Like most PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games ported to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (save for the improved Metro Redux and the augmented Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition), The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) doesn’t add anything new or significant enough to make it worth buying if you’ve already played the original version. But for those who missed it the first time, this is decidedly the definitive edition of this sprawling, engaging, and effortlessly fun fantasy adventure game.
Like in the original, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition casts you as a resident of Tamriel who realizes they’re Dragonborn, a mortal who was born with both the soul and the power of a dragon. Which is why you can do these cool magic yelling spells. After escaping your execution, you set out to learn more about your new found powers, and how your destiny will shape this land. Well, when you’re not running errands for people you just met, exploring strange places you run across, getting into random fights with strangers, and taking anything that isn’t nailed down in those strange place or the pockets of the people you’ve killed.
For those who finished the original version, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition adds three elements that don’t really make this worth buying a second time. The first is a superficial upgrade to the visuals. All of the art has been remastered, while the lighting, water, and snow have all had their effects similarly improved. Which is, admittedly, noticeable, but it also doesn’t impact the gameplay in any way.
Next, this edition comes with the three previously released story add-ons — “Dawnguard,” “Heartfire,” and “Dragonborn” — all of which feature new quests and areas in which to have them, expanding this already long game by at least a third, if not longer.
Finally, if you buy this edition on Xbox One or PlayStation One, you can now employ any mods made for the original PC edition, as well as any new ones made for this second version. You can even, if you’re a PC person, import your save from the original game into this version, though it may not work if the save file is from a game you modded.
In other words, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition doesn’t add anything that makes this worth the double dip, so save your money for The Elder Scrolls VI: The Undiscovered Country. Or whatever they’re going to call it.
That said, if you haven’t had the pleasure, and you enjoy fantasy adventure games, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition is a must. A deep, open world, action-oriented role-playing game set in a gritty fantasy realm, the game is basically The Lord Of The Rings-flavored version of Fallout 4 if the visuals were done by the art department from Game Of Thrones.
At its core, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition plays like a lot of fantasy role-playing games. You have quests that advance the story, others that distract you from the main plot, as well as random battles and explorable places you come across while making your way to whatever main or side quest you happen to be on. The game also gives you numerous numerous options when it comes to customizing your character, aesthetically and militarily, and these choices can affect the outcome of certain situations, as can what you do and what you say. Playing as a polite and helpful female human, for instance, will make some aspects of the game different than if you play as an aggressive male orc who’s a jerk.
Just be careful when making your character in The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition, you’re going to be that person for a long time. If you take on every side quest, explore every cave, check out every place of interest on your map, and play the three add-ons — which you should, they’re as fun as the main game — you can expect your time in Tamriel to last in excess of a hundred hours.
But while The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition follows the established rules of action-oriented role-playing video games, it does differ from them in some interesting ways. Consider how it handles your skills. While you do level up in this game, and gain and improve abilities as you do, your combat effectiveness with kinds of weapons is actually improved by using them. In other words, you don’t click an icon on a skill tree to get better at combat with one-handed weapons, you instead get better at combat with one-handed weapons by using one-handed weapons in combat.
The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition also sets itself apart from such similarly epic fantasy games as The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age: Inquisition by giving you the option to play this from either the first- or third-person perspective. Granted, you should only play this from the first-person perspective, it works way better that way, but hey, you still have the option.
More importantly, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition has much better menus when it comes to inventory management and the upgradable skills trees than many fantasy games, including previous games in The Elder Scrolls series. As a result, you spend more time using those new swords, helmets, and potions you just found than you do trying to figure out how to equip them.
But the biggest difference between The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition and those other fantasy adventure games is in its combat. Well, if you play this from the first-person perspective, that is. When you do, battles are much more visceral and frantic, whether you’re using melee weapons, a bow and arrow, or your magic dragon shouts. Heck, it’s even just fun to whack a chicken with a battle axe, which isn’t something you can say about just any game.
As grand an adventure as The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition may be, it’s not without its flaws. For starters, it gets rather tiresome that you have to fast travel back to town every time you run out of room in your satchel, and then have to fast travel back where you were before. Which happens a lot because this game is just brimming with loot. It also doesn’t help that everything you carry weighs you down, especially after playing such similarly deep adventure games as Fallout 4 and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, in which such items as ammo in the former and crafting materials in the latter didn’t weigh anything.
Navigating the world in The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition can also get annoying, as you’re only given a general direction in which to head, as opposed to a highlighted pathway like in the Fable games and the Dead Space series. As a result, you often find yourself walking miles out of your way, only to realize there was a shortcut you could’ve taken if you’d only gone to the right instead of the left. If I had a gold piece for every time that happened while playing The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition, I would’ve had much nicer boots.
It’s also irritating that combat in The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition requires stamina on your part. Which, yes, makes this more realistic. But in a game where I might run into a dragon or an orc or some other creature while I’m walking to the market, the last thing I need is some realism that could mean the difference between life and death. Well, life and restarting from the last checkpoint, anyway.
For all its flaws, and for all its differences, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Special Edition, like the original version, is ultimately like Fallout 4 and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt in one very significant and cool way: it’s effortlessly fun and addictive. It’s one of those games where you get so caught up in what you’re doing, so invested in the life of your character and the world they live in, that while you think you’re just going to play for an hour and then go to bed, you actually end up playing for four hours before you realize what time it is, and then just say “fuck it” and keep playing anyway.