Why we need Skyrim on next-gen consoles

The dawn of a new generation is the most exciting time to be a gamer. It only happens once every seven-or-so years, and--regardless of your allegiance to one console or another--there’s no denying the thrill of seeing shiny new hardware playing dazzling new games. Even mediocre shooters and tired racers seem wonderful when viewed through next-gen-o-vision. So it might seem odd that I’m seriously promoting the idea that Bethesda should re-release The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: a game that will be at least 2 years old by the time PS4 and Xbox One hit the shelves.

Well, bear with me. When Skyrim first appeared back in 2011, it was--and still is--the most ambitious game of the current console generation. Its struggles on PS3 are well documented, and although the game managed to run perfectly well on Xbox 360 it was far from the definitive version. That honour, as with many games to appear in the past few years, belongs to PC. The PC doesn’t care about ‘console generations’; it cares about the amount of grunt you can shove into your hardware without turning your entire rig into a sad pile of melted plastic.

Right now, there’s a disparity between what can be achieved in games on consoles and PC. One of the most common PC-owner complaints is that certain games are ‘held back’ by console hardware. While visual fidelity and content can be boosted on PC with mods and advanced settings, the actual size and scope of most modern games can’t be drastically altered. The technological playing field will be (mostly--yes, we know some rigs are already more powerful than next-gen consoles) levelled again when Xbox One and PS4 appear in November, allowing developers the scope to create their PC games without concession to consoles.

So where does Skyrim fit into all this? Well, it’s one of the few games with the scope and size to justify a next-gen make-over and still feel like it belongs amongst the likes of Titanfall, Battlefield 4 and Tom Clancy's The Division. Its world is huge and ripe for improvement. We also argue that GTA V deserves a next-gen version, and we’d be hugely surprised if this doesn’t get announced shortly after Rockstar’s game releases on Xbox 360 and PS3 in September… but that’s a different editorial.

In fact, high-end PC owners are playing next-gen Skyrim right now. Smart mods like the ENB series have transformed the look and feel of the game, and added fresh content that sits perfectly within the Elder Scrolls canon. There are numerous examples of these incredible mods running effortlessly on hardware equivalent to that of the next-gen consoles. So, theoretically, it’s possible. Very possible. Check out this video:

What could a next-gen version of Skyrim bring to the table beyond ‘looking more awesome’? That’s a technical term, by the way. The most obvious thing would be seamless movement and combat. The power of next-gen could easily remove texture pop-in, vastly increase draw distance, and still run a modified version of the game at 60 frames per second. Not only that, the increased speed of the Blu-ray drive in both consoles, combined with superior hard drive read-speeds could virtually eliminate load-times. There would be no pause when travelling between interior and exterior locations, and fast travel would be, well, fast. Given Skyrim’s relatively modest file size, Bethesda could even enforce full-game installs to make it run even quicker. Imagine the hassle taken out of, say, the Thieves Guild quests if you could do them without having to load twice when you’re walking into the Ragged Flaggon.

One potential barrier to all this is money. Would Bethesda recoup enough cash to make it worth their time and manpower? It’s a tough call, and if Bethesda was to go it alone, I’d say ‘no’. However, if the developer got the community involved, it’d be a different story. Not only would Skyrim be able to take advantage of existing mod packages--thereby cutting down on the amount of work Bethesda’s in-house teams would need to put in--but it could also absorb the best community created content to refresh the game for its console audience.

Bethesda has already proven, with its Game Jam sessions, that it values the input of the community (most of Skyrim’s existing DLC was conceived during Game Jams), so it already has a wealth of quality, user-created extras to choose from. In fact, there’s no reason why members of the community couldn’t continue to create extra content for Skyrim for official release on next-gen systems and PC. Both Microsoft and Sony are relaxing the submission process for patches and DLC, so it could be updated and expanded quickly.

At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to demand. Perhaps I’m a mad-man who has spent too long in Tamriel on my 360, but I would happily spend £40 to play Skyrim: The Super Mega Hyper Edition on the PS4 I’ve already pre-ordered. Skyrim is all about the 200 hour journey, not the destination, so the fact that I know what happens in the main story barely matters. To me, the idea of a shiny new look, combined with a bunch of cool extras and zero load times would feel like money well spent. How does that sound to you?

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