If there are is just one RPG I can vividly remember playing on the previous generation consoles, it was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. While I personally enjoyed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion more, I can’t deny that Skyrim was still a great game produced by Bethesda. Every piece of DLC was superb too, my favourite being the Hearthfire DLC which allowed you to build your own house. The game had a lot to do and boasted an impressively large map for the time. The fact that it had dragons helped too. Dragons are cool. Now, I don’t have the time to scour through all the hundreds of gems on PS4 and Xbox One but I haven’t really found a game on this current generation of consoles that I can just jump into and have stupid fun in like I can with Skyrim. After hearing at E3 that Bethesda were releasing a remaster for this hit title, I had mixed emotions of disappointment and elation. What set this remaster apart from the rest of the hundreds (or thousands, probably) of other remasters is that this would feature mod support for Xbox One and PS4. However, what should be noted is that the PS4 version only allows for mods to use internal assets, meaning new sounds, textures, AI, music etc. could not be used. Knowing this, I eagerly dressed the arrow wound left on my knee and secured my sweet roll as I set off on my adventures across the land of Skyrim again. For the purposes of this review, I will only be review how the game runs, looks, bugs (or lack thereof) and how mods work, the meat of the game is essentially the same as it was five years ago.
Let’s begin with the visuals and optimisation. I know PC gamers here are going to come in flocks and spew how their normal Skyrim looks better than the remaster, but frankly I don’t care. Skyrim Special Edition features higher res textures and a revamped lighting system. For the most part, the overworld is a little more vibrant in terms of colouring, especially with trees (they’re actually green). The colour palette that is used features more depth and variety, which is a welcome addition as one of my complaints with the original game was that was it was very dull in terms of art style. After sitting down and comparing the original to the remaster though, I wouldn’t say there is a massive difference, but things like God rays give a different feel to the game. Talking about lighting, this is where my first negative comes into play. Skyrim makes use of a lighting system which is similar to that of Fallout 4, and while being able to see shadows is a nice addition, there are points (especially with shadows projected from trees) where the shadows are unreasonably dark. There were some points where the God rays and the shadows combine and have a weird effect that really broke immersion. Overall though the lighting has improved, despite some initial getting used to. At first, caves can seem incredibly dark, but once you get used to the reworked lighting, it works quite well. Light sources give an even nicer flicker effect like a fire would, shadows work a lot better and there is even a mod which make the light produced from spells work better with shadows.
Let’s get to the optimisation. One thing which should be noted, the game does not run at 60 fps, but it does run at 1080p and even at 4k on the PS4 Pro. While it doesn’t run at 60fps, it runs at a very, very stable 30fps. I know right?! Stable frames in a Bethesda game on console! It’s a dream come true. Over my entire time playing the game at a leisurely pace, I never encountered any drops in frames. I couldn’t believe it. It was definitely refreshing to have the game run at higher than an unstable 20fps.
It’s no secret that Skyrim (or any Bethesda game for that matter) was riddled with bugs, and while most can prove beneficial or just humorous, they are bugs nonetheless. Writing them off as ‘the Bethesda experience’ really is just a poor excuse too. Now, the first thing that I did when I reached Whiterun was test if I could still jump out of the Whiterun map and go under the entire city to loot one of the merchant’s chests. Guess what? You still can. A majority (if not all) of the glitches are still intact. This comes as a bit of a disappointment, as I can’t imagine it would’ve been impossible to iron out some of these issues. There was a point where I exited a building and the game launched an NPC across the screen and killed it. Bye, NPC who I never spoke to. But seriously, some of these bugs, while not always in your face, can be quite game breaking. For example, there is nothing stopping me from looting the aforementioned merchant’s chest every couple of days and getting more gold (and smithing items) than I’ll ever need. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that there are still glitches that occur which can block people from certain quests/quest-lines. Another issue is some of the audio which was retouched just isn’t compiled well. For example, the sound that dragons make when they breathe fire ends abruptly, breaking immersion and sounding really unnatural (or contrary to what I imagine a real dragon would sound like). For the most part the audio is fine, but there are instances like with the aforementioned dragon shenanigans where it would’ve been better to just leave the sounds alone. Sometimes noises can even sound a little muffled too, which is unfortunate.
Finally let’s get to the mods. This is the real talking point seeing as console games really don’t have mods, save for Fallout 4. Now I played on PS4, so unfortunately could only make use of mods that used internal assets, and I only had 1GB of space for mods as opposed to Xbox One’s 5GB (yes PC, you have as much as you want) and mods with external assets. To make use of mods you have to be connected to PSN or Xbox Live at first. This is where my first issue arose, every time I tried to get mods, the game would crash. After finally losing it and running off of my mobile hotspot, I found that it only crashed on my home internet, which is strange because the connection speeds were the same. I can’t help but think this isn’t an isolated incident, especially knowing how glitchy these games can be. Once I got mods to finally work, they worked really easily and weren’t much of a hassle to use in-game. Just a warning, for all you people that are looking for easy achievements/trophies, mods disable achievements and trophies. As of the writing of this review, there are 845 mods for PS4 and 1273 mods for Xbox One. My personal favourite is the one that enables explosive chickens. Yep. Of course when you use mods you run the risk of breaking your save file and making it nigh unplayable, so really you are using mods at your own peril.
Overall, Skyrim Special Edition is a solid remaster. With slightly retouched textures, revamped lighting, stable frames and easy-to-use mods, your old memories from at most five years ago can be relived with a prettier landscape and some extra things that you may not have experienced before on console (like explosive chickens). However, it still has the issues of old, with some new ones like thrown in like oddly dark shadows, bad audio files and game crashing when trying to get to mods. While these issues might hamper your experience to an extent, this is still a title that I can willingly recommend picking up.
Reviewed on PS4