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.
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.
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.