In my honest opinion, I believe the reason why there aren’t any new, successful, original IPs is because gamers won’t let go of the past. Sure it’s nice to member our favourite titles from previous generations, but why must we hound studios into remastering/re-releasing past glories, instead of leaving them to develop impressive sequels or new ideas. When Skyrim: SE was announced at E3, in all honesty I just didn’t care, not because I didn’t enjoy it first time round, but because I didn’t have any need nor reason to want to revisit it, and if I did, I’d have kept the original version. But I find myself, once again trotting around the vast countryside of Tamriel, trying to not only find that passion for adventure I had back in 2011, but to work out why on earth it’s back on our shelves.
Skyrim: Special Edition, is the 5th instalment of the critically acclaimed ‘The Elder Scrolls’ franchise, that originally released on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC 5 years ago to much critical acclaim. Winning almost every accolade under the sun, Skyrim quickly went down as one of the most expansive and epic RPG’s ever made, and fans have been craving a remastered return for quite some time. For newcomers to the story, Skyrim follows you, a once simple being caught in the middle of a vicious civil war, who learns that he/she is in fact ‘Dragonborn’, a once powerful force in the world who has the ability to steal the ability of dragons and use that power for their voice. This ultimately leads to a saga much deeper than a mere war between men, but a war with darkness and sorcery that unites man for the greater good. As well as featuring updated visuals and a new game engine, Skyrim: SE also collates each of the original game’s expansion packs, Dawnguard, Hearthfire & Dragonborn into one, easily playable bundle of joy. The original game was a ground-breaking success and was quite the marvel to behold, so is this new ‘Special Edition’ worth picking up? Are you effectively playing the exact same game with very minor improvements? Well yes, but that shouldn’t stop you picking up arms once again.
When studios announce new versions of their fondest titles, the term ‘updated visuals’ has just become a throw away comment, I mean honestly how many of you are actually going to notice the difference? Well for those with fond memories of Skyrim’s more bland, chunky landscapes will now see it in all its glory. Bethesda have done an absolute number on Skyrim’s visuals and honestly they’re instantly noticeable and each acre of land looks gorgeous. No longer do mountains flicker in the distance, no longer do the bridges look like they’re made of clay, every possible environment throughout the land has been gloriously up-scaled to a very surprising level. Volumetric god rays have been applied to make that bleak, bland countryside gleam in lush sunshine and shadow, and if you happen to pass a stream, you’ll notice that even the water flows in a realistic way, curving around debris and thieves rather than passing through it. It’s a shame that the same level of effort hasn’t been applied to the characters you meet, who still look alright, but not really the quality you’d expect to see in 2016. Something that is more of concern however is the seemingly ‘un-mastered’ quality of the game’s audio, which is majorly disappointing. From the distorted explosions to the characters seemingly talking through a pillow, a rather noticeable level of downgrade has been applied to some aspects of the game’s audio, which when you’re re-marketing a game as the best possible version you can play, you can’t help feeling a little cheated. Console owners too may be a little mift at finding that Skyrim has been locked to only 30fps. For me personally I don’t care, frame rate goes right over my head and contributes nothing to my overall playing experience, but again, if you’re expecting people to buy one of their favourite titles again, the least you can do is make everything as best as it possibly can be. It occurred to me that the reason behind the frame rate and audio issues could be down to keeping file sizes down, but gamers expect honesty, especially from such a renowned studio, so knowing about these downgrades beforehand would have been great.
Another factor that made the original Skyrim so popular amongst PC gamers in particular, was the freedom to create mods and share them throughout the community. No longer are Xbox One and PS4 players left out, as now they can easily download many of these helpful, strengthening and bizarre altercations to the game directly from the game’s main menu. It’s awesome, nay revolutionary, that Sony has allowed Bethesda to incorporate mods into the game, however they have still drawn a line, using only in-game assets and ones that take up as little space as possible. The result is sadly a mere 103, simple catalogue of mods, compared to over 250 more exciting and wonderfully creative ones available on the Xbox One. That being said, whether it was a simple ring that enabled me to carry as much as I wanted, or a patch that made frost develop on my Khajiit’s fur, it was great to get a glimpse into the capabilities of fans of the game, with a plan of simply making it better. I must admit, as a PS4 player, it was disappointing to find a lack of content that is otherwise easily accessible on other platforms, so I advise that for the ‘real’ & ‘full’ experience of Skyrim: Special Edition on your console, it’s a copy on Xbox One that you want. By embracing community created content, Bethesda have generously given players the opportunity to easily upgrade their games into something more unique, and in some ways, better than the original state it was in, which is incredibly rare in the industry today and greatly appreciated.
If I just forget for a moment that this is a game I’ve played already, and at that, a version that isn’t all that different from the one I’ve already owned, Skyrim still holds as one of the finest adventures ever released. Sometimes you forget just how much a story can have a hold on you, and one that sees you traversing the land in search of dragons to kill, to enable you to shout skeletons off cliffs, Skyrim still has one of the tightest grips I’ve ever felt. It’s not often that a game with as many bugs or questionable voice actors can still stand the strain of time quite like Skyrim, a revelation that only occurred to me upon restarting my quest this past weekend. Combat is still a little sketchy and it still feels like I’m swinging my sword around with a backpack full of rocks, but when the majority of the game is exploring dank caves and trekking across vast, empty countryside, and you still have a smile on your face, then there’s really no reason to make a mountain out of a skeever hole.
Skyrim: Special Edition is aptly named, as calling it ‘enhanced’ or ‘re-mastered’ wouldn’t have strictly been true. Bethesda have clearly gone to great lengths to improve the original as much as they could, and visually that has been achieved, but audio wise there’s still a lot to be desired. Tamriel has never looked this beautiful, every settlement, cliff side and crypt has been rejuvenated, but the muffled, crackling and often vanishing audio quickly steals some of that ‘specialness’ away. With a lower than desired frame rate and a considerable lack of mods available for the PS4, it’s a shame that not every platform is equally as definitive. I admitted at the beginning that I wasn’t fussed about revisiting the game, but I quickly changed my tune and once again I’m experiencing one of the best RPG’s ever made. Whether you’re an avid fan or a complete newcomer, you’ll thoroughly enjoy sharpening that sword and taking down dragons … well until you take an arrow to the knee anyway.