On the 11th of November 2011, my video gaming life changed forever. Up until that point, my gaming was split between a few different franchises: Call of Duty, FIFA, Battlefield, and the incredible Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I would split my time between these games and others, playing them equally throughout the year. This all changed when Skyrim, the sequel to 2006’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, was released. I became obsessed, no other games or any form of entertainment mattered anymore. I just could not stop exploring the vast world Bethesda had created. There was so much to see and so, so much to do, and now nearly five years later it has happened again with the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition.
Bethesda announced the remastered version of Skyrim during the company’s conference at E3 this past summer, and it was, of course, met with jubilation. Skyrim is a game beloved by so many people, it is the quintessential fantasy RPG. Many games have tried to label themselves ‘Skyrim Killers’, but none of them has even come close to that. So Bethesda making that announcement was huge, many gamers who have moved on from their previous consoles could again explore Skyrim in fabulous new detail, with all three DLCs included, but that wasn’t all Bethesda announced. They also announced that console gamers will be able to experience the fabled mods for the first time, which up until now were completely exclusive to our PC brethren. Can Skyrim still hold up five years after its release? Is it still the king of the action RPG? Or should the fifth instalment of The Elder Scrolls series just stay a happy memory? These are the questions we will look at and answer now.
For those of you who have never played Skyrim or would simply like a reminder of the epic story, Skyrim takes place 200 years after the events of its predecessor, Oblivion. Like all of The Elder Scrolls games, it takes place on the planet of Nirn, on the continent of Tamriel in the province of, you guessed it, Skyrim. The opening sequence is nothing but iconic. As an unnamed prisoner you are being escorted to the town of Helgen to meet your fate as a traitor to the Empire. There is a Civil War brewing in the land of Skyrim, as the indigenous Nord people feel the Empire is destroying their way of life. Before your now named and chosen character has their head separated from their body, a dragon appears and puts a stop to the Empire’s plans. You will then embark on an epic quest, which could have quite easily come straight from the mind of Tolkien, as you, the Dovahkiin (Dragonborn), will attempt to save the world from the return of the dragons, led by Alduin, the Nordic God of Destruction.
This really is just the tip of the iceberg though when it comes to story content in Skyrim, as like all The Elder Scrolls games, there are a plethora of side quests. These can either come from the four guilds of Skyrim, The Companions (like the Fighters Guild), Thieves Guild, the College of Winterhold (a mages guild), and the best of them all, the Dark Brotherhood. There are still dozens of other side quests given to you by the numerous NPCs in the game, hundreds of caves, forts, and dungeons to explore, hell, you could even spend a few hours reading the numerous books in the game. My point here is there is so much to do in Skyrim.
No one can argue that the plot and subplots of Skyrim are some of the greatest forms of storytelling in video game history, but how does a game from 2011 hold up in 2016? The answer is incredibly well. Ever since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were released, developers have been bringing the biggest games of the last generation to their new consoles. We all held our breath, waiting for Bethesda to announce that Skyrim will be coming to the current generation, and finally in June of this year they did, promising improved visuals and the ability to downloaded mods (user-created content). Bethesda have done an absolutely fantastic job in upgrading the visuals; simply, Skyrim is a beautiful looking game.
Now, obviously being five years old and being from the previous generation, the whole game itself isn’t a graphics masterpiece. The paving still looks blocky, the walls and brick still lack intricate detail, and the rendering can still take a few seconds to catch up. What makes Skyrim gorgeously jaw-dropping is the scenery and the overall picture of the land. Bethesda promoted leading up to the release of the game that they have added ‘Volumetric God Rays’; no-one was quite sure what this actually meant leading up to the release, but the minute you step outside at dusk for the first time, you understand just what they are. There have not been many games which have left me speechless just from their visuals, but this version of Skyrim did. I emerged from a cave near the start of the game just as it was turning dusk. After the game had finished loading, I was witness to one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in a video game. Halfway up a mountain and looking at the forest below, I saw the ‘Volumetric God Rays’, and they were simply divine (pun definitely intended). I didn’t move for a good five minutes, I just stood there looking at the sheer beauty of the land of Skyrim as the sunlight danced through the trees.
This wasn’t the only occasion the beauty of this game made me stand still, there have been countless times where I have just stopped and stared at my TV in awe, and not just in the forest areas as well. Like many aspiring archers in the land of Skyrim, I spent a good amount of time in the wilderness stalking animals to shoot with my bow. Not only is this a great way to level up your archery skills as there is an abundance of wildlife to stalk, it will also help build up your sneak skills. I had been following a moose for a good few minutes until he turned around and spotted me and then ran towards an opening in the trees. When I emerged I was witness to one of the many streams in Skyrim, but again it just took my breath away. The water was actually flowing (something the original release couldn’t quite manage), and the midday sun was bouncing off the water. Again, I took a couple of minutes and just stared.
However, looking pretty isn’t enough if the gameplay is awful, right? Well, don’t worry as Skyrim: SE isn’t just one of the most stunning games I have ever played, it still is the unconquerable king of the action RPG. Bethesda haven’t done anything to the actual gameplay of Skyrim: SE, it’s just that the original game’s gameplay was so good that it still holds up in 2016, even after games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Bethesda really does give you the freedom to play the game exactly how you want to. Want to be the greatest warrior that ever lived armed with a greatsword and just crush all that stand before you? You can. If brute force isn’t your preferred method, perhaps you want to stay in the shadows, picking enemies off one by one with your enchanted bow? Or maybe you want to be the most powerful mage the world has ever seen and destroy your enemies with destructive spells? Skyrim: SE will let you be exactly who you want to be.
If you don’t want to just stick with one playstyle though, and you fancy being some sort of assassin/warrior hybrid, again, Bethesda have your back. Obviously, it will take longer to level up your skills as you will be concentrating on three or more skill trees, but with a game as big as Skyrim: SE, there is no worrying about running out of things to do. Choosing one of the ten playable races will also help with your character build, as each race will have different skills which will suit your chosen playstyle. Nords and Orcs, for example, are the go to races for a warrior build, and with the Nords’ resistance to frost magic, they are an extremely popular choice, especially among newer players.
Skyrim: SE comes with the main game and all three of the DLCs. Two of which, Dawnguard and Dragonborn, give you additional story content, with the third DLC, Hearthfire, giving you the ability to purchase a plot of land from the various holds in Skyrim to build your very own manor. The DLC were great, with Dawnguard giving you the choice to either fight with the Dawnguard, who are vampire hunters, or join with the lords of darkness themselves and get the ability to transform into a Vampire Lord. The Dragonborn DLC takes you completely out of Skyrim as you go to the land of Solstheim, which previously featured in the expansion for Morrowind. There you will confront Miraak, the first Dragonborn.
Even without the two-story based DLCs, the main game’s content is seemingly endless when you begin. Talk to nearly any NPC in the game and they will either give you a quest themselves or point you in the direction of someone who needs your help. The main quest itself is an epic adventure which Tolkien would be proud of, and the ‘main’ side quests could justifiy a whole game for themselves. One of these side quests is what first introduces you to this world, as your character is being taken to their execution by the Empire for your supposed role in the Stormcloak rebellion. Skyrim is in a state of near civil war with the Stormcloak rebellion fighting against the Empire for the Nord people’s way of life. Out of the four guild questlines, the Dark Brotherhood still remains the greatest with its dark, almost Satanic rituals and beliefs.
Perhaps the most exciting feature Bethesda announced at E3 was that the PS4 and Xbox One releases will support mods. These were exclusive to the PC version of the game, and many if not all of us console gamers looked upon our PC companions with jealousy. Well, thankfully mods are here, but they differ on the two consoles. The Xbox One version will allow 5GB worth of mod support, which means gamers using Microsoft’s console will be able to download new story mods and mods that completely change parts of the game, like turning all dragons into Thomas the Tank Engine, for example, but why anyone would want to do that is a mystery to me.
The PS4 version only allows 1GB of mod support, and this is after Sony backtracked on originally not allowing any at all. It was rather strange that Bethesda announced mod support for both consoles, only for Sony a couple of months later to counteract and announce that the PS4 wont be supporting them. But it was all worked out in the end. The 1GB is more than enough to download some great mods that add to the gameplay, as opposed to completely changing it. They are very easy to install as well. You will need a Bethesda account, then on the main screen of Skyrim: SE you will see mods just below add-ons. Enter your Bethesda account details and you’ll be straight in. To install a mod just find one you like (I also highly recommend you read some reviews as some mods can make the game crash), click download, and that’s it. Once you come out of the mod menu, a message will pop up and tell you that you are using your selected mod at your own risk and also that trophies are disabled, so if you are a trophy hunter, you wont be able to use the mods while getting them. Mods are easily disabled though; back in the mods menu at the top is ‘your library’. Simply click on the mod(s) you wish to turn off and press disable.
Once you’ve installed a mod, the game will create a new save file which is handy. I am not a trophy hunter (especially as I played the original game to death), so I was excited to see what mods I could use (PS4 version, so it was limited). I decided to go for three simple ones to begin with, which was ‘lore loading screens’, which simply just had some more lore while you wait for the game to load, a ring that adds 1,000 carry points to my character, which is very handy before you can afford your first house, and lastly the ‘point the way’ mod which just adds a lot more signposts around the landscape; if you’re like me and love to walk or ride a horse between places, this mod makes it so much easier to find my way to the cities and towns.
Something else Bethesda also brought over from the first version of the game are the various bugs and glitches. That’s right, NPCs will still get stuck in various places, Lydia will still get in the way all of the time, and some side quests are impossible to complete as the NPC you need to talk to is either dead or just missing. A lot of these can seemingly be fixed by the hugely popular ‘unofficial Skyrim Patch’ mod, but PS4 users shouldn’t get too excited as this is only available on the Xbox One. Loading times can also still take forever, depending on where you are trying to get to and what you are doing.
There also seems to be a problem with the Xbox One version’s audio, with many players complaining how diluted the sound is. The good news for PS4 players is, so far, there are no new bugs or glitches, just the numerous ones from the original release. The only time I’ve felt Skyrim: SE shows its age gameplay-wise is the weapon combat. It was never that deep of a combat system back in 2011, and in 2016 it is really starting to show its age. Combat is still fun, but after playing such titles like The Witcher 3, mashing the right trigger is a bit stale.
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 28th October 2016