So you‘re interested in playing Skyrim for the first time, but you‘re not sure whether to play the original version or the Special Edition (SE). With over 30 million copies sold, Skyrim is one of the most popular and influential RPGs of all time. The Special Edition aims to improve on the original with better graphics and performance.
In this detailed guide, I‘ll explain all the key differences between standard Skyrim and Skyrim SE. I‘ll cover areas like:
- Graphics enhancements
- Performance optimizations
- Platform availability
- Bugs and glitches
- DLC and mods
- Gameplay impact
My goal is to help new players understand how Skyrim SE compares to the original, so you can decide which version is best for you. Let‘s dive in!
Overview of Skyrim vs. Skyrim Special Edition
Skyrim Special Edition launched in 2016, around 5 years after the original game‘s 2011 release. It was built using an upgraded version of Skyrim‘s Creation game engine, boosting the capabilities significantly.
Here are the most important improvements Skyrim SE brings to the table:
- Visual upgrades – Higher resolution textures, more advanced lighting and water effects, volumetric fog, and other enhancements that make the world more immersive.
- Performance boosts – 64-bit support allows better use of RAM and VRAM. Results in fewer crashes, faster loading times, and smoother gameplay.
- Platform availability – Skyrim SE expanded to PS4 and Xbox One over the old gen consoles. Nintendo Switch also received SE.
- Mod support – Skyrim SE added full mod support for consoles as well as PC. Original Skyrim only supported mods on PC.
- Bugs/glitches – Many infamous bugs were fixed in the Special Edition, resulting in a more stable and less quirky experience.
- DLC included – All major expansions are built into Skyrim SE at no extra cost. Original required purchasing DLC separately.
Now let‘s explore each of these differences in more detail.
Graphics and Visual Enhancements
From a visual standpoint, Skyrim SE provides noticeable improvements over the original thanks to engine upgrades and improved rendering capabilities.
Here‘s a look at some of the graphical enhancements:
|Graphic||Original Skyrim||Skyrim Special Edition|
|Texture Resolution||Lower||Improved high-res textures|
|Lighting Quality||Dated, less realistic||Enhanced lighting and shadows|
|Water||Basic reflections and flow||Realistic ripples, flow, and reflections|
|Atmospheric Effects||Limited fog effects||Dynamic volumetric fog and godrays|
|Depth of Field||Absent||Cinematic depth of field blurring|
|Character Models||Stiff, less detailed||Enhanced with more expressions|
These improvements don‘t radically change the art style, but they do make the world significantly more immersive. Distant mountains shrouded in fog, volumetric light beams, and rippling/flowing bodies of water go a long way towards making environments feel vibrant and lifelike.
Skyrim SE on a high-end PC with maxed graphical settings transforms the visuals to rival even more modern open-world games. It‘s a noticeable upgrade over the original.
Performance and Stability
Beyond graphics, Skyrim SE also runs far better thanks to engine optimizations and 64-bit support. Let‘s dig into why it performs better and crashes less.
64-bit support – The original Skyrim was 32-bit only, limiting how much RAM it could utilize. Skyrim SE uses a 64-bit executable, allowing access to more RAM and VRAM for improved performance. Players with 8GB+ of RAM benefit the most.
Engine enhancements – The upgraded Creation Engine has better memory management, resulting in fewer crashes and smoother gameplay. The engine can handle higher texture sizes, view distances, and NPC counts.
Faster loading – Load times when loading saved games or transitioning between cells are significantly reduced in Skyrim SE. Initial load times are also faster.
Multi-core utilization – On multi-core CPUs, Skyrim SE spreads tasks better across CPU cores for improved frame rates and responsiveness.
Fewer crashes – Thanks to the above improvements, crashes are far less frequent in Skyrim SE over the crash-prone original release. Overall, SE provides a smoother and more stable journey through Skyrim‘s northern lands.
Availability on Newer Platforms
The original Skyrim released way back in 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Skyrim Special Edition expanded support to newer consoles.
Here‘s a quick look at platform availability:
|Platform||Original Skyrim||Skyrim Special Edition|
This allowed many new players to experience Skyrim for the first time in its enhanced Special Edition form. It also gave long-time fans a way to revisit Skyrim on newer console hardware.
Impact of Bugs and Glitches
One of Skyrim‘s many quirks was the sheer amount of hilarious bugs and glitches present at launch. These ranged from minor visual oddities to quest-breaking problems and crashed games.
The PS3 version in particular suffered from massive save game bloat that corrupted saves after 20-30 hours of playtime. This forced players to start over repeatedly.
While still not perfect, Skyrim SE introduces far fewer new bugs compared to Skyrim‘s launch state. Longstanding issues like:
- Random crashes
- Slowdown from memory leaks
- Progress-blocking quest glitches
- Corrupted saves
…were resolved in the Special Edition update. Of course, a few entertaining physics and AI glitches still remain. But SE provides a much smoother journey overall.
Built-in DLC Content
After launch, Skyrim received 3 expansions that added new quests, features, and areas:
These were released as paid DLC costing $20 each. To access them in the original game, you had to purchase each one separately.
In Skyrim Special Edition, all DLC content is already included free of charge. So you can immediately access everything Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn add to the game without any extra purchases.
One of Skyrim‘s biggest features is its incredible mod support on PC. Users can customize virtually any part of the game using small tweak mods or massive content mods.
The original Skyrim supported mods on PC but not on consoles. Skyrim SE expanded official mod support to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as well.
This was a huge change, allowing console gamers to experience the open-ended customization previously only available to PC users. There are thousands of mods that do things like:
- Add new quests and playable areas
- Introduce new game mechanics or spells
- Overhaul graphics, audio, and UI
- Alter gameplay balance and difficulty
- Change character models and animations
- Add custom weapons and armor sets
Mods allow you to tailor Skyrim SE into the perfect personalized RPG adventure.
Now you might be wondering – does Skyrim SE change the actual gameplay mechanics over the original?
The answer is: not really. Since it‘s a remaster rather than a full remake, Skyrim SE leaves the vast majority of the gameplay systems untouched. You still explore the same open world, take on quests, level your skills, loot dungeons, and more.
That said, the technical improvements and expanded mod support do allow for subtle gameplay enhancements in Skyrim Special Edition:
- Less crashing means fewer forced reloads and lost progress.
- Faster loading times reduce waiting around between zones.
- Performance optimizations provide smoother, more immersive gameplay.
- Mods can tweak gameplay aspects like combat, magic, leveling systems, etc (on all platforms).
- Bug fixes resolve issues that sometimes interfered with quests and exploration.
So while the core gameplay loop hasn‘t changed, playing that gameplay is now a more seamless, optimized experience. For many new players, SE will be their first and only version of Skyrim – and it‘s arguably the definitive way to play thanks to the technical polish.
Which Version Should You Get?
For new players interested in playing Skyrim for the first time in 2022 and beyond, the Special Edition is absolutely the version to get.
Even if you plan to play primarily on console, Skyrim SE should be your choice:
- Includes all DLC content out of the box
- Allows for thousands of gameplay-changing mods
- Runs far better on modern hardware
- Resolves most of the original bugs and crashes
- Offers visual/technical improvements without altering the core art style
PC players can potentially save some money buying the original Skyrim Legendary Edition when it goes on sale cheap. But long-term, I‘d still recommend investing in Skyrim SE for the most polished and customizable Skyrim experience.
Thanks for reading this detailed comparison! Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions about the differences between Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition. I‘m happy to provide any other details that can help you decide.