The Elder Scrolls series has always had a special place in my heart, as the games have always come along when I needed them the most. Oblivion was one of my saving graces back when it released as I was suffering from depression and used it to escape from the world I hated so. Then fast forward a few years and The Elder Scrolls VI: Skyrim came along just as I turned 21. Battling to cope with the pressures of the world around me, I found sanctuary in Skyrim, even if it was for an hour a day. Clocking around 250 hours in to the game overall, I have fond memories of exploring the icy hills, raiding the stores at night, and satisfying my need for blood with the Dark Brotherhood. Skyrim: Special Edition is here, and although I thought my investment in the original title would hold me back, the Elder Scrolls Charm that we all love so much, quickly took over.
The special edition of the game does have some graphical improvements over the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. This however does not move mountains as the game still suffers from a dull colour pallet, and low-res textures. It is the new lighting effects and a few tweaks with extra foliage, and water reflections, that sets it apart from the original.
The opening hour in specific felt terribly dated. Animations were blocky, textures were bland, and the overall presentation was just horrific. Alduin soaring above my head, to crash down on a building in front of me, spewing flames out of his fire glands, and the helpless NPCs slowly burning alive. All this looked much better in 2011. Now, mathe animation track that Alduin flies across, and his landing techniques, look like a child is controlling him as he plays with his toys.
It is all stiff and unimpressive. After the dragons we witnessed in Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was hard to look at Skyrim’s animation keys. Again, it is typical Bethesda, as even Fallout 4 suffered from shoddy character animations, but Skyrim just shows how little the engine has improved since then when it comes to movement and NPC interactions.
It does get better however, as the game’s beauty begins to shine as soon as the intro is done. As you take the first few steps down the mountain path towards Whiterun, the beauty of the world come to life. Sun rays through the trees, the calming trickle of the river ahead, and the stunning soundtrack. All this reminded me of the hours I spent mindlessly searching the lands for dragons to slay, and a husband to marry.
The journey had begun, and the new improvements to the engine were finally clear in front of me. As I made my way through the valley towards Whiterun, black markers on my HUD kept me off the beaten track. What could that strange icon be, and what wonders does it hold? I slowly walked toward it, avoiding the sprint button to prevent me from missing anything around me. It just turned out to be Honeydew Meadery. Still, this undiscovered location then led to another one, and another one, until I came across Valtheim Towers, which was protected by ruthless bandits. Pity they have no fire resistance and the flames spell which I dual casted, burnt them alive. Out of Magicka I quickly switched to a two-handed battle axe, to finish off the hounds that crept up behind me.
Thinking I was on the right path, I slowly approached Riften, the home of the Thieves Guild. I remembered there was a merchant that would buy my Dragon Bones for quite a premium. They weighed so much that I could barely carry anything anymore, and had to find a way to get rid of them. Before I could ever get to the merchant, two strange cultists approached me claiming that I am a false Dragonborn, and without any option to redeem myself, a fight ensued. They had orders to kill me, and I was not going to sit by and wait for this to happen, so I set out to track down this so called Miraak, the first Dragonborn. It was the first time I ever played the Dragonborn DLC, as I was PS3 owner back then, and we all remember how terrible the DLC drama was with Skyrim. It was refreshing to experience it first hand, and it was much better than I expected.
Skyrim is a timeless adventure in itself, and the Special Edition adds the extra visual boost to make the experience worthwhile again for those who loved the original. There are enough improvements to make it look and feel like something different, while still maintaining the superb adventure. Water reflections are on point, as the shine shimmers across the lake. Lighting has been greatly improved across the game, with day/night cycles coming to life. There is a strange yellow filter that appears often in the game, that looks off at times, but when it comes on at the right moments, it creates magic.
The lighting improvements are most recognizable indoors. Darker areas are much darker, and shadows casted by a fireplace look crisper. The most noticeable enhancements are the god rays, and depth of field. Everything around you has a glistening glow to it, with the sun creating beautiful light effects through a forest, and fog filling the air around you.
New shaders are somewhat noticeable, but when you look for texture differences up close, or try and notice the difference, they do look a bit dated. Regardless, while on your typical adventure, all the enhancements make for a beautiful experience.
Mod support has also finally arrived on console, and although they were a nice addition, Sony still have a massive list of limitations to the mods. The collection found on the PS4 version is boring and nothing to write home about. Other than a filter to reduce the yellow colour I mentioned above, and the odd NPC tweaks to sell better gear, or buy your gear at a higher price, I could not find anything I could not wait to try out.
The only mod which blew my mind, was the Phenderix Magic Evolved mod, that adds 370 new spells to the game. It let me experiment with mixing different spells, and even summon creatures to aid me. This was the only mod on PS4 that moved mountains, and even that felt limited. Even the simplest mod that lets you burp more and fart more, is not available on PS4 – I mean really?. If you are looking to get the game for the mods, then try and move to another platform that has a wider variety of mod support like the Xbox One and PC.
Skyrim: Special Edition is Skyrim, and that should be the only selling point you need. Sure. the visuals are not up to standard all the time, but when they are, and all the pretty new enhancements drown your screen all at once, it is a beautiful way to explore the game. The core experience is untouched, and sometimes that is a bad thing, but for those of you who were like me and spent months playing the game, and even platinumed it (yes, I did), it is worth the R799.
Skyrim is a timeless piece of fine gaming craftsmanship, that has to be experienced at least once, or twice in a lifetime.