Time waits for no Dragonborn, and the years haven’t been too friendly to Skyrim since its original 2011 launch. Still, Bethesda has done an admirable job with this remastered version of their instant classic.
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC, PS4 (Version Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: October 28th, 2016
Five years ago, I was a sixteen-year-old with a mission. I was planning to pick up and play Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Battlefield 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, all on their release dates, which were within two weeks of each other. I saved up all the money I could from my Saturday job to ensure I could pay for them all, and timetabled a day to experience the joys of each title on Day One of their launch.
First, there was Battlefield 3, which was great, then there was Uncharted 3, which was even better, and then there was Skyrim. Talk about saving the best till last. I distinctly remember one Saturday playing Bethesda’s epic fantasy RPG when I suddenly looked at the clock, only to be in complete shock that it was the middle of the night. I had been playing since lunchtime and I hadn’t even noticed how many hours had passed since then.
Flash forward back to 2016, and Skyrim makes a grand return onto the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with an older, wiser(?) version of myself returning to the game that once sunk its teeth into me all those years ago. This Special Edition has been enhanced by a smorgasbord of visual and technical improvements and is packaged alongside all the DLC, not to mention mod support for consoles. It’s quite the temptation for anyone who’s made a trip to this part of Tamriel before, and the open-ended nature of Bethesda’s trademark RPG blueprint ensures that playing as the Dragonborn remains a magical experience, even if it’s for the second or (in my case) third time.
It’s become pretty clear that Bethesda games generally don’t age too well. Their worlds and ecosystems look great from a distance, but fail to impress on the same level when examined up close. The visual upgrades employed in Skyrim: Special Edition, for better and for worse, have accentuated that contradiction even further.
The good stuff first: the improved depth of field, lighting effects, and shaders allow the endlessly enchanting environments of Skyrim to reach new heights in terms of spectacle, particularly with regards to the heart-stopping beauty of the outdoor landscapes. Foliage appears more lush and detailed, the rivers and snowy peaks don a more realistic hue, and the changing weather has never felt more dynamic and alive.
But these moments of wonder are often juxtaposed poorly by a building, texture or humanoid that didn’t seem to get the memo about this impending remaster. NPCs, especially, remain in need of a serious facelift; and their infamous capacity to defy the laws of acceptable lip-syncing (or physics and common sense, for that matter) is all the more noticeable among the upscaled beauty of their milieu. That said, with its epic vistas, mesmerizing soundtrack (the audio is at its very best here) and perfectly realized world, Skyrim has always held a sense of majesty to it, and that hasn’t been lost in this remaster, despite the frequent presence of horrendously outdated assets.
More importantly, Skyrim is a much smoother experience than it was on the consoles of 2011, as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can more competently accommodate Bethesda’s sky-high ambition. Praise Talos (that’s right, I’m with the Stormcloaks), as the loading screens – which were both frequent and offensively protracted on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – have been drastically reduced on both accounts, while frame-rate remains much more consistent when hopping between menus or during frenetic action sequences.
If you’re looking to turn a dragon into Thomas the Tank Engine or spawn in a ukulele-playing bear, you may have to wait.
In fact, there’s just a general sense of polish that the original console versions were always lacking in, and the resulting experience is notably enhanced because of it. While a bug-free Bethesda game is something of an elusive fallacy, I’ve encountered far fewer bugs compared to playthroughs on the PlayStation 3, particularly when it comes to game-breaking hiccups that were all too common back in 2011. It still isn’t quite on par with what the PC experience can offer, but it’s undoubtedly the next best thing.
As if the base game didn’t already include enough content with all the hundreds of hours worth of adventuring, Skyrim: Special Edition comes packaged with all three DLC packs that released in the two years following the original game’s launch, and each one offers something new in terms of gameplay and exploration. Whether it’s slaying vampires with crossbows in “Dawnguard,” taking to the skies in “Dragonborn” or raising a family of your own in “Hearthfire,” these expansions complement and enrich the Skryim experience to an admirable degree, and they’re worth replaying even if you picked them up the first time round.
For console players, the addition of mods are a huge draw for jumping in on Skyrim: Special Edition, but it’s important to consider that this feature is nowhere near as extensive or flexible as that on the PC version of the game. At the time of writing, there are only a select offering of mods available, and most of them are small, functional tweaks to the game, such as improved weather effects or reconfigured spellcasting mechanics. If you’re looking to turn a dragon into Thomas the Tank Engine or spawn in a ukulele-playing bear, you may have to wait and hope that Bethesda, Microsoft and Sony can commit to expanding support further. That said, new mods have been added with every passing day since the game released on Friday, so I’m hopeful that, similar to the Steam Workshop, this is a feature that only gets better with age.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to incorporate mods into your game-playing experience; you can browse and download them from the main menu, and activate or deactivate them from the in-game options. Just be aware that activating mods will disable trophy and achievement support, so perfectionists may want to stay away from them entirely. The PS4 version, as you probably know from all the hoo-ha in the news, only allows for 1GB worth of space for mod support, so you’ll have to be selective about what you want to download too. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad it’s here and it definitely bolsters the value of the product, but it’s not exactly the game-changing feature that we might have hoped for, at least right now.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments.