Now that Skyrim: Enhanced Edition has hit shelves, plenty of people are going to be checking to see whether a five-year-old game is worth playing for the first time or generally good enough to justify a second playthrough. Special Edition is free if you own all of the Skyrim DLC and $ 39.99 if you don’t (the new game contains all previous DLC). If you already own the game, you can grab a pretty sweet upgrade for free. If you don’t, the $ 39.99 price tag isn’t terrible, but it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting when you buy a new version of a five-year-old title.
As we expected, the upgrades here only upgrade the lighting model and create some additional ground clutter. Texture models aren’t updated at all, and the extent of the lighting modifications varies on the scene. In some cases, the two versions of the game look nearly identical; in others there’s a substantial difference. In the slideshow below we’ve included screenshots from both PCGamer and PCGamesN.
PCGamesN went a bit further than simply comparing vanilla versus SE — they also compared the vanilla game versus a modded version of Classic. And while the Special Edition is pretty sexy looking compared with original Skyrim, it doesn’t really hold a candle to what the modded version of vanilla Skyrim can do. Check their story for more details on this, and more comparison shots. I can’t say I’m surprised at the situation, though, because Bethesda has never been as willing to push the graphics envelope as some modders were.
We saw this when Bethesda released the High Resolution Texture Pack for original Skyrim. While the new textures were unquestionably better than the old versions, the high resolution texture packs that modders had already created bested the versions from Bethesda in every scenario. The difference between them was in the amount of work your GPU had to do to handle the improvements — the Bethesda updates were much kinder to video cards than the unofficial variants.
Overall, Skyrim Special Edition will be a great update if you’ve never screwed around with mods but just want the game to look prettier. But it’ll take some time for modders to really get their hands on the game and tweak updates to improve fidelity to best effect. While some mods may work out of the box, Bethesda has said that others will require some updating to function properly. Once that’s done, the final product should truly shine — one might argue that this update represents the best of both words, with new support for 64-bit operating systems and an updated engine from Bethesda, combined with the formidable creativity of the mod community.