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The World Of Skyrim: Beginner's Guide To The People And Places Of Elder Scrolls 5

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Posted November 10, 2011 - By Adam Rosenberg


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Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls is a big series set in a big world. Look at it like this: the massive chunks we got to explore in Morrowind and Oblivion, and that we'll get to explore in this Friday's Skyrim, combine together to form roughly half of one continent, Tamriel, in the larger world of Nirn. It's a tremendous mythology that Bethesda Softworks has built for itself with this series, and it's a constantly rewarding one for diehard fans to explore because of how effectively the Elder Scrolls games manage to create this sense of place.

Even if you've played every game in the series since The Elder Scrolls: Arena, it's a lot to keep track of. Newcomers get it the worst, since they don't really have any concept walking in of things like what a Daedra is or why a Soul Trap spell is so very, very important. This feature is for you, newcomers. It's not so much an all-access tour of Nirn as it is a broad overview of the world that you'll be stepping into when you fire up Skyrim for the first time on Friday.

 

The Elder Scrolls 5:Skyrim "The World Of Skyrim" Trailer »


 

Nirn

The entire world of Elder Scrolls is called Nirn. The planet exists in a void known as Oblivion, portions of which have been visited in previous games (notably, Oblivion). Nirn is similar to Earth in some ways, with its weather patterns and seasons and its multiple continents.

Tamriel is the main landmass, and the setting for all of the Elder Scrolls games released so far. It is divided into nine provinces: Black Marsh, Cyrodiil, Elsewyr, Hammerfell, High Rock, Morrowind, Skyrim, Summerset Isle and Valenwood.

Divinity And The Daedra

The area of Oblivion in which Nirn, its two moons and surrounding planets exist is known as Mundus. According to Elder Scrolls lore, Mundus was created by a collective of gods. Lorkhan hatched the original idea, but beliefs differ on how the next steps unfolded.

It always comes back to the Aedra though: eight of these beings sacrificed parts of themselves in the bulding of Nirn, becoming known as the Eight Divines. They are: Akatosh, Dibella, Arkay, Zenithar, Stendarr, Mara, Kynareth and Julianos. A Ninth Divine, Talos, later joined those ranks; Tiber Septim, the first emperor of Tamriel, ascended to godhood at the end of his reign.

There were some among the Aedra who saw the sacrifice that would be required of them in the creation of Nirn and refused to participate. They scattered, carving out realms of their own in the void of Oblivion. If you're looking for real-world analogues, Aedra are to angels what Daedra are to demons. It's not an entirely accurate comparison, but it's close enough.

 

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Video Preview »


 

The Peoples Of Nirn

The world of Nirn is filled with a great many races, including several different flavors of human. There are frankly too many to cover them all for the purposes of this guide, so I'm only going to focus on those you'll encounter the most in your travels through Skyrim (the game and the land both).

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim - Building A Nord

The Nord are the humans that call Skyrim their home, though their original homeland is the continent of Atmora. The fair-haired, fair-skinned people are known for their size and fighting aptitude; think of them as more civilized Vikings.

Bretons hail from the province of High Rock. They're smaller than the other human races and are in fact descended from Nirn's Altmer (read: elves), which also means that they tend to excel in the magical arts.

Imperials are natives of the land of Cyrodiil, which is in many ways the civilized center of Tamriel. They're smaller in stature than the Nords, but capable fighters all the same. Imperials possess a natural intelligence and adapt easily to different approaches to life, meaning you can find them doing all sorts of things in pretty much any setting.

The dark-skinned Redguards now call Hammerfell their home, but they originally hail from the lost continent of Atmora. They are natural warriors, known for their independent spirit. Hammerfell may be home base for their peoples, but you'll find Redguard adventurers in virtually every part of Nirn.

All of Nirn's elf races are descended from the Aldmer. Closest to those ancestors are the Altmer, or High Elves, who refer to themselves as the "Cultured People." They tend to be pretty full of themselves, which is expected from a group whose language and traditions have in some way defined the development of Nirn's civilization. Altmer live long lives and a strong connection with mystical forces, making them a natural fit for magical studies.

The Bosmer, or Wood Elves, hail from the land of Valenwood. This is a more free-spirited group, one that intentionally turned away from the high-fallutin' ideals of its ancestors. Wood Elves complement an inherent playfulness with a quick-footedness that has been honed by generations of Valenwood living. They are natural hunters and rogues, possessing innate talents with the bow.

Dunmer, or Dark Elves, call Morrowind their home. Their gray skin and red eyes should make them immediately familiar to fans of Dungeons & Dragons' own Drow. The Dunmer don't take well to other races, and they receive the same treatment in return, but they place great value on their own sense of loyalty toward their family and community. They are also the most naturally gifted warriors of the elf races, making them perfect for the role of battlemage.

The Orsimer, more commonly known as Orcs, are the most far-removed of the Mer peoples. Their ancestral home of Orsinium is located in High Rock, which lies to the west of Skyrim. They've been run out of that home twice by the human races and have generally found themselves framed as social outcasts. They are hardy warriors and capable craftspeople, however, and they place great value on tribal loyalty.

Skyrim

There are two odd races out among what's playable.The Argonians are a lizard-like people from the Black Marsh region, located to the east of Cyrodiil. They aren't as stand-offish as the Dunmer, but they're known for being private and not terribly social creatures. The unusual environment that the Argonians call home -- a giant swamp -- had led to some useful genetic traits, including a natural resistance to disease and the ability to breathe underwater. That, coupled with their natural agility, makes your average Argonian perfectly suited to a rogue's life.

The same is true of the Khajiit, our other odd race out. These feline humanoids hail from Tamriel's Elsweyr, a region that is largely made up of deserts and jungles. They are intelligent and quick on their feet, which is what makes them such excellent thieves. The Khajiit are also handy in a fight, though it's rare that you'll see one wielding magic; it's just not how they're wired. 

 

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Live Action Trailer »


 

The Land Of Skyrim

Skyrim is the sole setting for this week's release, a snowy northern region of Tamriel. It is a harsh land, filled with tall mountains and large, inhospitable stretches of tundra. In spite of this, civilization flourishes here, albeit with much more cold-weather gear at hand than Skyrim's neighbors to the south require.

There are five major cities that you'll visit in the game -- major meaning walled off and with their own load screens -- as well as more than twice that number of minor cities and settlements, which exist as part of the main open world. Far to the north is the port city of Solitude, which rests on top of a giant rock outcropping jutting out over the water.

Almost directly to the south of Solitude and separated from it by a vast mountain range is the city of Whiterun, which will be the first stop for many Skyrim players. This centrally located city sits in the midst of one of the largest expanses of flat land in all of Skyrim. Whiterun is the home of the Fighters' Guild-like faction in Skyrim, The Companions.

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim World Map Revealed

Markarth is off on the western edge of Skyrim's map. It's a city built into a mountain ravine, with buildings flowing in a generally "upward" direction from the entry gate to the castle at the "top." There are no key factions based here that anyone is yet aware of. On the opposite end of the map, far to the east, is the swampy berg of Riften, which the Thieves' Guild calls home.

You'll also want to take note of Winterhold. This snow-blanketed city is actually more of a minor settlement; it's small in both size and population and there isn't a load screen separating it from the rest of Skyrim. However, this is also where you'll find the College of Winterhold, which fills the role of mages' guild in this game.

You can also expect to be spending time in other cities, like Windhelm and Dawnstar and Falkreath.

You've got all the background you need now to be let loose in Skyrim and start filling in more of the details for yourself. If you do suddenly find yourself stuck on some term or obscure bit of Elder Scrolls lore, UESP.net is an excellent resources for all questions relating to Mundus.

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