While the minor differences in starting skill levels for the eight races in Skyrim do not confer any long term advantage or disadvantage to playing a fighting, a stealthy, or a magic wielding character as a member of any of the different races, there are other factors that can make it easier for certain races to play as certain types of character or to do certain things during the adventure.
Racial Powers and Racial Abilities
Racial powers are special bonus effects that members of a race can activate on occasions of varying frequency to have some effect on themselves or enemies around them. Racial abilities are similar except that they are permanent bonuses that apply in the background continuously without ever needing to be activated. Here we show the racial powers and abilities of each race:
Racial Power: Hitskin: You regenerate health 10x faster for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: 50% disease resistance, underwater breathing.
Racial Power: Dragonskin: You absorb 50% of the Magika from incoming spells for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: 25% magic resistance
Racial Power: Ancestor’s Wrath: creates a flame cloak that does 10 damage to nearby enemies for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: 50% fire resistance.
Racial Power: Highborn: for 60 seconds, you regenerate 25% of your maximum Magika each second.
Racial Abilities: Highborn Magika (+50 Magika).
Racial Power: Voice of the Emperor: calms nearby people for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: Imperial Luck (adds a small amount of gold to most containers).
Racial Power: Night Eye: improved night vision for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: Claws (4x unarmed damage).
Racial Power: Battle Cry: all nearby foes flee for 30 seconds.
Racial Abilities: 50% frost resistance.
Racial Power: Berserk: For 60 seconds, you take half damage, and inflict double damage in melee combat.
Racial Abilities: None.
Racial Power: Adrenaline Rush: You regenerate stamina 10x faster for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: 50% poison resistance.
Racial Power: Command Animal: target animal becomes your ally for 60 seconds.
Racial Abilities: 50% disease and poison resistance.
Each race has some starting spells that they begin the game already knowing. These don’t make much difference in the long run as all players will have plenty of opportunity to learn any and all of the early game spells that aren’t known to them from the start of the game, but to be thorough I’ve listed what each race’s starting spells are:
Argonian: Flames, Healing
Breton: Flames, Healing, Conjure Familiar
Dark Elf: Flames, Sparks, Healing
High Elf: Flames, Fury, Healing
Imperial: Flames, Healing
Khajit: Flames, Healing
Nord: Flames, Healing
Orc: Flames, Healing
Redguard: Flames, Healing
Wood Elf: Flames, Healing
Looking at the racial powers and some of the racial abilities reveals that some races, if properly developed, have greater potential at playing certain character types than some of the other races. Bretons and High Elves, for example, can be stronger as magic wielders than, say, a Redguard or a Khajit could because of their racial advantages. Likewise a Redguard, together with an Orc and a Nord, could become a better hack-and-slash type character than a High Elf or a Breton could because their racial advantages tend to apply to melee combat.
It’s clear that the makers of Skyrim, while still giving players complete freedom to play any type of character with any race, have retained from previous Elder Scrolls titles the aspect of their fantasy world that all the races have their own ways of life, or rather ways of adventuring, that they are especially suited to.