It’s that time of year again — the weather has turned to a near-permanent chill, many areas of the world are covered in snow, and the sirens call of the Dragonborn again seduces players new and old to wander the reaches of Tamriel.
For some reason, cold weather and Skyrim just go together. Its the perfect game to pair with a rainy day or snow-laden streets, and it never — despite more than a decade on the market — gets old. Even gamers who’ve been enjoying this game’s truly horrid tavern ballads since Skyrim was released in 2011 find themselves returning for the occasional play through, and many have yet to try out each of the game’s possible races.
The best races in Skyrim
In total, there are ten separate playable Skyrim races, each with varying traits that provide various perks to your chosen play style and fighting preference. What race will work best for you depends entirely on how you plan to approach the game. It is possible to become a mage while playing as an Orc — trust me, my fiancee slogged her way through that particular quagmire — but its not advisable. Each race has benefits and downsides, each of which must be considered as you prep to begin your next Skyrim play through.
As noted above, each race comes with its own positives and negatives, which really serves in the benefit of Skyrim‘s replay-ability. The one thing that does stay the same across races is the ability to perform two basic spells: Healing and Flames. These two spells can be tackled from the get-go, but will become far more effective with practice and leveling. Apart from that, each race is unique in its starting bonuses, special abilities, and skills.
Altmer (High Elf)
We’re going in alphabetical order here, but even if we weren’t it would be fitting that the Altmer ended up on top. This elitist class of Elves is always looking down on someone. They consider themselves to be the perfect race, and often maintain a bit of distance between themselves and other Skyrim races.
An Altmer character would be a great selection for any players looking to enjoy the game with an emphasis on magic and general snobishness. The Altmer are the most attuned to magic of all the races, and even come with the innate ability to regenerate Magica more quickly than other characters.
Playing as an Altmer will grant players a few bonuses, on top of their High Born ability to regenerate Magica quickly. This ability can be used once a day, and lasts for 60 seconds on each use. Brand new Altmer builds will also begin the game with an extra spell — Fury — and a bonus to all their magical abilities, with a particular boost to Illusion.
There’s quite a bit more to this reptilian race than meets the eye. Upon first glimpse, the lizard-like race immediately stands out, given their distance from the generally-human appearance of most Skyrim races. This may turn some players off, but consider carefully before you completely write the Argonians off. They are one of the best races to tackle a sneaky approach to gameplay, and come equipped with several lucrative perks.
Players looking to enjoy a game with heavy exploration should consider an Argonian build. This race has an emphasis on sneaking and lock picking, which makes them excellent thieves, but an Argonian will also thrive in caves and buried temples due to their other boosted perks.
Argonians are disease resistant, which makes those cure disease potions far less necessary following a run-in with Skeevers or Vampires, and also have the ability to breathe underwater. This will give a huge boost to those underwater explorations, and will all but ensure an easier time navigating Tamriel’s many ruins and caves.
Bosmer (Wood Elf)
The Bosmer are a nature loving people, living in harmony with the land and its animals. They have little in common with their magic-weilding Altmer brothers, in both attitude and skillset. Most Bosmer manage to avoid the overtly pompous personality of many Altmer and the simmering resentment of most Dunmer, but are also free of most of the racism levied at the Dark Elves.
That’s because the Bosmer decided, ages back, to lead a simple existence in Valenwood, away from the eccentricities of city life. They instead turned their focus to becoming Tamriel’s best archers, and spent time forming bonds with their animal brethren. They are an excellent fit for players who enjoy a good balance of stealth and combat.
Bosmer come with an innate talent for archery and sneak, along with lock picking and pickpocketing. This makes them excellent thieves, and makes a long-distance fort siege far more possible. They are a versatile build, thanks to their 50 percent resistance to disease and poison, which gives them a boost when exploring Tamriel’s grittier corners. This, paired with the Command Animal ability — which allows players to make an ally out of any animal for 60 seconds each day — allows for some very creative game play options as a Bosmer.
Bretons are the first of only three entirely human races in Skyrim. They look a fair amount like their Nord brothers, but there’s actually quite a bit of distance between these two races, when it comes to game play. While they share the Nord’s light skin, Bretons actually hail from High Rock, rather than Skyrim. They also have an aptitude for magic that is very much not shared by their chilly human brethren.
A Breton character pairs well with players looking to balance mage craft and combat. They are the most magically adept race in Skyrim, apart from the Altmer, and boast several heightened stats as a reflection of this. Playing as a Breton offers up a balance not provided by an Altmer build, thanks to their innate fighting ability. While they may appeared weighted toward magic at the outset of the game, don’t be fooled. Breton’s make excellent warriors.
Breton’s perks do lean into magic use, however. On top of the common Flame and Healing spells, Bretons also have the immediate ability to Conjure Familiars. They are also inherently 25 percent resistant to magic, and have the ability to absorb 50% of the magic from hostile spells for 60 seconds, once every day. This will give players a big boost in magical combat, particularly once they start attempting those massive, magic-draining spells.
Dunmer (Dark Elf)
The final Elf race in Skyrim, Dunmers are also the most discriminated against. Particularly in Windhelm, the hub of the Stormcloak Rebellion, Dunmer are subjected to blatant racism and segregation, and thus many hold a grudge against Skyrim‘s other races — particularly Nords.
Despite the bigotry you will inevitably experience as a Dunmer, this is one of the most enjoyable Skyrim races in the game. This is particularly true for players who enjoy a sneaky play through, and for those with sights set on the Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood storylines. They make excellent thieves, and also have an inborn talent for magic use.
Dunmer also come equipped with the Sparks spell, on top of the usual base spells, and a boost to their Destruction magic. They have a particular aptitude for fire, and are less likely to accidentally injure themselves due to their racial ability, which grants them 50 percent resistance to fire. This stacks well with their perk, Ancestor’s Wrath, which gives them the ability to burn anyone who gets too close for 8 points of damage per second. Like the other race-specific abilities, this perk is available once a day for 60 seconds.
Upon launching a Skyrim game, the Imperials may initially appear to be the game’s bad guys — apart from the mega-deadly dragon, of course. But they aren’t innately bad (regardless of which faction you choose), and characters built as Imperials actually have some great perks, particularly for newcomers to the game.
They work well for new players because Imperials are a very versatile race. They have boosts to magic and combat skills, which makes learning these talents early in the game quite a bit easier, but do particularly well for players looking to cross classes. They make excellent battle mages, and thrive in combat due to the high Restoration skill they start the game with.
There are a few other hurdles in Skyrim that an Imperial build might help players better traverse. Like crows, they have an eye for shiny things, and tend to find more gold than anyone else when searching. This will allow for far better weapons and potions at the outset of the game, since players will have some spending money on hand. They also have the Voice of the Emperor racial ability, which allows them to calm any nearby humanoids for 60 seconds, once a day.
One of Skyrim’s only playable beast races, the Khajiit are a delightful and complicated people. They are easily recognizable, thanks to their cat-like appearance, and are a common sight throughout Tamriel. They are sly and sneaky, but thankfully lack the quintessential superiority complex of most real-world felines.
Due to their feline appearance, the Khajiit are often the subjects of mistreatment by their peers. They, along with the Argonians, are largely othered by the more human races of Tamriel, and tend to be treated as lesser-than. Despite this, the Khajiit have made a name for themselves as some of Tamriel’s best traveling merchants.
They also have a number of skills that don’t involve bartering, making them an excellent choice for players looking to enjoy a play through with emphasis on stealth and speech skills. Khajiit are quick-witted, which makes them an excellent choice for players looking to flesh out their speech skill tree, and their talent in sneak makes them great as thieves or assassins.
Khajiit boast the natural-born ability to see in the dark, a skill which — unlike most race perks — can be used an unlimited number of times each day. Like other perks, it lasts 60 seconds each time. They are also particularly talented at unarmed combat, thanks to built-in weapons in the form of their claws, which is particularly useful for players at the start of a fresh game.
Nords are one of the most populous races in Skyrim, and can be a great pick for players looking to enjoy a balanced gaming experience. They are well equipped to survive in some of Skyrim’s harshest environments, and can be found scattered through every city in the game. They can come across as rather racist, however, particularly if you end up choosing the Stormcloaks in the “Civil War” quest lines.
That’s because most Stormcloaks, and many Nords, believe that “Skyrim belongs to the Nords!” They think the other races, in particular those pesky Elves, should go back where they came from, and leave the harsh winters of Skyrim to its fair-skinned natives. Not all Nords think this way, of course, but you’ll be subjected to quite a bit of exclusionary behavior if you choose a non-Nord to join the rebellion. Particularly if you, like me, make the foolish decision to join the Stormcloaks as a Dunmer or — Talos forbid — an Altmer.
Despite their slightly problematic viewpoints, a Nord character is an excellent option, particularly for newcomers to the game. Nords are skilled in nearly every area of combat, and can be easily adjusted to display skill in any range of weapons. They aren’t the most skilled race when it comes to magic, but they make excellent barbarians, scouts, or warriors. Their skills are pretty well balanced across non-magical lines, so its hard to go wrong with a combat-based Nord build.
On top of their general skill in combat, Nords come with a few additional perks. They can emit a mighty Battle Cry once per day, which lasts 60 seconds, and will make its target flee battle for 30 seconds. This is best used when you get a bit overwhelmed in a fight, giving you a chance to pound some potions or a few dozen wheels of cheese before resuming the battle. They also have a natural born resistance to frost — a very handy trait in Skyrim’s frigid North — and only feel 50 percent of its effects.
Tamriel’s only Orcish race are known as Orsimer, and originally hail from Orsinium, a small mountain kingdom. They are now known as some of Tamriel’s foremost fighters and smiths, but often keep to themselves. They are widely dismissed by the people of Tamriel, and — while the occassional Orc can be found working as a blacksmith or wandering the world — most stick to the strongholds that pepper Skyrim’s expanse.
Orcs are some of the biggest playable characters in Skyrim, which makes them an excellent choice for barbarian or tank builds. They excel in two-handed combat, and can easily be trained up to become excellent with one-handed weapons, a sword and shield combo, or several other potential fighting styles.
Those looking to play a magic-heavy game should think twice before selecting an Orc character, but — as mentioned above — its far from impossible to build up a battle mage Orc. It is quite difficult to do so, however, given the Orsimer’s inherent lack of magical talent. Instead, they are one of Skyrim‘s premier pure warriors, adapting quickly to a variety of weapons and fighting styles.
They can also descend into an intimidating “Berserker Rage” once per in-game day, lasting for 60 seconds each time. When the rage is in use, players are resistant to half of incoming damage, and themselves deal double damage. This does not apply to magical attacks both incoming and outgoing, however, which provides yet more motivation to avoid a magic-heavy Orsimer build.
Perhaps the best warriors available in Skyrim, the Redguard are extremely well balanced characters. Hailing originally from the desert province of Hammerfell, Skyrim is now home to a number of Redguard. These natural-born warriors are uniquely skilled in one-handed combat — particularly when pairing a sword and shield — but lack the Orsimer’s ineptitude with magic.
Redguard characters are a great pick for players looking fight their way through the game, but also desire a bit of strategy. They don’t have the strength to simply smash their way through every encounter — here’s looking at you, Orcs — but they are plenty strong enough to carry most combat scenarios.
They also balance out their one-handed skill with a base aptitude for several forms of magic, including Alteration and Destruction. This could allow a player to focus primarily on building their one-handed skill tree, while also putting time into these two magical skills. The ability to cast Iron Flesh will come in immensely handy in combat, as will a few destructive Runes placed in the right position.
On top of their well-balanced base skills, Redguards have a natural 50 percent resistance to poison. This will come in useful while traversing caves and tombs, as well as in the shadowy realm of Apocrypha, for those with the Dragonborn expansion. On top of this natural resistance, the race perk allows Redguard to activate an adrenaline rush once per day. The perk allows their stamina to regenerate 10 times faster for 60 seconds.
Which to choose?
Regardless of which class you choose, Skyrim is a thoroughly enjoyable game with deep replay-ability. Sure, we all get tired of — and heavily meme — the game’s opening lines, but there are too many quests and play options in this game to get bored easily. Each race provides a unique and enjoyable gameplay experience, particularly if you lean into their various skills. Hopefully this list will be of use to you when you next decide to create a fresh character. May Talos guide your hand.