Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Writing a review on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim five years after its initial release seems somewhat surreal, and yet, here we are. Truth be told, I was very excited for this release for a few reasons. For one, I haven't played Skyrim since 2012. I also haven't touched any of Skyrim's DLC offerings either. And like many PC players, I haven't indulged in the modding scene that's been prevailing for many years now. Basically, I've had a huge break from Skyrim, for almost four whole years. Which means for people like me, who maybe never had the PC version, and don't have the older consoles anymore, this was a fantastic opportunity to dive back into the massive game once again.
My last point is somewhat subjective, but if I had to pick between exploring the post apocalyptic settings of Fallout, or the lush fantasy settins of Elder Scrolls, I would always pick the latter. Which, of course, contributes to my overall excitement regarding this latest re-release.
So what is it?
In a nutshell, Skyrim: Special Edition is similar to the Legendary Edition which came out three years ago, bundling the base game with all of the previously released DLC, which consist of Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn. Along with these add-ons, the Special Edition also boasts some graphical enhancements which Bethesda tried to showcase in their initial trailer.
Console players can now also indulge in mods, though your mileage may vary depending on the console you're playing. Xbox One players can indulge in a ton of mods, many of which are also on the PC version, since they allow third-party assets. PS4 players on the other hand have a much smaller pool of mods available since Sony only allows in-game assets to be manipulated. That means no Thomas the Tank Engine Dragons for you if you're on Sony's console.
The game is largely unchanged
If you've Skyrim before, whether on the last-gen consoles or PC, you won't really find all that much new here. It's still the exact same game with the DLC built right in, which means very early on you'll hear about the Dawnguard recruiting members, and orphans having the option to be adopted, assuming you bought your own house.
To get the full gist of the game, you can read the original review here:
For those that perhaps might want a TL;DR summary
Skyrim Special Edition is everything you loved about Skyrim on previous generation consoles but now slightly prettier. The graphic enhancements are noticeable, but still can't touch some of the crazy graphical mods available on PC. The game certainly has a lot more color in some areas now which is certainly appreciated given that the color palette consists of mostly white and grey.
However, it's also everything you hated. The clunky UI is still unchanged, along with the horrible-to-navigate skill trees. It's still buggy as well, with my character occasionally getting stuck in the environment. The movement can be janky, with your character usually able to climb up step hills with some good old fashioned side jumping. The combat is also… well, it's Elder Scrolls combat. Most of the time you'll be spamming your melee weapon, with the occasional block. Or if you're a mage, spamming your spells until your mana bar depletes. There's nothing really all that technical or challenging about it.
What's clear is that this is a five year old game. Despite the graphical improvements, characters, especially their faces, look pretty dated. The environments have gotten a fresh coat of paint and water certainly looks really great now, but upon close examination of some of the environment, you can see the rough edges, certainly when you compare it to the open world of The Witcher 3 for example.
It's also slightly disappointing that the game doesn't perform better, especially given that it's five years old. It holds a pretty steady 30 framer per second, with occasional hiccups here and there, but I think at this point I would have settled a bit on reduced effects and having the game run at a better framerate.
Despite the bad and unchanged, I was surprised at how much I just wanted to keep playing, despite having played all of that content before. Sure the DLC was new to me, since I never touched it previously, but going through the main game was still just as enjoyable.
I will say though that I might be the exception rather than the norm. If you've been squeezing everything you possibly could out of this game for the past five years, especially on PC, then Skyrim Special Edition is probably not for you. The slight graphical enhancements won't mean much if you've already played with many of the superior graphical mods.
If you are the exception though, and haven't touched Skyrim for a long time, or perhaps, somehow came in late and never played it before, then Skyrim Special Edition is an absolute treat. What's more, we're in November as of this review which means deals are bound to be pouring in once Black Friday comes around.