Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on PC and Sony PlayStation 4
It seems to be a trend at the moment for game developers to remaster one or more of the back catalogue for the current generation of consoles. Much like Hollywood and the endless cycle of reboots, it gives a feeling of stagnation. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, many gamers will happily revisit games of yore to relive and retell stories they’ve likely heard a thousand times before. Very few games, however, justify the remaster as if you didn’t play it first time around it’s unlikely you’ll be tempted unless the game is really, really good. Skyrim Special Edition (SE) thankfully falls into this category as it was arguably one of the best open-world RPGs of the last generation. So what does the remaster bring to party and is it enough to entice players old and new to explore its world?
If you’ve played Skyrim SE before then you’ll know how the story goes, if not then if you like your fantasy novels you’re in for a treat. Not only do you have the main quest lines and so forth but hidden away around the world are books, chance meetings and various other methods through which Bethesda weave a wholly believable world. You can easily lose yourself in the side-quests such are their pull given how, depending on your choices, you can easily end up being a for-hire assassin. It’s worth noting that the special edition comes with expansions and, for all platforms, mod support. Whilst this is new to consoles, mods had previously existed for the original PC version. Unfortunately, and to the consternation of the community, these aren’t compatible out of the box and so you may not find your favourite ready and waiting. What this does mean is that there’s even more potential for increasing the amount of time you can sink into one single game. Let’s not forget that mod support is quite a big deal for consoles as, like with Fallout 4, the ability to alter the game through fan-made mods is still very much new territory for console players.
Like any good re-master Skyrim SE has been given a new lick of paint. However, it seems like during the renovations the painters decided that not everything needed their attention. Character models seemingly haven’t been touched but then they’re not exactly half bad to begin with. The attention has really been given to the lighting and look and feel of the world of Skyrim at large. Walk through a forest at nightfall with a full moon out and you’ll see what we mean as eerie shadows are cast making you pause more often than is sensible when traversing the world at night. Water reflections look fantastic during the day and the world, thanks to things like this do just enough to make things look that little bit fresher than before. We also noticed that draw distance seems to have been improved which wowed us a few times when scaling some of the higher places around Skyrim.
As mentioned Skyrim SE has been given mod support on consoles following in the footsteps of another Bethesda game, Fallout 4. You’ll need to have an account over on Bethesda’s website where you can then choose which mods you subscribe to. Login to the same account on your console and things will sort themselves out from there. It’s very similar to how things work with Steam’s workshop and in our testing seemed to work rather well. There are many to choose from but be warned, not all mods are created equal so don’t be surprised if some aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It must be noted that the PS4 has considerably less mods to choose from which is, from what we understand, due to limitations set by Sony more than anything else. Finally if you do decide to load a game with mods it will disable achievements so bear that in mind before continuing.
The base game, however, has not changed. The combat is still a little clunky, some of the bugs still remain and sometimes you wonder whether the NPC you’re following has any sense of direction. During one quest our leader took us on a merry tale through the countryside to a destination merely a few hundred metres from our start point. One frequent annoyance that we encountered is competing audio. Start a conversation with a questline NPC and, if luck should have it, you’re near another NPC babbling away you’ll be hearing both and trying your best to decipher exactly what’s going on. Subtitles can save the day here but it’s a shame that it seems very little time was spent squashing some of the game’s prevailing bugs especially considering it’s been five years since the original Skyrim was released.
It’s not disastrous by any means and anyone who thinks games could ever be bug free are kidding themselves. There’s always a chance that Bethesda might update the game in the future to take care of some of these but there are some, like the audio one, that shouldn’t be there in the first place. We didn’t encounter any game-breaking bugs and realistically most of the bugs we did encounter were just annoying ones.
So where does all of this leave us exactly? In the end we have a game that has been given a decent visual upgrade and is still one of the best RPGs out there. All of which means if you’ve never played Skyrim before then picking this up, to us, is a resounding yes. With some of the visual updates it doesn’t look too dated even on a current generation console. Throw in mod support and you’ve got an almost endless treasure trove of content to keep things going long after you’ve completed the main storyline. The world of Skyrim is beautifully realised and it’s a place where you really can just be your character and nothing else if you so choose.
If, however, you’ve already been here and bought the t-shirt then the updates here aren’t really worthy of a repurchase with the possible exception of console players given the mod support. Even then, however, everything is still as it was and only the truly devout will likely end up picking things up again from scratch. Most will have told their story before and given the time investment involved in developing one's character it’s a prospect not many will savour.