The Bottom Line
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 28, 2016
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, PC
Skyrim: Special Edition is more than a simple remaster: it's a window to an entirely new dimension of Elder Scrolls console gaming.
Although the game's core mechanics remain the same as its 2011 predecessor, Skyrim: Special Edition makes a massive change that forever changes how console gamers will play the game.
With mod support, Bethesda's new Skyrim remaster ushers in a new era in freedom and near-infinite replay value. The game not only looks new thanks to its dramatic visual overhaul and enhancements, but it feels new thanks to user-created mod support, especially on the Xbox One.
For the first time, console gamers can experience the true awe-inspiring beauty and wonder of Skyrim mods; even in its somewhat limited state without SKSE support, modders have created some incredible and game-altering content that not only extends the game's shelf life but breathes new life into it in nearly every way.
As such, Skyrim: Special Edition feels likes it's been reborn on two different levels; not only is the game a joy to look at and play vanilla, the wide swath of user-created mods gives gamers the freedom to choose how they want to play.
That's really what Skyrim: SE is all about--freedom. You can finally decide exactly how to progress in the game, whether going all out with infinite supplies, god-tier armor, skills, and stats or adding a whole new dimension of immersion to the game itself.
The sheer potential of what you can experience in the game is more than enough reason to pick it up, especially if you've ever played the game on consoles.
Playing without mods is just a flavorless gray; with mods, the game turns into something new, something ever-changing, giving you total control over your experiences and adding this true sense of engagement that wasn't necessarily there before.
Before mod support, console gamers were at the whims of Bethesda. We had to suffer through various glitches and learn how to adapt to a somewhat limited structure. It's vanilla through and through--not bad, but not amazing, just good enough.
Mods change everything. Now we get to define our own parameters; now we can plumb the game's depths as we see fit, unearthing new secrets and finding new ways to play and explore the game.
We can dress up as Darth Vader and swing double-bladed lightsabers as our foes; we can summon legions of daedra as a fearsome Necromancer; we can change the very nature of armor sets, transmuting Daedric armor into light-weight sets for thieves or archers; we can learn new Shouts and spells that push the nature of magic well past its limits, all while fighting fearsome new bosses and foes; we can manipulate the very fabric that holds the game together, fixing, tweaking and even cheating to make the game much more enjoyable; we can step into the shoes of anyone or anything we want to be, and control how we experience our adventures.
For the first time, Skyrim's console port feels complete. The very prospect of mod support makes the game feel whole, even if the feature is largely modular and ever-changing.
In a way, Skyrim feels like it was always meant to be played with mods. Compared to other Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim is very shallow in terms of RPG features, lacking specific mainstays of the series.
Instead of the targeted class approach found in other TES games, Skyrim nixed classes and attributes to make players a sort of jack-of-all-trades that could easily swap back and forth between archetypes. (There's actually a mod that adds attributes back into the game, but it's a bit awkward without Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE) support.)
Bethsoft gave us the freedom to choose who we wanted to be and eliminated many of the barriers inhibiting hybrid-type characters and certain play styles. But this freedom also came at a cost: that shallow, mediocre and "gray" vanilla gameplay that transforms a good portion of the game into a rather tedious grind fest.
There comes a point in Skyrim where the game becomes rote and mechanical, and you're no longer enjoying specific things like dungeon-delving, as running out of free space is a huge problem, or even combat, as you destroy everything with ease.
Mods are the near-universal solution to the game's biggest problems. Those delicious free add-ons are like delectable chunks of DLC that aim to shore up the game's leaking holes and beautify its blotches.
If vanilla Skyrim were a pizza, it'd be the bread and the marinara sauce. Mods are the delicious toppings, and players get to choose what and how much toppings they want on their game-pizza.
The game's rather one-dimensional skill trees can be transformed into complex and dynamic webworks with mods like Ordinator Perks, making combat all the more exciting. Mods can scale enemy levels to ensure you're not steamrolling through the game too fast, change out the loot values, so you don't waste your time dungeon-delving, and add an incredible array of new custom armors, weapons, skills, quests and so much more.
Sadly, mod support is severely gimped on Sony's PS4, so I can't really recommend PS4 gamers pick this up if they want to play with mods.
Sony decided not to allow custom texture mods on the PS4, so that means no new armor sets, weapons, and a lot more. Console mods are already limited and won't ever live up to Skyrim mods on PC, but PS4 is restricted even more, painting a disappointing picture for Sony fans.
Skyrim's mod support on Xbox One is thriving, however, featuring some excellent additions that alter the immediate and long-term scope of the game in fantastic ways.
We're talking whole new skill trees, new races, massive arrays of weapons and armors, caches of infinite smithing, enchanting, and alchemy materials, the amazing end-game Falskaar mod, tons of new spells that open up a new dimension of play, huge player homes, custom quests and in-game areas.
You're given the tools to mix things up on a whim, to change out and respec your build at any time. All this time it feels like Skyrim on consoles was missing something, and now I know what it is: mods.
The game has only been out for two weeks, and the mod market is already maturing. Imagine what it'll be like in a month or two.
It's hard to even capture the feeling that console mods bring in words. The level of freedom...of choice...of unrestricted potential is staggering, and it's something I've always wanted to see in the Elder Scrolls series.
One could argue that you should just play it on PC and get the best version possible, and that's definitely valid, but it doesn't take away from the impressive feat of enabling mods on consoles in the first place.
Skyrim: Special Edition is by large the ultimate experience for new players, and represents a new giant leap for the series in terms of mod support. Sure the remaster comes with all the DLC, but even if it didn't, I'd still count it as the ultimate package
I deliberately chose to play the game on Xbox One to test how console mods fared, and I've yet to have a dull moment; console mods are a thriving and enjoyable enterprise that infuses a five-year-old game with a resolute vigor that makes it feel new.
Remastered Visuals, Frame Rates and Performance
Skyrim: Special Edition looks really, really good. Along from the 1080p resolution bump, Bethesda added in the high-res textures from the PC version and wrapped everything up with a 30FPS cap. There's been reports of major frame rate drops on Xbox One, but I honestly haven't experienced these.
The game is quite smooth in combat despite some clashing hiccups here and there (enemies bumping into walls, getting stuck where they shouldn't, and the hilarious giant smash ragdoll effect) but these are minor at least in my experience.
Texture pop-ins will occasionally appear, even if you adjust the included depth-of-field slider, but they're nowhere near as bad as No Man's Sky. The atmospheric effects blanket these pop-ins at times, but mostly you don't even notice them and can't even determine if they are actually there or not. Overall the immediate terrain is consistent, vivid, and well-defined, making the experience feel solid and immersive.
Faraway trees and ground textures don't have much detail, but that's really to be expected on consoles, especially an outdated system like the stock Xbox One. How bad or good faraway areas look depends on the environment as well as lighting and atmospheric effects--the game does very well in hiding specific blemishes and brushing up rough spots with the fog, almost like a paintbrush can blend two colors together to hide strokes. Rocks and mountains typically look decent even from far away, but the snowy fir trees and winding rivers can look pretty bad at times.
The atmospheric effects are a wonderful touch, and even under the most extreme fog, rainstorms, or blizzard effects, I haven't had any major frame rate drops. This includes the GPU-taxing atmospheric fog that swirls across certain regions like The Pale. The only real major FPS drops I've experienced are triggered by dropping too many items in a given space, and the death animations are smooth as well.
Skyrim's new lighting system is the most dramatic change to the visuals, adding striking scenic views to nearly every zone in the game. The godrays transform the hinterlands into a palisade right out of a high fantasy series, offering enchanting eye-candy that breathes new life into the game.
One big gripe I have about Skyrim are these weird transparent horizontal lines that always appear when looking at specific textures while in motion, specifically the trees. I haven't been able to properly capture this effect in a screenshot or video, and I've tried it on two different 1080p HDTVs. These lines are prominent in both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 version and can be spotted clearly at night time when looking at a large clump of trees. These lines will also appear in the grass as well, hampering the immersion.
Despite these weird lines, the game still looks great, but when combined with the weird grey-white contrasting, this effect does hurt my eyes from time to time.
Combat is basically as smooth as it was in the original, and I've tested all forms of combat including sword and board, magic, two-handers, bows, sneaking attacks, finishers, and different permutations of these archetypes. I did encounter some weird glitches when smacking enemies who were asleep from time to time.
I've also encountered some glitches when getting too close to NPCs who are acting out the sitting animation, and they'll sometimes be pushed off the chair and sit in mid-air. I've also had some funny bugs while smithing, making potions, and even cooking--the NPCs typically fly off screen, and land on the ground nearby.
All in all the performance is better, and the game looks great, but it's still Skyrim, and there will be bugs and glitches. Despite this, I haven't encountered anything I'd call game-breaking, nor have I really experienced any performance issues that hinder my gameplay.
If you're worried about glitches, just download the Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch mod right away to smooth out some of these bugs.
Mods - Installation, Performance and Functionality
Installing mods on consoles is straightforward, fluid, and rather easy. The entire system is hosted via the new account-wide Bethesda.net framework, which allows users to easily keep track of the mods they've favorited and downloaded at any time.
There's two ways to access Skyrim mods on consoles: through the Bestheda.net website, or the in-game mods menu. The website is more convenient, but the in-game UI actually has more functionality: mods are separated into varies panes like most downloaded, new releases, most favorited and more.
Mod performance varies user-to-user, and there's specific mods that will clash with one another leading to crashes and hiccups. I haven't had many hiccups with my installed mods. However, I did receive a few crashes after Bethesda rolled out the new audio patch. As I downloaded a few mods between the patch roll out and now, I can't exactly determine whether or not the patch or the mods are to blame.
Installing mods is an easy process, but you still need to pay careful attention to make sure the add-ons don't conflict. A lot of the time the modders will list potential incompatibilities and conflicts, and there's a general rule of thumb not to load up on too many game-changing mods of the same type: i.e., too many skill-changing mods, or too many loot-replacers.
While mods are an amazing addition, they are kind of haphazard on Xbox One, and the system isn't exactly regulated.
You basically are free to download whatever you want at your own risk. In order to adequately recover a save, I started off with a non-modded save and leveled up a bit, then loaded up on mods. Keep your vanilla saves handy just in case something goes wrong, but like I said, I haven't had any major problems, and none of my saves have been corrupted...even when I disable specific mods back and forth.
Users can manually change the load order to troubleshoot crashes and incompatibilities, and you can disable mods without having to delete them. This comes in handy if you ever want to easily respec your skills--a quick switch of Ordinator will reset your skills--or you get tired of a specific mod.
The console will automatically sort the mods for you in the most logical order, and you can usually trust the system to know which mods go where. Like I said, I haven't had any major problems with mods, just a few hiccups and crashes here and there, and I've never rearranged the mods. I also frequently switch them off and on at will just to see what will happen.
One annoying thing about mods is they add quite a bit to the loading time. With my 30 mods (albeit a few of them are pretty huge add-ons) it can take a decent chunk of time waiting for my save to load, and I've noticed even scene-to-scene loading screens are raised a bit as well.
Why we reviewed on Xbox One instead of PC
The Skyrim remaster is a bigger deal for consoles than it is for PC, especially since PC gamers have enjoyed a massive offering of Skyrim mods for the past five years.
Most of you already know that the game is incredible with PC mods, and I wanted to shed light on what it's like for console owners--well, Xbox One owners.
That's not to say that Skyrim: Special Edition doesn't offer anything on PC--quite the contrary. The new remaster uses 64-bit instead of the original's 32-bit limitations and totally removes the RAM cap limit for mods.
This means mods can technically be even better on PC now that the ceiling has been smashed. Modders have already converted a swath of old 32-bit mods over to the new 64-bit version using the new Creation Kit, and work on Skyrim Script Extender is currently under way.
PC will continue enjoying even more variety and functionality when it comes to Skyrim mods, but consoles are the new frontier, and we wanted to explore this fresh arena to see if mods were even worth using on older systems--and they absolutely are.
Skyrim: Special Edition Xbox One Mod list
I used the following 30 mods while playing Skyrim: SE on Xbox One:
Skyrim: Special Edition is a yet another achievement in the landmark Elder Scrolls series. Bethesda has paved the way to a new kind of experience, one that's not limited by the pre-defined core mechanics of its RPGs: instead, the studio has given gamers and modders a blank canvas to mold over time, crafting unique and ever-expanding content that will keep the game alive for many years to come.
Even on last-gen consoles that utilize outdated hardware, Skyrim: SE looks and plays fantastically. The visuals and environmental effects add a tremendous new layer of immersion to the game, making the regions feel more realistic than ever. With the addition of mods you can easily lose yourself in blinding blizzards, and potentially freeze to death out in the wilderlands. With mods, you can be anyone and do anything, and that's the freedom that the Elder Scrolls series has always exemplified.
All in all, this remaster is absolutely worth buying if you own a console, even if you've played the game already. Now I wouldn't buy it for consoles if you previously played it on PC with mods, as the experience won't be as deep and immersive, but the console modding scene will only grow with time.
By opening up the portal to mods, Bethesda has ensured Skyrim will be the game that keeps on giving--the high fantasy experience that doesn't end until you want it to.
- Impressive visuals
- Immersive atmospheric effects, like godrays and fog
- Mod support adds incredible replay value
- Consistent FPS throughout
- All DLC in one package
- Feels and looks new regardless that it's a 5 year old game
- It's still Skyrim, so expect glitches and bugs
- Weird horizontal lines
- Textures look awkward at far distances
|Graphics and Visuals||85%|
|Mod support and Functionality||90%|
|Value for Money||95%|
The Bottom Line: Console mods and impressive visuals breathe new life in Bethesda's epic RPG classic, offering staggering replay value and a new dimension of freedom never before realized in the console world.
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