Reviewed on PC by Nathan Keeley | Contributing Editor
Bring me another Sweet Roll serving wench!
For whatever reason, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim remains a point of debate amongst the gaming community. Some would have you believe Bethesda’s fantasy RPG was never any good to begin with. In a world that now has The Witcher 3 to use as its benchmark for open world RPG’s, Skyrim can feel very dated. In reality, Skyrim was not very cutting edge in back in 2011 either and the fact that Bethesda is still using Creation Engine, the same engine used in Fallout 4, there is no major surprises visually.
STORY & PLOT: 9/10
FUS RO DUH! (UNRELENTING FORCE!)
Skyrim is still one of the most ambitious open-world gaming experiences I have had the pleasure of playing, and some of the best hours I’ve spent in a video game. It was a landmark achievement for the genre back in 2011, and still is today. Few games can boast worlds as open as Skyrim, or side quests that are more memorable than entire narratives of other titles. Keeping my adoration for this game in mind, then it’s easy to see why I’d be excited for a remastered version. The prospect of exploring this wonderful game with a fresh coat of paint was enticing, and getting the PC version for free just sweetened the deal.
For those who don’t know, or who have never played Skyrim, the story is set in the frigid, northern Province of Skyrim (one area of the greater world – Tamriel) that is currently locked in a bloody civil war between the Imperial army serving the Empire of Tamriel, and the Nordic rebel army of Stormcloaks named after their leader Ulfric Stormcloak. Amidst this war, the gods have awaken the eldest dragon Alduin who has the ability to raise deceased dragons and devour living and dead souls. But there one person who can bring peace. This individual who has the ability to absorb the souls of a dead dragon and use it to learn their tongue. They call that person; Dragonborn. And that’s where you come in, naturally…
“Keeping my adoration for this game in mind then, it’s easy to see why I’d be excited for a remastered version.”
Don’t be fooled by this Khajit’s wares
Unless you have never ever played Skyrim and you’re a first timer, then I would say absolutely yes, get this game. The same can be said if you are picking it up on PS4 or Xbox One. From what I have seen, it’s definitely worth getting on those next-gen consoles. As it turns out, “free” to PC owners is the only way I’d recommend getting this version on PC*. In comparison to a modded version of the original, it’s just not worth paying for this Special Edition on PC. The game does look better when comparing the last base game to the new base game, even if the improvements are subtle. As someone who has modded Skyrim for years to enjoy better textures, effects, and technical details, returning to a base game does not yield quite the same results as it might if someone jumped from a last-gen console version to the PS4/XBO edition.
There are of course downsides to the visual improvements. The most common issue with remastered versions of older games is that the higher resolution and visual clean-up does not flatter the original character and object models. Getting right in the face of an NPC often reveals an unimpressive countenance, flat and lacking in crucial detail.
“It’s a drawback to remastering – sometimes you just provide a better lens through which to see how dated things look.”
For the sake of comparison, I played both the original and Special Edition on a PC with specs well beyond what the game recommends. Going through the early parts of the game again in the SE was disappointing. The framerate would start to chug for no apparent reason, on top of running slower in general**. The textures in some areas look muddier and less defined. The game’s notorious bugginess reared its head much more frequently than the original.
There are some moments where the graphical upgrades are noticeable, but they were few and far between. Running around on the open plains of Whiterun at sunset is way more astonishing than it used to be, and the draw distance is notably improved. Even with that being said, the further I got into this “special” edition, the more I was left wanting. I wanted actual anti-aliasing, not the smudgy filters that Bethesda think looks good. I wanted a smooth framerate, not random slowdown and generally slower movement. I wanted a better version of one of my all-time favorite games, only to realize that the original is, in fact, that better version.
*Free was for a very limited time offer and only under certain conditions, sorry folks
**This has since been patched by Bethesda, twice.
The Last Dragonborn. Again.
By far the biggest bone I have to pick with this re-release is that even five years later, well-known and cataloged glitches still remain. This is a five-year-old game and in that time it would be nice to see at least some of the problems fixed. While Bethesda boasts of the improvements made to the game, it has neglected to mention bug fixes at all? As much as I truly love this game, to the point that I have spent well of +300 hours playing, I’m disappointed no additional QA was performed on a game that’s always needed it. On a positive note, the load times are so much quicker now. It is obviously due to the fact that the game is now coded in 64-bit making memory use much more efficient and stable.
In terms of game mechanics, by far one of the best is Shouts. With one shout, you can breathe fire on your attackers. With another, you can slow down time. Shouts hardly guarantee success in a difficult battle, but they can tip the scales in your favor. As for standard spells, they come in the usual schools of magicka: destruction, conjuration, alteration, and so on. You can even dual-wield spells, going full-on mage, with a glowing ball of fire in one hand and a summon at the ready in the other. On the more warrior side of things, you can dual-wield one-handed weapons too, giving you more flexibility in how you form your character.
When you create your character, you choose a race from the usual Elder Scrolls population (Dark Elf, Breton, Argonian, Nord, Wood Elf and so on), but you don’t choose a class. Rather, your skill level with certain types of weapons, magicka schools, speech, and so on is governed primarily by how you play. Wear heavy armor, and taking blows gradually increases your heavy armor proficiency. Swing two-handed weapons, and you get better at using them.
“You can even dual-wield spells, going full-on mage…”
That doesn’t mean that you don’t wield manual control over how you progress. Each time you gain a level, you can choose to enhance one of your three main attributes: health, stamina, or magicka. You also earn a single point to spend on a perk. It’s a great leveling system that forms around the way you play, but also allows for tweaking so that you retain a sense of control.
Skyrim Special Edition includes all of the downloadable content previously released, which is Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. The DLC’s have even more interesting stories and items, that are worth digging into if you only ever played the base game. These will give you your own homestead, some vampire action, and a trip to the ash-laden island of Solsthiem in Morrowind.
A Word of Warning Dovahkiin
At the time of writing, Bethesda was still putting review embargoes on their upcoming games. This means review copies and codes were only coming out 24 hours prior to launch. Remember, Bethesda’s goal is to limit information that it doesn’t control in order to sell more copies of its games. That is their prerogative and they are entitled to do that.
We need to vote with our money and stop pre-ordering.