The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition Review (PlayStation 4)
Five years after we first stepped foot in Skyrim, we once again we find ourselves in the Elder Scrolls’ northern lands, only now with a fresh coat of paint. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is, more than anything, an update for the console version of the game as it now features mods and updated graphics. The PC version of Skyrim has always had mods so this version of Skyrim is mostly a graphical update. So when all said and done what’s new in Skyrim? As it turns out, quite a bit, thanks to the power of mods.
As soon as you start your journey you’ll see the visual difference between this version and the original release of Skyrim. This version has better lighting effects as well as higher resolution textures on just about everything in the game. Everything looks brighter, crisper and a just a little bit better. Unfortunately, although the textures of the in-game models were updated, it seems that the models themselves were not. The contrast is quality is more noticeable the closer you get to an object and it’s strange to see some low-poly models like the vegetation with such bright and detailed textures. There’s also a soft-yellow light filter active during the day that seems to obscure the hard edges of some models. There’s a mod to remove this filter, and using it makes the contrast that much more noticeable. This is a minor nitpick since overall the game does look better thanks to the brighter colors and textures. There are also plentiful visual mods such as better weather effects and more dynamic lighting at night that even further enhance the visuals.
It should be stated that both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of Skyrim have different mods available. External assets are not allowed by Sony, so that eliminates a large number of the available existing mods on the PlayStation. You’re also given five gigabytes of storage for mods on the Xbox One as opposed to one gigabyte on the PS4. Aside from this discrepancy both console versions are essentially the same. Even with the asset restriction on PS4 there’s still an abundance of mods. You can do anything from simple text changes to adding over 300 new spells to the game.
Anyone familiar with mods should know that there’s risk inherent to using them. First off, trophies are disabled once you enable any mod, even if it doesn’t directly affect gameplay and even if you turn it off at any point. Mods are save file-specific though, so if you have a character/save file that’s free of mods, that file can still earn trophies. Apart from trophies game crashes are a big issue when using mods. Each mod has notes you should read as to what other mods might affect its usability or stability. Even when following those guidelines I still experienced frequent crashes without any indication as to what caused them. Since they were so inconsistent there was really no way of knowing which mod was causing them, if any. As of the time of this review there are no performance mods on the PS4 so it may be the case that over time the user base will have to figure out which mods don’t play well with each other one by one.
As for the mods themselves, they’ve all been a blast to try out. Even just disabling cinematic kills and adding more and better signposts adds a lot to the quality of the game. If I want to see what happens when I antagonize literally every NPC in the game without fear of repercussion I can just turn on immortality and go nuts. There’s a mod that just changes Paarthurnax’s name to Party Snaxx and the real humor there is forgetting you turned on the mod and one day running into a dragon named Party Snaxx. The more ridiculous cheat mods are probably the most fun however. Having access to 1,000 of every crafting material right away and building whatever weapon or armor piece I want just adds more toys to the already dense playground that is Skyrim.
If you’re all about challenge you can turn off fast travel and increase the overall difficulty past the in-game difficulty slider. Checking the mod workshop for new mods every day and trying each one out has become a pastime of mine. The one GB limit on PS4 seems small but since no mods actually add any assets they are all very small files. Even when downloading every mod available I had barely scratched the surface of the storage space available. There’s really no reason to get every single mod available, but you probably can if you wish.
Yes, it’s still the same Skrim we all remember. The same NPCs, quests and combat in the same open world. The updated visuals and more importantly the mods have done a lot to turn this into a brand new experience. I spent a lot of my time infinitely conjuring rabbits just to see what would happen (turns out nothing), and even that in itself was fun. The new textures and soft lighting are nice but really nothing special since the textures are sitting on the same models that weren’t exactly pushing the envelope on the PS3 or the Xbox 360. Of course, the concept of mods and the freedom that comes with them is a given. In a game like Skyrim however, it let us fill the empty space with our own creativity and lets us immerse ourselves however we want in an already immersive game. Turns out Skyrim is even more fun the second time around.
This review was completed with a digital copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.