Skyrim Special Edition review code was provided to us by the publisher.
I’ve been looking forward to playing Skyrim again with this Special Edition, and going on that epic journey of five years ago once more. I know full well you can’t recapture the memory of a first playthrough exactly the same as the element of surprise is gone, but upon starting a new adventure on PS4, it’s obvious Skyrim is one of those games that has that special something time after time that goes beyond any feeling of newness.
Much has changed in the RPG world in the five years since The Elder Scrolls’ fifth series entry, Skyrim, released. Notable landmarks include the revival of the cRPG, the never-ending accolade train that is The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 streamlined and refined the Bethesda RPG experience further, and the Elder Scrolls series itself has had a particularly clumsy dance with being an MMORPG. These changes to the landscape should be considered when revisiting Skyrim for this Special Edition,especially when there were areas of weakness that now glare brighter than ever with all the games that have come and borrowed and improved on that formula.
The obvious part to get out of the way is the visuals. There’s no denying this is definitely a prettier, more detailed version of the PS3 game, with some superb enhanced lighting and effects. Candles glow and flicker, sun rays penetrate the gaps in trees, mist rolls off the mountains and spells crackle and fizz with a newfound beauty. It’s Skyrim as you remember it through nostalgia filters and a little extra pizzazz. Not everything is equally scrubbed up, mind. Character faces remain almost exactly as they were, which seems backwards compared to Fallout 4’s more expressive and varied facial types. Meanwhile, a fair few textures look their age now. Occasionally you’ll focus on something like a patch of rubble and see it’s just a flat texture and it takes you out of the immersion somewhat. All in all though, it’s a decent enough leg up from last generation.
On the technical side it’s a bit hit and miss. If you played the PS3 version and were one of the unfortunates that encountered a whole ream of PS3-specific issues, the PS4 version mercifully fixes a lot of them by default thanks to the PS4 being easier hardware to run the game on. The garden variety glitches, bugs and crashes that lurked within all versions do remain though, so there’s still that element of unwanted potluck to your adventure. Frame rate is a lot smoother now, though the odd stutter still shows up in especially hectic moments. I didn’t expect all the problems to be fixed, but a few more of the existing ones being scrubbed out would have been nice.
New addition: Skyrim PS4 mods
The extras are likely the biggest lure for existing console-based fans (especially those from PS3, who waited an eternity to get DLC). Dragonborn and Dawnguard expansions are here alongside the home-making Hearthfire DLC, and they add a significant chunk of content to an already huge game. Then there are the mods, sadly limited on PS4; but also of little consequence right now if you’re going for trophies as all mods disable trophies, even if they have zero effect on gameplay. A filter for that would have been nice as it seems harsh to deny us something like fresh load screens and weather effects on clothing because of a catch-all rule. In fairness the PS4 mods available do add some interesting improvements for the most part, so if you’re that into Skyrim, you’re probably going to have a second playthrough. That’s where the mods provide a little fresh variety to what you know and love.
It of course all depends on what angle you’re coming into Skyrim Special Edition with. Newbies are obviously going to have more to get invested in, but Skyrim’s combat, somewhat clunky in 2011, is positively archaic at this point. That sees Skyrim SE suffer greatly if the player has played anything within the western RPG genre since. On a positive note, the game is catered towards that clunky combat, so it’s more a matter of taste and perseverance than anything.
It’s worth remembering that Skyrim’s greatest strength still remains its greatest appeal: exploration. Traversing Skyrim itself was, and still is, the biggest draw for myself and many others, above and beyond the initially thrilling, yet ultimately formulaic dragon-hunting that ties the game together. Seeing a cave off the beaten track and legging it from the bear that inhabits it, discovering Dwarven ruins and marvelling at all the steampunk-esque tech they hold, or finding one of the many odd, touching, and often hilarious, one-offs because you decided to take a small detour. Skyrim has your eyes on a hook, looking to yank you off the quest you were on and drag you willingly down a new rabbit hole. Never once does it feel forced, and you always feel in charge of your own destiny. Skyrim SE brings that back to life, albeit in a nostalgia-riddled ‘ah I remember this bit’ way for returning players. Everyone else is in for a treat.
For a more detailed look at the game, check out our original Skyrim review on PS3
It’s slightly disappointing to see Skyrim SE isn’t a more thorough remaster. I’d have happily ditched mod support to get better character models or bug-fixes for half-decade old issues. Even so, this is a much more accomplished version of the game for consoles. Whether you fancy a return to Tamriel’s chilliest corner or are arriving as a curious type who missed out the first time, this is as good as console Skyrim gets.