Sunday, October 30, 2016

It's Here! It's Here! Skyrim Special Edition

In 2011, Bethesda Games released the next installation in their popular Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim. My husband and I picked it up right away for our Xbox 360 console. We spent hours and hours playing it, because it's an open-world game where you can wander all over the map, visiting nearly every square foot of land in the titular location. You can buy and furnish houses in each of the major towns and cities. You can craft special armor and weapons for your characters, brew potions, create new spells, even cook food. You can become a thane of each hold, and have a housecarl to look after each of your homes. You can take one of your housecarls with you to help you carry loot and fight enemies, or you can hire someone to keep you company. You can acquire a horse, a dog, a magical construct, a mechanical construct, and even a spirit to keep you company as well. The game offers a massive amount of things to do. If you want to ignore the main quests and just spend your time exploring caves and ruins, or roaming the countryside collecting potion ingredients, you can do that.

But there were some things missing from the Xbox version of the game. The PC version offered the opportunity for users to create their own modifications to the game world and characters, something that wasn't available for the console versions. PC players could change the rules of the game so that, for example, all the hiking around in the snow your character will do actually causes hypothermia. Mods allowed players to make the game more challenging for themselves by removing automatic magicka regeneration (the statistic that allows a characters magic 'fuel' to replenish itself), removing automatic hit point regeneration, or removing the fast-travel option. They could also make the game easier by allowing themselves to gain high-level equipment and abilities more easily or increasing the amount of gold merchants would pay them for the loot they acquired. And they could add humorous mods that would make the game more fun, such as a mod that would allow a character to burp and fart after eating, or one that would rain steam locomotives on the player-character's enemies. Other mods added new locations, new mounts, new spells and equipment, and revisions to the challenge rating and level increase systems,

Not long ago my husband and I finally swapped our decade-old Xbox 360 for an Xbox One. The console isn't backward-compatible, so we couldn't play our old copy of Skyrim on the new console. But we didn't buy a new copy right away, because we new the Skyrim Special Edition was coming. Now that we're trying it out, here are a few thoughts on the remastered game and it's biggest selling feature: the availability of mods.

It took a while for my husband to be able to sign up to download the mods from Bethesda's site - there were some technical difficulties on Day One - but after he did so he discovered that the Xbox One version currently has 100 mods available to players. These include mods that I described above, like 'Immersive Indigestion' that adds belching and flatulence, and 'Call of Trainwiz' which creates a Dragonborn Shout effect that rains trains. But one of the most impressive mods (or appalling, depending on your point of view) is the aptly-named 'Cheat Mod'. This mod gives you a secret underground chamber in which you can find every key, skill increase tome, spell tome, specialty quest item, and crafting station type available in the game, as well as massive quantities of loot items, Dragonborn Shouts, and summonable creatures.

The Special Edition doesn't add much else to the game in terms of content if you choose not to use mods. It comes with all of the downloadable add-ons that were originally released, which add the secondary Solstheim location and the ability to build your own house and adopt children. There have been some lesser changes to existing content or appearance. Reports indicate that many of the game's infamous glitches have been fixed; clipping still occurs, but apparently the likelihood that your character will plummet infinitely after falling off a cliff has been removed, along with some of the other more egregious bugs that are amply documented on YouTube. The texture mapping seems a bit smoother, the contrast between foreground and background crisper, and my husband and I both noticed that the colors are much brighter - so bright, in fact, that we chose to turn down the contrast slightly to avoid eye strain.

If you're not like us and didn't recently purchase a new console that requires you to buy a different version of the game, you may still be perfectly happy with your existing version of Skyrim. But if you've never played the game before, or if you'd really like to see what the mods add to your game experience, I would recommend picking up the Special Edition. Skyrim is an endlessly playable game. While it is missing out on some of the features that make competitor Dragon Age: Inquisition a more immersive experience, the opportunity to just do whatever you want in Skyrim continues to make it an appealing game five years after it was initially released.

If you'd like to know more about the mods, you can read Kotaku's recommendations here, or view the complete list on Bethesda's site.

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