Is Skyrim’s Special Edition for PS4 and Xbox One worth it?
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition hit stores last Friday, but it is a game that you all know well enough and that is not worth re-analyzing in the traditional sense, since at the playable and content level there is no remarkable novelty in this version. Our goal with this article is to offer performance metrics on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to see if this new edition presents (or not) the same problems that Fallout 4 suffered, not to say those that the original game had on PlayStation 3. Second Instead, we wanted to check the quality of the remastering itself, to find out to what extent this Special Edition provides technical improvements over the original computer game with maximum detail.
The good news is that in virtually every respect Bethesda has managed to bring the high-end PC experience to the current generation of console, adding several improvements. There are, however, some limitations. The quality of the remastering artwork, for example, is exactly the same as the Ultra Detail PC version of the original, with virtually no improvement. Modders, in fact, are not too happy with Bethesda’s work on art, suggesting that the resources have simply been applied a scaling filter. But leaving textures aside, the improvements and changes to the Creation Engine are palpable and affect the level of detail and post-processing effects.
Right from the start, when the hero is on his way to his execution, it is clear that Bethesda has been generous in the use of volumetric lighting and god rays, with the rays of light filtering through the trees of the forest. It’s a nice effect that seems to have been imported from Fallout 4. Also evident is the introduction of a depth of field effect, which gives the visuals a slightly more realistic look. It is interesting to note that these additions to the renderer make the image look a bit smoother than the original presentation, which often offered more detail in the artwork. However, it cannot be considered a downgrade, but a slightly different vision of Skyrim’s own aesthetic.
It seems, indeed, that Bethesda wants to move away from the more CG look that the original game had, if you consider other changes applied to the presentation. The shadows are substantially different, looking much more diffuse and closer to what they do in real life. This extends to shaders as well, with snow and ice that glows more realistically, and water that more accurately reflects the world around it (not to mention a more realistic flow in streams, which also react to changes in speed and objects that obstruct them). This additional depth in the world is emphasized by the addition of an ambient occlusion system that was not present in the original game, enhancing the shading around the details of the objects.
The original Skyrim was published in 2011; PC technology has come a long way since then and the closed architecture of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is also vastly superior to that of the consoles the game was initially released on. With this in mind, and that the Special Edition has a lock of 30FPS on consoles, Bethesda has substantially improved the visual quality by expanding the level of detail and procedural generation systems of the Creation Engine.
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In the original game, even setting the draw distance sliders to the maximum, in the distance there was not much detail, offering a somewhat sterile aspect. Now, however, we appreciate rocks and objects much more far, and the general level of detail has increased significantly thanks to the amount of procedural foliage that the game engine adds. It cannot be said that it is a game changer, but it is clear that the developers have taken the engine much further. They have basically redefined the Ultra detail option, and it will be interesting to see if the PC version is even better.
But apart from the improvements we also find the odd downgrade. The Xbox One and PC version of the Special Edition features overly compressed audio that sounds worse than the original, a situation we experienced not long ago with the BioShock remasters. The good news in this regard is that the PlayStation 4 version has improved sound compared to the original, and that Bethesda is aware of the problems on the other two platforms, suggesting that they are preparing a patch soon.
The remastering of Skyrim for PS4 is based on the one for PC with the maximum detail. The game is the same, but now it has more plants, volumetric lighting, and post-processing effects like depth of field.Foliage detail has been expanded, and rocks are rendered farther apart in the remastering.There are also new shaders for the water, with a smooth ripple pattern that reflects the town of Riverwood more clearly.With volumetric lighting, light shafts are introduced. In this scene we can see an example, and it is appreciated again in the first encounter with a dragon, obscuring the sun.The detail of the textures is more or less the same as that of PC with the detail to the maximum. The remastering, however, shows (on PS4 at least) softer, more diffuse shadows.In the remastering there is also ambient occlusion, which produces a much more natural shading.Textures for rocks, ground, and armor use the same resolution maps as the PC at maximum. The difference we see in the color is caused by the change in the post-process filters of the remastering.One more capture where it is appreciated that in the remastering there are more plants.
The original Skyrim had a lot of bugs, problems and glitches, many of which were fixed with mods, but one of the fundamental improvements that the Special Edition introduces is the passage of the code to a 64-bit environment. This is essential to make Skyrim work on current-gen consoles, but it also translates into improvements for PC users, who can use mods with access to much more memory than in the original game. Mod support has also been built into the console versions, although there are limitations and variations between PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
But how is the performance in these versions? The ‘rimlag’ problems on PlayStation 3 are well known, and although the memory management problems were solved, the performance was not particularly good. Also, the debut of the Creation Engine in the current generation was not brilliant, with erratic performance in Fallout 4. From this perspective, the improvement with Skyrim Special Edition is enormous; the game easily reaches its goal of maintaining 30FPS and a correct frame-pacing makes the experience more consistent.
There are some occasional hitches, but they don’t have a great impact on the experience and seem to affect the Xbox One version more. Recall that the Creation Engine has some problems with the storage of the Microsoft platform, and that the tests with Fallout 4 already showed that using a faster hard drive can fix some of these flaws.
In terms of basic rendering, Skyrim Special Edition runs at native 1080p on both platforms, with what appears to be a temporary anti-aliasing solution identical to the one used in Fallout 4 – although we’re still leaking some Xbox One results following the reveal of that Fallout 4 used a dynamically scaled buffer in Microsoft’s console, adjusting the horizontal resolution on the fly based on the level of load on the GPU.
At the moment the Xbox One version has held steady at 1080p during our tests, which we suspect is some overhead, although not enough to maintain a frame-rate of 60FPS, which requires blocking at 30FPS. Both consoles are surprisingly the same in terms of presentation, and Bethesda has confirmed that the PlayStation 4 Pro version will render at native 4K. Considering that this involves four times the resolution compared to the base PlayStation 4 version, using a GPU that is 2.3 times more powerful (although it includes other improvements), it gives the feeling that the hardware of the standard PlayStation 4 is a little underused.
Skyrim Special Edition is definitely quite solid, and can be considered as an improved PC port for current generation consoles. The difference is night to day compared to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 when it comes to performance and stability, not to mention resolution, artwork quality, and overall level of detail. Later we will also test the PC version, but in that case the improvements will be less remarkable, especially for users who used mods that almost completely transformed the game. And with the PlayStation 4 Pro just around the corner, we’ll also look into how the game looks at 4K as soon as possible.