We've polished off Fallout 4, and The Elder Scrolls VI is still one million years away from becoming reality. How do we slake our thirst for a Bethesda-brand open world if we don't want to sign up for The Elder Scrolls Online? Our best option for now is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.
Bethesda's decision to apply some spit and polish to Skyrim and re-release it stirred up many reactions, some positive, some less so. Fans of the five-year-old open-world RPG fairly pointed out that Skyrim has already been improved through mods. Not only do said mods make Skyrim look great, but they add innumerable quests and content tweaks. Want to solve an eight-hour murder mystery outfitted with professional voice acting and new characters? You can! Want to play as a Super Saiyan? You can do that, too! So why does Skyrim Special Edition even need to exist?
There's a simple answer for that: Console gamers. Some of us – myself included – first experienced Skyrim through the Xbox 360 or, Akatosh help us, on the PlayStation 3. We never got a chance to improve the game's graphics through mods. In fact, we never got to mess around with mods at all. Skyrim Special Edition is for those of us who are console gamers first and foremost. It's our chance to play a (reasonably) good-looking version of Skyrim garnished with mods that range from practical to nutty. Personally, I'm very happy to have the opportunity, since Skyrim remains one of my favorite open-world games.
Of course, if I'm going to use consoles to defend the existence of Skyrim Special Edition, then I need to mention the mod choices for the PlayStation 4 version of the game are somewhat impotent next to Xbox One's growing mod library. Again, it seems Xbox owners got the long end of the Wabbajack as far as Skyrim console ports are concerned.
What if the PC is your Bethesda vehicle of choice, though? What if you've stuffed your beloved vanilla Skyrim full of mods and fixes? Is it worth dropping full price on Special Edition? Is it even worth downloading the game for free (which is an option if you already have the game and all its DLC on PC)?
Well … probably not. For one thing, your old save files may not work in Special Edition. For another, Special Edition may barf up any mods you try to feed it, at least until the authors of said mods apply necessary tweaks – provided they care enough to do so. Skyrim's switch from 32 bits to 64 isn't all bad news though, as modders now have that much more memory to work with. Besides, there's still a good chance you'll be able to resurrect your vanilla characters into Skyrim Special Edition with no problem: Kat did OK, for the most part.
It should be noted Kat's article and its comment thread illuminate a truth that will help you decide whether you should pick up Special Edition or give it a pass: You either love Skyrim, or you don't get what the fuss is all about. And it happens Kat and I love Skyrim for the same reasons. It's an adventurer's adventure. There are few limits, few rules. Once you escape the dragon attack on Helgen, you're free as a bird – a sensation that's truly awe-inspiring, given you were seconds away from being executed just moments ago.
Even though I chose the same character build for my Special Edition playthrough as I did for my original playthrough (Argonian archer 4 lyf), I went off in a completely different direction this time. When my hosts at Riverwood suggested I go speak to the Jarl at Whiterun (thereby advancing the game's story), I turned around and headed in the opposite direction. I cleaned out bandit strongholds, hunted game, and sniped wolves from afar, because eff wolves. Nobody stopped me. Nobody scolded me. I wasn't a hero; I was just a traveller on the road, like the rest of the people I met.
Skyrim is not a perfect game, and the Special Edition does very little to clean up the problems players have been most vocal about, e.g. sloppy combat and crummy AI for enemies and NPCs. These are valid complaints, and it's disappointing that Bethesda didn't do much tweaking. On the other hand, the doofy dialogue that arises from the game's substandard AI creates moments that are just so quintessentially Skyrim. I will never get over Talen-Jei the Argonian telling me, "You've done us a service we can never repay, friend. There's the door. Why don't you use it?" because I helped him find a ring for his mate and threatened her with blackmail in two separate quests.
Is "unintentional humor" a legitimate reason to excuse Bethesda for its sloppy programming? Heck no. But at the same time, I can't think of another game that's provided me with so many amazing stories from other players. Not just stories of dragon-slaying and troll-killing, but stories about utterly breaking the game by turning an important NPC into a sweet roll with the Wabbajack and then eating him. These moments shouldn't exist in Skyrim, but I can't bring myself to get angry over them.
That said, if you've already had enough of Skyrim, its loose combat, and the bugs that've come to define it as much as its dragons, you're not going to get much out of Skyrim Special Edition. It's basically the same game you've trodden across already (maybe several times), but with some nicer lighting effects.
Again, though – if you initially played Skyrim on last-gen consoles and you want that Skyrim PC experience without using, well, a PC (or you haven't played the game at all, but are Skyrim-curious), Skyrim Special Edition is a solid purchase. Yes, when you pull apart Skyrim and examine its individual flaws, you'll find a lot wrong with it. When the experience is mushed back into a singularity and delivered to you, though, it just works as an epic adventure game.
Go with your gut on this one, Dovahkiin.
Skyrim Special Edition is a solid purchase for anyone introduced to the game through the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. PC players should give longer pause before playing, however, as they've probably already made their own "Special Edition" with the aid of mods – and some of those mods might not even work in the Special Edition. In the end, your decision should come down to how much you love Skyrim's ambition, how much you enjoy exploring its expansive world, and how tolerant you are towards its flaws.