The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim gets a facelift with a new Special Edition that improves graphics and convenience, but leaves just about everything else the way it was in 2011.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim released in 2011 to nearly unanimous praise and became an instant game of the year contender. Although the action role-playing game came fully equipped with the usual plot problems that Bethesda fans have come to know all too well, Game Rant still gave Skyrim a nearly perfect score of 4.5/5. Five years later we are venturing back to Tamriel for a special edition version of the now classic dragon-hunting adventure.
Unlike some current-gen console re-releases, Skyrim Special Edition is not a complete remake from the ground up. This release includes updated graphics and all of the DLC packs, but there is no new content and a quick glance at the game makes it pretty obvious that the base game wasn't designed in the age of the Xbox One and PS4. During the opening cut scene it becomes obvious that character models haven't been rebuilt from scratch for this remaster, either. This may be a little disappointing to gamers who were looking for something shiny and new, but the improved graphics shine through once players get off the rails of the opening campaign and have a chance to begin exploring... Which we all know is what Skyrim is really about.
Exploring the far north in Tamriel is now a beautiful experience out of the box. There isn't the same kind of leap that can be seen in GTA5's jump from previous to current-gen, but there is a clear and dramatic improvement in the game's landscapes, lighting, and textures. Weather effects look worlds better and no longer clip through buildings the way that they used to. Although the new graphics really do shine, some gamers may already have it in their heads that Skyrim always looked this good (or better), thanks to the PC mods they've been looking at for the last few years. Dedicated modders have been making the game look stellar on PC for years now, so the console improvements may not wow fans as much as they would have otherwise.
Although it may be easy to overlook the improved graphics, there's no way to overlook the incredible improvements to load times. Console power has come a long way since 2011 and the days of setting down the controller and going to make a sandwich after clicking fast travel are behind us. This makes for a much more streamlined experience and whether players are powering through the main campaign or off searching caves for secrets and treasures.The fluidity of the game is also improved by the inclusion of an updated quick save feature. It's a small tool that is taken for granted in newer Bethesda entries like Fallout 4, but it goes a long way to bring Skyrim into the modern age of gaming. Other small improvements to the UI make the game feel less cumbersome and dated.
On the topic of performance, there are some disappointing frame rate drops in the Special Edition. At the cost of making Skyrim look better than it ever has before on a console, the game doesn't reach the 60 frames per record benchmark that hardcore fans may have been hoping for. This won't be much of a visible difference for the average gamer, but players who prefer to have games locked at 60fps may want to stick to high power PCs for their Bethesda adventures for now.
Game Rant has covered some of our favorite Skyrim mods for years now, so we won't go into detail about this new feature aside from saying that mods are now a part of the console experience and it is a huge improvement. Not only is the mod support fun for adding bizarre skins and alternate enemies to the game, but the ability to download UI altering mods opens up a whole new world of control. Mods on the PS4 are a bit limited compared to the Xbox One, which is what we played on for this review, but support is improving.
If all of the improvements are stripped away from the Skyrim Special Edition, gamers are still left with a fantastic RPG that was immersive and addictive enough to keep players hooked for the better part of a decade. The game's core campaign isn't Bethesda's strongest offering (though it does improve with the three built in DLC stories), but the game is still a must-play for fans of fantasy, open worlds, and action RPGs. Players have the freedom to explore a beautiful landscape full of unscripted stories that will stick with them far longer than the actual narrative of the game.
Skyrim Special Edition is a must-play for anyone who somehow missed it the first time around and it is definitely worth revisiting for players who haven't spent the last five years playing it with mods on the PC. The updated graphics may not feel truly current-gen to Xbox One and PS4 players, but the quality and originality of the game's mechanics and setting are still a step above the competition.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.