What Are the Differences Between Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition? (2023)

Skyrim is 11 years old, and through the years many versions of the game have been released. It was ported to a variety of devices and included many upgrades. The most significantly different version was released back in 2016, Skyrim Special Edition, also known as Skyrim remastered edition. Purchasing Skyrim in 2022 can be confusing. Many players are not exactly sure what changed between the two versions. Due to that, we’ve decided to put together this guide, highlighting the differences between the vanilla release from now on known as “Oldrim” and the remastered edition. In honor of that, let’s see what are the differences between Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition.

The most significant differences between Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition are related to engine overhaul, graphics, and mods. Skyrim Special Edition was updated to a 64bit version of the engine and has support for DirectX 11. The game also has high-resolution textures which significantly improve the game visually. Significant overhauls related to mods were mostly introduced to accommodate Skyrim Creation Club, a newly introduced modding platform available through an in-game interface.

All the differences between the two versions of the game cannot be summed up in one short paragraph. If you’re interested in more details as well as an in-depth analysis of differences, stay with us and keep reading!

Skyrim vs. Skyrim Special Edition – what’s the difference anyway?

On release, Skyrim was an instant hit, it was recognized relatively soon that Skyrim will have amazing replayability options due to the vast third-party content produced by the loyal modding community. However, the abilities of modders go only so far. Skyrim was aging, and rapidly at that. We’ve mentioned in one of our previous posts how Skyrim has a lock set at 60 FPS. If one goes above that lock, the physics break due to engine physics being tied to FPS.

This is just one of many issues that were plaguing Skyrim. And some of these issues were addressed with Skyrim Special Edition.
In the rest of this post, we’re going to analyze all the differences between Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition.

Skyrim Special Edition engine differences

One thing that Skyrim couldn’t do at release was to utilize more than 4 gigabytes of RAM. The only way for a game to utilize more than that was through various modifications. This changed with the Skyrim: Special Edition release. The engine was updated to the 64-bit version. It’s not something visible and drastic as many other introduced changes, but it made life easier for the modding community at least. The game now has support for DirectX 11 and can utilize more than 4 GBs of RAM.

Remember how the Civil War battles were originally pretty lame due to only a fraction of soldiers being in the scene? Well in theory that was supposed to improve since the abilities of the new engine supported more NPCs on screen.
In addition to engine changes, meshes and animation have been converted as well, now supporting more current formats.

Skyrim Special Edition graphics differences

Now, for some, graphics are everything and Skyrim was a beautiful game on its release. I’m still struggling to find a game that managed to convey the same winter atmosphere in a way that Skyrim did. From the pale color palette to snow particles, everything was done just right. Until it became outdated.

The modding community fixed the most glaring issues with Skyrim’s graphics, and Skyrim Special Edition attempted to do that as well.
Volumetric god-rays have been added as well as support for screen space ambient occlusion (SSAO).
Option visual weather settings have also been added such as rain and snow occlusion as well.

Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA) was replaced by Temporal anti-aliasing support (TSAA) if you’re not exactly sure what this means, it’s an option that allows for smoother transition on the edges.
And speaking of smooth edges, shadows have been improved as well. The original shadows were quite blocky in nature and only ruined the immersion, new and improved shadows were fluid and smooth on the edges.

When it comes to big visible changes made to the exterior of Skyrim, two important differences need to be mentioned. The color palette and details.
The newly updated engine now supported much more details and new modern hardware can keep up with that successfully. Rocks, flowers, trees, and grasses were added paired with a warmer and more colorful palette that seemed to lessen Skyrim’s “bleak” imagery.

Skyrim Special Edition and introduction of Creation Club

Bethesda realized that mods are a key to the game’s immortality. They wanted to capitalize on that by introducing the Creation Club. Creation Club was an aggregator for third-party made content that was made official through the use of Bethesda’s addon storefront. Addons on Creation Club are mostly paid, they are not free. They can be accessed through the in-game browser, even on the console editions of Skyrim.

One difference that didn’t sit well with the fans is the fact that support for Steam Workshop was removed. Of course, it was replaced by Bethesda’s own service the Creation Club.

What Are the Differences Between Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition? (1)

Mods made for an older version of Skyrim won’t work correctly with Skyrim Special Edition although you can load the unmodded save game.
It’s important to note that achievements are from now on disabled if you play with mods as well.

We’re not going to discuss the usefulness of Creation Club in today’s post. It’s something to be analyzed some other time but the community was not as hyped as Bethesda hoped it would be. Especially since many superior mods were already free on Nexus and similar other websites.
But that’s about it. Mod support was among the biggest differences between the two versions of Skyrim.

Skyrim Special Edition – miscellaneous gameplay changes

If you don’t care about the engine, mods, and visuals of the game, you might be disappointed to know that no drastic gameplay changes have been introduced in Skyrim Special Edition.
We’re going to list only the biggest changes, and of them is save game management.

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Save games are grouped by characters and are accessed easier depending on which character you want to play. Effectively allowing you to have two or more” profiles” within a single game.

Minor changes to Werewolf and Vampire Lord forms have been added.
Vampires also don’t attack settlements any longer. So don’t worry about receiving 20 letters about your friends dying after you’ve visited Whiterun once.
If you’re hoping that all your achievements will transfer from the older version of Skyrim, don’t. Starting with a fresh playthrough of Skyrim Special Edition you will need to earn all achievements again. Also, trading cards have been removed.

Should you buy Skyrim or Skyrim Special Edition in 2022?

I would always recommend you get Skyrim Special Edition since most mods created in the last few years focus on that version of the game. It’s a good investment and ultimately it’s the version of the game that gets the most attention.
If you’re in the market to buy Skyrim for the tenth time in 2022, I recommend you go for Skyrim: Anniversary Edition since it has all the Special Edition upgrades as well as some additional content.

And that’s about it. Now that you have more insight into all the changes introduced with the Special Edition, you can make a more informed decision while you make your purchase. If you’re interested in more Skyrim-related content, check out our overview of Skyrim Legendary difficulty.

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