Does a game like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim even need an introduction? It has won countless awards, topped endless ‘best games ever’ lists, has a huge fan base worldwide, and even birthed the infamous ‘arrow to the knee’ meme. Even people who don’t play games have heard of Skyrim and it’s no surprise – it really is one of Bethesda’s finest creations in a catalogue of gaming masterpieces.
If you are one of the few who didn’t get the chance to play Skyrim since its initial release, you now have the perfect opportunity with the game’s new ‘Special Edition’; a current-gen version of the game that comes with all the bells and whistles as well as every piece of previously released downloadable content.
Some of the new fancy visual effects to come to Skyrim include much better lighting, an improved field of view, busier environments with more detailed foliage, and weather effects that feel more natural. Seeing the sun burst through treetops looks awesome at times, whilst things like rain have a much more realistic look too. Textures have seen an improvement, though there’s still room for the occasional stretched look that seems a little distorted, something that’s more noticeable in cave-like environments. To be fair a lot of graphical glitches have been ironed out from the initial release, but they still pop up occasionally.
Whilst Skyrim looks better, it still doesn’t match up to the open worlds seen in the likes of ‘The Witcher 3’ or ‘Just Cause 3’. Skyrim was built to be played on last-gen consoles, so those expecting some revolutionary boost to the visuals aren’t going to be absolutely blown away. It’s certainly a whole lot better than before, but it’s not a significant change that’ll have you thinking you’re truly playing the ultimate current-gen Elder Scrolls experience.
Everything runs at a very smooth 30fps with very minimal frame rate drops which is great, though in honesty I was hoping we’d see it hit 60fps mark. Given that the game’s fairly old at this point (it came out in 2011) I’d have thought modern console might’ve been able to offer a smoother experience. It’s wishful thinking I guess and those who want those coveted 60fps are going to have to play the PC version of the game.
Like ‘Fallout 4’ before it, Skyrim now supports mods on consoles, allowing players to customise the game and add a plethora of small tweaks and upgrades to make their Skyrim experience even better than before. Whilst some mods bring entirely new quest lines to the game (‘The Forgotten City’ is a must by the way), others bring minor tweaks to fix bugs and graphical errors. You can also get catnip for Khajit characters too. That’s right, KHAJIT-NIP. Isn’t modding great?
I was fortunate enough to play the Xbox One version of the game so I had access to all mods, but Playstation 4 users are limited in that they can’t use mods that support external assets. This could be a deal breaker for those that own both consoles, especially when you consider that the mods not only expand upon the overall experience but improve upon it too. Sony could really learn a few lessons from Microsoft in regards to mod support in future releases, especially since they’ve proven to be so popular thus far.
I’d be remiss not to mention the improved load times too. Having originally played Skyrim on the Playstation 3 (boooo), I didn’t have the most pleasurable of experiences with the game in regards to load times. Thankfully that’s a thing of the past, with each locale now typically taking less than ten seconds to load in. Not having to wait close to a minute to enter someone’s house or a random cave was so satisfying, bringing an end to those horrendous memories of examining a 3D object over and over in a loading screen as I anticipated my adventure continuing. Console gamers can finally appreciate the adventure the way it was meant to be played.
Of course, there’s also the bonus of the inclusion of all previously released DLC for Skyrim included in the package, something that was particularly beneficial for me seeing that I never actually got around to trying them all out the first time around. The ‘Dawnguard’ expansion offers a story-arc that allows you to either hunt vampires or join them and become a ‘Vampire Lord’. It brings all new blood-sucking abilities to your character, offers all new locations to explore, as well as new dragons to slay and Dragon Shouts to unleash upon your foes.
‘Dragonborn’ similarly offers an all-new quest line to follow, but this time takes you to the island of Solstheim that bares a few similarities to the much-loved Morrowind – fans may even notice the infamous Red Mountain in the distance. Dragonborn’s best addition is the ability to mount dragons and unleash hell with them, a feature that I’d personally been crying out for when I played the game the first time around. So what if ‘Dragonborn’ has been around for awhile now? I’ve only just been able to try it myself and I love dishing out some serious dragon damage.
Lastly there’s ‘Hearthfire’, an expansion that allows you to purchase a plot of land and build your own dream home from raw materials. You can then hire staff as well as adopt children to have your own little Skyrim family. It’s the least interesting of the DLC in my opinion, but at least offers a place for you to let out your creative side albeit in a slightly restricted manner. This ain’t ‘The Sims’ – we’re all about adventuring here.
There are also the standard Skyrim quests to complete that offer an absolute ton of gameplay. Seriously, I’d spent around fifty hours with the game the first time around and I still seemed to have a ton of stuff to discover. Whether you’re completing the main storyline, playing out the assassin life as a member of the Dark Brotherhood, showing off your professional pick-pocketing skills as a Thief, or embracing the art of magic in the College of Winterhold, Skyrim always seems to offer something awesome to do. Even the standard side quests are full of personality – the game features one of the best ‘pub crawl’ themed missions I’ve ever seen in gaming…
Despite everything Skyrim has going for it, its biggest achievement is the sense of adventure it provides. Whilst there’s a main story arc to follow, you can instead plough countless hours into the game without touching a single quest. You can just head into the wild and see where the game takes you – whether it be attacking a group of trolls, heading into a cave full of deadly spiders, scaling a huge mountain in pursuit of a shortcut (that never exists), or simply robbing a village during the night, there’s a massive sense of freedom to follow the adventure that YOU want to make. It encourages discovery and forging your own story, something that not many games allow you to do. The sheer size of the game is insane and it still epitomises what makes gaming so special five years after its initial release.
There are still a few flaccid elements of the game that remain from the original release though, such as all of the small bugs and graphical glitches. Combat hasn’t seen any miraculous overhaul either, with everything still lacking the weight that would make your attacks feel like they pack a punch. It just seems like you’re slicing at thin air at times, which isn’t great for a player who focuses on up-close combat. It’s not awful, but I’ve seen much better first person combat elsewhere. At least you can ‘Fus Ro Dah’ your way to victory though… that’s always satisfying…
I feel like I’m preaching to the choir when I talk about how great Skyrim is, but even five years on it still provides an experience that manages to wow me. Being able to play with these all-new improvements manages to make for a better experience too, even if some of the visual ones don’t pack the punch you might expect from a remastered release.
The game still offers an incredible adventure that does so many things perfectly though, whilst even the things it doesn’t get spot on are designed competently. There’s nothing that’s ever outright bad about the game, which is quite an achievement given the sheer size of the thing.
My return to Skyrim has been a happy one and with so much content to play through it’s certainly going to be one that lasts a long time. Long term fans should do themselves a favour and give the new ‘Special Edition’ a try – if you’ve never played Skyrim before then maybe it’s time you treat yourself to one of the finest experiences gaming has to offer.
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 28/10/2016
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, PC