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Perks are a feature introduced in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Every time a level is gained, a point is granted to spend on a perk. However, points do not need to be used immediately; they can be saved for use later if the Dragonborn does not have the Skill Level required to have that perk.
Most perks will have certain requirements before they can be chosen - for instance, perks after the first point in Shield Wall require a Block level of 20 or higher. High-end perks, such as Shield Charge, require a Block level of 100.
Skill prerequisites aside, most perks for a given skill depend upon a previously obtained perk. The exception being the starting perk, that must be obtained first in order to obtain any other perks for that skill. The skills of Destruction, Restoration, Alteration, Heavy Armor, Sneak, Lockpicking, Pickpocket, and Speech all have a perk dependency structure that is a rooted tree. Hence the term, perk tree.
Other skills do not have perk trees, as they contain multiple paths converging on the same perk; trees do not grow this way, but the term is used nonetheless.
Some perks in a tree cannot be obtained by looping around another path, after reaching the end of the tree. An example of this is on the Smithing tree. The Daedric Smithing perk, which comes before the Dragon Armor perk, cannot be obtained from the left side of the tree, despite the Dragon Armor perk being visibly joined to the Glass Armor perk.
Perks are detailed on the individual skill pages, along with their requirements.
There are 251 perks in the game. Originally, there was a level cap of 81, which meant a maximum of 80 perks were available. As of patch 1.9, this limit has been lifted with the addition of Legendary Skills. This addition grants the ability to level up past 81 by resetting skills trees back to level 15 (giving back any perks spent in that tree), thus gaining more perks and letting the Dragonborn to level up and upgrade their health, magicka, or stamina infinitely. This allows one to have all 251 perks by level 252.
Perk points refundEdit
With the addition of Dragonborn add-on, and after completing the quest At the Summit of Apocrypha the player is granted the option to refund all the perks points in any Skill tree at the cost of one Dragon Soul. The perks are returned and can be spent elsewhere. This can be done to each skill tree as many times as liked so long as the player has Dragon Souls to spend. The player can return to the area any time they want by reading the Black Book: Waking Dreams anywhere on Solstheim.