Anyone who has been part of the gaming world in the last few years has almost certainly heard about or played Skyrim,the fifth instalment of the popular Elder Scrolls series. It was, and still is, a massively popular game! With its great graphics and intricate world (not to mention hilarious and/or frustrating bugs) it took the gaming world by storm and brought even more popularity to the world of Tamriel and the Elder Scrolls franchise. The addition of mods expanded on that popularity by allowing us players to enhance the game however we wished, we could add new items, quests, places and make changes in a mind boggling variety of ways! Everything from extra character customisation options, new sets of weapons and armour and new places to call home all the way up to making the game as ridiculous as possible, yes, I am looking at you Thomas!
On the 28th of October 2016 Skyrim: Special Edition was released, now, I know some of you may be thinking, “What’s so special about this special edition?” First off, it allows console gamers to access the beauty and lunacy that makes up Skyrim’s modding community. Beyond that there are a number of other enhancements, both obvious and not so.
After hearing about the special edition I was so excited! I was prepared to fork over another fistful of cash (much to my bank account’s dismay!) to play this gem all over again! Luckily I didn’t have to! The special edition was free for anyone who owned the original Skyrim and it’s DLCs, a very pleasant surprise and a great idea from Bethesda! Although if you are looking to upgrade on a console you will need to buy the special edition regardless.
I planned a special stream for the launch of the game over on my twitch channel, 1AM on the 28th of October. I had the game pre-loaded through steam and I couldn’t wait! As soon as the play button became available I loaded the game and was instantly impressed. The launcher had been updated and looked very nice, the same options were there as on the original but the background image and text had been updated to look extra pretty.The menus now run at 60fps with higher resolutions too so they look incredibly smooth and polished. I started a new game and couldn’t help grinning as the familiar opening sequence began. Right off the bat I noticed the upgrades to the graphics, it was beautiful! The detail of the environment and the characters around me was impeccable, from the chainmail of Ulfric’s armour to the grain of the wood on the prison cart. Everything just looked wonderful! I played the game for a while and made sure to pay attention to all the changes.
I feel like I should give a little disclaimer here, I have seen a few negative reviews about the graphics so I feel like I need to emphasize that this is a remaster, it isn’t a new game built from the ground up with next gen graphics, it is an updated version of a game from an older system. In terms of comparison I would say it’s similar to Fallout 4 graphically although I prefer the Skyrim look but that could be me being biased towards Nordic fantasy!
At any rate, there are indeed a lot of changes, some are immediately apparent, others not so. The most noticeable changes are obviously the improved graphics. Everything has been scaled up in terms of resolution so everything looks smoother. There are a lot of changes to textures throughout the game such as Fire, water and foliage. Now the most common of these updates is the foliage, simply, there is more of it and it holds more detail. Plants, trees, rocks, even paths all look better, there is much more detail in the textures for those who care to look and it really enhances the overall aesthetic of the game. Water has also been improved with the textures being upgraded massively, not only that but there are a few changes that are much smaller in comparison to the texture update but really show Bethesda’s attention to detail, but I’ll bring those up later.
Lighting has had a complete overhaul and it really shows, shadows look deeper, fire looks warmer and much more authentic. As I mentioned before the textures for fire have been updated so it looks better, the updated lighting engine goes hand in hand with this and the game just looks so much warmer. Firelight creates a beautiful glow that softens at the edges, shadows dance as the flames flare up and die down and you just feel so much more immersed in the environment because of this. Whilst I am talking about the lighting let me touch on the subject of god rays and lens flare. As the sun moves around it will shine through tree branches and other narrow openings and create beautiful rays of light, not only this but looking directly into a source of light will be more realistic, a candle for instance will have a lovely fiery corona, whereas the sun will be intense and bright. This also applies to reflections in water to a lesser extent, reflected light will obviously not be as bright but will still have a portion of that effect. Whilst on the subject of water, the physics engine for water flow has been beefed up and water now behaves as you would expect it. In the 2011 version of Skyrim water would flow at a constant rate in a constant direction, now you will see water rushing faster as it flows downhill, it will slow down as it reaches pools, it will bend around obstacles in its path. This all seems like minor stuff until you put it all together with the more obvious graphical updates, then it comes together to make an intricate web of improvements that pulls us in without us even realising it. The level of immersion that these changes bring is impressive to say the least and I for one am glad that so much attention to detail has been put into these updates.
Now this is my last comment on the graphic and visual engine updates, but I feel like I have saved two of the best until last. All of these updates help with immersing the player into the world and drawing us into the stories and events that unfold. This is yet another fairly hard to notice change, but again it has a huge impact without us realising it. The facial animations have been given a facelift (see what I did there?….anyone….no?) and now instead of the usual generic mouth flapping present in many games, the keen eyed conversationalist will be able to look closely at an NPCs mouth while they talk and see the words being formed. I’m not talking about good timing for the mouth to open and close, the mouth forms the words like you would expect. It is actually really impressive to watch and consider how much effort must have gone into something that seems so insignificant on the surface of things. The second of my favourite updates is the dynamic depth of field, looking closely at an object will cause the background to blur out of focus slightly, again this seems like something minor, but it is actually really pretty and as with all of the other updates it serves to pull you into the world and make you appreciate just how stunning Tamriel and Skyrim really are!
Now one of my absolute favourite updates isn’t to do with the in-game systems, it is the new save file management system. As a veteran player of the original Skyrim, I had multiple characters, each with different stories and paths they were treading. As a result I found it difficult to manage the save files efficiently unless I had them stored in separate folders which meant manually swapping out saves every time I wanted to change character. The new save system shows that this has been considered and dealt with in such an intuitive and easy way. From the main menu you select load game as per usual, but now you are presented with a list of character names (including Prisoner for starting a new character without having to sit through the whole capture cutscene). Each character has their own save files stored separately in the menu, so you choose load game, click on the name of the character you are wanting to play and then you can chose which save file for that character you wish to load. It may seem minor on the surface, but for anyone wanting to experience everything Skyrim has to offer, having multiple characters is a necessity.
As it stands at the moment I haven’t progressed very far on any one character (I have three characters, my fiancé is playing another, making 4 saves in total) however what I have seen so far has been rather incredible. I am truly looking forward to seeing what else the special edition has to offer and there are a few locations that I am excited to explore and see in more detail!
If you have been wondering what has changed in the special edition then I would have to say everything and nothing. The game itself is the same, the stories and characters are the same, the overall experience is the same, yet it all feels fresh and new thanks to the slew of upgrades and attention to detail of Bethesda. What I will say is that if you enjoyed the original and wanted an excuse to play it again then you will love the special edition, it takes everything that Skyrim was and give it the Cinderella treatment. I for sure will be sinking many hours into this beautiful game!