The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Buying Guide

(16 comments)

A combination of technical setbacks and my own incompetence ruined another recording session, so I don't have a video for you this week. Instead, here's something I've been sitting on that I'd planned to post here next year, so consider it another rough draft of sorts. I'll update it with new info on Skyrim for the Switch and Skyrim VR for the HTC Vive as it becomes available to me.

While you're at it, why not check out some of the other things I've done on Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls with Ben Knaak?

http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/spirit-tracks-the-elder-scrolls-chapter-i/

http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/spirit-tracks-the-elder-scrolls-chapter-ii/

http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/elder-kings-crusader-kings-ii-mod-with-ben-knaak/

 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of my absolute favourite games, and I cannot put into words how formative and important it's been to me over the years. So I'm not going to try. Instead, I'm going to encourage you to explore this world for yourself if you haven't already, and thankfully, TESV is such a modular and flexible game and is available on so many systems you can now experience it pretty much regardless of what your current setup looks like. But because all the many different releases spread out across so many different platforms can be confusing to a new player, I've broken down a list of every single release of The Elder Scrolls V to date, with my personal advice on which one is best for which platform. If you were interested in checking out one of the most acclaimed games of all time in spite of me never shutting up about it, but didn't know where to start, hopefully this list has a solution that's right for you.

If you have an XBOX 360, PlayStation 3 or low-end PC...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Legendary Edition

This is the final, complete edition of the original 2011 classic, containing all the patches, updates and all three expansion packs: Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn. It's all collected on one disc, although on Steam the “Legendary Edition” is just a bundle with the main game and all its downloadable content. This version is also how Skyrim is represented as part of The Elder Scrolls Anthology, a collector's box including PC DVDs of all five current Elder Scrolls games, although you'll still need a Steam account to access the games anyway.
 
If you at all have the option, I do recommend the PC version as the best of the three, if only for mod support and the ability to push the resolution and texture detail above and beyond what the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3 were capable of. After that I recommend the XBOX 360 version: The PlayStation 3 had a notoriously unfriendly development environment, and sadly many PS3 versions of third-party games like Skyrim were oftentimes the worst ones. Skyrim itself ran infamously terribly on the PS3, to the point Bethesda weren't even sure for a scary while it would *ever* get the DLC expansion packs, particularly Dawnguard. Thankfully those issues were eventually resolved and the PS3 got both the DLC and the Legendary Edition, though as I'm unfamiliar with the PS3 I'm not sure how it's version of the Legendary Edition stacks up to the XBOX 360 one. But of course if you only have a PS3, it should still be wonderful. The 360 version also supports Kinect for certain voice commands, which is especially neat for Dragon Shouting.

If you have a PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, XBOX One, XBOX One X or mid- to high-end PC...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Special Edition

Content-wise this is the same as the Legendary Edition, but boasts several significant enhancements over even the final version of the original game: Namely, higher-detailed models and textures, diffuse, occlusive lighting effects (like godrays) and a far brighter, more vibrant and more vivid colour palette. This combines to give the game an entirely different look-and-feel, turning Skyrim into a far warmer and more inviting place. It also lends the game a more surreal, fantastic atmosphere which suits it well, whereas the original game went for colder lighting and stark realism. PC users also get the benefit of a jump from a 32-bit to a 64-bit executable file, which resolves a reoccurring problem the original game had with memory allocation on modern Windows operating systems.
 
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Special Edition also marks the first time console users have access to user-created mods like PC players have always enjoyed through the Bethesda.net service, though, once again, PlayStation fans are at a disadvantage here. Sony put an upper cap on the file size they would allow mods to be, and forbade the use of external assets. This means that, say, if someone made a new set of armour, but built it themselves as a separate set of 3D models and converted the file into something the game could understand with the Creation Kit, Sony wouldn't allow that mod to be distributed through their version of Bethesda.net. As a result, the mod scene on the PlayStation 4 is kind of dead, with many modders refusing to support it, even those who support console modding in the first place.
 
The console version of Skyrim Special Edition supports the additional power and jump to 4K resolutions and HDR lighting offered by the PlayStation 4 Pro and XBOX One X, though it looks its very best on the XBOX One X, which is currently the most powerful video game console ever made by a considerable margin. It's one of a select group of “XBOX One X Enhanced” games, which offer unique features and functionality when played on Microsoft's latest machine. PC users can, of course, run the game at whatever resolution and with as much detail and as many graphical effects as they'd like.

If you have PlayStation VR or the HTC Vive virtual reality system...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR

The big advantage for Sony fans is, if they're lucky enough to have the PlayStation VR system for the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro, they can enjoy The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR. I don't know about you, but the idea of Skyrim in virtual reality sounds like a dream come true to me...Provided, of course, you can afford it and have the space to install everything. Although so far only announced for the PlayStation VR system, developers have said a version will be coming to the HTC Vive in 2018, though no word on Oculus Rift support (and given Bethesda's relationship with Oculus, I wouldn't hold your breath). PlayStation VR owners can use the PlayStation Move controllers, which I can't see why you wouldn't if you had that option.
 
I'm unsure of the technical details of Skyrim VR and obviously do not have any kind of experience with these consoles or this technology, but I would presume it's a conversion of the Special Edition, and thus most likely has all the patches, updates, expansion packs and mod support too. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be.

If you have a Nintendo Switch...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

Skyrim on the Switch is, in a word, a marvel. Sitting somewhere between the WiiU and original XBOX One in terms of power, there were concerns following its announcement that Nintendo's version of TESV would be a quick-and-dirty port of the original 2011 game. Now that the game is out, it's clear that couldn't be any further from the truth: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch is in fact based on the Special Edition, using the game's already modular engine to adapt to Nintendo and NVIDIA's tablet seamlessly. There are a few concessions made here and there: The resolution takes a hit, obviously, and LOD as well as texture detail at distances aren't what you'll get on the other versions of the Special Edition, and some areas apparently use 2011 textures. Furthermore, this version lacks Bethesda.net mod support, though it *is* playable offline, which the Steam version is not, and you don't have to install it like you do the PC, XBOX One/X and PlayStation 4/Pro versions.
 
But with the exception of mods, these compromises are barely noticeable, especially if you're playing in handheld mode, which is the primary appeal of both the Switch and its version of Skyrim. Indeed, the aesthetic overhaul the Special Edition gives Skyrim is almost a better fit on the Switch than it is anywhere else...as it kinda makes it look a lot like a world from a classic Nintendo game. TESV on the go also supports the Switch's JoyCons and their advanced motion control, which for me is frankly as much of a selling point as anything else. Apart from the PlayStation VR version of Skyrim VR, this is the only current version of Skyrim where you can actually feel like you're in the game by swinging your arms to swing your sword, cast spells and pick locks. Switch owners also get amiibo support: Scanning in any figurine will spawn a chest of random goods, armour and weapons, while scanning a Legend of Zelda amiibo in particular nets you a chance at getting a weapon and armour set based on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's spiritual successor (though you can also find them in a chest at the summit of the Throat of the World). And of course it has all the updates, patches and expansions.

If you are concerned about physical media and video game preservation...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

The sad reality is, we don't own our games if we buy them digitally (unless you use GOG, but GOG's weird), and if the servers for digital distribution stores go down, there's a real chance a frightening amount of games will be lost forever. This is already happening with things like the Wii Shop Channel. Even Steam, which sure isn't going anywhere anytime soon, requires you to be connected to the Internet. And I don't know about you, but for me that's not always an option.
 
If you want a physical copy of The Elder Scrolls V for posterity, I have to recommend the Switch version over all the others. Yes, it's a bit stripped-down when compared to some of the other versions of the Special Edition and lacks some of the bells and whistles of the big 4K and VR versions...But Skyrim wasn't designed for that environment in the first place. It was made for 2011. And the Switch version is still way more advanced then even the Legendary Edition on the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3. Furthermore, it won't ever have the future proof problem physical copies of the Legendary Edition will: Thanks to a combination of disc rot and dodgy components used in disc drives for all sorts of devices, optical discs are in frightening danger of becoming dead media faster than anyone is comfortable with. The Switch, by contrast, uses special flash memory cards that are far more reliable. And, if you're a Microsoft gamer, that's not even getting into the challenge of finding an XBOX 360 that works in general, unless you want to invest in an XBOX One X...In which case you're probably looking at the full Special Edition anyway and probably have more money than me. And even so, you'll still run into the problem of disc rot, failing drives and server shutdowns someday.
 
PC users also have the problem that Steam requires an Internet connection to check its first party DRM every time a game starts up, or else it won't run. Even if you get The Elder Scrolls Anthology, that still requires you to have Steam, and, as its Skyrim is the Legendary Edition, it won't have any of the Special Edition enhancements the Switch version has. It is worth noting, however, that the physical release of the Legendary Edition, both on consoles and as part of The Elder Scrolls Anthology, comes with a very nice map of Skyrim (Anthology actually has ones for all of Tamriel and all its provinces featured in games to date), and Switch users are left out in the cold there (though if you can track down the original, non-Legendary release of the 2011 game, its map is a very high-quality fabric while the later releases use a cheaper paper. I don't have the first-print Collector's Edition, but it apparently has even more goodies).

Bottom Line: If you have multiple options and/or just want one overall “Best” recommendation...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Special Edition (PC) and/or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

Obviously if you only have a console form an older generation or lower-tier PC, the Legendary Edition remains your best option. And that's perfectly fine! That's the game I fell in love with in the first place. But if you want me to pick an overall winner, for me, the PC version of the Special Edition is, right now, the version of the game that's most featured and gives players the most options, without getting ridiculous like the high end 4K or VR options. The PC has access to every single one of the Special Edition's enhancements, and whatever else you can think to throw at it. Your only limits are your imagination (and budget).
 
Furthermore, the original TESV is the most modded game of all time, and the Special Edition is quickly catching up to it. The importance of mods cannot be overstated, as they can keep you playing regularly for literally years (just look at me) and allow players to customize every single aspect of the game to their personal tastes. On the PC, you have access to not only Bethesda.net (and the best version of it at that), but thousands of creations across countless fan-curated websites. Nothing else comes close to that level of freedom. I'll get back to you once The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR comes to PC and HTC Vive, but even now that investment is striking me as a bit silly. Though if I had the hardware, money and space for it? You bet I'd get it.
 
Because the fact remains a gaming PC is out of reach for most people, a VR setup doubly so, and that feeling of freedom is hampered somewhat by Steam exclusivity, DRM and a lack of legal ownership. That Switch game card will last as long as you want it to, is way more affordable and accessible, offers you an almost identical experience literally out of the box whose differences and cutbacks are unnoticeable unless you're really looking for them, and you can take it wherever you go. Personally, I just can't argue against motion control, accessibility, portability and peace of mind.

Comments

Froborr 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Hmm. I've never played an Elder Scrolls game, but with how much I've enjoyed Breath of the Wild so far and all the comparisons to Skyrim, plus this glowing review... I think it's formally on my to-play list now.

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First time Skyriming 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Why is GOG weird? I'd rather "own" the game file than have it on steam, but I'm worried over mod compatibility (also steam just added mu country currency and that ruined my budget a little bit so I would rather use US dollars instead).
Would you still recommend I buy the Steam edition over the GOG one? Is there issues with GOG?

Also I'm interested in the other Elder Scrolls games, should I get the "special editions" of those as well? Or are you doing a post for those games later on?

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Josh Marsfelder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

GOG is only weird in that it doesn't use DRM. I was making a (bad) joke about how ubiquitous that's become in the industry. If you can get a PC game on GOG I recommend it wholeheartedly. Alas, TESV is not on GOG and isn't likely to be anytime in the near future.

There's no comparable "Special Edition" for the other TES games, in the way Skyrim's is an expanded re-release with new features and technical enhancements. Morrowind and Oblivion both have "Game of the Year" editions, however, which include all their updates and expansion packs. Kinda like Skyrim's Legendary Edition.

TESIII GotY is on GOG, though TESIV isn't. Aside from Steam, TESIV is also on the 360 and PS3, and is one of the select XBOX One X-enhanced titles. TESIII is also on the original XBOX, and there are console releases of both of those games' Game of the Year editions.

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Josh Marsfelder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh, and as for TES I: Arena and TES II: Daggerfall (only recommended for those seriously interested in retro video game history), they're free, but you'll need the DOSBox emulator to run them. Thankfully, GOG gives both the complete games and the emulator to you for free if you buy Morrowind or the TES spinoffs Redguard and Battlespire. GOG gives you a *ton* of free digital goods with each game purchase, another reason they deserve every accolade I can throw in their general direction.

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Josh Marsfelder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh hey! They must have put it up there since the last time I checked! That's great news! Skyrim may show up on GOG someday, but if it does it surely won't be for a long time considering it's still a "current" game for Bethesda of sorts, Usually GOG only gets stuff that's a generation or two behind.

Thanks for the kind words! I don't really have a personal "public" social media presence, but I do have a YouTube channel, and there is a Tumblr associated with that linked on the page:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXGXscTLrcpFWk5KRT2L00Q

I typically crosspost here too, but I still consider my channel a fundamentally separate entity, and stuff *usually* goes up for subscribers there before it does here, though I haven't been great about that of late. If get any additional gigs, that's probably where I'll announce it first :-)

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David Coulter 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Just started playing recently! Haven't started fiddling with mods yet--any Must Haves to recommend?

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Josh Marsfelder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope you have fun!

Are you playing on the Special Edition or the original? And are you on PC or console? Because my recommendations would be *slightly* different depending-Mods have to be formatted differently for the Special Edition so not everything from the original game made it over (though there's almost always an equally good alternative for the ones that didn't), and some modders, for some reason, don't want their mods to be available on console.

The standard ones I'd recommend to everyone are from AFK Mods, who ports stuff to everything. Ars Metallica totally breaks the smithing system in a great way, but it's up to you if you want to experience the "Vanilla" one first. Gildergreen Regrown, Storefront and The Paarthurnax Dilemma fix stuff that should have been fixed in the base game. On that note, The Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch (or The Unofficial Skyrim Legendary Edition Patch if you're using that version) is the one real must-have, because TESV, like all TES games, is *incredibly* buggy. As in, "some of these glitches will actually break your game and render some quests unfinishable" buggy.

After that, it depends on which aspects of the game you want to tweak. Not a fan of the character models? There are plenty of ways to change those. Want higher-quality textures and lighting effects? Pick the flavour you prefer. Want to change certain quests or certain parts of the story to fit your role-playing tastes better? What are you in the mood for?

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David Coulter 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Special Edition on PC via Steam. I've got a fair bit of experience modding Fallout, though I didn't bother as much with 4.

To start with I'm most interested in fixing the broken stuff, yeah. I'd prefer to go through the vanilla crafting system first, though I wouldn't mind more options added to it. I'd definitely be interested in texture and lighting stuff. I don't know if I've gotten to know the game well enough to say otherwise so far.

I'm level 12, playing a Redguard axe witch. Just killed my second dragon and built a little cottage at Lakeview. I'm enjoying it so far, but my biggest concern is that a lot of the dungeons are kind of samey. Anything that adds more variety to them?

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Josh Marsfelder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

There is admittedly a lot of Nordic ruins in Skyrim, but it is the home of the Nords after all. Once you get to Solstheim, though that should change up a bit :-) There's also some interesting stuff done with Dawnguard, which is most people's least favourite expansion, but I like it.

As to mods though, you might be interested in Moonpath to Elsweyr, which is a remarkable fanmade attempt to create a snapshot of the world of the Khajiit. Unlike Skyrim, Elsweyr is equatorial, with tropical rainforests and arid deserts. It's one of the first mods ever made for TESV so it might look a bit primitive by today's standards, but it remains IMO one of the best fanmade experiences you can have in the game's engine.

USSEP will fix most of the actual glitches the game comes with, but there is an issue with the brawl mechanic invisible in Vanilla gameplay, but that some mods accidentally activate. For that, you'll need the Modern Brawl Bug Fix. Some other minor QOL tweaks I recommend include Spouse's Freedom, Follower Trap Safety, Crimson Nirnroot Quest Markers and Dawnguard Quest Markers (trust me. You'll thank me once you get to Blackreach and the Soul Cairn). Also make sure you use a mod manager (the one from Nexus Mods is the best one right now, even if you also use Bethesda.net) and the Load Order Optimization Tool to avoid any load order conflicts.

I have plenty of other recommendations too, but as some of them modify quests and normal NPC behaviour I wasn't sure if that's the sort of thing you'd be interested in.

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Josh Marsfelder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

If you liked this piece, first of all thank you, but secondly, if you're interested in Bethesda and Nintendo, you might enjoy these great documentaries from DidYouKnowGaming on YouTube, one on Todd Howard ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2U42vFTdU4 ) and one on Satoru Iwata ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUHi-vlACJI )

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