The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition (Reasons why you should skip this remake)


Introduction

Skyrim is an open world RPG developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is rated 18+ and is currently on PC, Xbox 360, PS3 with the exception of the Special Edition (the "remake") which is out on Xbox One, PS4 and the soon to release Nintendo Switch. This is the 5th instalment into the Elder Scrolls main series but the 10th game in the entire series and follows the story of the Dragonborn. The game box boasts over 200 Game of the Year awards but I would take this with an entire shaker of salt considering companies can put whatever they want on their games cover plus I could only find about eleven GoTY awards. I will be reviewing this game as if it came out on release, that way I will be looking at it from a perspective of it being from 2011, but I will review graphics and audio as a remake.


Genre/Story

The trademark iron armour on the Dragonborn as he walks through Riverwood.

Skyrim is an action role playing game that is single player. It is set in The Elder Scrolls universe and takes place in the province of Skyrim (indicated by the games title) on the continent of Tamriel during 4E 201 (the 4th era, year 201) which is 201 years after the Oblivion crisis (the fourth instalment in the main series).

Main Quest

Alduin the World Eater flying through the sky of Sovngarde

You begin the game in the horse cart of an Imperial Legion (the military force of Skyrim, who are also a faction) transport, you were caught trying to cross Skyrim's border and got confused with being a Stormcloak rebel (a rebel faction in the game, who oppose the Imperial Legion). This brings you to Helgen, where you will be brought into the character customization screen, this includes race, gender, your name, facial and body features.  You are tried for your "crimes" against Skyrim and about to be executed, but there is a change of events as a dragon interrupts the executions. You are faced with escaping Alduin the World Eater, the first born of Akatosh (one of the nine gods in The Elder Scrolls universe) who will bring upon the end of Nirn (the name of the planet this series is set in, also known as Mundus). This is basically the tutorial of the game and covers different combat mechanics and gives you the choice of siding with a Stormcloak rebel or a Legion soldier, this doesn't lock you into only helping one faction.

You escape and as soon as you finish the tutorial you have the choice to change anything you want about your character. I will outline character customisation in the game play section. You find yourself following either the Legion soldier or Stormcloak rebel to the nearest village Riverwood. Then to Whiterun, given a fetch quest almost instantly, come back after it and end up having to kill a dragon. Long story short, you are the Dragonborn and become recognised as this, then tasked with  killing Alduin and your story truly begins there.

The main story really doesn't pick up from there onward, it continues to spiral downwards into a part of the game you just don't feel compelled to do. It's sort of hard to judge Skyrim's overall story since a lot is going on in the game yet there's also very little. It builds up parts of the story to be really interesting and then delivers terribly. There isn't any moment during the main quest that got me enthralled, it was as bleak and as boring as its rocky snow covered landscape, wait... I take that back, that's actually a compliment.

The problem with Bethesda is that they actually have a great foundation for story, being a 10 year fan I know that the elder scrolls universe is filled with lore almost comparable to star wars and lord of the rings. Instead, Bethesda take advantage of that, but not in the way you'd think. They don't see story as fundamental. It seems to be something they use to show off their "action" in the game and draw in fanboys to the lore (like me) and even the casuals who see you're a dragon hunter and instantly think "COOL". The main story consists of no twists, no point of relief not even during the end because you just feel like you sort of wasted your time.

Side Quests/Factions/Guilds

The College of Winterhold (the mages guild)

The main quest may take only a few hours, but there's plenty of side quests to keep you busy (I mean bored) for a long time. You have side quests, guild and  faction quest lines to do. Guild and faction quests have no impact on the world, they are merely padding for the game. Since this game lacks a class system and the Dragonborn eventually becomes a blob of destruction that is no longer allowed to be called a character since that requires actually having character. This leads to you having no problem with joining any of the guilds since you merely have to just ask. The pacing in these quest lines have to be some of the worst I've seen, as you go from doing menial tasks to becoming the god like being of the guild within a handful of quests. None of these quest lines had an interesting ending or any impact whatsoever, even the civil war did nothing but change the skin of the guards in the city. Even the dark brotherhood quest line was disappointing, while the one in Oblivion is easily one of my favourite RPG quest lines to date. Overall, the side quests aren't really worth your time to play, unless you don't mind grinding for no reason since there isn't any end game high level content to beat.

Characters

Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness

Not one character from the main quest grabbed my attention except for Paarthurnax and Odahviing, who had a very valid reasons as to why they caught my attention. The world is full of hollow characters with paper thin personalities, very few will stand out, these few would be Cicero and Sheogorath. Cicero being some weird homosexual jester/psychopath with some strange dialogue, while Sheogorath the daedric prince of madness is as his name implies, absolutely nuts and hilarious. I won't give them props for originality with Sheogorath since he's been like this in most of the games, but they do get props for not changing him, like so many other things they have.

Now here's an example of Bethesda's poor character development, there is the option to marry people. This is Bethesda's answer to "romancing" in Skyrim, I'm not a huge fan of romancing in video games but if it's going to be there, do it right. In Skyrim, it's like a poorly made mod for the game, as if they implemented it just for the sake of having it. One marriage option is achieved by bringing a female merchant a mammoth tusk, now in real life this seems like quite the feat. It would impress a female paleontologist, but you're a dragon slaying demi god... getting a mammoth tusk is like getting a rabbits tail. Instantly after giving this NPC a tusk to complete the fetch quest she gives you (due to you having an amulet around your neck that implies you are looking for marriage), she wants to marry you, despite speaking to you for a grand total of 5 minutes. This sort of paper thin character development with no build up is what makes Skyrim a soulless game with close to no memorable names or faces in it.

Overview

There are some quests that i found genuinely engaging, but a vast majority are either poorly paced, poorly written, poorly designed or full of bugs. Basically, Skyrim makes you completely incapable of caring about any character or event during the course of the game. If you're looking for an immersing story, this is not the game. Unless you have never played any role playing game before,  but even then it could leave a bad taste in your mouth for the role playing or fantasy genre.

Game Play and Controls

Dragonborn fighting a dragon with a steel sword and destruction spell

Leveling System

The Magic section of the skill screen in Skyrim

The character customisation in this game is very lack luster for an RPG title, it has been dumbed down a lot more since the previous game Oblivion. In Oblivion you chose your race (this will affect skill stats and may give you abilities or spells i.e night eye for Khajiit who are cat like creatures, fire resistance for Dunmer aka Dark Elves), gender, name, birthsign (which gives you a special ability i.e "Steed" which fortifies speed by 20 points), attributes and you can choose a preset class or create your own. Classes were made up of your Major and Minor skills, Major skills will give you experience points for leveling it up, while Minor skills will give you none. There were 21 skills in Oblivion, this included skills like athletics, block, destruction (spell type), sneak e.t.c. This locked you into having to use your character class's skills rather than gliding off in another direction, providing you with a definitive play through that followed your role, which makes sense since Oblivion is a role playing game. Attributes were another large focus in Oblivion, as you had 8 attributes (like Speed, Agility, Strength, Willpower e.t.c), these affected things like your jump height, total fatigue (stamina), total health, total magicka, magicka regeneration e.t.c. Now remember, this is OBLIVION I'm talking about here, not SKYRIM.

While Skyrim does away with this system to cater for a more broad and casual audience, sacrificing complexity for simplicity so that it will get sales instead of recognition. They changed birthsigns into standing stones that are located around Skyrim and you can change them whenever you want. Classes are taken away, along with major and minor skills, they are replaced with three sections of skill areas, mage, warrior and rogue. They decrease it to only 18 skills in Skyrim, and they all have a skill tree. The skill trees are filled with perks that can be unlocked by using a perk point which is awarded to you each time you level up. These perks are generally just percentage based and do things like "increase heavy armour protection by 40%" for something like the "Heavy Armour" skill. There are some cool and interesting perks that switch up game play like in the "Block" skill tree, one perk gives you the ability to charge with your shield in front of you. All skills will help you get experience as you level them up, and you can pick and choose the perks rather than unlock them by leveling up that skill like in Oblivion. Attributes have been completely abandoned despite being in all 5 previous games in the main series.... instead they replaced it with a child friendly system in an "18+" game, which consists of 3 attributes which are health, stamina (no longer called fatigue) and magicka (I'm surprised they didn't change it to magic). Each time you level up, you get 1 attribute point which will increase one of 3 attributes by 10 points, they all begin on 100. They kept the race skill system, where some will have more points in certain skills, and less in other, along with having their race abilities.

Compared to Oblivion's fairly simple character creation system, Skyrim's system makes Oblivion's actually look pretty complex, apart from the actual characters appearance. I will cover this in the graphics section. Bethesda's development in Skyrim's leveling system is a fine example of "What not to do when developing a leveling system for you RPG series". This is what taking 5 steps back looks like, they have made no improvements at all. Bethesda instead stripped the series leveling system down into something that resembles a game from an app store on your phone. It just doesn't appear to be a AAA leveling system whatsoever.

Combat

The Dragonborn encountering Boethiah (a daedric prince) cultists

The combat in Skyrim, is basically the combat in Oblivion. This is probably one of the few things it kept from Oblivion, and also one of the few things it shouldn't have kept. Bethesda seem to want to change everything they had right in the previous titles, but refuse to change or improve on things like the combat, which is a huge factor into enjoying the game. There's close to no advancement since the majority of enemies are humanoid (skeletons, ghosts, draugr, bandits, etc) despite being "different", with the exception of local fauna being the bulk of diverse looking enemies with different hit boxes. Regardless of their appearance, all enemies are fought the same way, diversity is only an illusion which extends to their appearances and only their appearances.

There's no variety to be seen anywhere in the combat, lets say you are a magic user? Run backwards while spamming destruction spells rather than use the five other magic skills you have available to you because there is no point wasting your magicka on other spells when you can just burn, freeze or disintegrate your enemy. What if you want to use melee? Run towards your enemy and use power attacks until your stamina depletes, then just spam light attacks until its recharged. There's no reason to use fast attacks unless you lack the stamina to use heavy attacks. Pretty much the same approach as a magic user, except you are running forward this time. The only play style worth trying is the stealth play through, but too bad the A.I are as dumb as rocks. So sneaking through a fort or dungeon is quick and uneventful.

A.I

A fine example of Skyrim's A.I

Skyrim's A.I is no better than Oblivion's, after 5 years of development and they couldn't even improve on this. Say you just killed somebody, the NPC's will ignore the corpse or react to it briefly and continue on with its day as if nothing happened. Then come across the same body and react to it as if they hadn't seen it before. This problem persists inside combat as well, if an enemy sees that their friend was just hit by an arrow. They'll just say "Who's there?" and if you can keep out of sight for about a minute, they'll act as if nobody just killed their companion. 

I should have mentioned this in the quest section, but this is mainly due to terrible A.I. during a side quest to find a murderer in one of the cities. I will insert brackets saying (bad A.I) every time it appears in this quest. As I walk through a darker part of this already dark city, I find myself following  a trail of red blobs (Bethesda's so called blood) on the ground. Once I followed this trail, it led me to a note that told me to speak to a certain person. I speak to her, but she only speaks to you if you have the flier in your inventory (bad A.I), despite the entire city being covered in them... she gives me information on who she thinks did it. I then go and accuse the guy, then he is arrested. Afterwards I decide to go to the dungeon to see what he says to me for getting him arrested. He doesn't once acknowledge the fact he was arrested because of me, let alone the fact that he's in prison. Instead I'm given the dialogue option of paying him a fee to teach me destruction magic and he's able to accept gold from me despite being imprisoned for the act of murder (bad A.I). The next time I return to the city, it appears the murderer has struck again and that I imprisoned the wrong guy. I'm then told to wait in a certain part of the city at night to catch the killer, instead I end up waiting there a few nights in a row with no sign of any murderer. Until the quest suddenly updates and the killer appears for no reason (bad A.I). He doesn't kill or try to kill anyone, but my quest prompts me to chase this guy with a white marker over head because apparently he's the killer. I kill him and the quest ends, this is a fine example of Skyrim's A.I and quests, nonsensical and almost unresponsive.

Difficulty

How every fight ends in Skyrim...
Skyrim incorporates the level scaling system. This is where enemies level up along with you leveling up. This sounds like it would make the game more challenging, but it doesn't do much more than make the act of leveling up feel a lot less satisfying than it should. Another problem is the fact you level up to quickly during the game since the skills are easily exploited. This is even the case for using alchemy, smithing and enchanting, where you can do it unintentionally. Skyrim will be one of the easiest games you will ever play. There's no point in this game where I actually felt challenged at all (I played on master difficulty until they released legendary). The combat was always the same, enemies got easier to kill as i leveled up and the game allowed me to save whenever I wanted, it even auto saved frequently. Which led to consequences not even existing since I had a very recent save (this of course can be turned off). Even the difficulty settings did nothing to thwart my progress as it only made the game harder on a superficial level. This just increases enemy HP, which doesn't make the game harder, just more tedious...  but you do it the exact same way, it's basically just increasing the amount of swings or spells it takes to kill them. 

Overall

Skyrim's game play is nothing special. It kept the same mechanics of Oblivion and made no improvements. Every enemy is beaten the same way, no tactics required, just do damage to the countless amounts of enemies who have close to no diversity bar their textures, with the exception of dragons and some fauna. So if you were looking for a game with a decent combat system, I'd recommend playing a game like Dark Souls. This game was released the same year, but Skyrim won by sheer popularity rather than the sole characteristics of being a good game.

Graphics/Audio

Graphics

A scene of a lake from a hunters camp

Vanilla

The graphics in Skyrim are a huge improvement since Oblivion. The character animations have been improved vastly, as can be seen by the kill animations you can get when getting a killing blow on some enemies. This adds awe to the game play as it looks excellent. The new engine for Skyrim shows off its capabilities with some of the amazing scenery you can see throughout the game, examples of this would be the view of the "Throat of the World" which is the tallest mountain in Skyrim. At one point, I found myself on a a log that was stretched across a waterfall, the water thundering down the rock face while the night sky was lit up by the moon and stars. As I moved on, the weather changed into a heavy rain storm, then I started seeing lightning flashes in front and behind me while the thunder cracked as a sabre cat was attacking me. Moments like this made Skyrim one of the more visually immersing games that I have played. The lighting in this game was excellent looking and the textures were pretty good, but nothing special. A better game for graphics during 2011 was "The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings". Skyrim didn't fall short as it would get runner up for me.
Oblivion orc (shrek) left, Skyrim orc right
Skyrim's engine provides a lot more detail into what your character looks like, you have more hair, eye and skin tone options. You can add scars, dirt, war paint, facial hair and change your characters body build to skinny (yet very toned) to very muscular (basically an enlarged version of the skinnier setting. The character customisation consists of sliders allowing you to change the characters features, which there are a lot of. At least they improved on character appearance since Oblivion, most of the character models looked like shrek, especially the Orsimer (orcs).

Remaster

A comparison of the original to the remaster, this seems to just show of lighting


Skyrims's so called "remastered" graphics...
Upon return to Skyrim, after about 4 years of not playing it. I'm met with these sub par graphic re-textures that even a novice modder could out shine. It seems as though they just added a bloom effect to mask the minimal remastering they did. The fact they have been marketing this as a remaster is beyond me, the only upside to this money grab is the fact they upgraded it from a 32 bit engine to a 64 bit engine. The engine will seriously help the modding community with creating better mods for the game and hopefully re-textures, because Bethesda couldn't deliver on that front. The 64 bit engine doesn't justify the fact that this was easily one of the biggest cash grabs I've seen in gaming. Remastering this game was child's play for Bethesda, considering the re-textures were lazy, they added a bloom effect and optimising Skyrim for the Xbox One and PS4 was a walk in the park for them. The reason I say it was a walk in the park, is because Fallout 4 shares the same engine as Skyrim and they only released it a year before this remaster, so moving the engine clearly wasn't going to be a problem for them. The modding community have a lot to look forward to and Skyrim will have plenty more content for years to come with this new engine upgrade, but any game that needs mods to make up for its lack of good content is a failure on the developers behalf.

Audio


A Khajiit in a tavern beside a bard

Vanilla

The audio quality is quite good. The music follows the same sort of melodies and chord progression as the past two Elder Scrolls games (Morrowind and Oblivion). So its sort of a copy and paste from the prequels soundtracks, but Skyrim has its own voice. It's main theme sound more like a war chant for a hero, which is exactly what it's meant to be. Ever since Morrowind, Bethesda have used its main theme for its Elder Scrolls games, kind of like how Bungie have used Halo's theme song throughout the games. I have no problem with this, since they are iconic and synonymous with the game series. Other than the main theme, the rest of the music followed the same sort of theme, but the majority of the music is forgettable.

The Skyrim Main Theme

https://youtu.be/d-NV7wTUDQA

Since Oblivion, Bethesda have actually improved on the amount of voice actors for the game, but it still seems like a low count as you begin to here a lot of repetition even with main characters. On top of that, the voice actors this time aren't that great. Oblivion may have had less voice actors but they were a lot more enjoyable to listen to. It was an obvious case of quality over quantity, Skyrim may have more actors but the majority sounded like depressed Arnold Schwarzenegger clones.


The guy in charge of remastering Skyrim's audio

Remaster (if you can call it that)

When I started my play through of the remaster, I noticed a slight change to the music and overall sound files for the game. So I decided to research this and found the article I linked below.

https://www.reddit.com/r/skyrimmods/comments/59u0iw/the_skyrim_special_edition_features_a_significant/

My suspicions were right, there was a change to the audio, but it wasn't a remaster. Instead, Bethesda were too lazy to remaster the soundtrack like other development companies would do. They resorted to replacing their .wav files with compressed .xwm files, this wasn't just a simple compression that would maintain high quality audio. It was the sort of compression that greatly downgrades quality. It's clear that they did this with the intended purpose of making the game appear as though it could run faster and out of pure laziness. This isn't the sort of remastering I'd expect from a AAA company, their standard should be higher than this.

Replay Value

A dragon realising that there's nothing left to do in Skyrim

Skyrim has very little replay value, even on its first play-through it feels tedious. I tried it out with a different fighting style and wanted to make different choices in the game. I thought maybe it would be a different play-through but it was to no avail. It was the exact same as the previous play-through, just s different fighting style but with the same incentive. There were no changes to the story arc or outcome, I was only met with changing the guards skin by siding with the Legion for the civil war quest line. All other quest lines ended the same and the few that didn't, effected the game in no way at all. Skyrim is the type of game that only has replay value if you have it on PC, because the modding community are the ones who should be developing the game, clearly Bethesda have become greedy and are only in it to make a quick buck.

Conclusion

The people who spent their lives looking for a good reason to play Skyrim.

Skyrim was fun for the first week at most, but it eventually got more and more repetitive. Which is the case with all games, just some more than others, Skyrim is one of the worst for it. It lacked any in depth story, the characters were bland and the interesting ones were few and far between, only appearing for a short amount of time. The leveling system wasn't very intuitive, the combat didn't make up for it at all, A.I were sub par and difficulty was an illusion. The graphics were great for its time, same with the lighting and animation, but the remake did it no justice because it was more like a slight re-texture with an added bloom effect. The audio on release was excellent with a catchy memorable main theme, but the remaster resorted to compressed files which did the opposite of remastering. The replay value just isn't there, if you want to find it, you'll have to get the game on PC and download mods. You'll also need to invest in some patch mods because this game has a lot of bugs.

All in all this game on release is 5/10 but as a remaster it gets a 4/10, Bethesda need to step up there game big time. They're falling short of smaller companies like CD Projekt Red and Fromsoftware, who actually know what they are doing in the RPG franchise. This is one of those remasters that shouldn't have happened.This was just another way of Bethesda making more money for minimal work, and it will strike again when the Nintendo Switch comes out, because Bethesda are bringing out the cash cow again. If anything, Oblivion would have been a more suitable remaster considering 2016 was it's 10th anniversary. Then again, I wouldn't want Oblivion to have such a low quality and sub par remaster. I've heard people claim Skyrim is Game of the Year for 2011, but I don't agree with that, I wouldn't even call it Game of the Month considering L.A Noire, Batman Arkham City and The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword also came out in November 2011. Which all of them have better ratings in almost all criteria, two I have played. L.A Noire being extremely original and implementing new technology into games development that year, with an enjoyable story line and good characters. Batman Arkham City on the other hand was enjoyable to play due to its fun combat system and boss fights that require you to think. These are things Skyrim failed at, this game doesn't deserve to be called AAA. Bethesda should change their ways or stick to publishing, because any company they allow to work on their games, seem to do a better job than they ever did, Obsidian being one of these companies. I won't be in a hurry to buy their next game.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I played vanilla Skyrim on the Xbox 360 and the Special Edition on the Xbox One, 200+ hours were played and I completed all the DLC (which I didn't mention in this review since it would affect it's true score, and instead based this game on how it played on release). I'm a long time fan of the Elder Scrolls series, ever since I got Oblivion in 2009 and bought Morrowind not long after. I've played plenty of RPG's and a lot of other classic games growing up, but have grown a huge distaste towards the majority of games released in the past few years, as barely any have stood out. The majority of games are a milked series with re skinned engines, boring games with little to no story, carbon copies of each other, as most developers want to take from other games and add it to theirs rather than making something of their own, and focus on story writing. Skyrim is exactly one of those games, and has sort of turned me off the Elder Scrolls series, which is sad, considering I've been a long time fan. Hopefully Bethesda can improve on their next Elder Scrolls game, because Skyrim wasn't a step in the right direction, and neither was Fallout 4. In the meantime, I won't be buying their next game on release.

Kalvin Yore
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