Skyrim: Special Edition Review

The Dragonborn returns.

I didn’t love Skyrim the same way as many others did when it launched at the end of 2011. I’d fallen head over heels for Oblivion and revelled in Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland yet, for some reason, Bethesda’s trek to northern Tamriel simply didn’t click for me. I spent at least a dozen or so hours exploring its superb snowy open world, but failed to connect in the same way my friends and peers had. Even those who didn’t game often got caught up in the Skyrim craze, each with their unique, and often humorous, stories to tell.

Looking back, I can put my finger on what exactly went wrong. In creating such vast worlds, populated by hundreds of interactive characters, it’s mandatory for a Bethesda game to be riddled with bugs, it’s something of a running joke. Beyond that, the game engine hasn’t exactly come along leaps and bounds over the past ten years – just look at last year’s Fallout 4. Factor in hefty loading times, corrupt save files, and issues specific to Skyrim’s PlayStation 3 release, I just couldn’t be bothered wrestling with it anymore.

I didn’t feel that same anxiety coming into Special Edition on PlayStation 4. As it turns out, better lighting, improved stability, and a smoother framerate was all it took for me to finally enjoy Bethesda’s finest RPG without constantly looking over my shoulder.

That said, just because a game has been “remastered” doesn’t meant it’s been completely purged of all impurities. Sure enough, it took only a few minutes before I ran into my first bug, as a dormant cabbage began floating of its own volition – a power I wasn’t aware cabbages possessed until now. At the same time I noticed NPCs butting against walls in an all too familiar fashion.

However, being a re-release, it’s much easier to simply ignore these shortcomings instead of letting them get in the way. Upon fleeing the smoking ruins of Helgen you’re treated to a breathtaking view of Skyrim once more and from that moment you’re inexorably sucked into a world that refuses to let go.

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One minute you’ll simply be travelling between towns only to find yourself again, several hours later, having explored a dozen or so caves, forts, and settlements. Very soon your quest log will fill with all kinds of odd jobs and miscellaneous tasks. Throw in three bonus expansions and Skyrim: Special Edition easily clocks in at well over a hundred hours of content, or closer to two hundred for any completists out there.

Extending that even further is the suite mods available to download, both on PC and console versions. Accessing community content is quick and painless though there are a couple of caveats for those on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. First off, any trophy and achievement progress will be disabled when using mods, and PS4 owners are also slapped with a 1GB cap on the mods in their library, shutting out some of Skyrim’s best fan-made creations.

If mods really aren’t your thing, there are other, more subtle touches. Most of these are tied to the game’s enhanced graphics with some clever lighting and weather effects adding to the game’s atmosphere. New shaders and crepuscular lighting – AKA god rays – work wonders on already stunning vistas with more realistic water flowing and reflections. Skyrim can also handle more interactive objects and characters in the same space, making combat much smoother. Sneaking and archery on consoles always felt clumsy, but there’s now a certain finesse.

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There are other minor yet incredibly helpful new features, too. Having the option to quicksave, for example, allows players to create checkpoints on the fly without constantly ducking into menus. It’s just a shame Bethesda didn’t go one step further in allowing complete customisation of the core game without needing mods. Being unable to dim the visibility on certain HUD elements, toggling armour cosmetics, and tweaking the control layout aren’t exactly deal breakers, but it would have been nice to see the developers think outside the box when adding new features.

With so many remasters cropping up month after month, we no longer question them. The practice of re-releasing games with better visuals and a broadened set of features was originally reserved for best sellers and cult classics though nowadays just about any game can qualify. Where some of these upgrades can feel like a cheap cash grab by publishers, Skyrim is one of the few games that was genuinely screaming out for a remaster. Without the technical improvements and mod support, minor as it is on PS4, I never would have gone back to the original Skyrim, but it’s now firmly stuck in my playlist and probably wont budge for the next few months.


As a rule of thumb, remasters and re-releases go unscored here on TSA, but if you’re desperate to see a number at the bottom of this review, we refer you back to our 9/10 review of the game from back in 2011.

Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualShock at this point.

13 Comments

  1. I’ve been playing it a lot since I got it. Have to agree with you that first time round I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. Looking at my old trophies, it actually looks like I barely touched it.

    Now, however, it is just brilliant. Been a total time sink so far and I seem to have hit that really annoying stage of I cant stop thinking about it. Even dreamt about it last night!

  2. It really seems like this game is not worth getting on the PS4 at all if you had already played it previously.

    The mod support is just silly – I can understand that it’s because Sony is cockblocking all those awesome mods that could be – but that renders them almost pointless.

    Other than mods, the “remaster” doesn’t really offer anything special and it looks basically the same as it did on PS3. The start of the game is the worst in this – you look at any character model and it instantly makes you want to vomit, but as soon as you get out of that cave and into the woods, everything is beautiful again… Except for character models and animations…

    They could have done a much better job remastering it for that price to be honest…

    • There’s definitely more they could have done, true, though I don’t think revamping character models and animations would really have been worth their time. There’s a layer of ugliness behind every Elder Scrolls and Fallout game that some find strangely endearing.

      It’s definitely a shame about the mods and PS4 players. There are big slabs of well crafted content that they will never get to touch.

      • Bethesda literally only did this because they already had the X1 version done years ago when they tested the X1’s capabilities. Just a copy and paste with some polish job.

        Sadly, because of the limits by Sony, model mods are unlikely to be available beyond hair styles, retextures etc..

  3. For those wanting to platinum this you have to watch out.

    Dawnguard DLC kicks in when you hit Level 10 and Vampires start attacking and can kill quest-giving NPC’s thus borking your platinum.

    Many suggestions seem to suggest NOT going into a town during the night or getting the Dawnguard DLC quests done early.

    Seems strange there is not an option to turn the DLC on or off.

    • Yeh it happened to me. i just reloaded my save and avoided the area.

      I didn’t think it could actually screw your platinum run though. I though main quest givers weren’t killable. Maybe I am wrong.

      There is also a flaw where one of the dark brotherhood contracts has you killing the guy in Falkreath or whatever it is called but he is the guy that sells you land for Hearthfire.

      • No but quest-givers for the 12 daedric items can be can they not? Thus borking your platinum run.

    • Dont rely on the attacks starting at level 10! I was attacked at lvl 8 in Whiterun. But it seems that not being outside in towns really avoids the attacks. I luckily had an autosave from entering my house from a few minutes before, slept until morning and nothing happened. Kept doing so until i reached lvl 10, then i was approached for the dawnguard questline, and apparently, if you reach the third quest or so, those random attacks stop entirely. (according to some elder scrolls wiki)

  4. It is worth remembering that Bethesda only did a copy and paste job with the version they did for the X1, which they created to test their Creation Engine and it’s more of a port then remaster. PC, they knew it wouldn’t be worth selling apart from to those who don’t own Skyrim thus it being free to those with the Legendary edition as well, the average PC version more or less can look like the remastered one and there are thousands of mods available.

    Personally would recommend PC over the PS4 and X1 versions if you are just wanting mods. I don’t intend to get Skyrim again until I have a gaming PC then get the millions…..

    and millions of mods.

    Also, porn.

  5. I feel some of your criticism is a little unbalanced. From your experiences it sure sounds like a PlayStation issue and less of a Bethesda issue. As a longtime Xbox owner I didn’t not experience the aggravations of wall walking NPCs you describe. For a game of it’s size and standard, the ratio of those types of bugs was pretty minimal compared to similar open world games of such magnitude on PC. (Ultima anyone?)

    But that’s just it. It was groundbreaking as what has long been only on pcs (massive open world rpg) was now available on console. Are there glitches? Yes, but if you ever played a PC game it’s nothing to ruin your day about. Maybe that’s most of your problems, you avoided the PC era of bugs. Gothic? Gothic 2, Gothic 3?? Falling through maps, game crashes, all a daily occurrence. For the sheer magnitude of quests and detail this blows away fallout! I can’t believe you can even compare the drab undetailed lifeless landscape that is signature to fallout.

    The bugs are there and it can certainly be frustrating. I can’t believe they haven’t fixed the vampire attacks. I immediately disabled that DLC on 360. Yet that’s that just a drop in the firebrandy of deliciousness that is skyrim. It’s worth it. The new ones worth it if only for an excuse to do it all over again (quicker!). I actually think the improvement in loading times is so drastic that i forgive the remaining bugs.

    • The vampire attacks are not a bug. It’s part of Dawnguard and is part of how it starts the DLC. Granted, i admit, it can be rather frustrating for some but it adds an extra layer of immersion im.

  6. I mean, the ratio of bugs is probably comparable to the ratio of your misspellings in this article lol.

    • Ha ha ha ? that made me smile.

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