Video Games Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition (PS4, 2016)

Masterpiece isn’t a word you should throw around willy nilly, particularly when you’re looking to describe a video game, but Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim certainly fits the bill. It won over critics and fans alike with its craggy, unforgiving landscape, its vast array of skills and abilities, and its willingness to embrace the mod community. Now, a year after releasing Fallout 4, Bethesda are returning to Skyrim with an HD remaster designed to take advantage of HDR lighting and 4K resolution.

As I trooped around the wilds of Tamriel’s frozen north again this last weekend, I found myself wondering what I could possibly say about Skyrim that hasn’t been said a thousand times already.

Vanilla Skyrim remains an incredible feat of worldbuilding, presenting a harsh land that creates harsh people. The Nords are as taciturn as they are proud, deeply mistrustful of outsiders but without  options in the face of a new dragon insurrection that threatens to destroy their home.

The Special Edition comes loaded for bear with all three of Skyrim‘s major DLC expansions Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn which provides even more content on top of the thousands of quests already available in the game proper.

The visuals, for the most part, are decent enough for an upgraded version of a five-year-old game but for those who have been playing modded versions of Skyrim on PC for the last half a decade, they won’t seem like anything overly special. Those of you running ultra high resolution PC monitors, or with an Xbox One S hooked up to a 4K HDR TV will certainly be getting the best results right now. PS4 Pro owners can look forward to the same treatment when their upgraded console lands on the 10th. Mods notwithstanding, this is a reasonable visual update. The clouds are fluffier, the colours are brighter (though some may take issue with this as it doesn’t quite jibe with Skyrim’s rough and tumble way of life) and the lighting is improved with god rays bouncing off literally everything. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Bethesda really love their god rays.

Skyrim SE also brings mods to console versions of the game for the first time. For Xbox One owners, this will be a delight as almost the full suite of mods available for PC have made their way easily onto that platform. PS4 owners however will be made to suffer it seems. As of this writing there are around a third of the mods available on PS4 that there are on Xbox One and all of them allow for only minor adjustments to the game. There’s no crazy new custom quest lines, no custom armour, no large-scale overhaul mods.

It’s disappointing for PS4 players, and Bethesda have placed the blame for the anemic selection directly on Sony’s own rigid guidelines for user-generated content. Sony changed tack only recently, allowing Bethesda to bring mods to Skyrim and Fallout 4 but at a price — PS4 users only get 1GB of space for mods (compared to 5GB on the Xbox One version). Further, no external assets can be uploaded on PS4 which rules out scripts, textures, sound files and therefore many of the better mods that drastically alter the gameplay of Vanilla Skyrim (given its proximity to the Windows platform, the Xbox One version does not suffer from this issue). For many, particularly those used to the total mod freedom of the PC version, this will be a hard deal-breaker.

Ultimately, regardless of the fresh coat of paint, regardless of the mod situation console-to-console, Skyrim remains Skyrim. If you already love it then you already know what makes it so special. If you’ve never had the chance to play it before then this is a perfect opportunity to get lost in a world that feels real and ancient, despite its myriad bizarre bugs and idiosyncrasies. It’s a mark of the game’s incredible quality that five years after release, it remains a vital, engrossing and almost infinitely replayable experience.

Score: 9.0 out of 10 (overall, 7.0 for the PS4 version)
Highlights: It’s a great excuse to play Skyrim again; Looks great; Still great
Lowlights: Mod situation on PS4 is extremely disappointing
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publsher: Bethesda
Release Date: Out now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.