrolls series. While you don't have to pay attention to every detail of the game's narrative (nor do you have to have the other Elder Scrolls games under your belt to appreciate the story), it's good to know where you stand when Skyrim's story kicks off.
You wake up on a wagon driven by Imperial soldiers. You've been caught trying to cross illegally into Skyrim, and you're on your way to an Imperial outpost, the town of Helgen, to be executed.
The colonialist Imperial Army is a somewhat unwelcome presence in Skyrim, and a big factor in the land's current civil war. The Stormcloaks, a nationalist rebel faction that aims to drive the Imperials out of Skyrim, is a sizeable thorn in the Empire's side. In fact, the Stormcloaks' leader, Ulfric Stormcloak, is also on the wagon and on the execution dossier along with you.
When you arrive in Helgen, you get to choose your race and make your character. Read up on the strengths and weaknesses of each Skyrim race before making a choice, and maybe pursue some tips on tips on character builds as well. Then it's your turn for the chopping block. Before you can be executed, however, a dragon appears and disrupts the festivities. Since dragons are supposed to be extinct in the land of Tamriel, this is a big deal.
It goes without saying: Don't try to kill the dragon. Instead, use the confusion to get away from your executors. There are two characters you can follow to safety: Raolf, a Stormcloak soldier, or Alvor, a blacksmith who lives in the small town of Riverwood. It doesn't matter who you follow; your next destination will be Riverwood.
Your companion advises you to split up, but it's actually better to follow them to Riverwood. Talking to them on the way can give you a little more insight into the civil war. Raolf will try to convince you of the Stormcloaks' cause, while Alvor is pro-Empire. You can pick sides later if you want, so don't get overwhelmed.
Riverwood is already marked as a quest on your navigation bar (the bar at the top of the screen), so getting there is just a matter of aligning the quest marker (the downwards-pointing arrow head) with the middle of the navigation bar and proceeding forward. If you manage to hunt down any game on your journey to Riverwood, don't forget to harvest any meat or pelts. They can be sold.
Before you enter Riverwood, you'll find a set of Guardian Stones. When examined, these stones offer a percentage boost to your learning speed. The Warrior stone boosts your strength-related learnings, the Rogue stone boosts your ability to learn stealth skills, and the Mage stone boosts your Magicka learning skills. If you already know what character build you're going for, go ahead and touch the relevant stone. If you're still not sure, come back some other time.
When you enter Riverwood, the quest marker should take you to the family of the person you left Helgen with. They'll supply you with lots of useful items and information. Your next major destination is Whiterun, where you need to talk to the Jarl. Whiterun is the basis for many major story points in Skyrim, so expect to visit it often. Riverwood has several minor quests you can take on for money. Just talk to the people around you to learn what's up, and how you can help.
Or you can make a beeline for Whiterun. It's up to you. Either way, you should learn how to read Skyrim's map, how to use its navigation bar, and the basics of travel.