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Skyrim on Xbox One X gets the job done - but we expected more

Resolution apart, upgrades are thin on the ground.

We've already looked at the Fallout 4 patch for Xbox One X, and the impression there is that although massively improved over the turn-out on base console, perhaps the visual sliders were pushed up a little too high, resulting in some issues with performance. Now the verdict is in on Bethesda's companion Skyrim release - and the end result is essentially the opposite: the consistent frame-rate is admirable, and the developer is willing to be flexible on resolution to get there.

If there's a surprise with this patch, it's that Skyrim Special Edition patch for Xbox One X looks essentially identical to the existing PlayStation 4 Pro game, which already delivers a native 4K presentation. The same TAA solution is in place too, smoothing off edges, and reducing flicker on sub-pixel elements like foliage. The overall impression is detail-rich and very attractive overall, but it is essentially a 4K version of the existing console game, further bolstered - just a touch - by the inclusion of tweaks to draw distance, which can see vegetation elements pushed further out into the background.

But if you're looking for further visual enhancements, Skyrim on Xbox One X offers very little. Side-by-side with PS4 Pro, it's virtually impossible to tell the difference and while some elements like shadow quality could possibly be improved with higher level presets imported from the PC game, that's not on the table here. All we could spot in terms of further visual tweaks comes down to a shift in ambient occlusion, which seems to get a subtle upgrade in terms of additional shadowing in the nooks and crannies.

However, there has been movement elsewhere within the code - and it's in turn both welcome and a touch surprising. Dynamic resolution scaling across the horizontal axis, as seen in Fallout 4, also makes its way across to the Xbox One X Skyrim port. It's surprising because no such technique is in place on the PlayStation 4 Pro version, meaning that on paper at least, the Sony console will have a resolution advantage over Xbox One X in (very) select scenes. That's something of a surprise bearing in mind Microsoft's huge memory bandwidth advantage and a lead in the order of 43 per cent in relative GPU compute power over its rival.

Cover image for YouTube video[4K] Skyrim Special Edition: Xbox One X vs PS4 Pro - How Big Is The Upgrade?
Here's a full 4K breakdown of Skyrim on Xbox One X, stacked up against the PS4 Pro version.

In one particularly effects-heavy scene, we noted a resolution drop to a minimum of 2944x2160, though the impact is fleeting and we're very soon back to the full-fat 3840x2160 - native ultra HD. The same scene is confirmed as playing out at full resolution throughout on the Pro, but overall, we'd say that the Xbox One X game is the more preferable experience. The dynamic resolution scaler works exactly as it should in maintaining consistent performance - and that's something that the Pro version can't deliver. In fact, back in the day, we noted that the Pro version actually ran less smoothly than the base PS4 edition, something that unfortunately hasn't changed in the last 12 months.

Revisiting Skyrim there, a locked 30fps is still off the table for Pro users, with the 4K volumetrics and intensive alpha-heavy effects clearly causing performance problems for the Sony console. And it's here that Xbox One X delivers a palpably improved experience with only the most minor of stutters, mostly unnoticeable during gameplay. Side by side with Pro, there's a significant improvement in the problem areas and on the occasions when the dynamic scaler does kick in, the resultant softness is hard to spot in a presentation that's already going through the temporal anti-aliasing filter. Given a choice between a straitjacket resolution and noticeable judder, compared to a more elastic pixel count and more consistent action, we'd take the latter. It's just a little surprising that we're seeing the need for dynamic resolution at all bearing in the mind the specs differential between PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X.

All told though, Skyrim on Xbox One X delivers the goods - by and large you do get the 4x resolution upgrade the hardware is capable of, and unlike the Pro version, there are no disadvantages versus the same game running on base hardware. There's definitely the sense that more could have been done here - perhaps more of PC's quality sliders could have been pushed further - but as things stand, Xbox One X does deliver the best console version of Skyrim available.