skyrim - main quests
  playstation 3 walkthrough

When you start a New Game, you'll find yourself in a wagon with three other prisoners.  Listen to their conversation and look around until the wagon reaches Helgen.  Once there, a guard will ask you to identify yourself.  Choose the race, sex, and appearance of your character carefully; the choices you make now cannot be reversed and subtly affect gameplay.  For example, the body weight you select will affect your character’s movement speed.  Similarly, the race you select alters how others respond to you in shops and towns.  Each race offers different starting skill bonuses:

  • Dark Elf (Dunmer): Destruction magic + fire resistance
  • High Elf (Altmer): Illusion magic + extra magicka
  • Wood Elf (Bosmer): Archery + poison & disease resistance
  • Orc (Orsimer): Heavy Armor + orc alliance (berserker rage)
  • Argonian (beast): Lockpicking + disease resistance (can breathe underwater)
  • Khajiit (beast): Sneak + unarmed claw attack (night vision)
  • Breton (human): Conjuration magic + magic resistance
  • Imperial (human):  Restoration magic + extra gold
  • Nord (human): Two-Handed weapons + frost resistance
  • Redguard (human): One-Handed weapons + poison resistance

Confirm your character by pressing [Square] and watch the scene that follows.  Just when it seems all hope is lost, an event distracts the guards, allowing you time to escape.  When prompted, get up and run toward the open doorway where some fellow prisoners have taken shelter.  Once inside, the first main quest begins:
U N B O U N D 

Watch a brief conversation then follow the prisoner up the stairs.  After the wall breaks in, wait for the flames to dissipate then examine the hole.  The prisoner tells you to jump into the room below.  Do so by holding [Triangle] and aim for the right side of the room to avoid major injury.  Move through and drop down to the bottom floor.

Outside, one of the guards (Hadvar) tells you to follow him.  Do as he says if you want to live.  Stick to him like glue until you reach an archway and cross paths with one of the escaped prisoners (Ralof).  At this point, you can either follow Ralof by veering right, or continue following Hadvar by moving straight ahead.  I’ve outlined both paths below:

Following Ralof (Stormcloak path):

Enter the Keep and approach Ralof so that he can untie your hands.  Once free, loot Gunjar’s body and equip all items including your first weapon, an Iron War Axe.  Unsheathe it by pressing X and take a few practice swings by pressing R1 or L1, depending on which hand you equipped.  Consider arming your other hand with a spell (Healing or Flames).  Note that you can change to Third-Person perspective by depressing the right analog stick, or enter Sneak mode by depressing the left analog stick.

After Ralof discovers that the gates are locked, voices are heard approaching.  Get out of sight and surprise the Imperials who enter.  Attack with R1 or use L1 to block if you chose not to equip a spell.  If you time your actions particularly well, you’ll see a brief ‘killshot’ animation and earn bonus experience.  Loot the dead Imperials and equip any gear that is better than what you currently have on.

Before following Ralof, explore the area where the Imperials came from to find chests with armor and weapons, as well the Helgen Keep Key.  Since there’s a limit on how much weight you can carry, it’s always best to pick up lighter items with high sales value, such as Alto Wines. 

When ready, return to Ralof and follow him deeper into the Keep where there are two more Imperials to fight.  After disposing of them, search the entire room for potions, herbs, wines, and food.  Continue following Ralof to the torture room.  Inside, two Stormcloak allies will help you defeat the guards.  Loot the bodies then advance your Lockpicking skill by opening every cell door in the room.  Make sure to examine the dead Mage in the center cell to get some valuable gear and a new spell tome (Sparks) off the floor.  Check out the rest of the room for lockpicks, weapons, etc.

After exploring, follow Ralof down a hallway with more cells to lockpick.  One of them contains a skeleton you can loot.  Eventually you’ll reach a large cavern with several Imperial enemies, including a couple of archers.  Cross the footbridge and use fire magic to ignite the long oil slick on the path, naturally staying a safe distance away so you don’t burn yourself in the process.  Once the enemies are dead, loot their bodies and move on.

A portion of the cave collapses, separating you and Ralof from the rest of the team.  Keep following Ralof, noting a path on the left that leads to a skeleton, gold, and a healing potion.  Eventually you’ll reach a cave full of spiders.  After slaying them, loot vials of Frostbite Venom from their bodies, which you can either sell or use to poison the tip of your weapon.  Continue forward until Ralof stops and warns of a bear up ahead.

If you want to advance the Sneak skill, press L3 and walk quietly past the bear through the shadows.  If you want to advance the Archery skill, use the bow Ralof just gave you to kill the bear.  Concerning archery, try aiming for the head or heart.  Also the longer you hold down R1 before releasing an arrow, the more damage you’ll inflict.  If you decide to kill the bear, make sure to loot its pelt.  Either way, continue through the cave until you reach the exit.

Outside, Ralof stops and points out a Dragon flying overhead.  Once it leaves, the quest ends and you are free to explore Skyrim however you wish.

Following Hadvar (Imperial path):

Enter the Keep and approach Hadvar so that he can untie your hands.  Open all of the chests in the room to get basic armor, an Iron Sword, and the Helgen Keep Key.  Don the armor and give your weapon a few practice swings by pressing R1 or L1, depending on which hand you equipped.  Consider arming your other hand with a spell (Healing or Flames).  Note that you can change to Third-Person view by depressing the right analog stick, or enter Sneak mode by depressing the left analog stick.

When ready, follow Hadvar down the hall and engage some Stormcloaks.  Attack with R1 or use L1 to block if you chose not to equip a spell.  If you time your actions particularly well, you’ll see a brief ‘killshot’ animation and earn bonus experience.  Loot the dead Stormcloaks and equip any gear that is better than what you currently have on.  Since there’s a limit on how much weight you can carry, keep an eye out for lighter items with high sales value, such as Alto Wines.  Follow Hadvar into another room with Stormcloaks.  After disposing of them, search the entire room for potions, herbs, wines, and food.  Continue following Hadvar into the torture room. 

Inside, more foes arrive.  Loot the bodies then advance your Lockpicking skill by opening every cell door in the room.  Make sure to examine the dead Mage in the center cell to get some valuable gear and a new spell tome (Sparks) off the floor.  Check out the rest of the room for lockpicks, weapons, etc.

After exploring, follow Hadvar down a hallway with more cells to lockpick.  One of them contains a skeleton you can loot.  Eventually you’ll reach a large cavern with several Stormcloaks to kill.  Cross the footbridge and use fire magic to ignite the long oil slick on the path, naturally staying a safe distance away so you don’t burn yourself in the process.  Once the enemies are dead, loot their bodies.

Keep following Hadvar into a cave with a small stream.  A path on the left leads to a skeleton, gold, and a healing potion.  Return to Hadvar and continue through to a cave full of spiders.  After slaying them, loot vials of Frostbite Venom from their bodies, which you can either sell or use to poison the tip of your weapon.  Press on until Hadvar stops and warns of a bear up ahead.

If you want to advance the Sneak skill, press L3 and walk quietly past the bear through the shadows.  If you want to advance the Archery skill, use the bow Hadvar just gave you to kill the bear.  Concerning archery, try aiming for the head or heart.  Also the longer you hold down R1 before releasing an arrow, the more damage you’ll inflict.  If you decide to kill the bear, make sure to loot its pelt.  Either way, continue through the cave until you reach the exit.

Outside, Hadvar stops and points out a Dragon flying overhead.  Once it leaves, the quest ends and you are free to explore Skyrim however you wish.

B E F O R E   T H E   S T O R M

If you followed Ralof in the first quest, he’ll tell you to visit his sister, Gerdur, in Riverwood.  If you followed Hadvar, you will be advised to seek out the blacksmith, Alvor, in Riverwood.  Either way, your companion leaves and you are free to explore the world on your own. 

The beauty of Skyrim is that there’s no “right or wrong” way to go.  For example, a sign up ahead tells you that Riverwood is to the north but there’s nothing stopping you from exploring all other directions indefinitely.  You can stick to roads or head into the hills to forage for ingredients.  Day and night bring out different enemies as well as different travelers you may come across.

There are a few places of interest in your immediate area.  First, you’ll find a small bandit camp among the trees to the south.  If the bandits are there, kill them.  If they are out scouting, be on the lookout for their return.  Loot the camp to acquire TREASURE MAP I as well as the SKILLBOOK “Night Falls on Sentinel”.  Reading this book increases your One-Handed skill by a point.

Backtrack north from the bandit’s camp and follow the path down and around the cliffs until you reach a trio of tall stones, called the GUARDIAN STONES.  You’ll find many Standing Stones throughout Skyrim, however only one stone can be active at any given time.  This particular monument allows you to learn skills 20% faster in one of three categories: Mage, Thief, or Warrior.  Pick one based on your playstyle, knowing that you can always come back later and select another stone.

If you head east from the Guardian Stones, you’ll find EMBERSHARD MINE in the hills overlooking the river.  Though you might pick up a random quest related to this mine later on, feel free to explore it now to gain experience and excellent treasure, including the Smithing SKILLBOOK, “Light Armor Forging”.  At the very least, approach the bandit-controlled mine to mark it on your map so you can fast-travel back to it in the future. 

When you’re ready to advance the story, head north along the road.  You’ll likely encounter a few stray wolves that are easy to defeat.  Take their pelts and carry on towards Riverwood, which as its name suggests, sits on the edge of the river.  If you raided the bandit camp earlier and received Treasure Map I, open it and compare the drawing to landscape features on your main map.  The treasure is in a big hollow log across from Riverwood. 

Upon arriving in RIVERWOOD, seek out the person you were told to meet.  If you followed Ralof in Helgen, you’ll find his sister, Gerdur, near the lumber mill.  If you followed Hadvar in Helgen, you’ll find his uncle, Alvor, near the blacksmith’s forge.  Talk to your contact about the dragon attack and you will be told to inform the Jarl of Whiterun that Riverwood needs protection.  Additionally, your contact will offer free supplies and a place to rest in their home.  Resting increases the rate at which you learn all new skills.

Gerdur’s house is in back of town and Alvor’s house is next to his forge.  Gaining access to one of these homes also allows you to pilfer items inside.  Note that you’ll incur a bounty if you are seen taking any items marked in ‘red’.  If you get caught stealing too many times, you’ll be thrown in prison, pay a hefty fine, and all stolen items will be removed from your inventory.

Regardless of whether or not the blacksmith is your contact, talk to Alvor to buy/sell items and ask if you can use his forge.  Alvor will give you some free materials and talk you through basic crafting and tempering steps that help advance your Smithing skill.  At the end of Alvor’s tutorial, you can keep the items you created or sell them back to him.

While in Riverwood, visit the local trader to sell your unused inventory.  His store is across from the blacksmith.  When you first enter, you’ll hear the owner, Lucan, arguing with his sister, Camilla.  Ask him what the problem is to initiate "The Golden Claw” side quest.  Buy/sell what you need to and continue exploring the town.

At the Sleeping Giant Inn, you’ll find an Alchemy station that allows you to craft various potions by combining ingredients.  Each ingredient has 4 possible effects – simply eating a new ingredient will tell you what the first effect is and can help you decide which combinations work best.  In addition to increasing your Alchemy skill, the potions you create can be sold for a decent amount of money.  If you don’t have any ingredients, you can buy some from Orgnar, the innkeeper.

As a general rule, each time you visit a new town or city, ask the local innkeeper if they’ve heard any rumors.  Rumors usually hint at side quests that are more involved than miscellaneous quests.  If you want to pick up a small job, ask Orgnar for work.  He’ll mention a bounty being offered for clearing bandits in some “radiant” location.  In Skyrim, radiant means randomly generated.  All innkeepers offer radiant bounty quests that can be repeated unlimited times.

While at the Inn, you may come across a young bard named Sven.  If he is not there, you’ll find him strolling the street outside.  If you ask Sven about music, he’ll mention visiting the Bard’s College in Solitude.  If you talk to him about Camilla (the trader’s sister), you’ll learn that he’s competing for her affections with another man named Faendal.  Faendal is a wood elf that works at the lumber mill.  If you talk to Faendal first, he’ll give you the same rap about Camilla.

To complete this miscellaneous quest, you must choose which man to help – Faendal the archer, or Sven the bard.  Your actions determine the outcome of the love triangle and, more importantly, which man offers to follow you.  There are several ways to solve this dilemma.  Here’s an easy method:

Encourage Sven to discredit his rival by forging a letter filled with venomous nonsense.  Bring Sven’s letter to Camilla in the Trader’s shop.  If you want to help Faendal, be truthful and tell her the letter was forged.  If you want to befriend Sven, lie to her.  Camilla will ask you to speak to whichever man you helped.  Return to either Faendal or Sven and they will offer to join you.  Additionally, whichever man you helped will let you take items from their home and rest for free.

Note that Faendal is an Archery TRAINER.  You are allowed five lessons per level and each trainer has a different skill cap.  For example, Faendal offers archery training up to level 50.  If he becomes your follower, pay for his lessons then refund yourself by taking the gold out of his inventory.  If Sven is your follower, you can still get Archery lessons from Faendal without reimbursement. 
All FOLLOWERS come with a hidden set of stats and default gear that you cannot remove.  For example, Faendal always retains a basic bow and arrow set even if you remove everything from his inventory.  You can also give a follower new items to hold, effectively doubling your carrying capacity.  The follower will automatically use some items, such as torches and healing potions.  When you give your follower armor or weapons to carry, they equip the strongest ones even when it is not to their benefit.  For example, Faendal specializes in light armor and archery but will gladly yield a 2-H axe and wear heavy armor if you offer it to him.  If you are a sneaky type, you might not want your follower lumbering slowly behind or giving away your position by wearing loud metal gear.  You can ask followers to do certain things for you (wait, move, sit, sleep, open a chest, pick a lock, etc.) however they may not always do as you ask. 

In combat, you can kill your follower by inadvertently targeting them, however followers will never die at the hands of an enemy.  If their health gets too low and they have no method of replenishing it, followers simply become incapacitated and crawl away until the skirmish ends.  Also, most followers are ethical; some will report you to the authorities if you break into houses or steal in front of them.  Note that you can part ways with a follower at any point during your journey, and return to where you originally met them to re-enlist their services.

With or without a follower, finish your business in Riverwood and move on with the main quest.  Cross the bridge on the north end of town and follow the road towards Whiterun.  Fight a few wolves and gather a few ingredients along the way.  Be on the lookout for ore deposits, too.  If you have a pickaxe, you can amass many types of ore that can be sold or smelted in Whiterun.  As the road descends near the waterfall, you’ll see a few buildings and farms scattered below.  The first building you’ll pass is the HONNINGBREW MEADERY.  Check the barrels outside for any mead to sell.  There is nothing of much interest inside at the moment.

As you head towards Whiterun, you’ll undoubtedly see a group of fighters battling a giant (or standing around a dead giant) near one of the farms.  When you approach, a huntress mocks you for not helping out.  Since you could not have joined the fray even if you wanted to, answer her however you wish.  Question the others to learn that they are all members of a mercenary group called the COMPANIONS.  To become a member of their elite fighting squad, you must complete several specific missions (refer to the “Companions Questline” for details).

At the foot of the city, you’ll pass WHITERUN STABLES where you can rent a horse or pay for a carriage ride to other cities.  Every so often, a caravan of Khajiit traders sets up camp next to the stables.  In addition to buying/selling, one of the Khajiit offers Sneak training.  If they are not there now, check back later.  Make your way up to the gates of Whiterun and a guard will stop you.  Tell him you’re here for Riverwood and he’ll let you in.  By the way, whenever you are given a “persuade” dialog choice, always use it first.  Successfully persuading people increases your Speech skill, which in turn helps you get better deals in shops.

Upon entering WHITERUN for the first time, you’ll overhear a conversation between a man and a woman near Warmaiden’s, the blacksmith’s shop.  If you talk to the man, he’ll ask what your allegiance is:  Battle-Born (Imperial) or Gray-Mane (Stormcloak).  The bitter feud between these dynastic clans will carry on regardless of how you answer.  The question calls attention to the CIVIL WAR raging in Skyrim.  At various points throughout the game, you’ll meet people who prompt you to join one faction or the other. 

Once the man leaves, talk to the woman (Adrianne Avenicci) about her forge and she will ask you to deliver a sword to her father, Proventus, the Jarl’s steward.  Adrianne runs Warmaiden’s with her husband, Ulfberth War-Bear.  When she is outside working the forge, she sells equipment and smithing materials that may be different than what her husband sells inside.  When she is inside the shop taking a break, her inventory (and available gold) will be identical.  If you’ve been collecting ore, use the smelter in back of Adrianne’s forge to melt it into ingots.  Use ingots to craft equipment that can either be worn or sold.  Smelters are fairly rare in the PS3 version of Skyrim so take advantage when you see one.

If you are an archer, definitely visit The Drunken Huntsman across from Warmaiden’s to stock up on bows, arrows, and light armor.  Inside, you’ll find a couple of MERCENARIES for hire and an Archery SKILLBOOK ("The Black Arrow, v2") behind the counter.  Further up is the marketplace with a few outdoor vendors, as well as Arcadia’s Cauldron (an alchemy shop) and Belethor’s General Goods store.  Sell your unused inventory, make potions, etc. and talk to everyone you come across to pick up quests.  If you need to rest, visit the Bannered Mare.  While there, ask the innkeeper if she’s heard any rumors.

On the next level of Whiterun you’ll find several houses, a temple, and a big white tree called the Gildergreen.  Talk to the priestess (Danica Pure-Spring) inside the Temple of Kynareth to initiate a side quest (“The Blessings of Nature”) involving the tree.  Inside the Temple, you’ll also find a SHRINE named after one of the Nine Divines in Skyrim.  Concerning shrines, you can only have one active “blessing” at a time; the result can be viewed in your magic menu under Active Effects.  Touching a shrine removes all negative status effects (such as disease, rock joint, etc.) and boosts certain traits for a short period of time.  For example, touching the Shrine of Kynareth increases your Stamina by 25 points for 8 hours. 

Walk behind the Temple of Kynareth to reach the Hall of the Dead.  Go inside and talk to Andurs, who is missing an amulet.  Agree to fetch it then enter the catacombs connected to the hall.  Fight a few skeletons inside and inspect every surface.  Andur’s Amulet of Arkay is sitting on a table in one of the smaller rooms.  Within the catacombs you will also find the Block SKILLBOOK, “Death Blow of Abernanit”, and an UNUSUAL GEM. When you pick up the unusual gem, an entry is added to your quest log stating that you should: “Bring the gem to an appraiser”.  For details, refer to the Thieves Guild quest, “No Stone Unturned”.  Return to Andurs and give him the amulet to earn 15 gold for your good deed.  Before leaving the Hall of the Dead, you can receive a blessing from the Shrine of Arkay.  Doing so increases your Health by 25 points for 8 hours. 

Outside, you’ll find the Shrine of Talos, which boosts your “shout” rate – the blessing is useless until you gain the Dragon Shout ability.  The stairs to the right of this shrine lead to JORRVASKR, home of the Companions.  Seek out Kodlak Whitemane if you intend to join; at the very least, explore the lower living quarters to find three SKILLBOOKS boosting Two-Handed, Heavy Armor, and Archery.  The latter is contained in an expert-locked case with an Elven Bow.  Collect another UNUSUAL GEM in Kodlak’s bedroom, too.

Heading left from Jorrvaskr’s entrance, you’ll find a thin stairway leading up to Skyforge, which is considered the best forge in all of Skyrim.  Talk to Eorlund Gray-Mane, the Companions’ master blacksmith, if you want to shop.  Note that Eorlund’s inventory expands to include rare armor once you become a member of the Companions.  As a member, he can also train you in Smithing.  For now, grab the Smithing SKILLBOOK “The Armorer’s Challenge” from the slab next to the forge. 

Moving on, ascend the long white staircase between the waterfalls.  On top you’ll discover DRAGONSREACH, home of the Jarl of Whiterun.  Enter the keep and approach the throne.  Before you reach Jarl Balgruuf the Greater, you’ll be stopped by his housecarl, Irileth, who asks what business you have with the court.  Insist on speaking with the Jarl personally and she will let you pass.  Go up to the throne and inform Jarl Balgruuf of Riverwood’s danger.  After he’s heard what you have to say, the “Before the Storm” quest ends and the next main quest automatically begins.  You are also rewarded with some armor.

B L E A K   F A L L S   B A R R O W

After informing Jarl Balgruuf of Riverwood’s situation, he will take you to see his court wizard, Farengar Secret-Fire.  Follow the Jarl to Farengar’s study, which is on the same floor, and listen to the wizard’s request.  To aid his research, Farengar wants you to retrieve a Dragonstone from Bleak Falls Barrow.  If you spoke to Lucan in Riverwood earlier about finding his Golden Claw, the location will sound familiar to you. 

After accepting Farengar’s quest, explore his study.  Next to the Alchemy lab, there’s an Arcane Enchanter that allows you to imbue armor, weapons, and accessories with magical properties.  To do this, you need three things: a regular (non-magical) item, a filled Soul Gem, and an enchanting spell.  To learn enchanting spells, you must destroy a magical item that contains the spell you want to learn.  Once a spell is learned, you may use it over and over again without having to destroy anything else.  Soul Gems can be found in dungeons, purchased from court wizards and are sometimes carried in general stores.  They come in a variety of sizes that reflect their potency.

Empty Soul Gems must be filled before they can be used for enchanting.  To do this, you need a weapon with Soul Trap ability and at least one empty Soul Gem in your inventory that is large enough to capture the soul of the creature killed.  Ideally, you want Soul Gems filled to capacity (e.g. the gem size and soul size match) to get the most “bang for your buck” in terms of enchanting.  To this point, a soul gem containing less than an optimal soul can be dropped, which will empty it, thus allowing you to retry on a better target. 

In addition to Soul Gems, Farengar sells magical items, spell books, and scrolls.  After perusing his inventory, leave Farengar’s study and go upstairs to the Jarl’s war room.  If you examine the flagged map on the table, various points of interest will be marked on your map.  There are many locks to pick and things to steal within the upper rooms of Dragonsreach if that’s how you’re playing.  You’ll also find another UNUSUAL GEM in the Jarl’s bedroom.

If you told Arianna you’d deliver the sword to her father, Proventus, you can give it to him now.  Depending on the time of day, Proventus Avenicci will either be standing near the throne, hanging out in the war room, or dining on the Great Porch, which can be accessed from the 2nd floor.  Proventus will give you a nominal reward for delivering the sword. 

When you're ready to continue with the main quest, leave Whiterun and head south.  BLEAK FALLS BARROW is in the mountains to the west of Riverwood.  Look for a trail leading up to a small tower in the snow.  Kill three bandits that guard the tower then go inside and explore.  On top, you’ll find a treasure chest.  The Barrow is just up the road from here.  Use the snowfall to conceal your ascent up the wide staircase and dispose of three bandits guarding the entrance. 

Inside, you'll see a dead bandit and many dead skeevers, all of which you can loot.  Up ahead, two bandits are having a conversation near a campfire.  Stealthily take them out then lockpick the nearby chest.  Descend the stairs and continue along the path until you witness a bandit being darted to death while pulling a lever in a gated room.

Enter the room and look at the stone tablets along the balcony.  Two have images but one is broken.  To figure out which picture should be on the broken one, look on the floor next to the lever.  On the left side of the room, you’ll find 3 corresponding stones.  Rotate them until the pictures match: SNAKE / SNAKE / WHALE.  Once set, you can safely pull the lever to open the gate.

In the next area, read the “Thief” SKILLBOOK on the table to advance Pickpocketing by a point, and grab other goodies.  Kill some skeevers as you descend the spiral staircase and continue looting until you reach an archway covered with spider webs.  You’ll hear a man calling to you from inside.  Use fire magic or a weapon to clear the obstruction and save your game before entering the lair.

As soon as you step inside, a Wounded Frostbite Spider descends from the ceiling and attacks.  In addition to hitting hard, the giant spider drains your health and stamina by spitting poison.  If you’re adept with a bow, this is the time to prove it.  Fire magic is effective so long as you don’t stand too close to a wall and burn yourself.  Use potions liberally - if you run out, just go back through the arch and recuperate before resuming the battle.

Once the Frostbite Spider is dead, loot it for some venom and raid the lair before talking to the fellow bound in webs.  Arvel the Swift says he’ll give you the Golden Claw if you cut him down, but his intentions seem false.  Since he’s blocking the doorway, you don’t really have a choice.  As soon as you hack the cobwebs away, Arvel predictably makes a run for it.  If you’re fast enough, you can kill him on the spot; otherwise chase him deeper into the tomb.  Retrieve the GOLDEN CLAW from Arvel’s body.  You need to use this quest item to reach the final chamber so wait before turning it over to Lucan in Riverwood. 

Continue foraging for treasure as you proceed through the embalming room and walk down into the crypts.  Mummies and skeletal bodies line the walls of the crypt but not all who rest here are dead.  Some of the Draugr will rise and attack.  Kill them quickly so they don’t gang up on you.  If you use a bow, you can identify the “live” ones pretty easily (they are not bone white) and pick them off while they are still asleep.  Loot all of the bodies afterwards.

To the left is a nasty floor trap.  If stepped on, a huge gate will whack you in the face for some serious damage and may even kill you if you’re at low health.  You can avoid the trap by going around the right side.  There are more Draugr to fight and tombs to loot in the next chamber.  Look for a chest on top of some rubble as well.

To reach the next area, dash through a hallway with three swinging blades.  If you time it properly, you’ll make it through with minimal health loss.  After reaching safety, pull the chain on the wall to stop the blades.  Navigate through a series of small alcoves and kill any Draugr that are standing upright in the openings.  In one of the alcoves, there’s a big oil slick on the floor.  Torch it to injure multiple targets.

Proceed to a small room with a stream running through it.  Slay the Draugr that emerges from a coffin as you enter.  Collect treasure from a chest then look for a chain on the wall near the edge of the stream.  Pull it to open the metal gate.  Follow the stream through a cavern where you can harvest Glowing Mushrooms, loot a skeleton, and open a chest.  If you peer over the edge of the waterfall you’ll see a Draugr patrolling the path below.  Snipe him then head down the path.

Before continuing forward, look for a ramp on the right that spirals down into the water.  Below, you’ll find a chest and a skeleton to loot.  Walk back up and proceed to the next room.  The Restless Draugr inside is tougher than his brethren so expect a few more hits to beat him.  There’s a partially obscured chest in this room.  Deplete its contents before entering the Sanctum. 

Navigate through another blade-filled hallway and pull the chain on the other side to stop them.  Do this quickly, as a Draugr rises from his coffin right next to the entrance.  There are more Draugr coming down the stairs.  Using a bow, you can shoot down a hanging lamp and ignite oil on the floor long before they reach you.  Loot the fallen then head upstairs.

At the end of a long corridor, you’ll find a circular door with an irregular keyhole and three rings that can be manipulated.  Each ring contains a series of pictures.  Assuming you still have the Golden Claw, open your inventory and examine it.  Use the analog sticks to rotate and/or zoom in on the Claw to clearly identify three symbols etched on its palm.  Rotate the three door rings to match.  From top to bottom, they should show:  BEAR / MOTH / OWL.  After inputting the correct sequence, activate the keyhole to lower the door.

Enter the large cavern and head towards the raised altar in the middle.  As you get closer, a chant of voices grows louder.  Examine the sheer wall next to the altar and a group of shadowy symbols will reveal itself.  When your vision returns to normal, you will have learned your first DRAGON SHOUT word, “FORCE” which is part of UNRELENTING FORCE.  Dragon Shouts will be explained in detail once you are actually able to use them.

Your immediate concern is the Draugr Overlord that is about to pop out of the coffin next to the wall.  Hit him while he is still getting up and get ready for a tough boss battle.  The Overlord uses an axe enchanted with a cold spell, which will drain your stamina along with causing severe physical damage.  He has also learned “Unrelenting Force” and uses it to knock you back.  When his Dragon Shout hits you, it’ll take a few moments to stabilize and be able to move.  As you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of ranged weapons if for no other reason than staying clear of enemy Shouts.  Luckily the cavern is huge so you have room to run and heal if necessary.  Apart from that, fight him like any other Draugr.

When the Overlord is dead, loot his body to get the DRAGONSTONE that Whiterun’s wizard asked for.  Collect excellent treasure from the chest and altar.  Explore each side of the cavern before going upstairs.  Look for chests near the water on the left and right.  When ready, go upstairs and activate a button on the wall to reveal the exit.  There’s another chest and an altar full of ingredients that you can take on your way out to Skyrim.

Before returning to Whiterun, stop by Riverwood and give the Golden Claw to Lucan to collect your reward.  Although you could “warp” to Riverwood quickly simply by clicking its icon on your map, you don’t want to do that.  Instead, head south on foot towards the river.  You’ll come across a small cabin in the woods that you can explore. 

The occupant is a little old lady that appears harmless enough.  There are several items of value in ANISE’S CABIN, but save your game before attempting to steal anything.  Of particular interest is a SKILLBOOK called “Song of the Alchemists”.  Read it (but do not take it) to increase your Alchemy skill by a point.  In the far corner of the cabin, opposite the bed, you’ll find a hatch on the floor.  If you choose to use it, you’ll find an Arcane Enchanter in the room below.  There are tons of goodies to steal down here, but be warned – as soon as you emerge, the old lady will attack you with some fierce magic spells.  Kill her quickly and loot the body.

Travel northeast from Anise’s Cabin and you might find a dead adventurer in the tall grass up ahead – an earlier victim of the old lady’s magic, no doubt.  If so, loot the corpse and continue following the river to Riverwood.  Look for an ore vein near the cliffs on the left and kill a few Mudcrabs near the river’s edge to stockpile more ingredients.

Back in Riverwood, visit Lucan in his store and give him the Golden Claw.  You’ll receive gold as a reward and many items in his shop can be taken freely now.  Lucan will inconveniently display the Claw on his counter – be careful that you don’t accidentally steal it when initiating conversation with him.  Talk to Camilla in the shop as well, as she may also give you a small token of thanks.

When you’re ready to continue with the main quest, travel back to Whiterun either by walking or warping.  Go up to Dragonsreach and give the Dragonstone to Farengar.  Doing so completes the "Bleak Falls Barrow" quest and automatically starts the next one. 

D R A G O N   R I S I N G 

As soon as you give the Dragonstone to Farengar, Irileth arrives with news of a dragon sighting.  Follow her upstairs to the war room where Jarl Balgruuf is waiting.  Listen to their conversation then speak with the Jarl.  As a reward for the last mission, he will give you a piece of armor then asks you to assist Irileth with the slaying of the dragon.  You are to meet her near the Western Watchtower.

You can take your time leaving the city – the dragon isn’t going anywhere.  If you’re quick, you can follow Irileth down to Whiterun’s main gate where she will rally some guards to help with the mission.  Continue to follow her onto the world map and over to the Western Watchtower, which appears to have been hit by something. 

Irileth tells the crew to look for survivors.  As soon as you climb the ramp to the watchtower’s entrance, a guard warns you to stay back.  You’ll hear the shrieks of a dragon approaching and soon see Mirmulnir swoop down with a mouthful of fire.  When it’s in the air, only ranged weapons will harm the dragon.  Getting off a decent shot is tough due to the dragon’s speed, so try aiming for the place he’s moving towards instead of where he currently is.  If you’re a melee fighter, you’ll have to wait for Mirmulnir to land on the ground and dash over to it before the dragon takes flight again.  Since it’s a fire-based creature, weapons enchanted with ice magic are particularly effective.  Mirmulnir will target the person causing the most trouble (usually a guard) but if it’s you, just remember to heal in between rounds.

After slaying the dragon, its body will start to glow.  If you are within range of the creature when this happens, you will automatically absorb its soul.  DRAGON SOULS are used to unlock Shout words.  Each DRAGON SHOUT consists of 3 words and its effectiveness increases with each word added.  You’ll find “word walls” all over Skyrim that teach all sorts of Dragon Shouts.  The order in which you find the walls determines the sequence of words learned.

For now, open your menu and select Shouts to unlock the “Unrelenting Force” word you learned earlier.  You must equip Dragon Shouts in order to use them – since the new power is spoken, press X to equip your “mouth” rather than your hands.  Hold and release R2 to test the Dragon Shout.

If you use “Unrelenting Force” near any of the guards, you’ll see the pushback effect it has.  The guards will be in awe and mention that you must be “Dragonborn”.  Irileth will tell you to head back to Dragonsreach and report to the Jarl.  Before leaving the Western Watchtower, loot the dragon’s body as well as the charred remains of any fallen guards.  Most dragons carry heavy bones and scales that you can sell for a good bit of gold.  You can also create Dragon Armor with them once your Smithing skill reaches 100.

On the way back to Whiterun, you’ll hear a booming voice that appears to emanate from the sky.  Don’t worry; nothing is going to attack you.  Return to the Jarl and give him your full report.  For vanquishing the dragon, Jarl Balgruuf gives you the AXE OF WHITERUN and makes you THANE of his territory.  He’ll explain that it was the Greybeards you heard and suggests paying them a visit at High Hrothgar.  This information ends the current quest and triggers the next main quest,  “The Way of the Voice”.

As Jarl Balgruuf’s Thane, you are appointed a HOUSECARL and can now buy property in Whiterun.  The Jarl also mentions that his guards will be notified of your new position, which basically means you can get away with a lot more mischief in the hold without getting arrested.  Talk to his steward, Proventus, when you are ready to purchase a house.  For 5000 gold, he will give you the keys to BREEZEHOME, which is next door to Warmaiden’s.  For additional gold, Proventus will furnish rooms and hands you a “Home Decorating Guide” book that explains your options.

Your Housecarl, Lydia, will introduce herself as soon as you try to leave Dragonsreach.  If you already have a follower, she’ll tell you to come back when you need her.  Lydia will stay in Dragonsreach until you move into Breezehome and furnish at least one room.  Either way, Lydia remains available to you whenever you want her companionship.

If you purchased Breezehome, go down and check out your new digs.  Without any furnishings, the house still offers a rudimentary bed and a chest to store items.  Note that you can store an unlimited amount of objects in chests and nothing will ever be stolen from inside your home.  When you sleep in your own bed, you receive a “Well Rested” bonus that gives you a 10% skill boost for 8 hours (certain situations alter that percentage either positively or negatively).  If you read the book Proventus gave you, you’ll learn that you can outfit both floors with a variety of furnishings, including your own Alchemy lab.  I recommend investing in furnishings since you’ll gain a bunch of useful things like bookcases, cupboards, weapon stands, and even an ingredient satchel.  Plus, you can sell everything that isn’t bolted down and make your money back pretty quickly. 

When you’re ready to tackle the next main quest, leave Whiterun.  At the gate, you’ll meet a couple of bounty hunters that ask you to be on the lookout for a Redguard woman who’s been hiding in the city.  This starts a side quest called “In My Time Of Need”.  For now, go outside and take a look at the world map. 

T H E   W A Y   O F   T H E   V O I C E 

Your goal is to visit the Greybeards in HIGH HROTHGAR, which sits on top of the tallest mountain in Skyrim.  To get to the peak, you must go through the town of IVARSTEAD.  Ivarstead is south of Whiterun and you can reach it in multiple ways. 

One option is to return to Helgen (where the game first started) and head east through the mountains.  At Helgen, you’ll discover that bandits have taken over the burnt fort. Points of interest along the way are Orphan Rock (where you can advance the “Blessings of Nature” side quest) and Haemar’s Shame (related to the Daedric quest, “A Daedra’s Best Friend”).

If you haven’t explored much of the world yet, I recommend heading east from Whiterun and following the river route down to Ivarstead.  Though this is a much longer option, there are more points of interest along the way – too many, in fact, to list.  One word of caution, though:  if you stumble into a Giant’s Camp, run like hell (or at least save your game before attempting to fight them).  In general, whenever you find yourself within trotting distance of a greyed-out location, take the time to walk over and identify it on your map – that way, you can easily warp back to quest areas when the need arises.

No matter which route you take, there’s a chance you’ll encounter another dragon, possibly more than one.  Always try to engage them so that you can collect more Dragon Souls.  Some dragons are very tough to beat; others will get distracted and fly off before you have a chance to kill them.  Some dragons target packs of hostile creatures that you will also have to slay, and sometimes they arrive in pairs.  To be safe, save your game whenever you hear a dragon approaching. 

As you travel, be on the lookout for locations that allow you to complete other quests picked up in Riverwood or Whiterun.  To avoid confusion on your map, turn off all quest markers except the one closest to you.  Also, if you find yourself straying off-course or are simply curious about an area, add a custom marker on the map (blue arrow) that points in the direction you want to go.

If you’ve been following the river east from Whiterun, you’ll eventually reach two very tall towers with a long bridge spanning between them.  Bandits inhabit VALTHEIM TOWERS and there’s plenty of treasure to gain by killing them.  First, deal with the bandit at ground level then go inside the first tower.  To the right, you’ll find a trapped chest that you can lockpick to disarm.  Plunder the first tower then go upstairs and take out a few archers on the bridge.  There’s also an archer posted in the hills on the right.  Use a bow to eliminate him or just wait until you reach the other side. 

The Bandit Chief is on the top floor of the 2nd tower.  If your Sneak skill is high enough, you can take him out before he knows what hit him.  Afterwards, loot his body and collect everything else in the tower.  Make sure to read “The Black Arrow, v2”, a SKILLBOOK that increases Archery.  If you haven’t already taken care of the archer in the hills, go out and do it now. 

Feel free to stay on the far side of the river as you veer south towards Ivarstead.  Note that bears roam the hillside – if you hear growling, you’ll know you’re near a den.  If you acquired “Treasure Map II” during your travels (found inside Journeyman’s Nook), the map points to a chest nestled in rocks near the river just east of the towers.  It will only be there if you read the treasure map. 

By following the river south, you’ll pass an ABANDONED PRISON occupied by hostile ghosts.  Look for a key on the table in back that unlocks all of the cells.  One cell has a hole you can pass through.   Kill a ghost at the top of the stairs then follow the hallway to the end.  The room on the right contains a chest.  Leaning against the chest is a Two-Handed SKILLBOOK titled “Song of Hromir”. Explore the rundown shack across from the Abandoned Prison to discover the body of its owner, Lucky Lorenz.  Search Lucky’s body to acquire TREASURE MAP IX.  Get the Light Armor SKILLBOOK, “Rislav the Righteous”, off a shelf as well.

Back outside, you’ll eventually come to FORT AMOL, which is filled with powerful mages that can easily wipe you out.  If you decide to explore the fort, loot the mages to get their robes, which are light to carry and fetch a great price.  Inside, you’ll also find the "Complete Catalogue of Armor Enchantments" SKILLBOOK that boosts Enchanting. Continuing south along the river, you’ll eventually reach a small mining village called DARKWATER CROSSING.  There are almost always dragons flying around this area so stay alert.  Speak with all of the miners to pick up new quests and collect some corundum ore from inside Goldenrock Mine.  If you need to rest, use one of the sleeping bags near the campfire.

Ivarstead is southwest of Darkwater Crossing, at the foot of the mountains.  When the river opens up to a small lake, you’ll know you are getting close.  The island in the middle of the lake leads to GERIMUND’S HALL, which is part of the “Forbidden Legend” side quest.  Simply identify it on your map and continue west into the town.

Talk to the locals in Ivarstead to learn that the path to High Hrothgar involves climbing 7,000 steps.  There are several miscellaneous quests to pick up here before starting your ascent.  Enter the Vilemyr Inn and ask Wilhelm (the innkeeper) if he’s heard any rumors to trigger the optional SHROUD HEARTH BARROW quest.  Since the tomb is right up the hill, feel free to investigate.

When ready, prepare for the climb up 7,000 steps.  Speak with Klimmek near the bridge and agree to deliver his supplies to High Hrothgar since you’re going there anyways.  Cross the bridge and examine the etched tablet on the other side.  It is one of ten tablets you’ll find during the climb, each offering a piece of dragon lore.  In practical terms, the numbered tablets help you stay on track as you trek higher into the snowy mountains.  Read all ten to gain a blessing later on.

During your climb, you’ll encounter Ice Wolves, Frostbite Spiders, or Ice Wraiths and some can cause grief if you barrel through unaware.  When you reach the 4th tablet, you’ll see a woman meditating at its base and may hear a dragon circling overhead.  More often than not, it’ll fly away before you have a chance to kill it.  If you’re lucky, the dragon will stick around and the woman will help you fight it until she perishes.  Note that she carries valuable inventory - if you are the evil type you could simply murder her and take her gear.

Either way, keep climbing and be on the lookout for an Ice Troll, which you’ll likely hear grunting before reaching its path.  Trolls regenerate health but spamming them with fire will negate the effect.  Take advantage of the Ice Troll’s relatively slow speed to dash away and heal; a single blow from this guy can easily wipe you out.

After dealing with the Ice Troll, continue up the steps, following the remaining tablets to HIGH HROTHGAR.  If you read all ten tablet etchings along the way, you’ll gain the blessing, “VOICE OF THE SKY”, which tames any animals you come across for 24 hours.  The effect is lost if you attack an animal during that period, but it can be regained by reading all of the tablets again.

At the base of the monastery, you’ll find an altar with an empty chest.  If you brought Klimmek’s supplies with you, place them in the chest.  You can collect your reward from him later on.  For now, enter High Hrothgar and approach the priests inside to initiate a scene.

Only one of the Greybeards (Arngeir) can talk; the other three remain mute as they only speak in the ancient language of dragons.  To prove yourself as Dragonborn, use “Unrelenting Force” on Arngeir.  Once he’s satisfied, you can learn the second word in UNRELENTING FORCE, “BALANCE”, by reading markings that appear on the floor.  Another priest will imbue you with a free Dragon Soul that automatically unlocks the new word.   

Follow Arngeir’s instructions to test “Unrelenting Force” on the spectral target that appears in the middle of the room.  Since the Shout now contains two words, hold down the R2 button a while longer before releasing it.  If done correctly, you’ll hear two distinct dragon words when exhaling, effectively doubling the power of the Shout.  After a cooldown period, repeat the process on two more targets when they appear.

Your next test will take place outside.  Follow the Greybeards to the courtyard where you’ll acquire another free Dragon Soul and learn the word “WHIRLWIND”, which is part of the Dragon Shout, WHIRLWIND SPRINT.  Equip the new Shout and watch a demonstration on how to use it.  When it’s your turn, stand next to Arngeir and wait for the gate in the distance to open.  Use R2 to zoom past the gate before it closes on you.  It may take a couple of tries to get the timing right, but the practice is worth it since you’ll be using this Shout regularly throughout the game.

After successfully clearing the gate, Arngeir tells you there’s one last task to complete: Retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller in Ustengrav.  With this, the current quest ends and the next main quest begins.  Ignore the path leading further up the mountain as it is currently guarded by a lethal spell.

Before leaving High Hrothgar, feel free to explore its interior.  There are many goodies to steal if you are impatient; if you wait, the Greybeards will offer everything freely once you complete the next quest.  If you delivered Klimmek’s supplies, return to Ivarstead and collect your reward.  Rest up and restock in Whiterun to prepare for the long journey ahead. 

T H E   H O R N   O F   J U R G E N   W I N D C A L L E R 

Your next destination is Ustengrav.  If you haven’t explored the upper regions of the world yet, start by heading northwest from Whiterun.  Since there are countless ways to get there, pick a route that takes you in the direction of other quests you want to complete, or new areas you’d like to discover. 

The northern route is littered with dungeons, many containing “word walls”.  You’ll also find two dragon altars (indicated by “dragon head” icons on the map), as you get closer to Morthal.  These perches naturally contain dragons to fight; most offer word walls and huge treasure chests as well.  Some dragon altars house other hostile residents that add to the pain, so always save your game before reaching the top. 

If you’re completing Daedric quests, the SHRINE TO MEHRUNES DAGON is slightly northeast of SKYBORN ALTAR (one of the dragon perches) as is THE LORD STONE.  When activated, this particular Standing Stone grants you extra physical and magical resistance. 

While you explore this region, you’ll surely cross paths with some militant priests that call themselves the VIGILANTS OF STENDARR.  Their goal is to rid Skyrim of all unholy creatures.  Assuming you haven’t become a werewolf or vampire (which is entirely possible), the Vigilants of Stendarr are harmless.  In fact, they will heal any diseases you’ve acquired at no cost.  Note that vampires may disguise themselves as Vigilants – they’re pretty easy to spot, with glowing eyes and a dead priest next to them.  The order resides in the HALL OF THE VIGILANT, which is northeast of here, and well worth visiting for those unopposed to stealing.  The Vigilants will, however, send Hired Thugs after you if you swipe anything.  The Hall also contains a shrine and two Alchemy labs.  You’ll find a Heavy Armor SKILLBOOK, “Knights of the Nine”, in the basement as well. 

Whether or not you visit the Hall, head west through the mountains to reach a small mining camp called STONEHILLS.  Collect some iron ore in Rockwallow Mine and use the smelter.  As usual, talk to all of the workers to see if they offer quests.  The city of Morthal is directly west of here and Ustengrav is due north.  I suggest stopping by Morthal first to see what the city has to offer.

Unlike bustling Whiterun, MORTHAL is a bleak city situated in a swamp with buildings tied together by a series of docks.  In addition to an inn, there’s a lumber mill, an alchemy shop, and a few homes containing skillbooks.  The local wizard, Falion, sells magical items and offers Conjuration lessons out of his house.  To become Thane of Hjaalmarch, you must first complete the “Laid to Rest” side quest. 

When ready, leave Morthal and head north through the swamps to reach USTENGRAV.  As soon as you arrive, you’ll see some bandits fighting mages near a small campsite.  Fight any survivors, gather loot, and then enter the tomb. 

Inside, you’ll notice dead bodies, some of which might be reanimated by necromancers.  Fight bandits or mages (whoever remains) and loot all of the bodies.  Look for a chest on the left and take other items from the table before heading north.  Up ahead you’ll hear bandits, mages, and Draugr fighting.  Either join the fray or let them fight each other for a while to reduce the number of enemies you’ll have to face.  There’s a nasty rune trap on the floor as well, so be careful.  Most rune traps can be de-activated using a counter spell, such as fire or ice.  Just make sure you’re standing far away from the blast radius.

After clearing the area, gather some potions from the room on the right.  To the left are two alcoves filled with urns.  Some are empty and others contain gold.  In addition to urns, there’s a chest in the western alcove and a SKILLBOOK in the northeastern one.  Read "Mystery of Talara, v2" to boost Restoration by a point.  Continue along the path and look for a partially hidden staircase on the right before reaching the next room.  Go down and collect loose coins from the table then pull a chain that opens the false wall on the left.  Follow the secret passage to a chest.  After collecting its contents, go back upstairs and proceed into a narrow chamber with a balcony.

Fight some undead enemies and explore the side alcoves before climbing the stairs on the far end.  Above, you’ll find a chest and some potions.  Cross the stone bridge and gather items near the door before entering the Ustengrav Depths. 

Descend the stairs and kill a patrolling Draugr.  The path opens to reveal a huge, picturesque cavern below.  If you’re an archer, you can snipe a handful of skeletons from this vantage point.  You can also jump over the low wall to retrieve some items, though it’s a hassle getting back up.  From the upper path, walk downstairs and gather iron ore from a vein on the left.  Moving forward, you need to get past some pressure plates that ignite when stepped on.  Stick to the left to reach the other side safely.

Go through the tunnel and kill a Draugr guarding the bridge overlooking a dining hall.  Hop down into the hall.  Make your way to the lower level and take out the Restless Draugr patrolling the far bridge.  Follow the path into a room where two enemies rise from coffins.  Exploit an oil spot on the floor if you wish.  After killing the Draugrs, pull a lever near the gate and you’ll see a door further inside open up.  To open the gate you’re standing next to, look for another lever on the right side of the room.

There's a chest here with several potions and an Arcane Enchanter that you can use.  Moving forward, you’ll be back inside the big cavern.  Eliminate any remaining skeletons on this level then quickly ascend the nearby staircase to avoid the flame spout on top.  Above you’ll find a chest and some soul gems.  After collecting the loot, go back down.  Ignore the long bridge across from the staircase and instead take the side path down into the lush cavern. 

Scan the cavern walls for ore deposits as you head towards the water.  At the bottom, examine the sheer wall to learn a new word in the Dragon Shout “BECOME ETHEREAL”.  When used, the player adopts an ethereal form that prevents all damage and boosts your rate of regeneration.  The effect is lost as soon as you interact with anything.  The Shout provides a good method of escape when you are surrounded, or to safely jump from heights that would normally kill you. 

Look behind the waterfall to find a Restless Draugr guarding a chest.  After killing it and gathering the treasure, go back up the ramp and cross the long bridge.  After dealing with a few more enemies, you’ll come to an area with three stones that glow when you get near them.  Each glowing stone raises a gate – the trick is getting all three gates to stay open long enough to dash through the tunnel.  The stones are spread apart and glow only briefly, so it may take a couple of tries to get the timing right.  Stand just past them and dash straight through the middle towards the gates.  Use “Whirlwind Sprint” after the first gate rises to get through all three.

Beyond the gates (which stay open once you get past them) is a room full of fire traps.  There are also some Frostbite Spiders to deal with.  Walk across debris to avoid getting burned and kill the giant spider at the end.  Hack through some webbing to access a wooden door.  Pull the chain further ahead to open a gate. Upon entering the big room, giant statues rise up from the water as you descend the stairs.

Upon reaching the altar, you'll learn that the horn has already been taken, causing you to “fail” the quest.  In its place, is a MYSTERIOUS NOTE.  Read it to discover that the person who took the horn wants to meet you in Riverwood.  Specifically, you are told rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn.  Before heading off to meet this mysterious friend, go through the door behind the altar to collect excellent treasure then follow the new path back to the entrance.  Leave the tomb and travel to Riverwood when ready.

Enter the Sleeping Giant Inn and ask to rent the “attic room”.  Sleep for any length of time and Delphine, the innkeeper, will awaken you.  After getting the HORN OF JURGEN WINDCALLER from Delphine she’ll ask you to follow her into a secret room below the inn.  Doing so automatically triggers the next main quest.

Before hearing what Delphine has to say, you can fast-travel back to High Hrothgar to wrap up the previous quest.  Bring the horn to Arngeir and he will teach you “PUSH”, the final word in UNRELENTING FORCE.  Having mastered the Shout, you are told to stand in the center of the Greybeards to receive their collective dragon greeting.  Nothing is gained during the ritual, apart from watching the screen shake.  Afterwards, you can freely take most items in High Hrothgar and Arngeir will mark new “source of power” (e.g. word wall) locations on your map if you check in with him periodically.

A   B L A D E   I N   T H E   D A R K  

Back in Riverwood, meet with Delphine in her room below the inn.  Prod her with questions and she’ll eventually reveal she’s part of a covert group called the Blades, which has been tracking recent dragon activity.  She predicts one will emerge from a mound near Kynesgrove and wants you to handle it.  Agree to meet her there then raid the room for a ton of goodies once she leaves. 

Before heading off to Kynesgrove (which is south of Windhelm), invest in fire-resistant gear and/or potions.  This would also be a good time to bring a follower with you.  Numerous points of interest are scattered along the way no matter which route you take.  For example, RIVERSIDE SHACK sits on the river southwest of Kynesgrove.  Exploring the bear-infested shack nets you a Light Armor SKILLBOOK, “Rislav the Righteous” as well as TREASURE MAP III.

As soon as you reach KYNESGROVE, a local named Iddra runs up to tell you a dragon was sighted flying over the burial mound just outside of town.  If you took your time getting to Kynesgrove, Delphine will be there and immediately dash toward the site.  If you arrived at Kynesgrove before Delphine, she’ll appear at the burial mound shortly after you reach it.

Either way, head to the burial mound marked on your map to witness two dragons, Alduin and Sahloknir, holding a conversation.  Stand back and listen.  Since you are Dragonborn, you can partially understand what they are saying.  Eventually Alduin flies away, leaving you alone with the fire dragon Sahloknir.

Sahloknir will talk to you as he attacks, spraying lines of fire and hovering overhead.  If you’re lucky, Delphine or your follower will distract Sahloknir long enough for you to get off a few good shots.  He rarely lands so archers will have a much easier time defeating this dragon.  Just keep your health up and pick away at Sahloknir until he perishes.  Loot the dragon and absorb its soul afterwards. 

Having proven yourself, Delphine is now willing to divulge more information about her organization and ultimate mission.  She asks you to meet her back in Riverwood to plan the next move, which automatically starts the next main quest, “Diplomatic Immunity”. 

Before leaving Kynesgrove, visit the Braidwood Inn to pick up rumors.  You can gather ore in Steamscorch Mine and initiate a couple of small quests by talking to the miners.  Given your proximity to Windhelm, feel free to visit another major city before tackling the next main quest.   

D I P L O M A T I C   I M M U N I T Y  

Return to Riverwood and meet Delphine in the Sleeping Giant Inn.  Follow her down to the secret room and listen to her theories about the Thalmor having something to do with dragons returning.  In order to gather more information, she wants you to attend a party at the Thalmor Embassy posing as a guest.  First you must travel to Solitude to meet with her contact, Malborn, at the Winking Skeever Inn.

The capital city of SOLITUDE is far to the north, and like all journeys in Skyrim there are a dozen ways to reach it.  If you’re in a hurry, rent a carriage; otherwise fast-travel to Morthal and head west along the main road.

By taking this route, you may encounter a stray dog named Meeko.  Approach him and he’ll bark, hoping that you’ll follow him back to his master’s home.  Run after the dog and you’ll soon arrive at MEEKO’S SHACK.  Go inside and read the journal next to the dead master’s bed, specifically the page that mentions Meeko.  Reading it allows you to recruit Meeko as a follower, even if you already have a human follower with you.  If you tell the dog to return home, he’ll simply whimper away.  Before leaving the shack, read the Speech SKILLBOOK “A Dance in Fire, Book VI”.

Back on the road, continue heading west and you’ll eventually reach a spectacular bridge leading into the town of DRAGON BRIDGE.  If you found “Treasure Map VIII” during your travels, you’ll find the related chest in the water under the bridge.  You’ll also find a knapsack near a tree that contains a key to unlock it.  Rest up at the inn then head northeast from Dragon Bridge to reach the capital city of Solitude.

When you first arrive in Solitude, you’ll witness a public execution.  No one will chat with you until the event concludes so just watch and listen.  Afterwards, talk to onlookers to learn more about the victim and to acquire some miscellaneous quests.  Take your time exploring the vast city before going to the Winking Skeever Inn to meet Delphine’s contact.

If you’re interested in alchemy, Solitude will surely be a paradise given hundreds of plants and flowers to forage along the streets.  There are several shops and food stands to visit, as well as a specialty shop (Radiant Raiment) that sells high-end magical attire.  A ramp across from the main shops leads up to the blacksmith and Castle Fletcher, a store that primarily sells bows and arrows.  Beyond is Castle Dour, headquarters of the Imperial legion.  If you want to side with the Imperials in the Civil War, ask General Tulius about signing up. 

Heading east from Castle Dour you’ll come to the Temple of the Divines, which houses every type of shrine in Skyrim except the one dedicated to Talos.  Moving south through the residential district, you’ll find BARDS COLLEGE.  To become a member, talk to headmaster Viarmo and complete his side quest “Tending the Flames”.  Also, three of the bards (Inge Six Fingers, Pantea, and Giraud Gemane) have lost musical instruments.  If you agree to retrieve the items for them, each will reward you with a plethora of skill boosts.  These particular quests are well worth completing.

South of Bards College you’ll discover the BLUE PALACE, home to Jarl Elisif the Fair.  To become Thane of her hold, you must complete multiple quests, buy property, and help at least 5 citizens.  The court wizard, Sybille Stentor, sells magical items and is an expert trainer in Destruction magic.  You can pick up another UNUSUAL GEM in the Jarl’s bedroom, as well as the Speech SKILLBOOK, “Biography of the Wolf Queen”.

When you’re ready to tackle the main quest, enter the Winking Skeever Inn near Solitude’s entrance.  Your contact, Malborn, will be sitting at one of the tables on the first floor.  Malborn explains that you cannot enter the Thalmor Embassy wearing armor or carrying anything in your inventory.  He offers to smuggle in a few essential items - items that you’ll be able to retrieve at some point during the party.  Take Malborn’s advice and hand over only the most essential items – namely, a blade, a bow, arrows, lockpicks, and any armor that enhances your sneak skill.  Don’t bother giving him potions, since you’ll find plenty during the embassy mission.
After giving your essential gear to Malborn, leave the city and meet Delphine at the SOLITUDE STABLES, which is just down the hill.  Apart from any ring and necklace you happen to be wearing, Delphine will take your remaining inventory.  In return, you receive a Forged Invitation and two pieces of Party Clothing.  Put on the boots and clothes, tell her you’re ready to go, and a carriage will automatically transport you to the THALMOR EMBASSY.

After disembarking at the embassy, you are greeted by another partygoer, Razelan, who is clearly inebriated.  Give your invitation to the Thalmor soldier at the door then go inside with Razelan.  As soon as you enter, Ambassador Elenwen, the hostess, starts grilling you with questions.  Answer as vaguely as you can until Malborn (acting as the bartender) has a chance to distract her. 

Once Elenwen leaves, you are free to mingle among the elite party guests, many whom you’ll recognize from your travels around Skyrim.  Your principle objective is to cause a distraction that buys you enough time to sneak into the main building with Malborn.  To do so, get a COLOVIAN BRANDY cocktail from Malborn and offer it to Razelan, the drunk.  Ask him to cause a distraction and he will.

Go over to the bar and wait for Malborn to unlock the back door.  Follow him through the kitchen and into the pantry, where you’ll find a chest containing your vital gear.  Equip whatever you gave him earlier then part ways with Malborn.  As soon as you enter the hallway, Malborn re-locks the door and you’re on your own.

Sneak past the room on the left where two Thalmor guards are engaged in conversation.  Enter the room on the right and take whatever might be useful.  When you hear the guards resuming their rounds, either kill them individually or sneak past them.  The scenario to avoid is having the two guards call upon the wizard upstairs and all three ganging up on you.  Once you’ve dealt with the Thalmor on both floors, loot the rooms, and decide which of two doors to exit through – ground floor or top floor.  Both doors lead to an enclosed courtyard patrolled by more keen-eyed Thalmor.

Whichever door you use, enter sneak mode and deal with the Thalmor outside, starting with the mage.  Running will cause them to mobilize additional soldiers from the barracks (as well as summoned creatures) and you’ll be surrounded in no time.  If you are a dark elf wearing Hooded Thalmor Robes, you can walk through the area without causing suspicion – all other races will be detected as imposters. 

Your goal is to reach the building in the center of the courtyard.  Once inside, any disguise you’re wearing will no longer work.  As you sneak through the Solar offices, you’ll overhear an informant talking to a wizard named Rulindil.  Either raid the group or wait for them to disburse and loot each body afterwards.  Open the chest marked by a quest arrow to find several interesting dossiers and a document called "DRAGON INVESTIGATION: CURRENT STATUS".   Read the document to add a new quest arrow, pointing to the dungeons below.  Unlock a couple of display cases in the office to recover valuable items before moving on.

Sneak inside the dungeon and you’ll hear a guard torturing someone up ahead.  If you didn’t kill Rulindil upstairs, he will also be present.  Clear the room then question the prisoner (Etienne Ramis) by pretending to be an interrogator.  Note that you can receive the same information he offers by opening a chest and reading Esbern’s dossier.

After obtaining information on Esbern, free Etienne and he’ll point out an escape hatch that unfortunately requires a key.  Suddenly, two guards enter with a new prisoner, Malborn.  Kill both guards and loot their bodies to obtain the TRAPDOOR KEY.  Both Malborn and Etienne will be following you now, so do your best to protect them.  Open the hatch and drop down into a small cave.

If you had a follower with you before attending the Thalmor Embassy party, they will automatically reappear in the cave to help you fight off a big Frost Troll that attacks.  Stay on the ledge and shoot the troll with arrows to draw its attention away from Malborn and Etienne if you can.  Though you could simply dash for the exit, don’t leave the cave before grabbing two items from underneath the ledge – an Illusion SKILLBOOK called “Before the Ages of Man” and another UNUSUAL GEM.  There is also a dead necromancer you can loot.

After emerging from the cave, the two people you rescued offer brief thanks and run off.  Return to Riverwood and reclaim all of your gear from a chest in Delphine’s secret room.  Tell her everything you’ve learned to complete this quest and automatically begin “A Cornered Rat”.

A   C O R N E R E D   R A T  

Delphine wants you to find her colleague, Esbern, before the Thalmor do.  Esbern has been hiding in the Ratway Warrens below the city of Riften, which is far to the east.  If you haven’t explored that part of the world yet, I suggest starting your journey in Ivarstead and loosely following the river down into Riften.

The Rift, with its lush autumn landscape, is by far my favorite hold in Skyrim and RIFTEN is my favorite city - largely because I enjoy playing sneaky characters (Bosmer or Khajiit) specializing in light armor, bows and daggers – and because the region is loaded with Dwarven ruins, dragon peaks, caves, dungeons, and forts to explore.  Many locations around Riften trigger independentquests (Nilheim, Treva’s Watch, Faldar’s Tooth, etc.) and the city itself probably offers more quests than any other in Skyrim.  For full disclosure, I normally dash to Riften right after meeting the Greybeards and complete the entire Thieves Guild questline before resuming the main quests. 

So...having said all that, leisurely make your way to Riften’s city gates and the guards will try to charge you for entering.  Persuade them to let you in for free by exposing their obvious shakedown.  Once inside, you’ll overhear a female warrior (Mjoll the Lioness) complaining to her companion about the grip the Thieves Guild has on the city.  Question Mjoll to learn more about the corrupt city and its most influential family, the Black-Briars.

Up ahead, a bodyguard named Maul will stop you and ask what your business is in Riften.  If you tell Maul you’re interested in joining the Thieves Guild, he will tell you to seek out Brynjolf in the marketplace.  As luck would have it, you need to speak with Brynjolf about Esbern anyways so track him down.

Whether you ask Brynjolf about Esbern or the Guild, he will not help until you’ve proven yourself worthy by completing the initial THIEVES GUILD quest “A Chance Arrangement”.  The job involves planting a stolen ring on one of the merchants during regular daytime hours.  To do it correctly, you’ll need some lockpicks and decent thievery skills (Pickpocket, Sneak, etc.).  Talk to Brynjolf in the marketplace when you’re ready to begin.

Wait for Brynjolf to lure all of the customers and merchants away from their stalls.  Once the area is cleared, sneak over to Modesi’s stall and lockpick his strongbox, which is behind a sliding panel.  Steal MODESI’S RING from the strongbox then locate Brand-Shei, who is sitting on a crate in front of another stall.  While hiding in that stall, open Brand-Shei’s pocket and plant the ring inside.  Do all of this without getting caught to complete the task.

Alternately, you can avoid screwing over Brand-Shei by intentionally getting caught by one of Riften’s guards and paying a small fine.  Avoid this method if you’re carrying stolen merchandise that you want to retain since guards will also confiscate the goods from your inventory. 

Return to Brynjolf afterwards and he’ll invite you to join the Thieves Guild whether you succeeded or not.  If you decide to join, Brynjolf tells you to make your way through the Ratway and meet him in the Ragged Flagon.  If you do not want to join, simply decline Brynjolf’s offer and ask him about Esbern.  He’ll confirm that an “old man” has indeed been hiding out in the RATWAY WARRENS below the city.

Before trudging through Riften’s sewers, explore the city and speak with everyone you pass to pick up new quests.  Surrounding the central plaza, you’ll find a blacksmith, a general store, a meadery, and the Bee and Barb Inn.  When you first enter the inn, a priest will be giving a sermon about Mara, one of nine Divines.  Talk to the priest to learn how MARRIAGE works in Skyrim.  Maramal explains that while wearing an Amulet of Mara (which he sells), certain people you’ve helped will express interest in you.  Propose marriage if you want that person as a spouse then visit the Temple of Mara in Riften to book the wedding. 

Whether or not you get married, talk to Dinya Balu in the Temple of Mara to start “The Book of Love” side quest.  You can also pick up a minor quest from Alessandra by visiting her in the Hall of the Dead directly beneath the Temple.  Visit the Jarl of Riften (Laila Law-Giver) in MISTVEIL KEEP, which is next door to the Temple of Mara.  She will not offer any quests until you’ve told her about the skooma dealer in town.  Riften’s eccentric court wizard, Wylandriah, has a shop on the main floor of the Keep, and you’ll find another UNUSUAL GEM in the Jarl’s quarters upstairs.

If you spoke to Aventus Aretino in Windhelm, you’ll find the woman he wants killed inside Honorhall Orphanage, which is near Mistveil Keep.  Completing the hit advances the Dark Brotherhood questline.  For a complete list of activities in Riften, read that section in the “Skyrim Miscellaneous Quests” guide.

When you’re ready to continue the main quest, descend the stairs near Haelga’s Bunkhouse.  At the bottom, you’ll find a door leading to Beggar’s Row and the alchemy shop, Elgrim’s Elixirs, which stays open all night.  Follow the lower walkway around to the Ratway entrance and sneak inside.

Shortly after entering the sewers, you’ll overhear two shady characters talking about harassing anyone that tries to pass.  Either kill them or wait for the conversation to end and sneak by.  There’s a raised bridge up ahead but since you cannot lower it from this side, hop down off the ledge and kill the skeever below.   To the left is an expert-locked door that leads directly to the Ragged Flagon.  Pick it if you’re in a hurry; otherwise explore the rest of tunnel system.

The path on the right leads to a booby-trapped door.  Disarm the cable at its base to safely enter.  Pick up any items of interest as you navigate through the rooms and you’ll eventually reach a door facing south.  Inside, you’ll have to fight a brawler named Gian the Fist, while avoiding several bear traps on the floor.  Loot his body afterward to receive GLOVES OF THE PUGILIST, a unique item that fortifies unarmed attacks.   Use the alchemy lab on the left if you wish.

Moving forward you’ll come to a small staircase with a pressure plate that, if stepped on, releases a battering ram.  Carefully ascend and unlock a gate leading into a small circular garden.  Pass through to the next room where you’ll encounter a Lowlife.  Kill the enemy then read “Beggar”, a Pickpocket SKILLBOOK, on the table.  There are two tunnels in this room – one leading to a lever that drops the bridge you saw earlier and the other, which leads to the Ragged Flagon.
Enter the underground tavern and walk over to the bar where some Thieves Guild members are gathered.  You may recognize one of them (Gissur) as the informant from the Thalmor Embassy.  If you ask Vekel the Man (the bartender) for Esbern’s whereabouts, the informant will get up to leave.  Confront and kill Gissur before he enters the door in the hallway to make your life easier later on.  Sneak inside the RATWAY VAULTS to discover that the Thalmor have already arrived.

Starting out on the upper level of a tiered room, you can bypass most of the Ratway Vaults simply by jumping down to the lower level and killing anyone that gets in your way.  This guide assumes you’ve avoided the shortcut and remained on the top level.  If so, head left and enter the tunnel at the end.  Watch out for a tripwire as you approach the room up ahead. 

Inside, fight off a few skeevers then continue through the winding tunnels until you reach a floorless alcove with a lantern.  Detach the lantern to ignite the room below.  If timed well, the fire will burn a Vagrant patrolling the lower path.  Continue down into a dark room with an anvil and a workbench.  Grab some magical gauntlets from the bench and look behind the anvil for a chest.  After collecting its contents, move forward to the next room.

Kill the Vagrant and Lowlife inside then gather treasure from the table.  There are two small chests on the table and a larger locked chest in the corner of the room.  Inside you’ll find DRAVIN’S BOW, a quest item, along with other valuables.  To return the bow to its owner, eventually visit Merryfair Farm outside of Riften.

For now, continue through the tunnels, killing skeevers (and possibly more Thalmor) until you emerge on the bottom floor of the very first room.  To the left is a gate attached to bars that exposes an oil-filled room.  Ignite the oil before using the gate and grab an Illusion potion on the right before passing through.  Enter the door up ahead to get to the RATWAY WARRENS.

The Warrens contain small rooms housing various tenants and Esbern is located in one of them.  Before speaking with Esbern, explore the other rooms for treasure, keeping in mind that most tenants will be hostile.  Esbern’s door is locked tight and you’ll need to persuade him to open it.  Mention “the 30th of Frostfall” to prove that Delphine sent you and wait for Esbern to open the door.  Once inside, Esbern will share what he knows and agree to accompany you to Riverwood.  With that, one quest ends and another begins.

A L D U I N ' S   W A L L  

While Esbern is gathering his things, loot his room for scores of goodies including the One-Handed SKILLBOOK, “Fire and Darkness”.  As soon as you leave Esbern’s room, a group of Thalmor agents attack.  If you didn’t kill Gissur earlier, he will also be present.

Fight your way back through the Vaults with Esbern’s help.  Since he primarily uses Destruction magic, be careful fighting near oil spills that you haven’t already torched.  After passing through the Ragged Flagon, you’ll encounter a Khajiit assassin named Shavari that was sent to kill you.  Loot her body then continue out to Riften.

Conduct any business you have in Riften then bring Esbern back to Riverwood.  Enter the Sleeping Giant Inn to find Delphine waiting.  After a brief reunion, assemble downstairs to receive Esbern’s next directive: Finding Alduin’s Wall within Sky Haven Temple.  Delphine believes the lost temple is located near Karthspire and marks it on your map.  At this point, you can either travel with Delphine and Esbern or tell them to meet you in Karthspire.

KARTHSPIRE is far to the west, between the town of Rorikstead and the city of Markarth.  If you’re in a hurry, you can rent a carriage at Whiterun Stables and ride directly to Markarth.  If you enjoy exploring on foot, head west from Riverwood towards the big lake.  Having a follower with you in addition to Delphine and Esbern makes for quite a fighting force.  Take advantage of this by stopping at any location that allows you to complete other quests.  Whether you are traveling in a group or going solo, be aware that dragons have increased in number as well.

If traveling on foot, make a pit stop in Falkreath to see what that city has to offer.  Two Daedric quests can be initiated in Falkreath by speaking with the town’s blacksmith, Lod ("A Daedra's Best Friend"), and talking to the grieving parents in the graveyard ("Ill Met By Moonlight").  In addition to an inn, the city provides an alchemy shop and a general store. 

Heading north from Falkreath, explore areas of interest around the lake.  In particular, swim over to the little island in the center to find THE LADY STONE.  Activating this particular Standing Stone boosts health and stamina regeneration by 25%.  Look for a cave near the western shore called MOSS MOTHER CAVERN.  You’ll find a wounded man named Valdr sitting outside the entrance.  Offer a potion or use a healing spell to cure him, then agree to find out what happened to his hunting party. 

Continuing north from Moss Mother Cavern, you’ll find another cave called SUNDERSTONE GORGE (there’s a Dragon Wall inside, as well as an “unusual gem”) and eventually come to a crossroad.  Keep heading north if you want to visit RORIKSTEAD; otherwise go west through the mountains toward the city of Markarth.  As mentioned before, Karthspire sits directly between these two locations.

To get to the peak, you must go through KARTHSPIRE CAMP, a sprawling riverside settlement heavily populated by Forsworn and hagraven enemies.  Some use powerful ice magic that can easily kill you if you rush in.  You can pick off a fair number of enemies by hiding in the hills and shooting at those patrolling the docks below.  If you did not bring Delphine and Esbern with you, they will arrive in the Camp shortly to help you fight.  Loot all bodies afterwards and search the docks for treasure, including the Block SKILLBOOK, “A Dance in Fire, v2”.

When ready, hike up to the peak and enter KARTHSPIRE proper.  Inside, defeat more Forsworn and collect treasure as you traverse the cave.  After crossing the second bridge, enter the bedroom occupied by a Forsworn Briarheart.  Kill the boss and loot the nearby chest.  Use the tunnel opening in this room to reach the next area.

After emerging from the cobwebs, you’ll arrive in a puzzle room with three stone pillars.  Rotate the pillars until each aligns with the Dragonborn symbol (the one that has an arrow pointing down).  When set correctly, the bridge on the left will drop down.  Walk across and go through the tunnel.

In the next puzzle room, you’ll find a floor filled with pressure plates.  In order to safely reach the chain on the other side, step only on tiles showing the Dragonborn symbol.  Stepping on any others activates a fireball.  If you brought a follower, ask them to wait with Delphine and Esbern.  Once you’ve pulled the chain on the other side, the fireball stops and a bridge drops down.  Retrieve your companions and move on.

Open a chest in the next area then step on the platform in front of the big stone face.  Activating the Blood Seal triggers a brief scene and opens the way to SKY HAVEN TEMPLE, de facto headquarters of the Blades.  Enter the abandoned temple and explore all of the rooms before talking to Esbern.  You’ll find several chests worth looting in the bedrooms, along with the One-Handed SKILLBOOK, “Mace Etiquette”, and the DRAGONBANE, a unique blade causing increased damage to dragons.

Speak with Esbern as he inspects carvings on Alduin’s Wall to learn that you must use a specific Shout to defeat the dragon leader, Alduin.  Since you haven’t learned “Dragonrend”, Delphine suggests visiting the Greybeards even though they are mortal enemies of the Blades.  This ends the current quest and automatically begins “The Throat of the World”.

If you talk to Delphine at this point, she'll ask you to help rebuild the Blades by recruiting new members. Select three followers to be inducted (you'll get a dialog choice if the person is eligible) and bring them to Sky Haven Temple to take the oath. Once they've joined, you can take them on radiant Dragon Hunting missions offered by Esbern.

T H E   T H R O A T   O F   T H E   W O R L D  

After Delphine and Esbern leave your company, travel to High Hrothgar and talk to Arngeir.  Tell him you need to learn the Dragonrend Shout and he’ll ask where you heard about it.  Whether you mention Alduin’s Wall or the Blades, Arngeir will become irritated and refuse to deal with you.  Ultimately, Arngeir is reminded of his sworn duty to the Dragonborn and apologizes.

Arngeir explains that the leader of the Greybeards, Paarthurnax, can offer insight into Dragonrend, but reaching him will be difficult.  Follow Arngeir to the courtyard where you’ll learn all 3 words in in the Dragon Shout, “CLEAR SKIES”.  Equip the new Shout and start climbing the steps up to the THROAT OF THE WORLD. 

At various points, bad weather will prevent you from moving forward.  Use the “Clear Skies” Shout whenever you need to reveal the path ahead, noting that the effect does not last very long.  You’ll encounter a few Ice Wraiths along the way and may discover the remains of a dead dragon.

Upon reaching the summit, Paarthurnax swoops down to greet you.  The leader of the Greybeards, as it turns out, is a dragon.  Before answering questions, Paarthurnax offers to teach you a new Dragon Shout word.  Read the sheer wall when letters appear then use your new “FIRE BREATH” Shout on Paarthurnax.

After proving yourself worthy, Paarthurnax shows you a flashback of what happened to Alduin the last time Dragonrend was used.  Since the Shout was designed by ancient mortals to weaken dragons, no dragon can teach it to you.  Paarthurnax reveals that the ancients used an Elder Scroll in conjunction with Dragonrend to send Alduin through time, and believes it can be done again if one is brought to the Time-Wound where Paarthurnax has been waiting all these years. 

As the quest ends, Paarthurnax admits he has no idea where to find an Elder Scroll and your journal is updated with a suggestion of who to talk to.  At this point, you can ask Paarthurnax to enhance a Shout you’ve already learned.  Select one of the meditations he offers:

            Fus = Force Without Effort (you stagger 25% less and foes stagger 25% more) - enhances "Unrelenting Force"
            Felm = Eternal Spirit (while ethereal, you recover health 25% faster) - enhances "Become Ethereal"
            Yol = The Fire Within (deals 25% more fire damage) - enhances "Fire Breath"

Before leaving, hike up to the very top of Throat of the World to find a unique item, the NOTCHED PICKAXE, as well as several ore veins.

E L D E R   K N O W L E D G E  

To learn more about the Elder Scroll, either talk to Arngeir in High Hrothgar or Esbern at Sky Haven Temple.  Both men will tell you the same thing:  that you need to visit the College of Winterhold.  (Note:  Your questlog will reflect a different objective if you have already completed the College of Winterhold Questline.) 

WINTERHOLD sits on a cliff above the arctic coastline to the north.  To get there quickly, hire a carriage; otherwise select a route that allows you to discover new locations and/or complete other quests.  Points of interest along the way include JOURNEYMAN’S NOOK, which is west of Shrine of Azura (a Daedric landmark).  Inside the bandit-filled nook you’ll find TREASURE MAP II as well as the Alchemy SKILLBOOK, “Herbalist’s Guide to Skyrim”.

As soon as you arrive in Winterhold, you’ll notice that the city consists of a single street – at the end of which looms the gigantic mage college.  Before exploring the COLLEGE OF WINTERHOLD, visit the Frozen Hearth Inn to pick up rumors and speak with locals to acquire a few miscellaneous quests.  At the general store, Birna’s Oddments, the owner offers to sell you a CORAL DRAGON CLAW that she has little use for.  Buy it so that you can investigate Yngol Barrow later on.  Talk to Jarl Korir in his Longhouse to learn that he has limited power over what happens in his hold.  Indeed most residents seem resentful of the College’s influence.  To become Thane of Winterhold, do favors for the Jarl and his citizens.  Although you cannot buy property in the city, completing the College of Winterhold questline does grant you very nice living quarters. 

When ready, climb the stairs leading to the College of Winterhold and a sorceress named Faralda will stop you.  In order to enter, you must pass her test.  Faralda will randomly choose a spell for you to cast, and if you don’t have it, she’ll teach it to you for 30 gold.  If you don’t have enough magicka to cast the spell Faralda selects, either equip something that increases your total magicka or return after leveling up that stat.  Alternately, try persuading her to let you pass by demonstrating that you are Dragonborn.  (Note: Interacting with Faralda automatically triggers the College of Winterhold quest, “First Lessons”, which enrolls you as a new student.)

After passing Faralda’s test, follow her up to the courtyard and speak with Mirabelle Ervine to receive a tour of the facilities.  To advance the College of Winterhold questline, attend your first class in the Hall of the Elements; otherwise, go straight to the Arcanaeum and talk to the Orc librarian, Urag gro-Shub.

Ask about the Elder Scroll and Urag will warn you of its dangers.  When the dialog ends, he leaves to fetch a couple of rare books on the subject.  Collect them from the countertop when he returns.  The first book (“Effects of the Elder Scrolls”) elaborates on the hazards one will face by opening an Elder Scroll at the wrong time.  Reading the second book, “Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls”, automatically initiates the concurrent Daedric quest, “Discerning the Transmudane”.  Tell Urag that the book is incomprehensible and he’ll explain that its author, Septimus Signus, left the college years ago to conduct research in an ice cave to the north.  Your map will now update to show the location of SEPTIMUS SIGNUS’ OUTPOST.

When ready, leave the College of Winterhold and start heading north across the ice fields.  Be on the lookout for frost-based creatures (Sabrecats, Wolves, Bears, etc.) that inhabit the region.  En route, you can quickly explore SKYTEMPLE RUINS, which sits atop a glacial mound.  Kill a Draugr boss inside the burial chamber to access a chest and the Illusion SKILLBOOK, “Before the Ages of Man”.

Septimus Signus’ Outpost is embedded in a small iceberg at the very edge of the frozen sea.  Enter a hatch on the southern end and walk down the ramp.  Below, you’ll find Septimus muttering to himself in front of a large Dwemer device.  Ask him about the Elder Scroll and he’ll tell you it’s hidden in the depths of Blackreach.  Septimus has an item that will open Blackreach but will not give it to you unless you agree to help him with his research.  You have no choice but to comply.  Take the BLANK LEXICON and ATTUNEMENT SPHERE from Septimus then listen to his lecture on how to use the items.

Leave the outpost and take a look at your map.  Although the quest marker points toward Alftand, there are a number of ways to access Blackreach.  The vast underground city runs for miles, connecting three Dwemer ruins – Alftand, Mzinchaleft, and Raldbthar – across three separate holds.  Low-leveled characters should avoid Blackreach.  Tackle it when you feel confident fighting high-level Falmer, Chaurus insects, Dwemer automatons, Giants, etc. and have hours to spare.

This walkthrough assumes you are entering Blackreach via Alftand.  One way to get there is to head west from Winterhold towards THE TOWER STONE, which if activated, boosts your lockpicking skill.  Just south of the Standing Stone is HOB’S FALL CAVE.  Inside you’ll find an “unusual gem” as well as the Bards College quest item, Pantea’s Flute.  FROSTFLOW LIGHTHOUSE is just south of the cave.  Explore it to trigger a miscellaneous quest involving the dead occupants.  Head southeast from the lighthouse to reach the ruins of Alftand.

ALFTAND is, for the most part, buried in snow.  Look for treasure in the remains of a camp – one shack contains an expedition journal and locked chest.  There is also a tower housing a lift but you cannot open it from the outside.  Head north into the ravine, using catwalks to reach Alftand Glacial Ruins. 

Inside, you’ll discover evidence of a bloody struggle and, like all Dwarven ruins, a population of mechanical constructs that often emerge from wall holes.  Stay alert as you walk through the ice tunnels towards a vacant campsite.  Read more journals and grab anything of value then press on.  Up ahead, you’ll hear two brothers arguing but cannot see who’s involved, so just keep following the tunnels and collecting treasure until you come upon J’darr, who is standing over his brother’s corpse.  Fight the Khajiit and loot the room.  Another journal points to Falmer involvement in the expedition tragedy – a clue that you’ll be facing spooky Falmer enemies as you head deeper into the ruins. 

Keep going and you’ll arrive in a big room with oil slicks on the floor.  Fight constructs that pop out of walls as you head towards three moving pistons at the far end of the room.  Ride the pistons as they ascend to reach a couple of chests on the ledge above.  If you want to bypass the next area, use Whirlwind Sprint to jump across the gap; otherwise, hop down and make your way to the northeastern exit.

Walk through a passage filled with flammable gas into a room with Dwemer artifacts and a blacksmith’s forge.  Fight a few Dwarven Spiders as they emerge from their hiding places and unlock a gate in the northwest corner to reach two chests.  After collecting the treasure, go through the western door and descend the stairs.

At the T-junction, you’ll find a chest blocked by a pressure plate.  Stand to the side when opening it to avoid getting speared in the face.  Be on the lookout for mechanical spiders that patrol the southern path and staircase to the north.  Look for a chest within the rubble at the bottom of the stairs then take the southern route into a cluster of bedrooms.  One of the bedrooms contains a chest guarded by a Dwarven Sphere.  Climb stairs to the south to reach another T-junction.  Fight more mechanical enemies as you explore each side, ultimately heading east, which brings you back to the upper section of the piston room.

To reach the other side, you have to dodge a bunch of horizontal pistons that can push you back down into the lower room if you’re not careful.  After getting across safely, make your way over to the Alftand Animonculory. 

Upon entering the Animonculory, look for a chest in the bedroom on the left and grab any items of interest on the right.  At the end of the next corridor, you’ll find a door that opens into a large room with pipes.  Look for a gap in the pipes leading underneath the room.  Below you’ll find a chest and another dead expedition member, Endrast, along with his journal.  Return to the top floor and ascend the stairs on the right.

On top, torch an oil slick to harm mechanical enemies patrolling this area and explore for goodies.  Ascending the next ramp activates spinning blades so dash through and heal before moving on.  After rounding the corner, look for a lever that lowers a set of bars, allowing access to a huge vertical cavern.  Follow the walkway across to an alcove being patrolled by a Dwarven Spider.  After killing it, unlock a chest then descend the ramp on the right.

If you look over the edge, you’ll see many platforms connected by ramps that spiral down into unknown depths.  You can skip the entire descent by using the “Become Ethereal” Shout, which allows you to drop all the way down without injuring yourself.  If you elected to stay on top, head east into a room with two gates.  One is open and contains a chest.  The other is locked and contains a master-level chest, along with a Lockpicking SKILLBOOK appropriately titled, “The Locked Room”.  After gathering the treasure, hop down to the next level. 

At the landing, you’ll find another dead expedition member and ramps curving both up and down.  The upper ramp leads to a chest blocked by a steam piston that can knock you off the path.  After safely reaching the chest (and killing the Dwarven Spider that guards it), jump back across and take the lower ramp down past a waterfall into Falmer territory. 

In addition to new enemies, more pistons can push you off the path so tread carefully.  Upon reaching the bottom, head east.  Deactivate a tripwire at the base of the opening to avoid getting hit by a Falmer claw then pass through.  Take the curving ramp down, killing skeevers and other enemies, until you reach a door blocked by fire.  Quench the flames with an ice spell or just dash through and open the door.

Proceed through a multi-leveled chamber, noting that many Falmers patrol the area.  Gather items from shelves, tables, etc. and take advantage of an alchemy lab on the first floor if you wish.  Follow the corridor out to a balcony overlooking Falmer tents and a large structure in the center.  Make your way down to the lower level, exploiting oil slicks to help rid the area of enemies. 

Navigate past a couple of flame traps to find workrooms behind them.  One contains an anvil and workbench; another contains a locked Falmer chest.  Follow the corridor out to an open doorway and descend the stairs.  Midway down, you’ll see an offshoot to the left with another set of stairs.  The offshoot leads to some Falmers and a few items to loot.  Explore if you wish then continue downstairs.

The large room below is filled with Falmer, including tougher ones that use magic.  An open gate in the northwest corner houses an elevator that ascends to the Alftand Glacial Ruins.  On top, you can unbar the door, creating a shortcut back inside the ruins.  Use it if you want to sell off goods in town before continuing.  Gather items near the lift then head towards the back of the main room.

Kill more enemies and gather treasure as you pass through the torture chambers.  Use the door in back to reach another shaft with curved ramps.  Below, kill a Frostbite Spider along with more Falmer then proceed through the corridor.  At the bottom of the next ramp is a visible claw trap.  Deactivate it and enter the Alftand Cathedral.

Slay enemies and check offshoots for treasure as you head towards the quest marker.  Be careful of pressure plates that trigger blades from the ceiling just before reaching the double doors.  Once inside the cathedral, clear all foes then explore both sides of the wide staircase.

To open the central gate, climb the stairs and use a lever on the platform.  Once the gate rods are lowered, unlock two chests.  Look for more chests on the right as you continue climbing.  There are two Dwarven Centurions up ahead.  One is destroyed but the other activates as soon as you approach it.  In addition to shooting steam, the mechanical giant can kill you with one or two strikes.  For melee fighters, employ a hit and run strategy.  If you’re an archer, slay the Centurion before it gets close.  Make sure to loot both Centurions afterwards.  Along with excellent spoils, one of them holds a key. 

Pass through the gate at the top of the stairs and unlock the chest on the right.  Continue towards the quest marker to see the last two expedition members (Umana and Sulla) fighting with each other.  Kill both or wait to take out the winner.  After dealing with the hostile pair, loot Umana to get a rare shield, TARGE OF THE BLOODED, and open the nearby chest.  Use the Attunement Sphere that Septimus gave you to open the Dwarven mechanism in the center.  Doing so creates a spiral path leading down into BLACKREACH. 

Before descending, open the gate behind the mechanism using the Centurion’s key (if you failed to get the key, you can still lockpick the gate).  Inside you’ll find a lift that takes you up to Skyrim.  Use the lever on top to unlock the cage, creating a shortcut back to Blackreach.  I highly recommend taking a break in town to rest, shop, and upgrade gear before continuing.  When ready, fast-travel back to the ALFTAND LIFT and ride down to the Blackreach entrance.

Descend the spiral staircase and prepare to be awed by the beauty and vastness of Blackreach.  The dark underground cavern takes hours to explore and virtually every direction teems with strong enemies.  In addition to Falmers, you’ll encounter Dwarven constructs, giants, Chaurus, frost trolls, and new enemies called Servants – human slaves devoted to their Falmer masters.  There is also much treasure to be gained by fully exploring Blackreach.  The landscape features several Geode veins that, when mined, offer soul gems as well as ore.  A unique variety of nirnroot also grows down here.  Pluck a CRIMSON NIRNROOT to automatically trigger the side quest “A Return To Your Roots”.  Collect 30 of them to advance that quest. 

There are numerous structures within Blackreach, many offering hours of exploration unto themselves, and four exit locations.  Since your in-game map only shows a portion of Blackreach at any given time, navigation can be difficult.  Here’s a brief list of structures to explore, along with their general compass positions:

  • Alftand Cathedral – northeast corner (entrance to Alftand ruins)
  • Sinderion’s Field Laboratory – northeast
  • Great Lift at Alftand – northeast (exit to Skyrim)
  • War Quarters – east
  • Great Lift at Raldbathar  - southeast (exit to Skyrim)
  • Derelict Pumphouse – southeast
  • Raldbthar Deep Market – southeast corner (entrance to Raldbthar ruins)
  • Farm Overseer’s House – southwest
  • Tower of Mzark – southwest (Oculory & exit to Skyrim)
  • Hall of Rumination – center west
  • Silent City Catacombs – center
  • Debate Hall – direct center (marked by giant glowing orb)
  • Pumping Station – center
  • Silent Ruin – center north
  • Reeking Tower – north
  • Great Lift at Mzinchaelft – northwest (exit to Skyrim)
  • Mzinchaleft Gatehouse – northwest corner (entrance to Mzinchaleft ruins)

In addition to the locations listed above, there are many unnamed points of interest (groves, docks, camps, sewer openings, etc.) that you’ll find while exploring Blackreach.  In terms of the main quest, your goal is to reach the Oculory inside Tower of Mzark.

Starting at Alftand Cathedral, sneak to the left and press a lever to fire arrows at the Dwarven Sphere below.  Kill a lone Falmer on your way down to the building it was guarding and enter SINDERION’S FIELD LABORATORY.   Inside, you’ll find Sinderion’s body along with his journal.  If you haven’t found any Crimson Nirnroots yet, reading Sinderion’s journal will trigger the side quest “A Return to Your Roots”.  You’ll find a Crimson Nirnroot on his worktable along with many other ingredients.  The lab also contains an arcane enchanter, an alchemy lab, two chests, many loose items, and an Alchemy SKILLBOOK called “De Rerum Dirennis”.  You may also discover another Attunement Sphere here.  Leave it alone if you already have one in your inventory. 

Exit the lab and travel in a southeastern direction, keeping sight of the road as enemies distract you.  At the first junction, veer southwest.  Go underneath a bridge and continue along the path until it turns to the west.  Cross another bridge then head southwest towards the illuminated tower.  Once there, look for a chest at the base of the tower then walk back up and enter the elevator.  Pull the lever inside to ride up to the TOWER OF MZARK.

Disembark and follow the corridor into a small room.  Gather loot and open two small chests on the shelves.  In the far right corner, you’ll find a Smithing SKILLBOOK called “The Armorer’s Challenge”.  On the opposite side of the room, you’ll find a chest and apothecary satchel.  After clearing the area, continue forward into the Oculory.

Turn left and walk up the circular ramp.  On top you’ll find a control panel with 4 buttons facing a huge Dwemer device.  Next to the control panel is a receptacle.  Put the Blank Lexicon that Septimus gave you in the receptacle.  Doing so will open the ceiling and activate two of the buttons (#3 and #4).  To focus the lenses on the floor, you need to push the buttons in a certain sequence:  Press button #3 three times to activate button #2.  Now press button #2 twice to activate button #1.  Press button #1 once to lower a container.  Open the container and remove the ELDER SCROLL.  Also retrieve the RUNED LEXICON, which is now filled with the knowledge Septimus wants.

To reach Skyrim quickly, go through a door in the Oculory and ride the elevator up to the surface.  Flip the lever to open the gate and your map will update, showing a new location discovered, the Tower of Mzark.  From now on, you can access Blackreach from this location. 

Obtaining the Elder Scroll ends the "Elder Knowledge" quest but does not complete the concurrent quest “Discerning the Transmudane”, which involves several more steps.  Start by bringing the Runed Lexicon to Septimus Signus in his outpost.  Read the Daedric Quests guide for further details.

A L D U I N ' S   B A N E  

With Elder Scroll in hand, travel to the Throat of the World and speak with Paarthurnax.  The dragon will direct you to a spot in the ice where the Elder Scroll can be safely opened and read.   Stand on the Time-Wound and select the Elder Scroll in your inventory.  Upon reading it, you will be transported back in time to learn all three words in the “DRAGONREND” Shout (Mortal, Finite, Temporary).

As soon as you return to the present, the World-Eater himself, Alduin, arrives to challenge you.  While airborne, Alduin sprays fireballs and spars with Paarthurnax, making him difficult to target.  Equip "Dragonrend" and use it to ground Alduin.  Without the Shout, Alduin will never land and is far too fast to rely on arrows.  Once he’s down, attack him from the sides and heal frequently.  The effect of Dragonrend doesn’t last very long so just repeat the process until he’s done for.

Watch the scene that follows to end the quest.  A new quest starts and may trigger another shortly.  Since the two quests overlap, I’m combining them in the next section.

T H E   F A L L E N  /  S E A S O N   U N E N D I N G

After the battle, Alduin escapes and you need to find out where he went.  Who you choose to speak with next (Arngeir, Esbern, or Paarthurnax) affects gameplay:

  • If you talk to Arngeir, you will be aligning yourself with the Greybeards, and the Blades will no longer help you.
  • If you talk to Esbern, you will be aligning yourself with the Blades, and the Greybeards will no longer help you.
  • If you talk to Paarthurnax, you can avoid picking sides, though both factions will still try to recruit you.

Consider what you’re willing to give up – word wall locations from the Greybeards and Shout boosts from Paarthurnax, or dragon hunting side quests from the Blades.  Speaking with the Blades at this stage automatically initiates the quest “Kill Paarthurnax”, which gives you an idea of how serious your choices are. 

Ultimately, all three will offer the same information regarding the main quest:  That you need to capture one of Alduin’s dragon followers and convince it to divulge Alduin’s location.  You are told to visit Whiterun’s Jarl, as he will know how to capture a dragon.

Travel to Whiterun and visit the Jarl in Dragonsreach.  Ask the Jarl if he will help you capture a dragon and he will answer in one of two ways:

  • If you finished the Civil War questline, the Jarl you put in power (Stormcloak or Imperial) will allow you to capture a dragon in his hold and “The Fallen” quest resumes.
  • If you have not picked sides in the Civil War, a new quest (“Season Unending”) will be added to your journal.  You must complete this quest before resuming “The Fallen”.

The quest “Season Unending” forces you to end the Civil War either by truce or battle.  If you killed Paarthurnax, no truce is possible; the Civil War must be ended through battle.  Similarly, if you want to get the War Hero trophy, you must complete the entire Civil War questline before going any further with the main quest.

To complete “Season Unending” peacefully, the game assumes you are a neutral party in the Civil War and have not joined the Blades.  Since Jarl Balgruuf will not help you catch a dragon until the threat to Whiterun has been eliminated, you must negotiate a truce between the Stormcloaks and Imperials on his behalf.  Both factions respect the Greybeards, so talk to Arngeir and ask if he is willing to host a peace conference in High Hrothgar.  Although he prefers to stay out of the conflict, Arngeir agrees to help.

After securing a meeting place, you need to convince both sides to attend.  Talk to Ulfric in Winterhold’s Palace of the Kings to assure the Stormcloaks’ participation, and talk to General Tulius in Solitude’s Castle Dour to assure the Imperial Legion’s participation.  A certain amount of persuasion is needed but ultimately both men agree to send delegations.

Return to High Hrothgar to attend the meeting (don’t bring a follower as they will only get in the way).  Arngeir will be in the main hall, greeting participants as they arrive.  He is not thrilled, however, to see that the Blades have forced their way into the proceedings but nevertheless allows them to stay.  When prompted, follow Arngeir to the conference room and take your seat at the table. 

During the meeting, help the Stormcloaks and Imperials negotiate a truce whereby both sides feel they have been treated fairly.  At various points, you’ll be asked to give an opinion that favors one side or the other – your answers are silently scored and determine how long the meeting lasts:

Phase #1
Decide whether Elenwyn, the Thalmor ambassador, can attend the meeting.  If you kick her out, the Stormcloaks are happy and Imperials are upset.

Phase #2
The Stormcloaks want control of the Reach (Markarth) and you must decide which hold to give the Imperials in exchange – the Rift or the Pale.  The Rift (Riften) is considered a minor hold and the Pale (Dawnstar) is considered a major hold.  Imperials are happier receiving the major hold and less happy getting the minor hold.   Either way, the Imperials also retain Whiterun.

Following this phase, one of the two sides will threaten to walk out of the negotiations and Esbern must convince them to stay.  When talks resume, the side that has gained the least will ask for additional reparations:

Phase #3
If the scores are close, the losing side will be satisfied receiving financial compensation for a previous massacre.  If the scores greatly favor one side over the other, additional holds will be exchanged.  The meeting ends when both sides have gained/lost an equal share, or there are no more reparations to obtain.

Once the negotiations end, Arngeir will summarize the terms and the meeting will adjourn.  Depending on the choices you made, participants will react favorably or unfavorably towards you as they depart.  This ends the quest “Season Unending” without bloodshed. 

Before you are able to leave High Hrothgar, Delphine stops you.  If you haven’t already joined the Blades, she will demand that you kill Paarthurnax.  There is nothing you can say or do to prevent the quest from being added to your active log – however you are under no obligation to comply.

“The Fallen” quest resumes upon talking to either Esbern or Paarthurnax.  Either one will tell you they’ve discovered the name of a dragon you can capture, Odahviing, and you are taught all 3 words in a new Dragon Shout, “CALL DRAGON”.  The Shout will allow you to subpoena Odahviing back in Whiterun.  

At this point, you might want to tour cities that were traded during negotiations to see how they’ve changed.  Each has been affected in some way.  Some citizens will be happy having a new Jarl in charge; others will suffer under a new regime.  Newly empowered Jarls will offer you a Thaneship without having to complete prerequisite quests and old Jarls will be living elsewhere, usually in the Blue Palace.

When you’re ready to continue the main quest, travel to Dragonsreach and speak with the Jarl.  Now that the Civil War is on hold, he will allow you to capture a dragon on the Great Porch.  Go upstairs and pass through the double doors to get there.  Equip the “Call Dragon” Shout and use it at the far end of the Great Porch to summon Odahviing.  After a short while, the dragon will appear.

Your goal is to capture Odahviing, not kill him.  The dragon will fly around a bit, likely injuring a guard, but eventually hovers near the edge of the porch.  Use the “Dragonrend” Shout when he’s hovering to force him to land.  Hit him while he’s down to lure him towards the double doors.  Just face him and back-peddle until the guards trap the dragon in a wooden blockade.

Once captured, interrogate Odahviing to find out that Alduin has gone to SKULDAFN TEMPLE.  Further conversation reveals that one cannot reach the temple without wings.  Odahviing offers to fly you there if you release him.  Before agreeing, make sure you have everything you need for a long, solo journey -- you cannot take any followers with you or fast-travel once you get there.  Odahviing isn’t going anywhere so take your time preparing and bring only the best stuff.  As “The Fallen” quest ends, the next main quest begins.

T H E   W O R L D - E A T E R ' S   E Y R I E  

To release Odahviing, talk to the Whiterun guard on the upper level of the Great Porch.  If the guard isn’t there, you can pull the chain yourself.  Once freed, the dragon will wait for you.  Tell Odahviing you’re ready to go and watch the scene that follows. 

Odahviing deposits you on a small hill west of Skuldafn Temple.  Many dragons inhabit this area so don’t be surprised if one attacks as soon as you arrive.  After killing the dragon, head towards the Temple, keeping in mind that Draugr patrol virtually all parts of Skuldafn.  Cross a bridge then pass under an arch.  As you turn south, another dragon will likely be waiting along with some Draugr.  Clear the way forward and enter Skuldafn South Tower.  You’ll find both treasure and Draugr inside.

Exit the tower and head east, climbing stairs up to the second level of the courtyard.  Tougher Draugr patrol this area, including archers that position themselves on the walkways above.  Take advantage of the architecture to sneak past, or kill them one by one, as you veer south.  You’ll see Skuldafn North Tower up ahead but it’s unreachable from this level.  When the path turns north, look for a door on the right.  Enter the broken tower and climb the stairs to find a chest. 

Back outside, continue heading north and go up to the third level.  Once there, head south, using bridges to reach Skuldafn North Tower.  Inside you’ll find Draugr guarding a treasure chest and some loose items worth taking.  After exploring the tower, ascend to the fourth level using the southern stairs.  Look for a small table holding a chest as you head towards the doors.  There’s another chest on a ledge just west of the temple’s entrance.

Enter Skuldafn Temple and fight Draugr inside the first room, including ones that burst out of tombs.  Open a chest near the column on the right and gather potions from the embalming table.  Avoid the dart trap on the left.  Loot urns on the north end then climb either set of stairs to reach the first puzzle room.

Clear the area of Draugr then examine the room.  You’ll find two locked gates, a lever, and three marked pillars.  Each pillar has three sides that can be rotated to show a bird, snake or whale.  The two gates also have pictures above them.  The east gate leads to treasure, and the west gate allows you to exit the room. 

Go over to the lever just north of the pillars.  While standing in front of it, view the room.  Rotate the pillars until they are aligned with the pictures on the gates behind you.  In other words, matching pictures should face each other as seen from your vantage point in front of the lever.  The center pillar dictates which gate opens after pulling the lever:

  • To open the gate on the right (east), set the three pillars to: BIRD / BIRD / BIRD
  • To open the gate on the left (west), set the three pillars to: BIRD / SNAKE / BIRD

After solving both puzzles, go upstairs and enter another Draugr-filled room.  Loot urns and look for a chest between the wooden ramps as you descend.  A thin passage leads to a crypt full of Frostbite Spiders.  After killing them, proceed to a door blocked by cobwebs.  Clear the way forward, ridding the path of more spiders, and ascend to an iron door.  Open it and enter the second puzzle room.

Several Draugr patrol the two-tiered room, so stay sharp.  After dealing with enemies on the ground, use the log ramp to get to the upper level.  On top, you’ll find a trio of rotating pillars showing symbols.  Two of them can be rotated to match symbols in corresponding alcoves (BIRD and WHALE).  The third pillar faces a door, but there is no corresponding symbol next to it.  To find the correct symbol, go to the eastern edge of the central platform.  You’ll find the SNAKE symbol near a lever, as well as a chest.  After aligning the pillar facing the door, pull the lever to lower a drawbridge.  Cross over and enter the next area.

Follow the path into a room with several Draugr and two archers on the top floor.  Fight your way through and up to the second level bridge.  Across the bridge is a doorway leading to a spiral staircase.   Stepping inside activates a dart trap that also causes a lantern to drop, so retreat and wait for flames to dissipate before entering the room.  Loot urns and gather loose items at the bottom of the stairs then climb to the top. 

Since you cannot open the gate to the north yet, enter the door to the south.  Inside, you’ll find three Draugr, a chest, and a lever that opens the gate you just passed.  Return to the gate and continue through to a long hallway split into sections.  At the end of the second section, look for a chest on the right.  There’s another fire/oil trap up ahead.  Shoot down the lantern to avoid injury then follow the hall towards the third puzzle room.

Depending on your level, a Dragon Priest or Draugr Overlord will be guarding the circular door.  Fight the boss and loot his body afterwards to obtain the DIAMOND CLAW.  Match symbols found on the Claw to those found on the door rings.  From top to bottom, rotate the rings so that they show: FOX / MOTH / DRAGON.  Insert the Claw in the keyhole and enter the next area.

Read the wall up ahead to learn a word in the Dragon Shout, “STORM CALL”.  Use a Dragon Soul to unlock the powerful new Shout, which creates thunderstorms lasting 60 seconds.  Loot the room on the right then exit the temple.

Outside, you’ll see two dragons circling overhead.  They will not harm you unless you provoke them with Dragonrend.  Kill the nearby Draugr then explore the ruins directly opposite the door you just came out of.  On the bottom, you’ll find a large chest filled with goodies.  Head out and save your game before approaching the pillars up ahead.

On top, a Dragon Priest named Nahkriin guards the portal to SOVNGARDE.  He has mastered all Destruction spells, which can destroy you if you arrive unprepared.  If you have any gear or potions that boost magic resistance (especially to ice), use them before facing Nahkriin.  Weapons causing shock damage are always helpful when fighting mages.  Ranged fighters will have an easier time defeating Nahkriin and may even land a stealthy critical hit before he even turns around.  Avoid using area-effect shouts (like ‘Storm Call’) unless you want the two dragons you saw earlier to come to Nahkriin’s aid.  If all else fails, you can drink an Invisibility potion and dash to the portal.

After defeating the Dragon Priest, loot his body to get NAHKRIIN’S MASK and other nice items.  Place his staff in the slot to open the portal (if you killed him before he took the staff out, the portal will already be opened).  To end this quest and begin the next, jump into the energy stream.

S O V N G A R D E  

Walk downstairs and talk to the lost Stormcloak soldier.  He tells you that a deadly mist prevents him from reaching the Hall of Valor and asks for your help getting there.  If you choose to escort the soldier, he’ll be devoured as soon as he enters the mist.  Instead, use the “Clear Skies” Shout to remove the mist and let the soldier figure it out by himself.

Keep heading towards the quest marker, clearing mist when necessary.  Along the way, you’ll come across key figures that died during certain questlines (Companions, Civil War, etc.).  If you haven’t completed any of the optional questlines, the path will be free of other people.

Upon reaching the bone bridge, the HALL OF VALOR comes into view.  Tsun, Shield-Thane to Shor, will ask what brings you to Sovngarde.  Of three possible answers, the first two offer more information.  The third answer, “I seek entrance to the Hall of Valor”, prompts Tsun to ask a follow-up question: “By what right do you request entry?”  If you completed any previous questlines, you’ll have more than one choice of answer.  If not, tell him, “By right of birth.  I am Dragonborn.”  No matter which answer you give, you’ll need to prove yourself in battle to gain entry.  Fight Tsun until his health decreases by half, at which point he’ll stop the battle and let you enter the Hall of Valor.

Once inside, Ysgramor introduces himself and tells you that three heroes – Gormlaith Golden-Hilt, Hakon One-Eye, and Felidir the Old – have been awaiting your arrival.  You may recall that they are the ones who defeated Alduin in the past.  Go over and talk to the Nord heroes.  They are eager to slay Alduin once more and will join you in the upcoming battle.  The quest ends (and the final main quest begins) when the three heroes ready their weapons and wait for you to lead them outside.

D R A G O N S L A Y E R  

Leave the Hall with your team and cross the bone bridge.  Use the “Clear Skies” Shout three times to remove the mist in the valley.  Your comrades will also use the Shout since they, too, are Dragonborn.  After the third attempt, the sky will finally clear and Alduin will arrive for the final showdown.

Alduin is no different than when you last fought him at the Throat of the World, except now it’s a fight to the death.  Use “Dragonrend” as soon as possible (and as often as possible) to ground and weaken him.  While he’s down, let your comrades distract Alduin so that you can get into position or heal.  Alduin’s breath can cause serious damage, so try to stun him just before he exhales.  A well-timed shield bash or Unrelenting Force Shout will do the trick, allowing you enough time to get in a few good hits.  Your three comrades can die in battle so try to keep them alive as long as possible; otherwise you’ll be facing the dragon alone.  If you come into this battle highly leveled, killing Alduin by yourself will be a non-issue.

Upon defeating Alduin, you do not get his soul and cannot loot him despite the fact that the “Search Alduin” message appears while standing over his body.  Instead, talk to Tsun, who teaches you all 3 words in the Dragon Shout “CALL OF VALOR”.  Using this Shout summons the three heroes of Sovngarde to fight by your side once again.  Tsun will send you back to Skyrim whenever you’re ready.  And with that, you've completed the MAIN QUESTLINE of Skyrim. 


Although no quest appears in your log, a few things happen after “beating” the game:

You’ll be dropped off at the Throat of the World, where you’ll see several dragons flying about.  Some will become hostile if you use Dragonrend on them.  Talk to Paarthurnax (if you didn’t kill him) and wait for Odahviing to arrive.  Impressed with your power, Odahviing tells you to call him whenever you need his assistance in battle.  The “Call Dragon” Shout can only be used outdoors, btw.  If you are still in good standing with the Greybeards, go to High Hrothgar and speak with Arngeir about Alduin’s death.  If you are aligned with the Blades, go tell Esbern and Delphine the news.   

Since Skyrim is a perpetual game, there is no actual “ending”.  You can still finish quests, start new ones, locate more word walls, and fight dragons to obtain their souls.  As you travel the world, folks may praise you as the Dragonborn hero, but apart from that, nothing changes.  You may find that other questlines are more interesting or challenging.  Here’s a list of additional guides that may prove helpful:

For those wishing to freely explore Skyrim, here is an alphabetical list of all locations, noting which quests can be triggered/advanced while there.  Radiant locations (ones that do not involve specific quests) are also referenced:

None of the guides offer details regarding later add-ons to Skyrim (Dawnguard, Dragonborn, or Hearthfire).  Perhaps one day...  Thank you for reading and enjoy exploring!


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