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Face-Off: Skyrim Special Edition

PS4 and Xbox One take on the maxed out PC experience.

By David Bierton. 5/11/2016

Skyrim arrives on current-gen consoles and gets a PC upgrade in the form of the Special Edition, a remaster of sorts featuring several visual upgrades over the original game. New lighting and effects work is woven into the existing rendering pipeline, while some of the core assets are reworked. Draw distances and streaming are also improved too, adding another layer of refinement to the presentation. It all adds up to a tangible boost in visual quality over the original game, especially when looking at the last-gen console versions. But with that said, what's the best way to play the game? And which console provide us with the better overall experience?

Kicking things off with PS4 and Xbox One, and it's immediately clear that both versions deliver an identical presentation with asset quality and effects work nicely matching up. A native 1080p resolution is also in place, bringing a welcome increase in clarity over the 720p presentation on last-gen machines. Resolution also appears to be locked to 1080p too, although, just as in Fallout 4 it's possible that a dynamic framebuffer could still be in play, though we didn't find any drops below 1080p during our gameplay session.

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As such, image quality is solid, with the game's temporal anti-aliasing solution practically eliminating shimmer and other edge-related artefacts across the entirety of the scenes. However, the downside is that this post-process AA implementation creates a soft look that lacks the per-pixel sharpness we expect from a native image. Stacked up against the original PC Skyrim with its MSAA implementation, there's no doubt that the presentation is considerably less focused.

It's the same story for the PC version on that front - MSAA is gone - and we can confirm that the highest temporal AA option here is a match for the implementation running on consoles. At 1080p, the image appears quite soft, but this becomes less of an issue when running at higher resolutions, where the extra pixel density brings with it greater sharpness and clarity over the PS4 and Xbox One versions.

The ability to power past 1080p is one of the biggest benefits of the PC release, as the core artwork and majority of effects are essentially identical to what we see on consoles. For example, all three versions run with a high level of anisotropic filtering, leading to crisp textures across ground surfaces and objects viewed from oblique angles, while normal map and texture quality in general is reasonably high, with a fair amount of detail on show.

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In terms of PS4 and Xbox One, both versions feature the same level of graphical quality throughout, with only performance providing a minor point of difference. However, the PC version does feature a few standard refinements we've come to expect from games running on the platform. For example, shadow quality gains a small boost with these elements appearing sharper, but without deviating from the smooth organic look present on consoles. It's a nice touch that is more appreciable when running at 1440p or above, but still delivers a tangible difference at 1080p.