"Perhaps more so than any other RPG by Bethesda Game Studios, Skyrim does a superb job of making sure that you have a genuine presence in the game's world."
I'm not exactly sure of when I realized that three hours had flown by since I loaded up my save file, but I do know it was somewhere between my helping of a man with a necromancer problem and my fleeing from the lair of an angry mountain troll that I had happened to come across during my travels. Not even my potion of invisibility, which I had created in a happy accident while randomly mixing ingredients in order to increase my alchemy level, could help me avoid this fearsome foe. Just as quickly as the encounter had started, it was over, with the troll proving victorious. As my High Elf character Ysmin took her last breath and I was confronted with a loading screen, I finally remembered that I wasn't actually in the land of Skyrim—this was just a game.
To say that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is an engrossing experience would be a great understatement. This is a game that sucks you in, a game that encourages you to lose yourself in its intriguing, Nordic-inspired world. Perhaps more so than any other RPG by Bethesda Game Studios, Skyrim does a superb job of making sure that you have a genuine presence in the game's world. This is your story, your adventure, and your virtual life. Dialogue options, while not as snarky as those in Fallout 3, give your character a true personality that you can shape, and in a twist of irony, the game ensures that your character has an actual voice by his or her lack of voice acting. Revisiting Skyrim for the first time in five years highlights all the problems that I had with the studio's recently released Fallout 4, and those of you who, like me, felt robbed of a sense of control over your character in that game will be extremely satisfied with the level of player-character intimacy that Skyrim offers.
This intimacy is further enhanced by the wonderful character progression system. The more you do certain actions (eg. taking damage in light or heavy armor, casting magic, creating potions, or even buying and selling with traders) the more these actions are trained. Train enough and you'll progress to the next rank for an action, which will then give you the experience points required to gain a new perk, as well as allow you to choose to pump points into health, magicka, or stamina.
The character progression system is set up in such a way that you can tailor perks to suit your specific playstyle, which means that a character well-trained in sneaking and destruction magic is going to play much differently than a character well-trained in heavy armor and archery.
Because it's possible to have a different Skyrim experience with different characters, there's a lot of replay value here. When you toss in the three included expansion packs, it becomes obvious that there's an overwhelming amount of content, and that you can sink as many hours in this game as you would into an MMO. But don't breathe a sigh of relief when you finally complete the main quest and expansion packs, as there's now mods for Skyrim on consoles. Provided you create a Bethesda.net account, you can sign in and start downloading mods, which range from improving the AI, to new schools of magic, to new quest lines and dungeons. Mods greatly improve the already huge replay value of Skyrim, even with the unfortunate (though understandable) downside of trophies and achievements being disabled with their use. The mods for the PS4 are limited to those that use in-game assets because of Sony's restrictions, but Xbox One players won't have this problem and will have much more variety.
Unfortunately, while there's a ton of content, there's not truly anything new to the game aside from quest mods, meaning that it's hard for me to recommend the game to those that already own it. Skyrim is prettier than ever with this new overhaul, but there are mods out there that make the game look even better than Bethesda does with this remaster. And because this is a Bethesda game, you're going to experience glitches such as your character clipping through geometry and the game suddenly crashing on you. This just shouldn't be such an issue in 2016, and it's a shame that it is, because it takes you out of such an immersive experience.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition has a lot going for it. It's a game that's full of interesting story content, secrets to discover, a gorgeous soundtrack, mods to enhance the already wonderful experience, and offers up plenty of fun to be had...provided you're either a Skyrim newcomer or are looking to revisit a game you no longer own. The pretty scenery and addition of mods just aren't enough new additions to justify the price tag for those who already own the game on last-gen consoles, but there's a high chance that those looking to see what all the fuss is about will quickly become obsessed with it, and those who already beat the game but are looking to revisit it will find that it's an experience that's just as captivating as they remember it being.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.