Skyrim: Special Edition is kind of a big deal. The graphical overhaul was enough to get me ready to don my Thieves Guild Armor all over again, but the inclusion of mods and all the DLC in one place was a titanic decision.
Did it pay off for both gamers and Bethesda? Absolutely.
Skyrim is still one of the most downloaded games on Steam, largely because of the availability of mods. This is a 5-year-old game now, and still a best seller.
Bethesda has taken a somewhat carefree approach to consumer modding, and a laid-back approach to bug testing. While this isn't entirely a complaint in itself, Bethesda chose to leave some more 'interesting' bug in their games once gamers discovered them and thought they were funny — they do care and listen to their fanbase, to a degree.
The decision to make Skyrim: Special Edition came down to two things:
- Developers were now able to push for a version of Skyrim that they'd always wanted to make. That's not to say that they weren't pleased with Skyrim in the first instance — hardware limitations weren't a restriction back then. But they now had the capability to polish it into something that was more akin to their divine vision. (And what a vision.)
- Gamers wanted it. After the bitter round of console wars focused on pixels and frame rates, console gamers were clamoring for an updated version of Skyrim. When mods came to Fallout 4 and Skyrim still didn't come to backward compatibility, I knew the jig was up.
What is Skyrim?
Skyrim is the fifth installment of the high fantasy Elder Scrolls series, developed and published by Bethesda.
Each game in the series is set in a part of the fictional world of Tamriel. Skyrim is set in a land on the cusp of snow, inhabited by Nords, whose physiological aspects, cultural and religious overtones are influenced by our own Nordic lore and ancestry.
The story is based around your character, The Dragonborn, who develops and strengthens the ability to absorb dragon souls. In your quest to pummel dragons and stop the scourge that has returned since you ironically happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, you'll cross the vast wilder lands of Skyrim and adventure like you've never adventured before. The open world contains many cities and smaller towns and villages, each with their own needs and styles, and stuffed with people ready to load you up with quests.
While you're questing to defeat Alduin, you'll also become involved in all matter of political and guild affairs. The main questline is very generously fleshed out with side quests, some of which are just as memorable as those of the main quests. The great thing about having an open world is that you're not confined to only following the main quest. If you don't feel like playing the game as it directs you from the start, you can choose to go in the complete opposite direction and fulfill almost everything else the rest of the game has to offer first.
Skyrim's fantasy RPG isn't just the claimer of many many hours of gameplay; it's also the source of more than a few gaming memes — and the remaster will only spurn on that nostalgia. Remember "I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the knee"? Skyrim. It became a widely parodied sentiment for a time, but even when you do see these cultural bits again today, backdropped by scenes from the game, you can't help but want to slip back into your Dark Brotherhood boots again.
You can choose to follow your destiny as the Dragonborn, or join a guild (and invariably end up as their Guild Master). If stealth is your thing, you can join the Dark Brotherhood of assassins, or the Thieves Guild who urge you to steal everything you can get your hands on in order to bring them back to their former glory. Realize your power as a mage through the Mage's College, learning spells and collecting ancient artifacts in the dozens of ancient mines and dungeons.
It became a game that definitely suffered from hype overdrive, which in itself can be a turn off for some, causing uninterested players to become even less interested. But the interested went and invested hundreds of hours, some even thousands, on a world that looking back now I wonder how I could have ever thought that mind blowing when I now have the Special Edition.
One of my main envies for PC Skyrim players was the ability to unlock their frame rates and resolution. And the application of mods made Skyrim so incredibly much more vibrant and beautiful than Skyrim on a console. High-end rigs blast your senses in 4K resolution, and I was happy enough with what I have going on with my home console set up, but man, I wanted what those PC players had.
Skyrim: Special Edition on Xbox One doesn't make me jealous of PC players anymore. For familiar players of Xbox 360 or PS3, the most noticeable difference is the overhaul in graphic quality and retexturing, and the lighting just looks awesome.
This picture was taken in the tunnels beneath Goldenglow Estate as part of the Thieves Guild questline. I was blown away by the depth and the glow of the lantern, the intricate detail that made this otherwise wholly unremarkable passageway absolutely captivating.
It is through changes like these that made a seasoned Skyrim veteran such as myself feel a little bit lost. After speaking to other Skyrim: Special Edition gamers who also previously played the previous generation version, they too often felt like they had found things and places that weren't there before. I had to check screenshots of maps from Xbox 360 just to make sure I wasn't imagining things. If the case is that these things have always been there, I would say it's mostly down to the upgrade in graphics and lighting that encourages people to explore more.
The textures have been updated and for the most part, these changes have been nothing but beneficial. But there are areas that suffer from this update more than others - some skin textures have been updated to look smooth and fair, while the opposite is true for some races. Heavier wrinkles and lines on the face cause the character to almost become faceless and shrouded in deep shadows, which is particularly bad for dark elves. These kinds of offenses are the most frequent, though if you looked for an awful tree texture I'm sure you'd find them but the positive changes have far outweighed the negative.
The rest of the game, the quest lines, the music and voice acting etc, is the same as it ever was. There are mods you can apply to tweak certain sound effects or give different quests, but the vanilla game is as you'd find on Xbox 360. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as it had already been stated that Skyrim: Special Edition would contain no additional content that wasn't previously available (mods excluded).
One of the main mods anyone should take a look at is the Unofficial Patch. This fixes many bugs that Bethesda didn't get around to. The vanilla game with no mods still suffers many of the same bugs and annoyances that it did previously. Sudden quits to the Xbox One main menu, soft locks, characters warping through static pieces of furniture, dead bodies continued to litter the streets long after death — these are all things I encountered in Skyrim on Xbox 360 and have experienced on Xbox One.
Waypoint map markers became very temperamental around halfway through the game, only showing on the map but not on the HUD compass on the top of the screen. If a quest marker would normally show your next path entering into a building or an interior holds something or someone you need to go to, it won't show on screen, making it easy to overlook quest items that occur in places where multiple events take place, even when you have both quests unlocked and ready for action. I also have an unfortunate amount of unfinished quests due to people somehow being dead by the time I return to them, or they've just plain vanished. The instance of bugs and gameplay related issues is much reduced with the use of the Patch mod.
Mods deactivate achievements, so if this is your first time playing Skyrim, there is so much to lose yourself in that unlocking the achievements and getting to know the game may pull you more than racing to the mods and seeing what's there. Either way, the overhauls and changes they've made have added to the experience, the only downside to playing the game unmodded would be losing the bug patching.
As far as value for money is concerned, if this would be your first time playing Skyrim, it may go without saying that you must try it. It doesn't get into countless Top Games of All Time lists for nothing. If you loved Skyrim but never took advantage of DLC, the special edition contains all the DLC that was released, and you'll find the major overhaul a delight for the eyes and the addition of mods takes the familiar and makes it new again. There are some who forked out for the game, and the DLC and may not consider the full price to be fair for a 5-year-old game. For those on the fence, it really has to be up to you. Personally, the addition of mods is a great touch and one that many people are fine with paying full price for. I myself only wanted to play the game for the updates that have been made to the vanilla game, to finally get that PC quality I'd been yearning for.
Fundamentally, stepping back into Skyrim is like revisiting one of your favorite places as a child. Everything is like you remembered it, except it's been redecorated and modernized.
- Awesome graphic and lighting overhauls
- Inclusion of mods greatly expands the fun to be had
- Base game still buggy
Disclaimer: This review was conducted on Xbox One using a code provided by the developer.