best quests in skyrim

Best Quests in Skyrim Ranked

Latest posts by Adam Braunstein (see all)

Skyrim is an unending phenomenon. Part of me wants to be able to put it behind me, but the other part is just so consistently engaged in the world of Skyrim that I find it very tough to do so.

Bethesda banked on that as well, and that’s why they’ve released largely the same game about five different times over the last ten years. The crazy thing? It always sells. Special edition, Legendary Edition, toothpaste edition, it doesn’t matter; if the name ‘Skyrim’ is on it, you can bet a hefty amount of money it will sell.

What is it that makes this game world so unforgettable and so hard to leave, though? Is it the characters? The atmosphere? The stories? Or maybe it’s that it really is more than just the sum of its parts? I think the thing that keeps everyone going is the quests.

They aren’t all winners, but a select few are gripping and well-written, with fantastic locales to explore or exciting combat scenarios to take part in. There is over 300 hours worth of gameplay in Skyrim. Within that time are a ton of quests to choose from. It was difficult to narrow down the standout quests, but I managed. Here’s a look at the criteria I used to figure this out.

Selection Criteria

  • Interesting plots: No fetch quests here; we want interesting narratives and compelling characters to push you along in your quests.
  • Fun exploration: New dungeons, new towns, and new sights should be a part of any compelling quest.
  • Choice-based quests: Skyrim’s best quests usually involve using your mind and your combat skills. 
  • Quests with long-game ramifications: A surprising number of side quests have a massive impact on the world of Skyrim, and these are usually ones you can’t miss.
  • Quests with a great reward: Sometimes a quest isn’t the most thrilling, but the loot at the end is. Quests that manage to pull off all of the above and still give you a great reward are god-level. 
  • We won’t be selecting quests that are from mods
  • The side quest must resolve with the ending
  • Quests must last a decent amount of time, no “go pick up this letter and deliver it” quests.

12. Unbound

Unbound skyrim
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Start of the game
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Main Quest
  • Reward: Freedom

The opening quest of Skyrim has been made fun of 1000 times by now, and you can even find yourself a pillow with the opening NPC asking you if “you’re finally awake” on it. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the more memorable opening missions of all time.

From the moment you awaken on this cart, the world is a mystery to you. Who you were before or where you came from is a mystery, but what’s certain is you’re going on the chopping block, and it’s a hell of a first impression.

What Makes it Great?

Right before the executioner is about to take your head and add it to the collection, a fierce dragon; Alduin, Eater of Worlds, appears and starts his own private apocalypse.

Amid this chaos, you need to plan your escape. While the fire is raining down around you, you can choose between the Imperials or Stormcloaks. As though that isn’t chaotic enough, you must escape through a cave. The cave is full of battles, the most intimidating being your first encounter with a horrifying Frostbite Spider.

After overcoming that challenge, you get the ultimate reward. The game allows you to go anywhere you’d like. No boundaries; if you can see the place in the distance, you can go there. That feeling of being released into the wild is a watershed moment in gaming, and it can’t be understated how epic of a moment it is.

11. Meridia’s Beacon

  • Location: Anywhere
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side Quest
  • Reward: Dawnbreaker

Meridia’s Beacon is one of the unique quests in all of Skyrim. By now, it’s been meme’d as much as anything in this gem of a game.

The first time everyone experienced this quest was a special one, and it leads us to one of the best weapons in the game. It’s a bit of a time-consuming quest, but it’s super fun and has unique enemies you won’t find anywhere else.

What Makes it Great?

The best part of this quest is that it can be triggered anywhere at any time. No matter what quest you’re on or what chest or dresser you happen to open, there is a chance you’ll find an item called Meridia’s Beacon.

While everyone knows what it does by now, the first time you grab it, and here Meridia’s booming voice goes, “ANOTHER HAND TOUCHES THE BEACON,” you’re likely to jump, and in VR, that effect is doubled. From there, you quest through an ancient temple, tainted by the darkness, and can be quite the challenge.

The reward of Dawnbreaker makes for a devastating sword against Draugr, which will likely help you out a ton throughout the rest of the game.

10. The Forsworn Conspiracy

The Forsworn Conspiracy skyrim
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Markarth
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side Quest
  • Reward: Experience and truth

Some Skyrim quests are pretty cut and dry on what you do. Some have you go collect an item or defeat an enemy, and voila, the quest is complete. The great ones offer a bit more meat on the bone, and The Forsworn Conspiracy exemplifies that in a big way.

The Forsworn will likely attack you a lot before you even get to Markarth, but when you get there, you find out the Forsworn have buried their roots deep within the city’s power structure. This quest involves you investigating how many double agents are within the Markarth political players.

It involves some unique objectives that can involve planning and pickpocketing, which is a nice change of pace from the usual go-here-and-kill objectives.

What Makes it Great?

The fun of this quest happens when you are creeping around and interrogating several people to find the answers you’re looking for. The quest culminates in an ultimatum that leads you further into the rabbit hole of the Forsworn conspiracy.

That quest takes you further into the inner workings of the Forsworn and culminates with a citywide showdown, but I prefer the quiet espionage you engage in with this one.

Depending on how you act and what you do in the Forsworn Conspiracy, people can die, be intimidated, or be persuaded, and you can even discover deeper threads into the lore of Skyrim. The reward is just experience, but I promise, this is one you’ll never forget.

9. The Way of The Voice

Skyrim The Way of The Voice
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: High Hrothgar
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Main Quest
  • Reward: Unrelenting Force

Skyrim is a lot of fun to explore, but until you have some of the main tools at your disposal, you’ll miss out on what the game can offer. Part of that has to do with acquiring your dragon shouts. The first of which you get during High Hrothgar.

The journey up this enormous mountain is strenuous, and initially, you have no idea what awaits you at the top. The enemies are tough for early levels, and the higher you get, the crazier your view gets of the entire world.

When you finally reach the top, you find a massive stone structure with some wild architecture, and it’s there where you will find the Greybeards and learn how to wield the most powerful technique in the land.

What Makes it Great?

The trials you go through to learn your Dragon Shouts are cool, but the best part about this quest is the access to the High Hrothgar Library. It’s here where you get to learn all about the world’s lore and can find books that you won’t find anywhere else.

The scenery in this quest is incredible, and sometimes, it’s not just about the gameplay but how a quest is built that makes it special. The ascent of High Hrothgar and the acquisition of Unrelenting Shout really signals the beginning of the game for me. It’s one of those iconic moments that is a necessary part of any Skyrim playthrough.

8. The Pale Lady

Skyrim The Pale Lady
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Frostmere Crypt
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side quest
  • Reward-  The Pale Blade

We’re getting a bit creepy here with this one. First off, you’re navigating an interesting dungeon called Frostmere Crypt, and within, it hides a unique weapon called the Pale Blade. The Pale Lady entrusts you with returning the stolen sword to its rightful owner. The big question is, what will you do with that sword once you get it?

What Makes It Great?

I love a quest that gives you an ultimatum at the end of it. With the Pale Lady, that ultimatum is quite tough as you’re faced with doing the right thing and returning the Pale Blade to its rightful owner or keeping it for yourself and destroying the vengeful Pale Lady.

If you give the sword back, no harm, no foul, you can walk out of the crypt without a care. If you’re like me, though, you’ll want some kind of reward for your troubles, which means taking on the Pale Lady. This is a tough fight, especially on the harder difficulties, and it’s one of the more unique encounters in all of Skyrim.

This angry ghost comes at you with Shades that can deal a ton of damage on their own, and her health bar is quite lengthy, making this battle a war of attrition.

Once you win, the Pale Blade is yours. Fun fact: if you return the Blade to its place to complete the quest but still grab it afterward, the Pale Lady will awaken again, and you’ll have to take her down. She likes that sword a lot.

7. Blood on the Ice

Skyrim Blood on the Ice
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Windhelm
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side Quest
  • Reward: Necromancer’s Amulet

Sometimes the side quests in Skyrim can be pretty standard, but on certain occasions, you get well-crafted and creative quests such as Blood on the Ice.

It’s not your typical kill everything and find the item Skyrim quest, but rather Windhelm’s own Jack the Ripper situation. The quest is discovered as soon as you do a little bit of exploring. Once you come across the graveyard, the quest begins, and it’s one of Skyrim’s darker stories. It’s a full-on murder mystery, and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it.

What Makes it Great?

The amount of investigating you get to do here is amazing. You get to interrogate several different characters, perform autopsies and eventually figure out who the killer is.

Who you accuse greatly changes the quest’s outcome, and it all is on you to do the work. You can blindly accuse people if you’d like, but really digging into this and becoming the best Dragonborn detective you can be is the best route to take here.

The reward isn’t the point of this quest, but the experience of playing through what feels like a totally different game than most of the quests you’ll get in Skyrim.

6. The Throat of The World

Skyrim The Throat of The World
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: The Throat of the World
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Main Quest
  • Reward: Clear Skies and Flame Breath

It’s among the earlier quests in the game regarding the main storyline, but The Throat of the World is impactful in so many ways. Once again, you’re going to climb up to High Hrothgar, but once you get there, that mysterious wind wall will finally come crashing down after you learn the Clear Skies shout.

It is then that the Greybeards request that you go and see their leader, Pathuurnax. The path up to Pathurnaax isn’t exactly a cakewalk, and you will fight some pretty tough enemies on your journey up there. As you climb higher and higher, the world begins to look tiny beneath you, and you see why this area on the map got the name, Throat of the World. 

What Makes it Great

Once you have fully scaled the mountain, you come face to face with the leader of the Greybeards. Is it just another guy with a beard? No, in fact, the leader of the Greybeards is a dragon. Your enemy happens to be one of your own.

It’s a wild moment, and while the main quest catches a lot of flack for its somewhat inconsistent plotting and writing, this moment is unforgettable. Not only is Pathurnaax a dragon, but he’s also one that is highly intelligent and can speak your language.

He reveals the secret to defeating the evil dragon Alduin, which is an interesting bit of dialogue because he knows this can also be used against him. This quest doesn’t have any epic boss battles but acquiring two new shouts and the revelation of who the leader of the Greybeards is, makes for one of the more iconic moments in all of Skyrim.

5. To Kill an Empire

Skyrim To Kill an Empire
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Castle Dour
  • Main Quest or Side Quest:  Side Quest
  • Reward: Experience

The Dark Brotherhood quests are some of the most thrilling in the game. They can range from simple assassinations to more elaborate ones, but none approach the epic level of To Kill an Empire. In one of the final missions for the Dark Brotherhood, you are assigned the biggest assassination quest imaginable.

You have to kill the Emperor of Skyrim and how you go about doing such a risky and world-impacting quest is on you. The atmosphere in this quest is appropriately serious, epic in its nature, and the build-up to it with previous Dark Brotherhood quests is great as well, making sure you know just why it’s important to rid the realm of its emperor.

What Makes it Great?

The weight of the quest is understandably heavy, and your options for taking out the emperor are pretty diverse too. You can take him out by poisoning his food, killing him close up from afar, sending in summoned monsters to do your dirty work or anything else you can think of.

Once the emperor dies, the city becomes absolute chaos, and the escape is thrilling and difficult. What makes the quest so great, though, is the twist. You didn’t kill the emperor at all, but a body double. This results in your plans going to hell and the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary coming under attack, which is a great battle in itself and makes you fear for the lives of your fellow assassins. 

4. Battle for Whiterun

Skyrim Battle for Whiterun
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Whiterun
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side Quest
  • Reward: Enchanted Sword

The War for Skyrim is an awesome side story that takes place alongside the main quest in Skyrim, and it’s made up of tons of battles throughout.

Whether you’re fighting for the Stormcloaks or the Imperials, the fight for one of Skyrim’s most illustrious cities is a bombastic one full of fire and a ton of combat and can play out in different ways depending on which side you take. This is the Battle for Whiterun

What Makes it Great?

The fight for Whiterun is a rare one in Skyrim. It’s not the longest fight out there, but it’s one of the biggest, full-on combat scenarios that you can find in the game. There are other quests involving big battles in the War for Skyrim questline, but due to the nature of this one coming after a peace treaty falls to pieces, it feels even more important. 

Having the final showdown end in the Dragonsreach castle, whether you’re storming through the front door or preparing your troops to defend your Jarl, brings thoughts of the final stand of Helm’s Deep from Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers to mind.

You can also choose any method of combat throughout the fight, and while the majority of the soldiers are either melee fighters or archers, don’t be afraid to inject some magic into the battle.

You’ll have a tough time completing this one because of the crazy number of soldiers you’ll need to take on, so make sure you fight alongside your teammates and do your best not to get surrounded. The epic nature of this quest makes it worth taking part in, and it’s one of the best in the war for Skyrim storyline. 

3. Ill Met By Moonlight

Ill Met By Moonlight
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Falkreath
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side quest
  • Reward: Savior’s Hide or Hircine’s Ring

If you’re wondering where the Daedric quests are, then kindly sink your teeth into Ill Met By Moonlight. You’ll find this one in Falkreath, and once you get to the jail area there, you’ll hear of a tale about a White Stag that needs to be sacrificed to Hircine.

Immediately, the allure of this quest is quite different. The gods have unique plans for this world, and this quest gives you a little peek into what they are. The real fun part of the quest begins when you are chosen to participate in the hunt.

What Makes it Great?

Participation in the hunt revolves around you being given the Cursed Ring of Hircine, which cannot be removed and causes you to transform into a Werewolf randomly.

To remove it, you need to kill the White Stag, which is way tougher than it sounds due to the White Stag’s considerable health pool. If you manage to kill it, the quest gets crazier, with you encountering the spirit of the Stag and then embarking on a mission to Sinding, the one who bound the cursed ring to you.

Sinding, by the way, is a Werewolf himself, and if you decide to take him down instead of siding with him, you’re in for a grueling fight against one of the more powerful enemies in the game.

What makes this quest great is that you can decide how this whole thing plays out, and depending on what you do, you’ll be rewarded with either the Savior’s Hide or Hircine’s Ring. It’s hard to find completely unique boss encounters in Skyrim, and fighting Sinding is one of the best.

This is one of those side quests that feels like it could’ve been part of the Witcher 3, and that’s about as high a compliment as you can give. 

2. The Cursed Tribe

Skyrim The Cursed Tribe quest
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Largashbur
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side Quest
  • Reward: Volendrung

I’ll be honest; I rarely gave the Orc strongholds the time of day in my hundreds and hundreds of hours playing Skyrim throughout the years. It probably had something to do with them either attacking me on-site or generally showing disinterest in what I had to say, but I tended to stay away.

That was a big mistake because they have some of the best quests in the entire game. The best of which may be The Cursed Tribe. This quest throws you into the age-old conflict of the Giants and Orcs and has you summon the god Malacath himself to try and help out his people.

It’s one lengthy quest depending on your equipment and also is one of the only quests in the game that involves a boss battle with a giant. 

What Makes it Great

Collecting the materials needed to summon Malacath can be tiresome, but it’s well worth it. Teaming up with the Orc Chieftain Yamarz is quite the team up and taking down Giants together is fun and incredibly difficult, as Giants are known to beat you down with only a few strikes.

The best part happens towards the end when you realize Yamarz’s true nature and the lengths they’re willing to go to to ensure the tribe still follows and respects him. It’s another quest with an ultimatum at the end that can end in a surprising final fight, and definitely one of the most interesting and fun quests in all of Skyrim. 

1. A Daedra’s Best Friend

Skyrim A Daedra's Best Friend quest
Image from elderscrolls fandom
  • Location: Haemar’s Shame, Falkreath
  • Main Quest or Side Quest: Side quest
  • Reward: Rueful Axe or Masque of Clavicus Vile

Another Daedra quest, A Daedra’s Best Friend, is simply one of a kind. Here, you meet the ever-charming Barbas, who is, in fact, a talking dog. Or at least, that’s how he appears; he’s actually a demon who is the servant of none other than famous Elder Scrolls Daedra, Clavicus Vile.

You will be tasked to retrieve the Rueful Axe for his master, but getting that done is a bit more complex than you’d think. Once you get to the shrine of Clavicus Vile, his evil nature reveals itself, and you find yourself at the mercy of a Daedric prince who is quite clever and knows how to prey on your desires. Depending on your willpower, you may or may not be convinced by Vile’s deal-making abilities. 

What Makes it Great?

The dog, Barbas, is one of the most endearing characters in all of Skyrim, and his hilarious voice acting makes him an excellent companion to take on this adventure. After retrieving the axe for Vile, you’re given one of the more difficult choices in the game.

See, for Clavicus Vile to return to his full power and leave the shrine he’s trapped in, he needs Barbas dead to absorb his body. If you do this, you’ll get to keep the awesome, Rueful Axe.

But you just went through numerous fights with Barbas, slaying vampires and mages, so are you really so cold as to sacrifice him for a new, shiny weapon? I know some of you are, but me and Barbas, that’s my dog, and you can keep your axe, you Daedric psychopath. 


Question: How long is Skyrim?

Answer: Is endless a good answer? Because, in all seriousness, this game goes on forever between the randomly generated quests you can find and the number of places to explore. 

Question: Is Skyrim multiplayer?

Answer: It’s not supposed to be, but thanks to a nifty mod called Skyrim together, you can play Skyrim with a friend now. It’s a shaky experience right now, but it’s still well worth it to play. 

Question: Is there a sequel to Skyrim? 

Answer: While it’s nowhere near done, the next entry in the Elder Scrolls series is on its way at some point. It will likely see the light of day in the next three years or so.

Best Quests in Skyrim: Conclusion

I hope this list helped show you that, despite all the fawning that games like Mass Effect and The Witcher 3 get over their quest design, Skyrim is right up there with them. There are so many different quests to choose from, and it made narrowing them down quite a difficult task.

Don’t just take my favorites as fact; try these out for yourself, and don’t forget there are hundreds of other quests that might thrill you in the same way these managed to thrill me. 

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