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.
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