If, for some reason, you’ve been living in a cave for the last half decade, with your eyes shut and fingers in your ears, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim released to fanfare and acclaim way back in 2011. This instalment was notable for having true mass appeal, and garnered fans and awards like bees to a particularly sexy flower.
2016 sees the re-release of Skyrim, new and improved for current gen consoles and beefier PCs. I, like many, went in with nostalgia and hope for reliving one of my favourite games of the last generation. And, after over 30 hours in the remaster, I can definitively say:
Look, it’s damn near impossible to consider Skyrim anything but a triumph. The storytelling was (and is) tight but epic, the faction questlines stunning, every dungeon an adventure; all of this stands the test of time with ease. But a new coat of paint doesn’t make it a new game, and the problems Skyrim had then are all the more obvious now.
But let’s start with the positives; Skyrim Special Edition scores big in some areas. Load times on PS4 are, no exaggeration, the best part of the upgrade, and lightning fast compared to my PS3 days. I used to get up and make a cup of tea when reloading a save, then drink the tea, then make another cup and see if it had loaded yet. Now it seems like I barely have time to blink. This, for me personally, tops any graphical improvements; I can actually play the game immersively, not taking over a minute to go through a door, so things like the Thieve’s Guild questline are no longer unbearably slow.
That’s not to say the graphics aren’t great; they are. Skyrim looks extremely pretty, from updated textures on plants, to the far better water animations. Fire is still just ok, but that sky: seriously, just call it SKYrim, because it’s more drop dead gorgeous than before.
I’d talk about the volumetric god rays but, I’ll be totally honest, I have no idea what that actually means. So let’s call a spade a spade, and say that the light is pretty damn great, and makes the world seem that much more detailed.
Controls are still a little laggy sometimes, especially in the heat of battle; changing weapons mid fight can take an appallingly long time. PS4 players also might want to remap some buttons to fall in line with either vanilla Skyrim or Fallout 4, and make better use of the touchpad. But that’s pretty much the only lag I encountered, even during some of the larger civil war battles.
All the old DLC is there, and there’s no new content here, but we didn’t expect any. This is a remaster, after all, not Elder Scrolls VI: Probably Valenwood. And I expected to run into irritating bugs and broken quests; after all, while Bethesda put out huge, amazing games, their QA can only do so much. This is something the fans generally accept, and frankly I find it endearing, like the crooked tooth in an otherwise dazzling smile. Bugs in a Bethesda game only add to their charm, and we shake our heads and smile when we encounter them. “Oh, Bethesda,” we think, smiling understandingly.
What I didn’t expect was to run into the exact same bugs and glitches that I did five years ago.
Let me tell you a story. I’ve played a lot of Skyrim, as pretty much everyone (except, weirdly, a Nord), so creating my Breton vampire assassin thief was like slipping into a comfortable old pair of shoes; it fit. A few quests later I was in deep with the Dark Brotherhood, and had just assassinated the Tamriel equivalent of a catfish. Muiri, the young lady who gave me the quest, was very grateful that I murdered several people for her. So grateful, in fact, that we got married later that week.
Anyone who married Muiri in Skyrim vanilla knows that her dialogue was frustratingly broken. Instead of greeting you as a spouse, she continues to thank you for murdering her ex and best friend, before defaulting to standard lovey-dovey lines. This breaks immersion considerably, since your wife mentions you killing a dude every time you see her. It’s especially upsetting for our children. I, for some reason, assumed this would have been fixed for the remaster, since it’s been a talking point for the last half decade.
Unfortunately, Bethesda did not solve my… problem. And that was just the beginning.
Pretty much every consistent bug I knew about, I checked. Muiri? Yup, she’s still adorably macabre. Invisible chests letting me into merchant inventories? Khajit really should hide their stuff better, because all three I knew about are still there. Weird, insanely loud SFX when I try to store the Avanchanzel Lexicon in a barrel? I can’t hear you, because I’m still deaf, but yeah, check. Other, minor glitches like floating items, broken wall mountings, missing NPCs, there’s plenty of them to go around too. When they say they didn’t work on the content, you’d better believe they meant it.
Skyrim Special Edition looks gorgeous, sounds great (mostly), and heaps a whole bunch of nostalgia on top. And I get that this is for the fans, so they really wanted us to feel like we did when first played the game. I can almost convince myself that’s why all the original bugs are still there, for nostalgia. I know, however, that they were just too lazy to fix them.
But hey, we have mods now! The Unofficial Skyrim Patch solved most of the problems on PC, so can’t we use that? Sure you can – just not on PS4. I’m sure there’s something in the works, but as of this writing the most popular mods are a bigass castle and a ring that lets you carry half of Tamriel in your shirt pocket. Even if we do get a mod to finally piece the Humpty Dumpty of Skyrim together, hope you don’t like trophies, because they will be disabled. This I can understand with mods that, say, give you a ton of resources and money. But bug fixes? Odd that Bethesda are so fond of blanket rules now, when their is all over the place.
Overall, Skyrim is Skyrim. If you’ve never played it before, you should be buying it as I type this. It’s a god damned institution of gaming, and you’re missing out on a fundamental life experience. If, however, you’ve played it before, it’s up in the air. It’s faster and prettier, but ultimately the same as it was in 2011, and it could’ve really used some of that polish on the actual mechanics. All that said, this is mostly aimed at the PS4 and XB1 players, because PC can achieve basically the same results (and probably better) with a mod or two.
In the end, I’m not convinced it’s totally up to the full new release price tag. But, for what it’s worth, I’d buy it simply for the convenience of spending less than an Ice Age going through a door.