Skyrim Special Edition vs. Skyrim: Which One Should You Play?

Skyrim Special Edition vs Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls franchise has always been huge in the world of gaming, but Skyrim took things to the next level.

Building off of everything that made Morrowind and Oblivion successful, but opening up the Elder Scrolls world in a way no title ever had before, Skyrim was in instant success when it launched in 2011 – selling millions and millions of copies that first year, and millions more ever since.

Today the fingerprints of this game are all over the gaming industry, with every new open world copying a lot of the “Skyrim DNA” that made this RPG so special.

Bethesda (the developer behind Skyrim) have done a great job of keeping this game alive over the last decade, too – all by releasing new versions of the game every couple of years with enhancements and add-ons.

If you are looking to get into Skyrim for the first time (hard to imagine anyone out there hasn’t played it already, but maybe you’re late to the game) or want to jump on a Special Edition but aren’t sure which way to go this guide is designed to help you out.

Let’s get right into it, Dovahkiin.

Is Skyrim Special Edition a Remaster?

The second “special version” of Skyrim to be released (after the Legendary Edition dropped in 2013), Skyrim Special Edition was released in 2016 – five years after the original – and almost completely overhauled the graphics and the gameplay.

A totally remastered version, fans absolutely went crazy when the Special Edition of Skyrim launched, and it’s still the most popular version of the game all these years later.

Rebuilt and overhauled from the ground up – and with the biggest modding community of the different versions of this legendary game – this is the version you’ll want to grab.

What Made Skyrim So Good?

A couple of things helped to make Skyrim so special when it first released, but the biggest thing had to be the complete and total freedom this Elder Scrolls game provided new players.

Elder Scrolls as a series has always been about creating super in-depth, engaging, and imaginative worlds inside of a fantasy RPG landscape.

Unfortunately, up until Skyrim, developers just didn’t have the kind of horsepower in gaming PCs, videogame consoles, or even with development tools to build a legitimate form on, open world experience that they had dreamed about.

With Skyrim, though, all of that change completely.

Dropping you into the skin of a Dragonborn (a legendary figure that could speak the language of the dragons), the cinematic opening “level” of Skyrim is the only part of the game that feels like it is running on rails.

After the initial dragon attack on a village that doubles as a quick tutorial you are free to explore the entire world of Skyrim in any and every way you like, literally carving your own path through this digital world.

Feel like joining one of the two warring factions and getting into epic battles?

Want to become a legendary assassin or thief, working your way up the ranks in these exclusive guilds?

Have aspirations of becoming a super powerful mage or paladin, fighting for good (or evil) around the countryside?

All of that – and so much more – was possible in Skyrim for the very first time.

Combine that with a legendary crafting experience, an opportunity to buy homes and decorate them anywhere you wanted to, a chance to hire NPCs to help you battle around the countryside with a totally open world bigger than anything else Elder Scrolls had ever tried to pull off before and it’s not hard to see how this was such a big hit.

On top of all of that (as if the base version of Skyrim wasn’t reason enough to check it out) you also have the legendary storytelling of Elder Scrolls games AND super dedicated modding community.

Mod creators went absolutely hogwild the first chance they got, adding mountains of content – including full on player created DLC packages bigger than anything delivered by Bethesda – all of it totally free of charge (at least at first).

The first two years of this game was a watershed moment in the gaming industry in general.

It was impossible to talk to a fellow gamer and not have someone bring up “I took an arrow in the knee” at some point in time!

Should I Buy Original Skyrim or Special Edition?

Of course, if you’re looking to get in on the action of Skyrim right now you’ll have a couple of different versions to pick and choose from.

The least expensive Skyrim option out there is the OG version of Skyrim (sometimes called the vanilla version), but you also have the Special Edition and the Legendary Edition to consider, too.

OG Skyrim is the base game and definitely not a bad way to get into the world of Skyrim for next to nothing (seriously, this game is usually priced around the cost of a cup of coffee). But you’re probably going to want to go with the Special Edition if you want the full on, modern Skyrim experience.

The reason to go with the Special Edition (sometimes called Skyrim SE) has a lot to do with the modding support this remastered version of the game brings to the table.

Up until late 2016 the overwhelming majority of the modern community always focused on building assets for the OG version of the game.

But as more and more people got their hands on the rebuilt and remastered Special Edition mod developers started to build exclusively for SE – and there’s no cross compatibility with these files.

Is Skyrim Special Edition Worth It?

If you have absolutely any interest whatsoever in getting into the modding community that helps make Skyrim so special (either through the Bethesda Workshop or the Nexus Community) you’re going to need to pick up the Special Edition of Skyrim for sure.

This is the only way to unlock some of the best mods out there – including player may DLCs, households and homesteads, new towns and cities, all kinds of armor and weapons (and so much more).

Older mods are still available for the vanilla version of Skyrim, but some of them haven’t been updated in nearly 10 years or so and it’s been at least four years since really new content has been made for that version of the game, too.

Of course, when you get the Special Edition version of Skyrim you’re also going to get a version of this legendary game that has:

  • Has been built on top of a 64-bit game engine
  • Features totally remastered graphics, animations, and HD elements
  • Implements new volumetric lighting
  • Has a totally overhauled dynamic depth of field
  • Offers impressive new water and snow shaders that make things look super realistic

… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Mix in the fact that all of the latest and greatest mods are being built for the Special Edition (and will be built for this version of the game going forward) and it’s really a no-brainer.

Which is Better Skyrim Legendary Edition or Skyrim Special Edition?

Again, you’d have to be at least a little bit crazy to play around with the older Legendary Edition of Skyrim (the one that came out in 2013) when you have the chance to grab Skyrim Special Edition (released in 2016) – especially when the price difference is next to nothing.

In fact, even tracking down the Legendary Edition of Skyrim can be a bit of a headache and hassle if you are looking for a physical disk version.

The digital version (for gaming consoles and PC players) is easier to find, but why waste your time with an older version of the game not nearly as well polished or as well optimized as the Special Edition is?

Go with the much better option – grab the SE version of Skyrim for sure.

Do Skyrim Mods Work on Legendary Edition?

While some mod developers have continued to build their add-ons and extras for both the Legendary Edition and the Special Edition of Skyrim, the overwhelming majority of developers have moved on completely and now only release for Skyrim: SE.

If modding is important to you (and it should be – that’s a big part of why Skyrim is still relevant 10 years after its release) you’re going to want to go with the latest remastered version of the game, snapping it up for sure.

Mods being made in 2020 and 2021 are generally only release releasing for the Special Edition, and it’s likely that this is going to be the trend going forward (unless Bethesda decides to rollout another, more modern remaster, anyway).

The good news is you can snap up copies of the Skyrim: Special Edition version for only about $10 or $15, regardless of whether or not you’re playing on Xbox, PlayStation, or your PC.

PC players can sometimes grab a copy of this game for even less on a platform like Steam, so it might be worth waiting for those kinds of sales to make your move. The bottom line is you’ll want to go with the Special Edition versus the Legendary Edition every time.