As the latest and greatest installment in the beloved Elder Scrolls series, “Skyrim” captivated an entire generation of gamers when it dropped five years ago. Many people essentially dropped off the radar as they dug into the most expansive RPG ever created. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if national GDP took a dip in the autumn of 2011. Someone should crunch the numbers on that.
Five years later and “Skyrim” is back in a special edition package that upgrades the game for current generation consoles. Typically, these kinds of re-releases are a dodgy investment for returning players. They’re often just slightly prettied-up version of the game you already bought. “Skyrim: Special Edition” is an exception.
The graphical improvements are immediately evident and undeniably lovely. The original game’s famously gloomy palette is augmented with vivid colors in sunny meadows and wintry crispness at higher altitudes.
Enhanced lighting effects produce golden rays of sunlight (or moonlight) and sparkling water surfaces. Textures are sharpened throughout to make contrasting surfaces pop. Fabrics swish and metals gleam. At night, the grayscale gloom is replaced by a spectrum of otherworldly blues.
The digital remastering also speeds things up. Load times between locations are a fraction of what they used to be. The special edition also folds in all subsequent add-on content.
As nice as they are, these tweaks alone would not justify a second purchase. The real fun comes with the new support for user-created mods. PC players have been frolicking in this playground for years, but now console players can get in on the act.
For the uninitiated, mods allow players to access the designers’ toolbox, create new content and fixes for the game, then make everything available for others to install. By allowing user mods, developer Bethesda Game Studios has essentially mobilized tens of thousands of new designers to expand the world of “Skyrim.”
The range and creativity of these mods is quite astounding. Install a dozen of the most popular, and you’ll have seemingly endless new options for virtually every aspect of the game: spells, weapons, armor, magical items, skills, perks, even beards. Hey, sometimes you want a new beard.
Apart from character and equipment tweaks, you can get mods that radically alter location details. The home base town of Whiterun transforms from a spartan village into a busy town bursting with activity and vegetation. Lighting and weather mods introduce whole new looks to various regions. Other mods tweak opponent AI, making battles tougher, or overhauling the user interface itself, optimizing the overall experience.
One important thing to note: Due to technical issues too exasperating to explain, there are significant differences in the Special Edition between Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4. Short version: The quality and quantity of mods on Xbox is significantly better than what you can get on PS4. If you’re a returning player, you’ll want to do some online research before making any purchasing decisions.
Bottom line: “Skyrim: Special Edition” is a fundamentally different kind of re-release. It’s a literal game-changer.