The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Review — Getting Addicted Again

on November 4, 2016 11:46 AM

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is, by all accounts, still an amazing game. While it doesn’t reach the storytelling heights of more recent releases like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or the graphical fidelity of modern AAA games, Skyrim can be described in one word. Empowering. There hasn’t been a game that has come out since the original’s PlayStation 3 release that has so immersed me in the in-game world.

With that said, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is by no means a perfect remake. Make no mistake, Skyrim: Special Edition is the definitive version on consoles. However, compared to some other remastered games, Skyrim: Special Edition lacks much of the polish that discerning gamers have begun to desire.

First, I must start with a disclosure: I reviewed the game on PlayStation 4, undeniably the worst version of the game both graphically (taking mods into consideration) and accounting for features. While it is less the fault of Bethesda then it is Sony’s limitations, the quality of the version does impact the recommendation of the version – although, as a lifelong PlayStation fan, I am simply happy to see Skyrim running at all.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which first released on November 11, 2011 for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, was a breakaway success. While developer Bethesda had a lot to live up to given the game’s pristine heritage (Oblivian and Morrowind), the enchanting lands of Skyrim brought unparalleled critical and popular acclaim — success that has managed to keep Skyrim relevant even even the most contemporary discussions. However, more surprising than anything is how well a five-year old game still holds up, both visually and gameplay-wise.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Forest

The improved atmospheric and ambient lighting – the largest technical visual overhaul between the generation gap – makes the game look exactly as I remember it with my rose-tinted glasses on. In other words, the game looks much better in comparison. However, those without the side-by-side may just think the game always looked this great.

The game’s visuals are further enhance by the steady stream of mods available on both PC and Xbox One. Slight improvements can be found on the PlayStation 4 version, however the arbitrary limitation to assets and storage size considerably hinders that benefit.

The gameplay can best be described as “simple and satisfying.” While I couldn’t ignore the allure of being a stealth-based Nightingale ranger (for the hundredth time), Skyrim’s AI is as ridiculous as ever and still as simple to break. But breaking the game is part of the fun. Nothing feels quite as rewarding as headshotting a few bandits in a group, letting them chase after a person they will clearly never find, and then resigning the casualty to “the wind.”

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Combat

That isn’t to say that all bugs are appreciated. And, being a Bethesda game, the title is no stranger to bugs. My first run of Skyrim: Special Edition ran into a hardware issue where I wouldn’t be able to hear the person directly in front of me. I would have to look people off-center in order to hear them at all. After an hour of problem-solving, I found the issue was because I had the PSVR supplemental processor hooked in. Weird.

Removing that and starting the game anew, I ran into another issue where I couldn’t carry on with the main quest before emptying a person’s inventory. This is apparently a common problem — I found a four-year old thread online that gave me the quick answer to how to work around it. In short, Skyrim Special Edition is still a Bethesda game. If you can deal with a couple flying mammoths and mild inconveniences, there isn’t much to worry about.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

Bugs courtesy of Kotaku.

More importantly, I ran through a significant portion of the game without a major game-breaking bug. The game’s stability is phenomenal. I instantly stopped constantly worry-saving, a habit I picked up from the original release after falling through the world so many times. Framerates didn’t screech to a halt after extended play – a major relief as a previous Skyrim owner. So as far as any PlayStation-dedicated fan, Skyrim: Special Edition is well worth the investment.

But no matter how great of a game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is, the remaster does seem sub-par. The graphics and environment’s visuals (while noticeably upgraded) still are reminiscent of a last-gen game. Character models and faces have the unnerving, waxy features that Bethesda significant improved with Fallout 4. At the end of the day, I feel rather confused at where the extra power to home consoles is going — either the original Skyrim was significantly over-performing at the time or the remake is under-performing based on the possibilities of the tech at the time.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Town

And while The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is surely using some of that power for mod support, the true victor here is only the Xbox One version. Skyrim has been modifiable on the PC for years. And one can argue that it is still hardly customizable on PlayStation 4, given the in-game asset restriction and 1 GB install limitation.

So although The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is the definitive version of a generational classic, not all versions are created equal. While the PC is the best version of the game, improvements from the prior PC version are much more muted. This is a fact not lost on Bethesda given they offered Skyrim Special Edition for free to those with the entire game.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Landscape

Xbox One takes the mantle for the best deal on home-consoles — with a solid framerate and extended mod support, you simply get more benefit for your money. Last in the pack is the PlayStation 4 version, which is most improved from the previous game just by nature of it being able to run the game. If you are picking up the PlayStation 4 Pro within the week, you also have 4K support to look forward to.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition doesn’t set the bar for remakes, but it is the de facto entry point for one of the best games ever made. With mod support, all of the DLC, and noticeable stability and visual upgrades, Skyrim Special Edition is a welcome addition to the current console generation. However, given the inconsistent value of the versions, take a few moments and consider where you want to play it.

 /  Editor-in-Chief
Lou Contaldi is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers, specializing in both reviews and the business behind gaming. He began writing about tech and video games while getting his Juris Doctor at Hofstra University School of Law. He is maybe the only gaming journo based in Nashville, TN.