Video Games

New ‘Skyrim’ a technical nightmare, but ‘Elder Scrolls’ formula saves the day

It’s time once again to return to the snow-capped lands of the North, where the trolls are actually 10-feet-tall fuzzy beasts and not people who say mean things on Twitter about your reviews.

Remaking one of the greatest games of the 21st Century is a daunting task, but that’s exactly what Bethesda Game Studios is attempting to do with “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.” The retelling of the 2011 breakout hit, which won virtually every award imaginable, promised updated graphics, all of the original’s downloadable content and support for PC mods on console versions.

But did it deliver? That’s a tricky question.

If we’re talking about the technical aspects of the new game – whether it looks good, plays well and works properly – then the answer is a resounding no. “Skyrim Special Edition” is an absolute mess on that front. You would probably see less bugs at a nation entomology conference (those have to exist, right?) than you’d find in the first few hours of the new “Skyrim.” Maybe the first one was this flawed, and we are all looking at it through rose-colored glasses. But I doubt it.

And yet, I spent 35 hours in the last week playing it – far more than what was necessary to get a good feel for this review. I lost valuable, cherished, beloved weeknight sleep over this stupid game – even though I routinely found problems ranging from minor annoyances to game-breakers.

“Skyrim Special Edition” captured me for two reasons. The first is obvious. I loved the original and have not replayed it in several years, so the remake was just fresh enough to once again entrap me in a wonderful open-ended world. The other reason is that I am a recovered single-player role-playing game addict, and the “Skyrim” opening scene pushed me off the wagon. Although the industry as a whole has moved away from solo fantasy in favor of lucrative massively multiplayer online franchises, the draw of “Skyrim Special Edition” is proof that a market for the former still exists. At least we only have another six months or so till “Mass Effect: Andromeda.”

I am going to toss a few stars at this game, but it’s only due to the wealth of great content from the original “Skyrim.” The remaster is a sorry effort. If you’ve never played “Skyrim” – well, shame on you, first of all. Second, you should probably buy the “Special Edition.” Fans of the franchise would probably be better off playing the modded versions of the first one once more.

I expected the initial reveal of Skyrim’s beautiful landscapes to drop my jaw, but the graphics are nothing to write home about (Note: I reviewed the PC version on the “Ultra” setting). Last year’s “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” looks better. The special edition looks a little better than the 2011 “Skyrim,” but there are some PC mods for the original that look better than the remaster.

There are some audio issues with character speech. Their mouths also sometimes freak out – the lips pull back exposing some remarkably white teeth given the Medieval-like time period. It’s far from the level of “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” grotesque, but it’s noticeable.

Combat can also get a little choppy. My Orc chopped a bandit in half, but the hit didn’t register till a second or two later.

These are all quite fixable, of course. And some of the issues could be the result of my PC, though the game recommended I use the “Ultra” settings and my PC specifications are well above the recommended settings.

The story is 100 percent original “Skyrim.” Some remakes add content, but that’s not the case here. It means nothing will surprise me, but I am not too worried about that. The original “Skyrim” was so monumentally awesome that I don’t mind retracing my steps.

The mod factor is key. Mods are downloadable updates made by players that change something or a lot of things about a particular game. People did some insane stuff with the last “Skyrim.” Some turned it into previous “Elder Scrolls” games like “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.” Others cranked up the graphics to near photo-realistic levels. In the coming weeks or months, the mods will play a major role in dictating the special edition’s value.

Typically, only PC players can use mods. But “Skyrim Special Edition” allows PS4 or Xbox One players to download them as well. That’s an interesting concept. I expect some growing pains, but that could end up being pretty cool. I tested out the mod that turned Skyrim into a spooky ghost town. It looked a bit like an old “Goosebumps” TV show. It involved me constantly walking in spiderwebs, which also meant people had to leave a message and I’d call them back.

In spite of the bugs, returning to “Skyrim” is a pleasant experience. I had forgotten just how amazing the soundtrack is. When you learn that first shout and the crazy-loud choral arrangement hits – that’s a unique experience in gaming. I don’t have it in me to savage a badly executed port of one of my all-time favorite games.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

Video Game Review

1/2

▪ Rated mature for blood, violence, language, drug and alcohol use

▪ Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

▪ Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

▪ Out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC

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