The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Review – Dragonborn Again

A sweet roll, but not the sweetest roll.

01

Developer: Bethesda
Publisher: Bethesda
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: October 27, 2016
Copy provided by publisher

Five years is a long time in videogames. In that time, Bethesda has remained a critical darling but public opinion on the company as both a studio and publisher has become more divided. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has, itself, gone from a beloved production to one that has a loudly vocal base of detractors – especially in a post-Witcher 3 world.

Some may argue the game has not held up over the past half-decade, but while it may be dated in a technical sense (and wasn’t exactly cutting edge in its day), there’s something magnetic about it that I just can’t shake.

While it may not be the game I’ve replayed the most, it certainly holds that distinction within its genre – rare is the time I’ll ever return to a roleplaying game of this nature to try different builds and alternate story routes, but Skyrim has kept me coming back over the years. I’ve made conjurers, illusionists, armored tanks and a designed-by-committee mess… and I love it every time.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is little more for me than an excuse to have yet another go, and if you’re a previous fan of the game, that’s the best way to approach it – while there are definitely improvements, you’re still paying for the same old Skyrim, warts and all.

Or rather, bugs and all.

03

I needn’t go into the gameplay and story of Skyrim, though you can check my almost embarrassingly glowing review here. I stand by what I said about the original, even if I wouldn’t be quite so flowery (or lengthy) in my writing style these days.

As far as enhancements go, Skyrim has benefitted from a number of visual improvements, with art and effects getting a pleasant bit of remastering. Bethesda itself boasts about volumetric god rays, screen-space reflections, and weather shaders, though not all of this work will immediately jump out at the player.

Nevertheless, 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 modded the hell out of Skyrim to enjoy superior colors, effects, and technical details, returning to a basic 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 downsides to the visual improvements, ones common to remastered versions of older games – the higher resolution and visual cleanup 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 classic drawback to remastering – sometimes you just provide a better lens through which to see how dated things look.

02

Of course, Skyrim Special Edition includes all of the downloadable content previously released, providing DawnguardHearthfire, and Dragonborn. Delivering some of the more interesting stories and items, they’re worth digging into if you only ever played the basic game, giving you a pretty little home, some vampiric action, and a trip to Morrowind all as part of the base package.

More interesting – though only for the console customers – is mod support for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Unfortunately, while Sony relented on its previous mod embargo, the withdrawal comes with caveats.

Unlike the Xbox One version, the PlayStation 4 copy I was provided with only allows mods that use in-game assets, meaning truly inventive work or improvements will not be available. At launch, the difference between the two versions’ mod support was damning – there were only 38 mods to browse on PS4 compared to the XBO’s 119.

Having experienced how far mods can go on Xbox One with Fallout 4, it’s disappointing to see the frankly pathetic offering on Sony’s console. There are still some useful mods but they mostly consist of the boringly practical kind – no Jason Voorhees costumes or content from other Bethesda properties, more simple tweaks to the gameplay and NPCs or new locations built from pre-existing content.

Though not as inferior as it would have been with zero mod support, Sony’s restrictions have undoubtedly made Skyrim Special Edition a less complete game that I could only recommend you ignore in favor of the alternatives – if alternatives are an option for you.

Again, my review copy was a PS4 version and my assessment will reflect this – still a good game, but not what it should be.

04

On PC, however, Special Edition shouldn’t be passed up. It’s free to anybody who owns the base game and DLC (or the Legendary Edition), so if you’re eligible, you’ll be getting a decent upgrade for nothing.

[Correction: the free upgrade was an extremely limited-time offer. If you did not get it by October 28, you can’t get it. Apologies for that!]

By far the biggest bone I have to pick with this dovahkiin-flavored rerelease is that, even five years later, well-known and cataloged glitches remain.

Bethesda enjoys a privileged level of forgiveness for the bugs in its games – I’m not exempt from offering that forgiveness – thanks in part to hype, but also to Bethesda’s entertaining worlds and ambitious sprawls. However, this is a five-year-old game and in that time it would be nice to see at least some nefarious problems fixed.

It took hardly any time at all for me to find a miscellaneous quest I couldn’t complete because the correct dialog wouldn’t appear. I Googled the issue and there it was, an old bug that has been talked about dozens of times. Something like that should be resolved, and it isn’t. In fact, while Bethesda boasts of the improvements made to the game, it has neglected to mention bug fixes at all.

As much as I adore the game, to the point where I gave its original release a rare full score, I’m disappointed no additional QA was performed on a game that’s always needed it. I suppose Bethesda just leaves it up to the modders now.

05

Skyrim is still a blast to play, and while I appreciate many have gone off it, or weren’t on it to begin with, there’s still an arresting quality to the world Bethesda built, a world full of individual places that feel like home.

At this point, playing The Elder Scrolls V is like putting on a comfortable old pair of sweatpants. It’s not exactly stylish, it’s frayed around the edges, it’s showing its age, and there might be a few old cumstains, but it’s warm and familiar and it just feels good to have around.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is that same pair of sweatpants put through the laundry.

That’s about all I have for that analogy.

7.5/10
Good

John Daniell
Guest
John Daniell

Interesting to see how Jim feels about some of his early writing. I think a lot of us can relate to the feeling of looking back at something we said years ago or the way we felt about something and feel a bit squeemish.

For example, I sometimes take a glance back at a particularly awful Fallout 3 user review on GameFAQ’s that a 17 year old me wrote because I’m a glutton for self loathing and pain.

John Daniell
Guest
John Daniell

Fu

Wolfie
Guest
Wolfie

Now that the Creation Kit has been updated, I just have to wait for SKSE to update and the mods I like to use come back on (hopefully).

A problem I always have is that old Skyrim likes to hang or just close without warning. Frequently. It’s frustrating at times. At least supposedly Skyrim SE is more stable.

Wellsy487
Guest
Wellsy487

I must admit. I brought Fallout 4, loving both Skyrim and fallout 3, but I ended up getting bored of Fallout after a few hours. I’m not sure, but after playing Witcher 3, which doesn’t make you load every time you open a door, I found the way Bethesda’s RPGs were set up a chore. I loved Skyrim, and agreed with Jim’s glowing review at the time, but I feel I wouldn’t enjoy it as much again, which will keep me from buying it.

Plus, fuck this no review copies bollocks.

mada77
Guest
mada77

I generally really like your reviews but seeing “QA has apparently been asleep on the job” for an old issue is really pinning the blame on the wrong people. What likely happened with the issue you ran into is it got found and brought up by QA both in the original release and this one. In the case of the original either the phrase QA hates hearing most, “It’s not happening on my machine” came up or they simply ran out of time to fix it. When it came time for the rerelease it likely came up again and the… Read more »

kevattack
Guest
kevattack

Am I the only person who just doesn’t give a fuck about mods? Like, I get the appeal, technical improvements and general fun weirdness, but I just feel like even the most basic mods actively compromise the integrity of the intended experience the devs created. I would just rather play the game the developer made, warts and all, with atmosphere and intent intact

Skyhook Rider
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Skyhook Rider

Hey Jim did you purposefully choose to play on playstation 4 or did you play on it because it was provided by the publisher?

gasmaskangel
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gasmaskangel

Great! Now that they have this out of the way they can focus on delivering some serious improvements in Elder Scrolls VI! I can’t wait to hear all about in… 2021.

Polishfury5000
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Polishfury5000

I’m in that niche of people who enjoy trophy/achievement hunting in games, and it’s made me one of the few who really enjoy this generations surge of remasters and such. I agree with this review and the score is completely fair for something with a more niche appeal. I feel the same way with this as I did with the BioShock and Uncharted remasters. They’re games that I’ve loved and haven’t played in years. While nothing is stopping me from playing the old versions, I don’t feel like I’m wasting as much of my limited free time replaying the new… Read more »

Tao
Guest
Tao

No external assets on PS4 with a 1GB limit? I mean, the size limit makes sense with the other restriction, but it’s still bullshit. I had a decent enough PC when I last played Skyrim to experience mods properly so I know the fun of mods, though with that PC being long outta action and not having the money to replace it I was kinda looking forward to the PS4 release…But with the restrictions I’ll probably just give it a pass, or at least wait for a cheap pre-owned copy (since I would still like to buy it, it just… Read more »

ichkanns
Guest
ichkanns

At first I thought that the game didn’t look that improved… Then I stepped out of that first cave and got my first view of the world. The improved lighting, improved render distance and increased foliage density and detail became immediately apparent and very impressive. I can criticize the shit out of Skyrim, but I can’t argue with the fact that I keep coming back to it and have a good time every time, even doing the same old thieves guild and dark brotherhood quests.

diamond
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diamond

Never been a fan of Elder Scrolls, but I feel sorry for those who were hoping for an improved game only to run into the same fucking bugs from five years ago.

Dave Dogge
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Dave Dogge

I think I loaded it up just under two years ago for XBox 360 and it looked so damned dated.

Tommy Tiddler
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Tommy Tiddler

Speaking of old bugs/glitches carrying over, there is a glitch that has been present in the engine since Morrowind that speedrunners exploit.

If you save pressing against a wall, reload and quickly push forward you will walk straight through the wall

Pacino
Guest
Pacino

I think the new update makes more sense on consoles. The PS3 version was a broken piece of garbage so a working version for the PS4 in an attractive offer. But I have this on PC and actually think it looks worse than the original. The volumetric lighting and TSAA make the game look as though it’s being viewed through vaseline smeared glasses. It also hasn’t aged well at all however there’s only so much you can do with a remaster. Credit to Bethesda for at least making it a free upgrade to those who already owned the console, however… Read more »

Anthony Vaughn
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Anthony Vaughn

I looked forward to SSE mainly for the new 64-bit engine. Old Skyrim would become a crashy mesh, trying to install an ENB+high-res texture pack+Static Mesh Improvement Mod+Open Cities Skyrim, unless you installed additional mods that tried to stabilize it (which only ever barely worked for me). On SSE, I have a ReShade preset, NobleSkyrimMod 2k texture pack, SMIM, and Open Cities Skyrim all installed. Game’s looking great and running smooth as silk.

Speederino
Guest
Speederino

I still love this game as much as I did five years ago. But as someone who has modded the PC version to a ridiculous degree, I sadly see no reason to play the free Special Edition I got. It’s honestly a huge downgrade, in this case (which might be the reason they let previous PC buyers get it for free, for all I know). That said, this sounds well worth it for console players just for the mod support alone. And if that Switch version is real, welp, there goes my life. Even if it doesn’t have mod support,… Read more »

MyBodyIsReady
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MyBodyIsReady

Did you ever get your Boglins back?

Schultz
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Schultz

“I mostly took note of the game running at a consistent 60 frames-per-second on consoles…”
Wait, what? I thought this was 1080/30fps?

BAH!
Guest
BAH!

I’m not one to be down on remasters and re-releases. Every generation, there’s people who haven’t played the “classics” from the previous generation, so it’s nice to get stuff like this. But if you’re going to re-release something, you should also fix the broken bits.

But to Bethesda’s credit, at least they payed attention to performance. It’s more than Activision does.

galactix100
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galactix100

I’ve never understood why people but HD remakes when you already own the fucker.

Burn
Guest
Burn

Well luckily on the Xbox One u can download that Unofficial Patch.

goodbyejojo
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goodbyejojo

i dunno man, after playing the souls series, skyrim’s combat is a joke

Morgoth
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Morgoth

Are the bugs in HD?

ManuOtaku
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ManuOtaku

I will get this just for the DLC that i did miss for my lack of internet. Graphic improvements are a minor bonus for me.

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