Skyrim is the game that never dies. Despite coming out 11 years ago now, the game has seen multiple ports and re-releases on everything from the Nintendo Switch to the Amazon Alexa (seriously). It has gotten to a point beyond parody.

Last year, Bethesda released the latest iteration of their immortal game: Skyrim Anniversary Edition. Instead of making improvements, it instead opted to add in lots of curated mods that add more quests, enemies, armour, amongst other things to the game. Every current console received this upgraded version, except the Switch …. but that changed this year when it finally dropped.

As someone who has played through the game many times since the original launch, I was excited to dive into this version to see if it can make a classic game feel fresh again. 

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HEY, YOU. YOU’RE FINALLY AWAKE.
You probably know the story by this point, as it has been recounted and memed so much now that it is practically part of most gamers’ consciousness. If somehow you managed to miss it all and know nothing of the Dragonborn, then allow me to fill you in.

Waking up on a carriage, you find yourself on the way to your execution alongside some Stormcloak rebels and a horse thief. After a brief introduction that sets the scene of the civil war brewing between the fascists and the racists, you soon get to customise your character using a pretty comprehensive editor that somehow gives you the ability to customise every little detail, yet somehow leaves you looking like the same amorphous monstrosity you started off as. Considering your head will soon be ripped from your shoulders by the executioner’s blade, it’s probably best not to worry too much.

The good news is that the execution is not the end of your life, but unfortunately that is because a massive dragon comes to wreck the joint and kill everyone. This dragon’s name is Alduin the World Eater, and he’s here to destroy the world -which is fair enough with a name like that. Managing to escape from Alduin’s wrath using the powers of protagonism, you soon head off to warn neighbouring cities about the approaching dragon – or rather dragons, as it seems like all the dead ones are coming back to life. Speaking of dead dragons, you soon find out that killing one will grant you with their spirit which allows you to perform powerful abilities with the use of your Voice. You are the Dragonborn, and your destiny is to use the power of the dragons against them to stop Alduin from doing his thing.

… or you could just ignore all that and go fishing. Or maybe join an elite group of assassins. Or become a vampire lord. Or get so drunk that you piss off an entire town. Or one of the many, many, many other things to do in the game that isn’t part of this vitally important main questline. Who cares about saving the world when you could idle away hundreds of hours doing relatively minor quests that happen to attract your attention.

The key thing is that these side stories are really well written, allowing you to experience some fascinating extra lore on a both a global and local level with some fantastic dialogue too. It’s so easy for all the ‘other’ stuff to attract your attention, since it’s a welcome break from the admittedly rather generic lone savior of the world plot that makes up the main part of the game. When you have such creative side quests, it can be hard to care at times about two terrible factions bickering over each other while dragons come to kill them all. Personally, I found myself rooting for the dragons most of the time.

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A WINTER WONDERLAND
Bethesda RPGs have a very distinct identity that will be familiar to those who have played any of their other titles: the game starts off with a linear tutorial that guides you through relatively dull interiors before opening up to a wonderous vista that shows off the huge world that awaits your exploration. Your companion will direct you to the nearby town to progress the storyline, but the rebellious among you will be able to head off in the opposite direction and do whatever the hell you want to do.

Key cities are marked on your map in order to give you some somewhere noteworthy to aim for, but the compass on your HUD will highlight other nearby places of interest too as you get nearer: camps, caves, mammoth ranches, towers, and so on. Undiscovered locations appear as an outline, but these shapes will fill out (and appear on your map) once you get close enough for the game to consider them ‘discovered’.

Once you enter a town or city, you will quickly run into situations that clearly hint or start questlines for you to follow, but the nature of the game means that you can also encounter one of many ‘radiant’ quests literally anywhere. Playing through the game again saw me stumble across a Jester in a broken down wagon trying to transport his dead mother – an event I had never encountered even after the thousand or so hours I’ve spent with the game over multiple platforms. Wandering around will pretty much guarantee you’ll stumble into something, but failing that you can just chat with some guards or local innkeepers for information that will lead you to a proper quest.

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As an RPG, expect to be levelling up and working on the character build of your choice. Certain races grant certain attribute bonuses, but none of them are really essential given that you can level up skills and obtain special abilities to make exactly the character you want. Stealth mechanics work quite well for the most part, even if pure stealth can be quite tricky to do until you have a high enough level – and lockpicking can be neat, despite infuriatingly tough at times. Despite those teething issues though, a stealth archer build can become so laughably broken that it’s hard not to be one.

Those who do, however, will find a fair amount to play with. Brutes have a variety of weapons and shields that they can handle, even if combat itself isn’t especially nuanced. There are some cool little upgrades to make things interesting, but I found that just stabbing stuff until dead often worked well enough. Magic users can also add a vast variety of spells to their arsenal, making them far more interesting to use, and the ability to craft potions and enchant weapons with special buffs make them quite entertaining to use as well. It really is all down to you though and there are hundreds of quests for you to role play as whatever you want to be, even if what you want to be is a jack-of-all-trades that is simultaneously the best wizard, assassin, thief, or whatever.

Speaking of which, when it comes to questlines it is worth bringing up those guild storylines. They’re one of the best and worst parts of Skyrim, since they not only offer some great questlines and themes but are also not quite as good as the magnificent ones that appeared in the previous game. The Thieves Guild just feels a little tepid for the most part, with many quests not feeling particularly thievish and would be something I’d probably just skip if it wasn’t for a fantastic item that you obtain during one of the later quests. The Dark Brotherhood has some great moments, as always, but there aren’t as many quests here that stand out as much as the ones from previous titlesThe College of Winterhold (basically the Mage’s Guild) fares the worst of all, with a rather dull storyline that never really goes anywhere despite the fantastic college building it takes place in. The Guilds are still fun to play, but they just don’t have the same spark as in Oblivion.

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VAMPS AND VVARDENFELL
What doesn’t disappoint, however, is the additional DLC that was added to Skyrim shortly after the game originally released. The first of which, Dawnguard, has you either siding with either Vampires or Vampire Hunters as you thwart a plan to blot out the sun. It’s a thrilling tale with some genuinely great quests (and one or two sucky ones) and a companion that stands out as being one of the best companions in the series. This questline will also give you the option to become a powerful vampire lord, but you probably don’t want to do that as the vampires in the Elder Scrolls series suck. Pun intended.

The second DLC focuses on building and decorating a house, and it’s pretty much exactly that. In actuality, the end result isn’t that much better than having one of the pre-made houses and there’s a limit to just how much you can customise it… but it’s a neat addition nevertheless that certainly adds to the role playing aspect of the game. Especially as you can also adopt children to live there too, should you so desire.

The final piece of content is probably the most interesting, as it sees you taking a trip to a completely different region – that of Morrowind. It’s a pretty expansive environment with some really cool unique locations that make it feel like a whole additional game. The main questline that has you facing off against the first Dragonborn also has some great quests too, even if it ends a little anticlimactically, but it’s certainly meaty and enjoyable enough to warrant experiencing.

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SKYRIM FISHING EDITION
So, that brings us to the Anniversary Edition content. You may be wondering what it actually adds, and the answer is both a lot and not a lot – depending on your perspective and what you’re looking for. There are no real tweaks to the game, nor enhancements, additional perks, balancing, or bug fixes. What you actually have is the vanilla addition with all the previous DLC and a bunch of creation club additions (user generated content that was purchasable on other platforms).

These user creations range from new ingredients, houses, and even some new enemies and quests. There’s a lot of content here in total, but a lot of stuff here probably won’t even be noticeable to new players. Heck, if the game didn’t have a menu that specifically told you how to trigger every piece of new content, I’m sure a lot would probably go unmissed. The new areas fit into the world well, but predictably are hidden away in caverns rather than added to the actual overworld. Whilst this is mostly fine, it does mean that accessing some of the new housing options proves too be too much of a hassle to be worth it. Having a pirate ship home is awesome, but not when I need to travel to a save, cross the inside of the cave to the ship, and then enter the damn thing. I’m sure some people will love it, but I could quickly tell it would involve a little too much fannying about for my liking.

The other additions, whilst not particularly numerous, are quite fun and are designed to pull on the nostalgia strings of veteran players as they’re full of references to locations and lore from previous entries. From the Mythic Dawn to damn Horse Armor, there’s lots here to keep a smile on fans’ faces. Nothing here is necessarily essential, but diehard fans of the game will no-doubt appreciate having even more content available at their fingertips in what is already a massive game. There’s also fishing. It’s fine.

Aside from all that extra stuff, the Anniversary Edition also introduces a new Survival Mode, which adds a whole leve of strategy to the game and makes it surprisingly pretty tough. You have your hunger and sleep meters, but there are other tweaks too to immerse you into the reality of your situation. Diseases will be more dehibiltating, your carry weight is vastly reduced, health no longer magically recovers and – most importantly of all – cold is a huge factor to your health. Too much exposure to the cold and you can expect your stamina and maximum health to reduce as you get weaker. Certain clothes may help with the cold, but you’ll need to keep yourself fed and in a warmer location (or near a fire) if you want to withstand the cold. Bear in mind too, that this is Skyrim and everywhere is damn cold. It’s not a perfect survival mode, but it’s certainly good enough to provide a challenge for hardened veterans. Me? I found it a pain in the ass – but a cool pain in the ass, at least.

So, is the extra content worth shelling out for? Well, if you’re buying the entire game it’s only around €10 extra, which is a bargain for all the additional content. If you own the game already, then upgrading will set you back €20; it does offer quite a few extra hours of playtime on top of what the game already contains, but it’s probably only going to be fully appreciated by diehard Skyrim fans. Anyone else may just want to wait for a slight price drop instead.

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Skyrim Anniversary Edition holds a special place in my heart. Sure, it’s not the best Elder Scrolls game (no matter what Todd Howard would have you believe), and it certainly has some issues (such as one too many Draugr Tombs…), but there’s just so much excellent content here that you can overlook its flaws and have a great time. The game may be a meme at this point, but it has also stood the test of time for a reason. It’s one hell of an RPG.

* On Switch